The announcement this February by Chief Executive Officer of the Guyana Lands and Surveys Commission (GLSC), Mr Trevor Benn, that the Commission was preparing a code of ethics intended to guide the work and conduct of land surveyors across the country, is another in a growing list of organisations that is seeking to upgrade or lay down standards by which they conduct their operations.

According to Mr Benn, this move was driven, at least in part, by the feedback received from the general public, “People have been complaining about the way work has been done with surveying. So, we’re working on a Bill that we hope to take to Cabinet and then to Parliament in relation to the work of surveyors; a new code of ethics that will govern the profession.”

Any move to standardise the operations of persons serving the general public must be seen as a welcome one and a very positive development. However, laid down standards that do not have an enforcement or penalty component can lead to great uncertainty in the playing field, and in the process negatively impact those who choose to comply if compliance is not across the board and non-compliance is not penalised.

Affected too, would be the general public who are being served by those who comply with the standards as well as those who refuse to comply. Without recourse, the consumer, customer or citizen would be unprotected when services and products deviate from the standard causing various types of harm, discomfort or loss. On the other hand ‘players’ on the particular field of commerce, industry, or other services, who comply with the standards, can see their goods or services being deemed as more expensive, more onerous, and less desirable  in comparison to those of their counterparts who operate outside of the laid down guidelines.

The inability or unwillingness of the powers that be in Guyana to lay down and enforce standards can be seen with respect to the attempted Code of Conduct for Ministers, Members of Parliament (MPs), and public officials which was presented in 2015, but is still to be implemented, despite several amendments. The Guyana Human Rights Association characterized it as “too bland and generalized” on account of the apparent exclusion of a previous requirement for a “declaration of assets.”

In January 2017, Minister Raphael Trotman stated that the Code of Conduct was still a “work in progress,” but in June of the same year, the long dormant Integrity Commission was reconstituted and the “Integrity Commission (Amendment of the Code of Conduct) Order 2017” was gazetted paving the way for it to be laid in parliament.

At the swearing in of the members of the Integrity Commission in February 2018, the new Chairman, Mr Kumar Doraisami appeared to grab the bull by the horns when he said, “The Act needs some amendment but we will look at the enforcement of the Act because I don’t believe it was fully enforced before, but looking at the combination of the persons we have on the Commission, I think we will be able to put the Act into force.”

Indeed, in zeroing in on “enforcement,” or “compelling compliance” as we would put it, the Chairman has highlighted the one bugbear that stifles progress in this country. In August last year we reported head of the Central Housing and Planning Authority, Mr Lelon Saul as saying that, “it is time for us in Guyana to have proper regulations so we can govern our building contractors.” We have all seen the numerous structural failures of buildings which appear to be increasing in frequency, yet nothing has been done so far so to bring standards to bear and also to enforce those standards.

The Guyana National Bureau of Standards (GNBS) has been very busy in recent times in drafting standards, stakeholder training, information dissemination to the public and stakeholders, certification, and some mild enforcement in the municipal markets. However, since the Bureau’s own Mission Statement reads, “To promote standardisation for economic development and consumer protection through standards development and consumer protection in partnership with key sectors through Standards, Metrology and Conformity Assessment,” it suggests that “enforcement” or “compelling compliance”  does not form a part of its mandate.

When the state of affairs in the construction industry is viewed as a whole, including building materials producers and suppliers, electricians, plumbers, carpenters, masons, and the general contractor usually responsible for overseeing all of the foregoing, it becomes clear that “enforcement” in construction and the building environment requires an autonomous well equipped agency with skilled personnel able to monitor and control the full gamut of the construction process, and authorised to take complaints and issue sanctions to individuals and firms which are in breach of the standards and regulations.

As buildings continue to crumble and fall, we reported the collapse of a two-storey building in Lethem in July 2017 and just days later, the collapse of an under-construction house at Ogle. It is critical, therefore, that whatever standards exist governing the various subsectors of the construction industry should be enforced, with penalties being appropriately applied to proven defaulters. The wastage of time and money, the risk to life and limb, and the economic deprivation and stagnation that follow poorly constructed buildings which subside or cave in, etc, and edifices generally are a drain on our country’s resources, and a blight to our people.

As Day one of oil production nears and the oil and gas economy beckons, more and more Guyanese businesses and individuals continue to jostle to be competitive with non-national businesses, and we are coming to grips with the cold realisation of the negative impact and great disadvantage of having been doing business in an environment where standards are observed mainly in the breach – with ineffective monitoring, no compliance, and no penalties.

Only businesses that can self-regulate to international standards will make the cut, but government must play its part.

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