Corporate governance in the two most prominent public companies defined by the personalities, interests of their top executives

The National Insurance Scheme holds 8% of the issued shares in Demerara Distillers Limited (DDL) while Secure International Finance Company Ltd owns 18.49%, a combined percentage of 26.49% of the company’s issued shares. My first-hand information is that both the NIS and Secure International have been trying for years to have a seat or two on DDL’s Board so that they can have a say in the strategic decisions of the board, exercise some control of the executive management and have access to the operations of the company.

I am advised that on every occasion their request has been rebuffed by one or both Mr Samaroo and Mr Persaud, one of whom, in the eternal tradition of the family property, is the current inheritor of the executive chairmanship of the company from the other. What makes this situation so strange is that, on paper at least, Messrs Persaud and Samaroo own only 0.27% of the shares in DDL. An examination of the shareholdings in DDL suggests that what one sees is not necessarily the effective or beneficial shareholding in the company. Continue reading Corporate governance in the two most prominent public companies defined by the personalities, interests of their top executives

Goverment failed to act on 2016 CoI recommendation to appoint high level committee

Just over one year after the most deadly disturbance at the Georgetown Prisons in March 2016 in which seventeen prisoners lost their lives, came the most fiery event in its more than one hundred year history. The government led by President Granger and Vice-President and Minister of Public Security Khemraj Ramjattan have been busy trying to exonerate themselves and the APNU+AFC government of any responsibility. President Granger, whose presidential campaign was predicated on security and good governance, defends Mr Ramjattan while the latter sought to excuse his failures to take meaningful and effective action to fix the broken justice and prison system partly on the necessity to subsidise GuySuCo.

President Granger’s response to the 2016 deaths was his most predictable: a Commission of Inquiry (CoI). Yet he and his government have failed to carry out the single most important and no cost recommendation – “the creation of a High Level Committee focused solely on reducing the cancer of over-crowding, along with a range of ancillary recommendations to improve the engagement of key agencies and to strengthen the professional capacity of the GPS to respond to its diverse challenges.”

Overly deferential to the President to whom the CoI expressed “unbounded gratitude”, the Executive Summary of its report noted that the authors would be “even more satisfied should our findings be acted upon with deliberate haste” and implored the President “in a year’s time to order a review of their effectiveness”. That the number of inmates in the jail actually increased between the two horrific events is a strong indicator that instead of action we had inaction and instead of effectiveness we witnessed negligence on a national scale. Continue reading Goverment failed to act on 2016 CoI recommendation to appoint high level committee

The lawyers have put their profession into cold storage

Later today, a small percentage of the country’s lawyers will assemble in the High Court for the annual general meeting of the Guyana Bar Association whose membership excludes lawyers employed by the State. Their agenda will focus less on the Association’s financial report or the Council’s report for the past year and more on the elections for the Council for the ensuing year. A year in which the Bar Association and the wider profession have witnessed, oxymoronically, both much happening, and nothing happening. At the top, in a most damaging situation which gripped and then lost the national attention after the proverbial seven days, the judiciary handled in a most clumsy and inept manner a matter that eventually involved the President, the Chancellor (ag), the entire collective of judges, an individual judge of the High Court, and the Attorney General, the Leader of the Bar.

Yet, the now most senior members of the profession were given national recognition by way of elevation to the status of Senior Counsel, and the country’s top judges accepted high awards conferred by the executive. I can recall no period, with one possible exception, in which the judiciary and the profession were portrayed in such unflattering light, bringing the administration of justice the closest to disrepute the country has witnessed. On a more positive note, for the first time, two women hold the most senior positions in the judiciary, albeit in acting capacities not provided for in the Constitution. Continue reading The lawyers have put their profession into cold storage

PPP/C recklessly ignored 12 COTED warnings that environmental tax violated treaty

Mr Anil Nandlall, former Attorney General, berates the government for not settling its environmental tax case with SM Jaleel and its subsidiary Guyana Beverage Inc, a decision on which was handed down by the CCJ on May 9. Had Mr Nandlall disclosed that the root of the problem was the PPP’s failure to withdraw the 1997 tax which became unlawful on the coming into force of the Revised Treaty of Chagauramas in 2001, his letter would have had more credibility. In fact, the PPP recklessly ignored twelve warnings from the Council of Trade and Economic Development (COTED) of Caricom between May 22, 2001 and March 30, 2012, that the tax was a violation of the Revised Treaty of Chagauramas (RTC). Mr Nandlall places the blame on APNU and the AFC for their failure to support an amendment in 2013 but does not state why the PPP/C did not use its majority prior to 2011 to amend the legislation, or why it did not simply stop collecting the tax after it lost its parliamentary majority, as the CCJ pointed out.

It is also important to recall that Mr Nandlall himself argued the similar case brought by RUDISA against the government but failed to raise important points of law, one of which the CCJ indicated would have been an attractive proposition. The CCJ ruled in its entirety against Guyana in RUDISA which was awarded judgment for the full sum of US$6,047,244 they claimed. In the SM Jaleel case, the claim against Guyana was for $2,277 million for the period January 2006 to August 7, 2015. The CCJ ruled, however, that only $1,178 million collected between May 7, 2011 and August 7, 2015 must be refunded. That works out at approximately 52% and after tax adjustment to approximately $700 million.

I believe that Mr Basil Williams was right in taking the case to the CCJ and that Guyana has reason to consider that the ruling was particularly harsh against it. In fact, had the CCJ not rejected two applications by Guyana for reasons that are highly debatable, Guyana would have fared much better. The applications were to produce expert evidence from Dr Maurice Odle and me, and the second a request for documents. Continue reading PPP/C recklessly ignored 12 COTED warnings that environmental tax violated treaty

Guyana needs an informed and dispassionate debate on local content policies for oil industry

The heading of yesterday’s Sunday Stabroek column by Professor Clive Thomas “Why local content measures are considered ‘backward backdoor protectionism?”, while framed as a question, conveys in my view, an unfortunate negative connotation about local content policies. Dr. Thomas holds the prestigious and influential position of Presidential Advisor on Sustainable Development and his writings will no doubt help to shape national policies. Admittedly, the two preceding columns seemed more disposed to local content requirements (LCR) in oil and gas contracts but in this latest column, I am less sure.

Oil discoveries have been made in deepwater areas off Guyana, which means that the first time we will be able to use our oil is after it has been shipped off to a refinery and re-imported into Guyana. If the advisers, policy makers and the managers of the economy, choose to think that local content is not an important matter, the public needs to understand that the major difference between when the first oil flows and now, will at best be manifested in lower domestic fuel price and the balance going into the public revenues. Under Guyana’s model Production Sharing Agreement, there is no separate tax revenue: the Government’s share of profit oil includes the taxes. What this means is that we can use our share of profit oil as we see fit: the Government can sell the oil on the domestic market at reduced prices, or put the value into the Consolidated Fund, or a combination of the two. At this stage, the Constitution allows only for a single Consolidated Fund and would need to be amended to create a Sovereign Wealth Fund.

Dr. Thomas’ column yesterday seeks to summarise two reports on local content policies in the petroleum sector. The first is by the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) and the other by the World Bank. I do not share Dr. Thomas’ view of these as examples of “even more formidable body of empirical studies examining the operations of LCRs in the oil and gas sector”. Guyana has certainly gone through an intellectual transformation from the days when the World Bank-endorsed IMF’s Economic Recovery Programme (ERP) was parodied as Empty Rice Pot by the leadership of both the PPP and the WPA. Continue reading Guyana needs an informed and dispassionate debate on local content policies for oil industry