Jagdeo says Baron head was looking for special treatment

Contending that the former PPP/C government had a great track record of facilitating investments, Leader of the Opposition Bharrat Jagdeo said on Thursday that though he has no knowledge of applications made by Baron Foods for a business here, it is clear the owner was looking for special treatment because of his ties with Public Security Minister Khemraj Ramjattan.

“So when the current head of Go-Invest (Owen Verwey) says we are getting pressure from the top to process this application but we can’t give him all he wanted…it tells you something that he is looking for special treatment…in Guyana because he knows people at the top so his whole excuse (is) about `oh he didn’t get through under the PPP because Ramjattan is his family’”, Jagdeo said during a press conference held at his Church Street Office.

Verwey at a Go-Invest press conference on Monday had said: ““What I can tell you is back in August – September 2016 that specific investor was referred to our agency with a lot of support because he came from the top down to us. He made demands that can’t be met from the legal framework that is currently in place”.  Verwey noted that neither he nor the Commissioner General of the Guyana Revenue Authority nor the Minister of Finance could meet these particular demands.

Owner of the condiments and sauces producer, Ronald Ramjattan who is based in St. Lucia had told Stabroek News last week that he believes politics got in the way of his planned investment here. He had since made a US$5M investment in Trinidad owing to the then PPP/C government not giving him a favourable response.

Ramjattan who is the cousin of Minister of Public Security Khemraj Ramjattan explained to Stabroek News that he had made six applications under the former PPP/C government and received no response. Khemraj Ramjattan had been a fierce adversary of the former government and this was believed to have played a part in the Baron application not being addressed.

When the APNU+AFC government took office in 2015 the businessman submitted another proposal asking for three to five acres near the capital to invest and build his factory. This government, he said, wrote to him and told him that they did not have the land that he wants to lease at the moment but that his application was being looked at.

Asked to respond to this, Jagdeo said that he doesn’t know how many applications if any were made but based on everything he has read so far, it would appear that the businessman was “looking for treatment that the law does not allow him to get”.

Jagdeo referring to the successes of a few local businesspersons said that if the PPP was “so vindictive then a lot of them who are there would have never …made any progress. So we don’t even know about this Baron guy”.

He said that the country has an impressive record under the PPP government with several instances of foreign investments inclusive of the $5B made by ExxonMobil. He said that the current government has been able to build on the investments that were facilitated by the former government.

“Our record on encouraging investment is great”, he stressed.

Jagdeo noted that based on inquiries he made, one of Ronald Ramjattan’s relatives came and opened up a similar business in Guyana and is doing “extremely well”.

“When he claimed that he couldn’t do it someone else came and did it. So I don’t know what he is looking for. He wants the government to find five acres of land for him somewhere in the city to do his pepper sauce business”, he added.

He asserted that no one discriminated against the businessman. “Why would you discriminate against a US$5M investment when we have facilitated thousands of investment including people who are hostile to us?” he questioned.

Verwey said on Monday that the energy cost among other factors contributed heavily to the decision by Baron Foods to make a US$5M investment in Trinidad rather than Guyana.

“Part of his operation is very energy intensive. In Guyana you are looking at somewhere between 22 and 28 cents per kwh  where he is at in Trinidad you are looking at some 6 cents per Kwh. That’s a very big difference and one that is very difficult to compete with at this time hence government (here) looking at a (natural) gas to energy strategy,” Verwey said in response to questions on the issue.

Asked whether the energy cost is a legitimate concern, Jagdeo responded in the affirmative while noting that this not only applies to the businessman but everyone. “Our energy prices are higher than in Trinidad and Tobago but inspite of that we have been able to attract investments here but what he wants is probably I think special treatment because his family is some politician and now vice president”, he said.

Jagdeo was critical of Go-Invest apparently being pressured into processing the businessman’s application.

On Monday, Verwey had also noted that discussions continued with Ronald Ramjattan around what Guyana could offer but they were not fruitful.

“I’m still waiting for some of my colleagues in InvestTT to tell me what incentives he was offered in Trinidad and Tobago that was different from ours,” Verwey said.

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