The Shipping Association of Guyana is now on the threshold of a transformation and has begun to chart a new strategic direction with the preparation of a new five-year Strategic Plan. This would have been prompted by the need for the industry to keep apace with anticipated development and demand of the new oil and gas industry which has a heavy dependency on the maritime sector. In addition to direct demands, the projected growth in GDP for the coming years is likely to result in increased cargo traffic which will place greater strain on the current resources of the industry. Now the landscape has already begun to change with the advent of oil and gas as we witness the emergence of new business opportunities that have attracted investors and competitors from all parts of the world.
The year 2019 was one when the shipping industry stood on the periphery of uncertainty due in large measure to the instability of the political climate prevailing in the country at the time. This was coupled with the fact that we were faced with a legal challenge that was brought against us by a private business interest with the aim of utilising our facilities without hindrance, after attempts were made to regulate the operations of private haulers at our terminals. That matter, however, ended in favour of the Terminal Owners/Operators.
Guyana Revenue Authority
Our interventions with the GRA have always been cordial and positive. We are forever convinced that the intention of Customs is to prioritise the examination of goods for swift clearance without compromising the integrity of the state’s revenues. However, there were some challenges in relation to the scanning of containers due, in large measure, to the malfunctioning of the container scanner and the traffic congestion in the city. There were several interruptions in scanning activities which resulted in the marked reduction of the number of containers that could be processed within any given hour. This, no doubt, led to backlogs and missed shipments in some cases. A scanning fee was also instituted by GRA, which operators thought to be onerous, especially on empty containers.
In relation to the clearance of old cargo from our terminals, this proved to be an ongoing challenge. We all are aware of the many pleadings we have been making over the years to have this matter addressed. However, having no adequate accommodation for want of entry cargo, GRA seemed to be grossly restricted in its ability to handle this matter.
Mayor and City Council
In 2019, the M&CC introduced a fee for containerised cargo traversing the city’s roadways. After much discussion and negotiation at the levels of Government and the Private Sector Commission, it was agreed that an interim fee of GYD $5,000 per container would be applied. The proceeds of this imposition were to be used to effect repairs to the roads in the city. SAG saw no problem with this in principle but thought that City Hall could be better off by including all other heavy vehicles, so as not to seem biased against container trucks.
An agreement was subsequently brokered for the SAG Secretariat to collect those payments on behalf of the Council for a commission of five percent. It however remains strictly restricted to the containerised traffic.
The issue of hosting the Caribbean Shipping Association’s Annual General Meeting came up for discussion after an approach was made to the SAG by the Executives of the CSA at their 2018 meeting. A committee was formed to examine the possibility of hosting but the commitment to same by all members could not be guaranteed as it was thought that the involvement of key personnel from the membership was essential.
This issue was then put on hold for further consideration of the Host Country Agreement which outlined the responsibilities of the parties involved.
A Public Relations Consultant was engaged to examine our planned programme going forward. It was recommended that our website needed some upgrading since it was not user friendly. Other considerations included, but were not limited to, the production of a newsletter, and a Facebook account. Our new website however is currently under construction and expected to be launched soon.
No training courses were held in 2019. A Training Needs Analysis, that was designed to look into the needs of members, had been prepared and circulated. However, it was understood that members had pursued their own in-house training programmes ranging from front line customer service to supervisory training. A new approach and a more concerted effort would be contemplated for our future training programme.
Our relationship with the Maritime Administration Department continues to be sound. Though our interactions were somewhat limited, we continued to be vocal on matters that affected our members that would have stemmed from regulations instituted by MARAD. There was some amount of advocacy for the resuscitation of the Maritime Security Committee, a body that met quarterly in the past to deliberate on strategies for dealing with security matters in the ports ranging from petty larceny to armed robbery. That Committee had become dormant due to personnel changes at both Governmental and industry levels. We see it as being critical in the fight to minimise criminal activity in the ports, hence our view that such a committee is vital for the industry and such meetings need to be resumed.
There were also some discussions about the autonomy of MARAD, with the view in some quarters that MARAD should be replaced by a Port Authority, a body with more regulatory powers within the ports and shipping industry.
The idea of a turning basin in the Demerara Harbour was mentioned during discussions on the Deep Water Harbour (DWH), as the issue of where the DWH would be sited engaged the decision makers. With the draught of the Demerara River being as shallow as it is, costly capital dredging would be needed in preparation for such an undertaking, considering the fact that most of the commercial activity takes place within the Demerara Harbour.
In-house at the SAG’s office, within the past two years, we have carried out some developmental and repair works on the secretariat building and fences and renovated a section of the premises to accommodate two new offices which are now being rented in order to generate more income for the association. There is also a new guard hut that was built and a storage bond at the forefront of the premises is also being rented.
With the onset of COVID-19, the industry and SAG itself had to adjust the method it operated quite drastically, and we were in usual territory where we have had to operate in a different manner to which we are accustomed. The SAG has therefore been a bit stymied in its operations for the two years and we hope that as we see the end of COVID-19 (which we do hope is coming to an end), that things can return to normal, and we can resume our regular schedule and greater interaction (face-to-face) as we have, had in the past.
I would like to thank the secretariat and personnel, the trustees, and all those who have helped over the past two years, to support whatever efforts we have made and especially the busy times when we are not always available and our staff was able to carry on the good work of the SAG. I would like to close by saying thanks, particularly to them and to all of you for your attention.