After more than seven hours of debating and with a line-up of 15 speakers, the National Assembly on Wednesday evening passed the Local Content Bill (Bill no. 21 of 2021) with a few minor amendments.
Wednesday’s debate kicked off with the Minister of Natural Resources, Vickram Bharrat– the official who tabled the Bill in the National Assembly on December 15. In his opening presentation, Minister Bharrat told the sitting that this Bill is a “living document” that will transform with the growth of Guyana’s human resource capacity.
“We want to ensure that with this Bill, Guyanese reap the benefits from the oil and gas sector. This Bill will help us to truly assess our capacity, as well as what is needed to build capacity in Guyana. As a government, we are committed to working with every stakeholder, once there is seriousness in developing the oil and gas sector,” the Natural Resources Minister said to the assembly.
During the debate, the major Opposition – the A Partnership for National Unity + Alliance for Change (APNU+AFC) – called on the Local Content Bill to be sent to a Special Select Committee, instead of being passed as it was. In responding to this, Minister Bharrat aired the government’s distress over such a move being taken.
“There is a fear amongst us when it comes to Special Select Committees,” he said. “We saw the Petroleum Commission Bill, the Animal Welfare Bill, the Food and Safety Bill, and the Education Bill. Where are these Bills today? We don’t trust the Opposition in sending anything to that committee.”
Meanwhile, the Senior Minister in the Office of the President with responsibility for Finance, Dr. Ashni Singh, responded to members of the Opposition that accused the government of attempting to have the Bill passed “in a hurry”. The Senior Minister said that it needed to be done as quickly as possible so that Guyanese could no longer miss out on the opportunities they should have had before first oil in 2019.
“We want to get it into law in a hurry because we want Guyanese landlords to be able to rent their accommodation. We want Guyanese welders to be able to get welding business. We want Guyanese accounting firms to get accounting business … So yes! We did it in a hurry,” Dr. Singh said.
On another note, Minister Bharat reminded that this legislation will compel oil companies, their contractors, and subcontractors to do business with Guyanese. To see to this, the Bill outlines penalties for companies that fail to meet the minimum targets of the legislation, as well as those that are in breach.
These fines range from as low as $5 million to as high as $50 million. Going forward, Minister Bharrat affirmed that the government will continue to engage with all stakeholders using consultations on how the document could be further strengthened.
Importantly, with the passing of this Bill, Guyanese and Guyanese businesses stand to benefit from US$400 million to US$500 million annually in terms of revenue. The local private sector, the energy chamber, and citizens have praised the government for this mechanism needed to ensure that Guyanese see the benefits from the oil and gas sector.