Customs (Amendment) Bill 2013 – Bill No. 2/20133685 22 May, 2013
Mr. Nandlall: Thank you very much. Madam, I was not scheduled to speak, but having listened to Mr. Ramjattan, I feel compelled to speak.
Mdm. Deputy Speaker: Hon. Member your name did come in before Mr. Ramjattan started to speak.
Mr. Nandlall: On stand-by, I was not supposed to speak. Mdm. Deputy Speaker, the Opposition’s position, as I understand it, is that they want a deferral of the Bill; that is what I understand sum total of their arguments are.
When you listen to Mr. Ramjattan, if we are to defer the Bill for one month, as the request is being made to do, nothing will change; the problems that Mr. Ramjattan is referring to will remain. The Private Sector will continue to be in the same circumstance that they are now a month from now. The cane cutter will continue to be in the same circumstance he is now a month from now. So that argument simply does not make sense.
Fifty years ago in the legal academic circles, a debate was ongoing and it was a debate because after the Vienna Convention internationally, you had an international movement towards treaty making and the debate which begun then was the battle of sovereignty against treaty and countries preparedness to go into treaty. It is irrelevant because you do not know. [Interruption]
The competing claims have always been, that if it is that you are going to enter into treaty, it is a sacrifice of your sovereignty. Every treaty that you enter into, you lose a degree of your independence as a sovereign nation; that is a fundamental truth and a legal fact of international law.
Mr. Ramjattan must be aware and I am not sure, but I will tell him that Guyana has been a signatory to the Treaty of Chaguaramas from the inception. In fact, Guyana is a founding member of that treaty. There is no doubt that an obligation devolves upon Guyana to carry out the terms of that Treaty and those obligations include the passage of a legislation of this type. Guyana does not have a choice...
Mdm. Deputy Speaker: Hon. Attorney General, I think Mr. Greenidge is rising.
Mr. Greenidge: On a Point of Order Mdm. Deputy Speaker, I did point out before that the legislation to which the Minister made reference and the Attorney General is making reference says absolutely nothing about an Environmental Tax. [Interruption] It is a Point of Order, you are misleading us. It says nothing about an Environmental Tax.
The legislation discriminates against Caricom exporters and that is what the Chaguaramas Treaty and the subsequent amendment address. The Government should not come here to tell us that the legislation to which he is making reference says anything about this tax before us. It says nothing about an Environmental Tax. Thank you Mdm. Deputy Speaker.
Mdm. Deputy Speaker: So your Point of Order is ... Hon. Minister...
Mr. Nandlall: I did not use the term Environmental Tax. I am saying that the tax, which is here, which is contained here, the measure, which is being proposed in this amendment is part of our obligations under the Treaty of Chaguaramas. It was ... [Interruption]
Mdm. Deputy Speaker: Please allow the Hon... [Interruption] Hon. Attorney General, please address your comments to me. Members, please allow the Hon. Attorney General to make his presentation. I do see that there is someone else listed from the Opposition to speak subsequent and if there is a divergent view, I am sure that that member will adequately ... Your point of order have been noted Mr. Greenidge. Hon. Attorney General please proceed.
Mr. Nandlall: Thank you for your protection Mdm. Deputy Speaker. I do not understand why; I did not conceive that there was going to be a dispute as to whether Guyana has an obligation to impose this measure. It is beyond dispute. Every country in the Caribbean has done so. The last to do so was St. Lucia. If the records are checked you will see Guyana having this as an outstanding item on the quota agenda for the last six or seven year. Every time we go we have been able to get a deferral for the same reason articulated by Mr. Ramjattan. We recognise that it will cause some hardships on local manufacturers. We are not unmindful of the ramifications that it will have on our commercial sector. We are also very acquainted with the disparity which exists in the cost of manufacturing and production in Guyana, as opposed to Trinidad for example, principally because of the rate or cost of electricity. It is not a magic. It is for that reason we have deferred the Bill on every occasion that we were compelled to do so, until we simply ran out of excuses.
The truth of the matter is that with the advent of the Caribbean Court of Justice, Caricom treaty now has a forum to which they can go to enforce these obligations. Prior to that, countries had no way or no effective way of imposing the obligations which flow from the Treaty of Chaguaramas. One of the principle reasons why that court was established was to confer upon that court a treaty jurisdiction to enforce all treaties and obligations which arise under Caricom Single Market and Economy (CSME) and Caricom, et cetera at that court. As a result of that, my friend used a very articulate terminology, the wriggling room; the wriggle room quickly evaporated and we had a series of litigation commenced in the Caribbean. We had the TCl matter, the Hummingbird case in Suriname brought by Trinidad and now we have this matter brought by Rudisa, the beverage company, from Suriname.
While I hear my learned friend Mr. Ramjattan and I agree that this is going to have an adverse consequence on local manufacturers. We know that that is not a secret. We have been negotiating with the local manufacturers for a very long time and that is why the original tax was $10 and we have reduced it to $5. That came as a result of a request from the Private Sector; as a result of our consultations with the Private Sector. The Private Sector even asked us to allow them to retain some expert from the Caribbean to offer some kind of advice and so on. However, no report has been forthcoming and this was about six months ago.
