By Kurt Campbell
Just over a month after the government successfully championed the Local Content Bill, the International Energy Conference and Expo, which concluded Friday at the Marriott Hotel in Georgetown, has reinforced the need for robust local content laws.
The Conference, which was described as a well-executed, world class event, included the attendance of many prominent world leaders, industry officials, and a diverse global presence at one venue. Attendees included Ghanaian President Nana Dankwa Akufo-Addo, Barbados Prime Minister Mia Mottley, Suriname President, Chandrikapersad Santokhi, Chief Executive Officer and Chairman of ExxonMobil Darren Woods, and representatives from major companies such as Air Canada.
The Conference also provided significant opportunities to boost the local tourism and hospitality industries, which is slowly recovering from the pandemic, as evidenced from the full occupancies at hotels and fully booked restaurants during the week.
The local manufacturing sector, through the Guyana Manufacturing and Services Association (GMSA), also seized the opportunity of the event to transform the Umana Yana into a duty-free zone for local businesses and artisans, creating an opportunity for local businesses to showcase products to the exhibitors.
While for many delegates, the conference surpassed expectations for connecting those in the industry with opportunities in Guyana’s developing oil & gas sector, the lack of local participation seemingly signalled local companies’ unpreparedness and inability to offer their services in the sector.
This was evident by the Conference Secretariat’s confirmation that the majority of exhibitors comprised foreign companies. Communications Director Alex Graham, however, opined that the conversation on foreign dominance is a “moot point” because the sector is new to Guyana, noting that the country lacks the services and skills required.
Some may feel that this gap by local companies has enabled foreign companies to ‘step up’ and seize the abundant opportunities offered by Guyana’s oil sector due to their experience and expertise; this has also allowed them to engage in a significant way at such an event.
In the absence of this ‘know-how,’ local companies are unable to have meaningful participation, which is likely the reason for their low turnout at the conference and the resultant potential of missed opportunities in the industry.
As such, though the conference can be commended for the successful completion of its mission, it also reinforces the need for Local Content legislation in Guyana and a robust mechanism for ensuring that local companies are empowered to engage in the sector.
Moreover, the experience of this Conference can be a learning opportunity for local businesses to better equip themselves for the next Conference, which is expected to be an annual event.
As part of the Local Content law, a Local Content Secretariat has been set up to connect local professionals and businesses with opportunities in the oil and gas industry, including drafting and enforcing bid evaluation and procurement guidelines that mandate that foreign companies include provisions for local services to be used.
This mandate by the Local Content Secretariat is a worthwhile starting point for advocating for Guyanese businesses in the sector, empowering businesses to improve to international industry standards, and realizing the benefits of the new laws in ensuring that local companies take advantage of the spaces carved out for them.
Similarly, local businesses should also be expected to help themselves and not complacently expect to benefit from the sector’s opportunities without the requisite equipping of skills, expertise, and standards.
The Local Content Bill was passed in the National Assembly on December 29, 2021, and signed into law by President Irfaan Ali on December 31, 2021. It clearly defines who is a Guyanese and what constitutes a Guyanese business. The law also outlines a schedule that sets out targets of benefits for Guyanese in 40 key sectors to be implemented by the end of 2022.