After weeks of opposition-generated pressure and questions laid in parliament, the Government of Guyana has finally revealed the identity of the individual, who received two controversial trawler licences last year.
Just a few weeks ago, Opposition Parliamentarian and former Public Securities Minister, Khemraj Ramjattan asked in the National Assembly of the Minister of Agriculture, Zulfikar Mustapha, several questions relating to the granting of trawler Licenses. Among the questions asked, were to whom two new trawler licenses were issued to for the years 2020 to 2021, by the Fisheries Department of the Ministry of Agriculture.
Ramjattan’s questions would come months after he accused the government of being embroiled in nepotism; noting that the operator is a ‘friend’ of the administration.
Ramjattan is not the only one to have reservations about the granting of the licences, in fact, according to a Stabroek News article dated December 20, 2020: it was the Guyana Association of Trawler Owners and Seafood Processors (GATOSP) that brought the issue to the fore when it disclosed that the two licences had been granted.
According to the newspaper, the organization has since protested, saying that the approval of the licences is in contravention of sustainable fishing practices. It was further revealed that subsequent to that protest, the Ministry of Agriculture initiated a probe to determine the circumstances under which the approval was given, however, findings of that probe were never made public.
The minister did not reveal the identity of the businessman in the National Assembly, but declared that the recipient is a “well-established Guyanese operator in the fishing industry, who was duly qualified to receive the said licence, who complied with the requisite procedures and satisfied all the legal requirements in relation thereto”.
The government said today, that minister did not disclose the name of the recipient of the licenses in keeping with “extant Parliamentary practices which have been sustained and upheld by repeated rulings of different Speakers of the House”.
The statement said that because of the Minister’s adherence to those practices and procedures of not disclosing names of persons in answers to questions posed in the House, he was accused of deliberate non-disclosure.
However, questions regarding the identity of the licensee were in the public domain since last year – months before they were asked in the House.
The government said that in order to demonstrate its “commitment to transparency” it went ahead and disclosed the name and address of the recipient of the Licenses: “Rampersaud Sookhdeo of La Jalousie, West Coast Demerara.”
The administration said that “reports indicate” that Sookhdeo has been in the fishing industry for over fifteen years. Additionally, he was operating under the name Haseed Enterprise in Trinidad and Tobago. He owns four trawlers (shrimp, red snapper, cage fishing, long liner fishing). He employs a number of Guyanese in his operations but was forced to relocate from Trinidad to Guyana because of Covid-19 restrictions and regulations.
It was noted, too, that Minister Mustapha met with members of GATOSP on January 22, 2021, during which, a number of issues were raised. Both parties decided that there should be a committee established to properly resolve issues and determine the way forward. Members of the committee, which will be convened by the Ministry’s Director General, Madanlall Ramraj, include Ruben Charles, Leslie Ramalho, Dawn Maison of the GATOSP, the Chief Fisheries Officer, Denzil Roberts and the Chief Technical Officer, George Jervis.