My friend is asking for time to consult. The truth of the matter is that this Bill has been before this House since January; five months have elapsed. How many months do you want to consult? You have had the Bill; you have been exposed to the Bill; the Bill has been laid in the National Assembly five months ago and we have not heard, apart from Mr. Ramjattan’s speaking about his engagements at cocktails and I have no doubt that he goes to a lot of those and the banter which goes on with businessmen, I heard no evidence of any serious and proper and mature consultation. You do not consult this type of serious business at cocktails.
Mdm. Deputy Speaker: Correction: the Hon. Ramjattan did also say he met with members of the Private Sector Commission and then after he went to cocktails.
Mr. Nandlall: Okay. So did he meet them at the cocktails?
Mdm. Deputy Speaker: No, he spoke about meeting them beforehand.
Mr. Nandlall: And from there they proceeded to the cocktail... [Interruption]
Mdm. Deputy Speaker: No, he did not say that. If we want to be fortuitous this is my forte, so we can banter, but I am saying on a serious note...
Mr. Nandlall: And I am sure they were consuming both local and foreign beverages....
Mdm. Deputy Speaker: He spoke about a meeting... Hon. Attorney General, are you with me?
Mr. Nandlall: Yes Madam.
Mdm. Deputy Speaker: He spoke about two instances: meeting them in a business environment, I assume and then cocktails. So you can proceed.
Mr. Nandlall: The point I am making is that the argument which is being advanced that there is more time, there is need for consultation, is one that is hallow simply because the Bill has been here for five months now. Secondly, we have had consultations with the business community, not in 2013 alone, this is an ongoing issue, as my Hon. Colleague said for over six or seven years now. So Banks DIH, Demerara Distillers Limited (DDL) and the local players in the industry are absolutely aware of this Bill. No, they are not happy and we are not happy either, but that is the cost of entering into treaty. My friend, Mr. Ramjattan says that this National Assembly will not support this, but this is not from volition of the Government; this is not Government driven. This has to do with discharging our obligations under the treaty.
I gave the Caribbean Court of Justice and undertaking. I told the Caribbean Court of Justice a draft of this Bill is before court as an exhibit and I said that it has been laid in the Parliament and that ... It is no story, I am telling you the truth; this is public knowledge. It is now in the Assembly’s discretion as to whether the Bill will be passed or not because I outlined the configuration of the National Assembly. I say all of that to explain and to illustrate that this has nothing to do with the Government being the driving force, it has to do with if we want to remain as part of today’s world, where treaty plays and important and a pivotal part, then we have to make a choice. It is either we ... [Interruption] The principle act here is ...
This is the Customs Act and it is “this” thick, it deals with about a million different matters and there is a lawyer saying to repeal the Customs Act. [Mr. Ramjattan: Principle provisions that ask for a tax.]
Mdm. Deputy Speaker: Mr. Ramjattan that cannot be a Point of Order.
Mr. Ramjattan: I did not ask for a repeal of the entire Customs Act.
Mdm. Deputy Speaker: Mr. Ramjattan, I am ruling that that is not a Point of Order and that you need to sit.
Mr. Nandlall: You are out of order, Mr. Ramjattan.
Mdm. Deputy Speaker: Hon. Attorney General, please resume.
Mr. Nandlall: Your Honour, the point is if as a country we are going to say to the world at large out there, both regionally and internationally, that this National Assembly is a powerful institution, and indeed it is, and therefore we are not going to comply with our obligations under treaties, under international arrangements, then we have to make that as a position clear to the outside world. [Interruption] I am going to sit until the place is quiet. This is an ongoing commentary. I cannot speak.
Mdm. Deputy Speaker: Hon. Members, what will apply to one will have to apply to all. My position is, as I said before, that it is not a church, but is also not a fish market and I would expect that Members are all mature enough. While no house of representatives is as a church, people will have their cross talk; I would expect people to regulate themselves to the extent that people are not disturbed. Hon. Attorney General, I believe that people will try to show me that they can regulate themselves.
Mr. Nandlall: Normally, Your Honour, when Your Honour is here... but you are not here. In conclusion, the point I want to emphasise, I do not think that we in this Assembly have much of a chose in this matter. We can withhold our support and deal with the consequence as a country because we have a lawsuit there that is pending, damages are being claimed. Passing this legislation now is not a defence. All that it would have gone to do is to mitigate the damages which will flow and I got some kind of undertaking that that would have been done, but all that will happen now is that this National Assembly will flex its muscle, Guyana will flex it sovereign muscle and Guyana will be shafted as a country under the obligation... I withdraw that word.
Mdm. Deputy Speaker: Thank you.
Mr. Nandlall: Guyana will suffer the requisite detriment and it will be penalised in damages for violation of its contractual obligation. That is all. With those few remarks I wish to say that I support... I hope that my friends from the Opposition would recognise that all the objections that they have we share. The sentiments that they are expressing we can relate to. We have been dealing with them. We have been talking with the private sector but we simply have to come to the end of the road and it is either we stay in CARICOM or we exit CARICOM. It is a simple as that. Thank you very much, Your Honour. [Applause]
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