The political opposition has blasted statements by a senior forestry official who last week said foreign investors find
it more profitable to export than invest in operations locally.
An angry former Finance Minister and current senior Member of Parliament for A Partnership for National Unity (APNU), Carl Greenidge, believed that the answers to media questions by Forestry Commissioner, James Singh, are the most “absurd” he has heard from a public official.
“I was not aware that it is envisaged that foreign investors would be able to get an agreement to process timber, but ignore that and export log for as long as they find that more profitable. Where is that provided for in the legislation? What level of logs is each company permitted to export and over what period?”
The opposition and local logging companies are up in arms with the Government over the arrangements with foreign investors in the sector. Attention has especially been on one Chinese company, Bai Shan Lin, and Vaitarna Holdings Private Inc. (VHPI), a subsidiary of India’s Coffee Day.
Both are involved in significant logging activities, but delays in establishing promised processing facilities like sawmills and other value-added activities have been delayed.
Government has been on the defensive with especially Bai Shan Lin describing questions pertaining to the company as an attack on Chinese.
However, the opposition remains defiant and says it intends to ask several questions about Guyana’s investment policies regarding duty free and tax concessions that have been granted. Government has largely side-stepped questions over the concessions with no clear answers as to who gave the green-light on the tens of millions of dollars to be waived.
“The Commissioner is not appointed to simply persuade the Guyana Forestry Commission (GFC) and the people to accept what any foreign investor regards as more profitable. Selling people is still profitable but trafficking in persons is both
unacceptable and illegal also. What is the Commissioner really saying?”
APNU is the largest Opposition faction in the National Assembly, controlling 26 seats, and together with the Alliance For Change has the voting majority.
Regarding the explanations of the Commissioner, Singh said that some companies find it more financially lucrative to export.
However, Greenidge pointed out that there is an existing forestry development plan.
Greenidge, who also chairs Parliament’s Public Accounts Committee (PAC), said that if foreign companies do not find it profitable to process or do not have the money to fulfill its commitments to invest, why is there a laid-back attitude by the GFC, the body that is supposed to protect the country’s forests?
“Does the Commissioner feel that it is his job to just sit back and accept that? What is the grace period set out in the contract? This cannot be a decision simply left to the investor. If there is no enforcement, agreements will not be honoured.”
The APNU official said that in contrast with the Commissioner’s explanation, there are daily complaints that the Guyana Geology and Mines Commission (GGMC) the state body charged with overseeing the mining sector, is taking away concessions from gold miners in particular on the grounds that they have not met their commitments.
“The enforcement of these laws is meant to be consistent with one another and they are there ostensibly to prevent persons exploiting our resources without structural development and appropriate taxation for the exploitation of natural resources that cannot be replaced at all or easily.”
Greenidge repeated calls from other stakeholders and politicians for the agreements between Government and Bai Shan Lin and Vaitarna to be made public “because these explanations sound alarming. Frankly,
it is almost as though the Commission does not know what it is doing. Which species are the companies exporting and was this set out in the agreement?”
The official said APNU is preparing for the matter to be addressed by the National Assembly.
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