No “rent-a-citizen” fronting for local content must be tolerated- Georgetown Chamber

Last Updated on Thursday, 23 June 2022, 16:53 by Denis Chabrol

The headquarters of the Georgetown Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

The Georgetown Chamber of Commerce & Industry (GCCI) on Thursday urged the Guyana government to take steps to block companies from using Guyanese to conveniently obtain a 51 percent stake to merely satisfy the provisions of the Local Content Act.

“This phenomenon – commonly referred to as ‘fronting’ or ‘rent-a-citizen’ – has the potential to reduce the amount of value which accrues to Guyana and runs counter to the spirit and intent of the Local Content Act,”  the business organisation said.

Hours earlier on Thursday, Ramps Logistics Guyana Limited dismissed suggestions that its 51 percent shareholder, Trinidad-born businessman Deepak Lall, obtained citizenship in 2021 to conveniently buy a US$1 million share in the company.

The GCCI recommended that the government takes steps to ensure that Guyanese shareholders could prove who are actually benefitting from deals under the cover of the Local Content Act rather than the companies or other persons. “As such, the Chamber calls on the Local Content Secretariat to examine the ‘beneficial ownership’ of enterprises seeking to obtain Local Content Certificates and recommends that the ‘burden of proof’ regarding beneficial ownership lie with the enterprise seeking to apply for the Certificate. This will act as a layer of protection against those seeking to operate in this unethical and unpatriotic manner,” the Chamber said.

The eruption of a row between the Trinidad-headquartered RAMPS Logistics’ Guyanese company and the Local Content Secretariat has come several months after the opposition had warned that the Local Content Act appeared to have violated the Caribbean Community’s (CARICOM) Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas that provides for the free movement of persons, capital and the rights of establishment across the European Union-styled Single Market.

Reiterating its support for the government’s efforts to promote local content for Guyanese, the GCCI said local participation must be done in a manner that engenders meaningful and genuine partnerships. “The GCCI wishes to strongly repudiate any enterprise or citizen that seeks to exploit the local content framework by operating under the guise of local participation when this is not, in fact, the reality of the operation,” the GCCI said.

High-level government sources have said that RAMPS Logistics Guyana does not satisfy the 75 percent Guyanese senior management and there was no proof of source of funds for Mr. Lall’s  51 percent stake in the company. However, the company earlier Thursday said that 89 percent or 17 of the 19 persons in senior management are Guyanese.

The GCCI encouraged the Local Content Secretariat to continue its vetting of companies applying for a Local Content Certificate in a thorough fashion.