Natural resources belong to the people of a country and should be developed for their benefit

Dear Editor,

Permit me to assist the readership to have a clearer understanding of my call “for the establishment of a Foreign Investment Commission that will monitor all investors in the country and determine whether the investment is needed or not, and could serve as a long-term solution to companies not fulfilling their promises” (‘Lewis calls for body to monitor foreign investment‘ SN, July 24).  This call was taken in the wake of bauxite companies, Bosai and Rusal, failing to deliver on several promises made to the Guyanese people and the giving away of our natural resources to foreigners.  F Skinner in a letter (‘We need to back off and let investors feel more confident‘ SN, July 27) took objection to this call.

Let me from the outset state that in every society there are rules, laws and principles that guide the conduct of individuals, groups, organizations – profit and non-profit. And these tenets are usually put in place to ensure the people of the country benefit and the resources of the nation are well managed for the development of all.

The natural resources of a country belong to no less than the people of the country and they have to be developed for the benefit of the people of that country. Bauxite, gold, diamonds, manganese, granite are non-renewable resources, and they cannot be replanted like bora, calaloo, ochro and pumpkin; as such they will have to be addressed in a different context as we pursue the development of this country.      

I wish to reiterate the need for an institution that has responsibility to determine whether we need foreign investment in exploiting our resources at any specific juncture and more particularly if that investment will be to the benefit of the society.  The arguments that are advanced that foreign investors create jobs have to be looked at within the context of what they benefit from investing in this country. 

The measly cost that is incurred in extracting our natural resources in the mining sector when compared to what takes place in the developed world, makes clear that foreign mining companies are in here for the killing, and this has been seen in the annual reports of all the foreign mining companies operating here.

It is a universal acceptable principle within mining companies that wages would be within a range of 19 to 35% of the operation costs, but in Guyana in the case of every foreign mining company that has been examined wages and salaries have been less than 12%.

The track record of Rusal in Russia, Guinea and Nigeria reflects that they are continuously abusive of labour and violate laws as they feel like it.  While those governments have taken this company to task for violating their laws, the failure of the Guyana government to consider the history of this company is manifested in the type of behaviour that is currently demonstrated where Rusal in collaboration with the government transgress the rights of citizens and breaks the laws of our land. 

It is important to note that in Canada there exists what is termed the Foreign Advisory Commission which has responsibility for examining foreign companies entering Canada to invest in Canadian property. In New Zealand there is a commission that examines and makes recommendations as to whether a proposed foreign investment is appropriate for the country.

In the United States of America, the country where Mr Skinner resides, there exist laws about who can invest in the country’s non-renewable resources, and such industries fall under federal law as well as congressional and presidential oversight.

In Jamaica, a Caricom country, all bauxite reserves are held by the Jamaica Bauxite Institute, a state institution that conducts geological surveys, hold the results, and if for any reason a company needs to extract any amount of that bauxite, permission will have to be granted by the Institute as to whether same can be done.

Given this backdrop it makes sense to question the decision of the Guyana government to sell our bauxite reserves to foreign companies when those reserves are the property of the people of this country. It is the first time in the history of this country that anything like this has ever happened, and this has been done against all the advice given by the PNC representatives on the team that privatised Linmine, the representatives of Bidco led by Mr James Blackman the then General Manager, and the trade union.

In the case of Guyana all the reserves held by the bauxite company Alcan have been sold together with the bauxite operation at Linden for one US dollar.

After a few months this one dollar sale was turned over to the current company to the tune of US$49,000,000. The value of this company appreciated because of the reserves that it has control of.  The companies made investment promises and failed to honour them, yet have not been held accountable. The people of Guyana are left with nothing and have to deal with companies that violate their rights and abuse the laws with the support of government. This is not development, this is exploitation and re-colonization, something deserving of our resistance.

Yours faithfully,
Lincoln Lewis

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