The Environmental Community Health Organization (ECHO) yesterday commenced the first in a series of events to raise public awareness about good governance in relation to the country’s natural environment, in the form of a picket exercise outside the Head Office of the Natural Resources Ministry at Brickdam.
During the protest, members of the body demanded that citizens be told the “truth” about the logging agreements made with Chinese company, Bai Shan Lin.
The company is exporting large quantities of expensive logs and reportedly does not have the requisite documentation to do so. It is alleged that the company has devised a way to conduct exports through joint ventures with legitimate companies, while according to information; it is primarily permitted to conduct exploration.
The Government is being accused of facilitating the activities of Bai Shan Lin because it came out in defence of its forest management policies and claimed that the company was just exporting small amounts of lumber. However, investigations by this newspaper revealed that large-scale logging activities are being conducted in the interior.
ECHO members also called on the Ministry to be transparent and accountable to the people when handling the nation’s natural environment. Yesterday’s demonstrators called for Minister Robert Persaud – and by extension the Government – to step down if they cannot be responsible with the country’s resources and in this case, offer a plausible explanation of what the Chinese company and others like it, are doing in Guyana’s forested areas.
ECHO’s Executive Director Royston King told the media that the organization is “conducting peaceful picket exercises in a bid to get a response from the government.” He explained that the organization is of the view that the log mining activity of the Chinese is causing serious environmental risks for the country, especially for the native communities that depend heavily on nature.
“We want the Minister to tell us what is happening, specifically with Bai Shan Lin.”
King said that the company seems to be cutting the forest resources capriciously, without considering the health and environmental effects.
He said that ECHO is seeking to raise public awareness about the value of the country’s natural resources, their importance and the need to protect them. King said that the public needs to be informed and also understand the regulations, laws and rules associated with the protection of the nation’s natural resources.
He stated also that transparency and accountability should also be a major factor in the accessing of natural resources since, like other sectors, it can be an avenue for corrupt practices if unmonitored.
“We are asking for transparency and accountability, not only from the government, but also from these companies given concessions to extract. They should be accountable and accept their social responsibilities which speak to ethics and good environmental practices.”
The ECHO Director said that the body will be hosting a special public forum at 5:15pm today at the National Library to speak on the ongoing issue. King said the body continues to engage its local and international partners on the matter and expects that speakers from international organizations such as PAHO and the UNDP will be available to speak on the topic of natural resources and good governance.
King said the organization also plans to meet with persons in interior communities to make them aware of the problems they face. They are also seeking to mobilize these persons to stand up for the protection their resources.
Georgetown Mayor, Hamilton Green, who took part in yesterday’s demonstration, said he is in solidarity with ECHO, given the revelations by this newspaper about widespread, large-scale logging activities in the interior. Green said that the current activities involving the Chinese logging company and the Government, are destroying future generations and citizens need to speak out.
“These activities show a total disregard for citizens of all races, colour and creed. While it is unclear who is actually benefiting from these activities, it is an assault on the livelihood of the indigenous people, a disdain for African slaves who bought lands from slave masters and disrespect to the children of indentured labourers to allow “aliens” to rape the natural resources as they are doing.”
ECHO has requested that the Government, for the sake of clarity, publish all relevant documentation regarding the extent of Bai Shan Lin’s authorization in Guyana.
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