President Bharrat Jagdeo yesterday declined to offer details on the legal dispute involving Guyana and Trinidad Cement Limited (TCL) but he disclosed that regional leaders are concerned over what they see as a conflict of interest between the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) Trust Fund and the cement company.
The President pointed to a relationship between the Chief Executive Officer of TCL and the regional court’s trust fund saying that the CEO of the company also chairs the Trust Fund of the CCJ. This, he said, was discussed in caucus during the Caricom Heads of Government meeting held here in August, noting concerns were raised.
Dr. Michael Anthony Lilla, the CCJ’s Protocol & Information Officer informed this newspaper when contacted yesterday that he was advised the court may not comment on the President’s statement.
President Jagdeo spoke on the TCL issue briefly during a press conference yesterday at the International Confer-ence Centre, Liliendaal.
He then made the disclosure saying regional leaders were concerned about the conflict of interest that existed between “the person who chairs the CCJ Trust Fund and who came into regular contact with the court [and] is also the CEO of TCL”. He said also that TCL’s move to the CCJ was seen as a conflict of interest by the regional heads meeting in Guyana, adding “the heads concluded that this is conflict of interest”.
Guyana’s position as it regards the Common External Tariff (CET) on cement has not changed based on the President’s statement yesterday; he told reporters that government has initiated a process with Caricom, which is that they have asked for a certain course of action. The course of action to which the President hinted is that Guyana has sought a waiver from the regional Council for Trade and Economic Development (COTED), which is yet to officially respond.
According to Jagdeo, a decision was taken sometime ago by regional heads that they remove the CET from all goods that achieve international competitiveness. “As far as I am concerned, cement has achieved this”, the President said, before charging that TCL has been duplicitous.
He stated that TCL continues to argue it can supply the local market yet in other bilateral discussions it has agreed that other countries can import cement.
The President refused to take any further questions on the issue when pressed saying that the matter is currently before the courts.
Trinidad Cement Limited (TCL) and subsidiary TCL Guyana Inc. (TGI) recently filed an application at the CCJ against the Guyana Government asking the CCJ to hold this country in contempt of court after Guyana failed to reinstate the CET on cement as ordered by the court in an August ruling.
The TCL Group had stated that this failure to abide by and implement the ruling of the CCJ was “a flagrant departure from the rule of law, (and) “it also negatively impacts upon the public’s confidence and respect for the court.”
However, Attorney General Charles Ramson rebutted in a statement that there had never been disregard for the law. Ramson also noted that there were extenuating circumstances as regional cement suppliers, including the plaintiff, could not meet the needs of Guyana’s booming construction industry.
Ramson said too that government has always tried to remain within the confines of the law and had filed on June 30, before the court’s earlier ruling, an application with the Council for Trade and Economic Development (COTED), the body that rules on intra-regional trade matters, seeking a waiver of the CET on imports of cement from non-CARICOM countries. Guyana had suspended the CET on cement since 2006 without making the relevant application to COTED.