‘Get your house in order’ – PSC calls on CARICOM to re-evaluate CPSO

PSC Chairman Paul Cheong

See full statement from the Private Sector Commission:

The Private Sector Commission of Guyana (PSC) observed (in the media) the recent meeting held between the Executive leadership of the CARICOM Private Sector Organization (CPSO) and President, Dr. Mohamed Irfaan Ali. According to media reports, the CPSO discussed issues concerning non-tariff barriers and other matters related to the advancement of CARICOM.

While the PSC welcomes this high-level meeting and commends His Excellency, the President for his usual hands-on approach on these matters, the PSC nonetheless wishes to register its profound and unreserved disappointment at the CPSO for their failure to engage the PSC which is the apex private sector body in Guyana, or any of the private sector bodies in Guyana.

As such, the PSC condemns in the harshest possible tone, the gross and egregious exhibition of disrespect for the local private sector in general, on the part of the CPSO.

Earlier this year, following the passage of Guyana’s Local Content Bill into law, the CPSO found itself in a deep controversy wherein the body threatened to mount a legal challenge on Guyana’s recently enacted Local Content Legislation. Their justification for this absurd posture was framed within the pretext of an allegation of breaching some clause (s) of the Treaty of Chaguaramas. This was met with an overwhelming and resounding level of condemnation from the local private sector at the time.

With respect to Guyana’s Local Content Act, the CPSO in the Commission’s view was completely out of order given that in the making of the Local Content Act, there was more than one year of several rounds of stakeholder engagements and consultations.

At no point during this period, did the CPSO sought to engage the Guyana private sector and at least participate in the consultations in shaping the Local Content Act. They had the option of engaging with the local private sector at any time and or submitting any written submissions on their take as regards the Local Content Act at the time, to the relevant authorities. Evidently, they (the CPSO) did neither of this.

Subsequent to this development, several private sector bodies engaged with the CARICOM secretariat in Georgetown, where a group of high-level private sector leaders met with the CARICOM Secretary General on the matter. At that meeting, questions surrounding the legitimacy of the CPSO were highlighted with respect to the institutional composition of the CPSO and its mandate versus the intended institutional composition of the CPSO in terms of how it ought to be and function in the true spirit of the Treaty.

To this end, according to a statement, the CPSO said it is “the most recently-accredited Associate Institution of the Caribbean Community” and is to act as the “apex” institution for the private sector in CARICOM, with a mandate to contribute to the full implementation of the CARICOM Single Market and Economy (CSME).

The membership of the CPSO comprised Private Sector entities operating in the CARICOM space, including micro, small and medium sized enterprises (MSMEs). The CPSO is currently being Chaired by the President and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of a Trinidad-based conglomerate.

It is worthwhile to note that the current institutional composition of the CPSO is not reflective of the entire private sector of CARICOM. Rather, a few large regional conglomerates have arguably hijacked and dominated the CPSO and by virtue of so doing, are unequivocally and predominantly advancing their individual and collective agenda, while marginalizing and excluding the wider private sector of CARICOM.

At the outset, there were three large corporations in Guyana that were part of the CPSO to represent Guyana. However, for the reasons described herein; an abuse of and outright demonstration of partisanship of the CPSO by a few large regional conglomerates, two of the three companies exited the CPSO’s membership.

In other words, the CPSO is not operating as it should and its membership composition which is the fundamental basis upon which the CPSO ought to have drawn its legitimacy, is not, in reality, what it was intended and ought to be in the spirit of its mandate, inter alia, as an affiliate institution of CARICOM.

To further substantiate our claims, in our meeting with the CARICOM Secretary General, she admitted that not only Guyana’s private sector, but she has also received complaints from other organizations outside of Guyana–that is, in other CARICOM countries that they have not been engaged to have their interests represented at the CPSO level.

Another example of breaches by the CPSO in terms of its functions, is that the CPSO has been attending the COTED meeting and making representations, whereas this is primarily a function of the respective governments. The mechanism for engagement at the COTED level has a process which involves the local private sector representing their issues, firstly, to their respective governments who in turn advance these issues at the level of COTED.

Against these backgrounds, the Private Sector Commission of Guyana wishes to call upon CARICOM once again and by extension the CARICOM leadership to re-evaluate the CPSO, its membership composition, institutional structure, and whether in the current dispensation it is genuinely seeking to achieve its mandate in the correct, intended framework and to have the entire private sector of CARICOM represented.

To these ends, the PSC strongly recommends that the CPSO get its house in order and put in place a comprehensive stakeholder engagement plan with the wider private sector of CARICOM and not just Guyana, with the view of ensuring the wider memberships of private sector are adequately represented at the CPSO level so that it can truly achieve its mandate of regional integration etc.

The PSC looks forward, henceforth, to engaging meaningfully with the CPSO.