Sep 11, 2014 News
“The information the Forestry Commission provided is a bundle of hogwash but there is still time. James Singh needs to go and review my request and satisfy it,” Harmon
By Kiana Wilburg
The documents the Guyana Forestry Commission (GFC) provided to A Partnership for National Unity (APNU) on its management of Bai Shan Lin’s operations, barely scratches the surface of the information the political party requested as a prelude to an upcoming debate between the two.
APNU member on the Parliamentary Sectoral Committee on Natural Resources, Joseph Harmon, deemed the documents handed over by Commissioner of Forest, James Singh, “a bundle of hogwash.”
Harmon said that although the debate between the two is expected to be later this month, Singh still has time to review his request and satisfy it.
After the politician accepted the challenge extended by Singh for a public debate on the operations of the Chinese firm, he had asked for certain information and documents to be provided.
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).
Harmon said that 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.
However, the APNU politician said that Singh did not even provide a “minimal amount of the information” he requested. As regards Bai Shan Lin, Singh provided information on the State Forest Exploratory Permits and the Timber Sales Agreement of Joint Venture Partners of Bai Shan Lin.
He also provided Harmon with the Commission’s assessment of the Chinese company’s forest operations and an overview of its proposed wood processing facility in Guyana and status update.
Singh also provided a summary of Bai Shan Lin and its Joint Venture Partners’ exports of forest produce from 2007 to 2014. The Commission also provided documentation showing permission to export for Bai Shan Lin and its joint venture partners. The Commissioner of Forest also sent a schedule of the number of instances and corresponding number of foreign persons /posts for Bai Shan Lin’s operations, to the APNU.
Also included was a schedule of local Guyanese employed by Bai Shan Lin and its Joint venture partners.
The lawyer had 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, 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 relating 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.
Commenting on the information he did not provide, Singh made it pellucid that the politician would have to secure such from the “relevant authorities” as what he provided is within the direct purview of the GFC.
Harmon had also suggested that a date for the highly anticipated debate be set between September 15 and September 30. The Parliamentarian said that 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.
However, the GFC in its letter requested for it to be held in a mutually accepted studio setting with an agreed moderator to facilitate the “discussions.”
To this request, the politician said, “Is NCN he wants to take us? That studio will limit public participation. I don’t want that. I want he pon de road. That’s where my office is.”
Harmon said that by failing to provide certain information, Singh is by extension saying how seriously he takes the debate. “If he throws out a challenge to an elected official it means that he is getting the approval of the government and as such he needs to provide what I asked for.”
“Since he is now standing as the face of government on these issues, then he needs to provide it because Bharrat Jagdeo, the former president; President Donald Ramotar and even Khurshid Sattaur, the GRA boss is hiding from me. It’s now on the shoulders of the GFC Commissioner to satisfy my request.”
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.
Exxon has to put up a sign board across the Demerara Harbour Bridge to tell Guyanese what % of revenue we are getting from the Stabroek Block!
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