Transparency Institute Guyana Inc. is standing by its calls for an investigation into the operations of Bai Shan Lin (BSL), a Chinese company that is under scrutiny for logging operations. In its weekly column Tuesday in Stabroek News, the global civil society organisation which is leading the fight against corruption, said that statements by the Guyana Forestry Commission (GFC) defending the sector; is not enough to allay fears that some things are just not right.
“…as long as GFC continues to operate in secrecy and disclose information selectively, such platitudes cannot resolve the legitimate concerns swirling around its stewardship and the state of our forests. TIGI stands by its earlier press release calling for an investigation into the operations of Bai Shan Lin (BSL), on the basis of a number of abnormalities now in the public domain…”
Transparency International argued that as long as GFC maintains its stranglehold of information, there is no way to verify whether BSL indeed operates within the law.
“The Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) deal between the Cabinet and BSL was negotiated in secret and Guyanese still do not know the full extent of the benefits that have been heaped upon this company.
Only information as to the operations by BSL and its partners, covering facts such as the quantity and value of forest produce exported (from where, when and under what agreements) as well as the revenue gained and taxes foregone, can definitively settle the concerns.”
The past weeks have seen immense pressure on Government and BSL over duty free concessions, logging practices, joint ventures and other benefits that the Chinese company has received. But few answers regarding these have been forthcoming. The agreements are likely not to be released as Government will have to explain details to an Opposition which says it is “highly interested”.
For example, the Opposition wants to know who gave permission to BSL to ship in scores of trucks, loaders, skidders, bulldozers and quite a few luxury rides, including an Infiniti Q series SUV and a Lexus.
All were reportedly granted through duty free concessions, which amounted to hundreds of millions in taxes being waived. GFC, the Guyana Revenue Authority and the Guyana Office for Investments, have not been forthcoming in answers.
The BSL issue has spilled over and now includes Vaitarna Holdings Private Inc., an Indian company which is involved in logging but is facing delays in establishing processing facilities that it committed when it made its investment proposal.
Critics have questioned the laxity of GFC in ensuring that the commitments were honored in a timely manner. There were no updates on the investments until the issues were raised by both Kaieteur News and Stabroek News.
According to Transparency, GFC’s defence of the sector by simply pointing to what systems are in place to protect the forests, does not answer questions as to what is and has been actually happening on the ground.
“Further, such information as does exist or that emerges from GFC in dribbles actually reinforces the existence of irregularities, as it is frequently inconsistent and even misleading.”
Citing examples, Transparency Int. in the column, said that more than five years after BSL commenced its operations in Guyana, GFC is unable to provide a consistent and accurate answer as to the extent of the forest concessions controlled by the company.
It pointed out that in July this year, Minister of Natural Resources, Robert Persaud, told the Parliamentary Committee on Natural Resources that BSL controls 640,000 hectares of forest, ‘the majority of which is for various studies’.
“Three weeks later, this figure went down by 13,000 hectares as per the Commission’s letter to Kaieteur News on 13 August, 2014, in which it claimed that BSL has ‘legal access to 627,072 hectares’ of forest.”
While this is admittedly not a big discrepancy, the figures are not withstanding scrutiny and both have been repeatedly contradicted by BSL itself. “Statements from the Chairman of BSL in the public domain, admit to acquisitions of and partnerships with companies other than those identified by GFC, bringing BSL’s control to a staggering area of Guyana’s forests exceeding 1.2 million hectares. BSL makes these claims in the press, in China, and on their websites, boldly and repeatedly.”
Transparency said that Minister Persaud has even called on BSL to retract these claims, but the company has simply ignored him.
“In the face of the factual discrepancies regarding BSL’s holdings, combined with the company’s contempt for the Minister and continued operations with impunity, including excavating for laterite, TIGI and all Guyanese remain justifiably concerned about the legality of BSL’s holdings and ‘arrangements’ and the capacity of the government to monitor this company.”
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