An interesting and intense debate over the controversial Bai Shan Lin logging operation is expected to take centre stage sometime in September.
This is because APNU Parliamentarian Joseph Harmon has accepted a challenge thrown out to him by Commissioner of the Guyana Forestry Commission, James Singh.
The debate comes in light of a series of articles and photographs by this publication on the logging activities of the Chinese Company, which does not have a logging licence.
In a letter which appeared in the press, Singh said that at a meeting of the Parliamentary Sub-Committee on Natural Resources on July 14, all matters and areas of clarification related to forestry activities, including Bai Shan Lin’s operations, were fully addressed with relevant details provided.
However, the Forestry Commission noted that there have been several reports in the local media, which contained allegations, claims and assertions that Harmon made, on various matters relating to Bai Shan Lin and the GFC’s conduct in this regard.
He said that the GFC role as a regulatory agency involves interactive and open dialogue with stakeholders. In this regard, “I like to invite you to a public debate on Bai Shan Lin’s operations and any other related forestry matter at a time that is convenient to you.”
In response, Harmon, who is a member on the Parliamentary Sectoral Committee on Natural Resources , wrote to Singh acknowledging the receipt of his letter, dated August 13, which extended an invitation to the public debate.
At the centre of the issue is the stewardship of the Guyana Forestry Commission (GFC) over the forestry sector of Guyana and the Commission’s relationship with Bai Shan Lin (BSL).
The attorney-at law in his letter to Singh stated, “I welcome your offer to provide any information which is needed before the event and… It is my hope that this major shift in government approach to the release of information will be followed in other areas of national life.”
The Parliamentarian also said that as a prelude to such a debate, it is imperative and only logical for the public to be provided with certain information on the topic so that, they, the ultimate judges, can be equipped with the requisite background knowledge which will enable them to make an informed judgment when the debate occurs.
The lawyer requested that Singh provide copies of all agreements between BSL and GFC, and BSL and Government of Guyana, copies of all agreements between BSL and other entities involved in the Forestry sector for the cutting and export of logs, a report on GFC’s supervision of the aforesaid agreements and GFC’s opinion on “Landlord” in the Forestry Sector and copies of investment agreements with BSL requiring the company to set up wood processing facilities in Guyana.
Harmon also asked that copies of any GFC report on BSL compliance with the agreement for wood processing facility in Guyana and copies of any documents related to BSL export of logs from Guyana to China over the last five years, and a comparison of the said logs reportedly imported into China and if there is a difference in the figures, whether GFC can offer an explanation, be made available to the public.
Also of importance, the politician said that duplicates of documents related to Duty Free Concessions given to BSL, including any concessions on Duty Free fuel over the last five years should be made available for citizens. He called too for the disclosure of any agreements between BSL and any official of GFC, including any tenancy agreements which provide a personal benefit to any official of GFC.
He also said that Singh should provide any document relative to the work permits issued to Foreign Nationals on behalf of BSL for employment in the Forestry Sector, and any document relative to the number of Guyanese employed by the company in the Forestry Sector.
Harmon outlined that the aforementioned is a preliminary list of information that he requests. However, more can be added, at the end of the lawyer’s consultation with other citizens at home and abroad.
He suggested that a date for the highly anticipated debate be set between September 15 and 30. The Parliamentarian said GFC can proceed with making the necessary arrangements for the debate and he requested that it be done in a community where the impact of the operation of BSL is felt most.
“I would also request that the debate be “in the public” and that GFC considers a public space in Linden with suitable seating for about 3,000 persons. All media houses should have equal access to the debate and the total expenses associated with the event be met by GFC from its resources,” Harmon concluded.
Harmon had previously compared the behaviour of Bai Shan Lin to that of a parasite, only feeding viciously off of Guyana’s resources.
The politician noted that it is now clearer than ever why the company tried its utmost to avoid parliamentary scrutiny for the past two years.
The Parliamentarian said that since last year, the Natural Resources Sectoral Committee received reports of this sort of abuse in the logging industry but when “we called on the Minister, he only gave us a set of excuses.
For two years straight Minister Persaud avoided us. We cannot allow corrupt officials to be entering into agreements which facilitate this kind of destruction.”
Harmon had said that the “excuses” presented to the committee by the Ministry on behalf of the company can only be summed up as disrespect towards the Committee and by extension, the National Assembly. The heart of the excuses he said, was that the company was simply too busy to accommodate the questions of the Committee.
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