…refuses to maintain 100km of road it destroys daily
By Gary Eleazar
A significant escalation in logging activities over the last three years in Region Ten has led directly to the destruction of the more than 200 kilometres of roadway between Kwakwani, Linden and Georgetown.
According to official figures, an average of 40 heavily laden trucks traverse the worsening stretch of road each day between Kwawkani to Linden. They are also met by others heading to Georgetown, thus destroying that stretch of road also.
The majority of the trucks on the Kwakwani to Linden road belongs to, or contracted by Chinese logging company, Bai Shan Lin, which has also significantly escalated its activities in the Region.
Bai Shan Lin alone exports an average of 1,200 containers of logs annually. Logs are brought to Georgetown by way of trucks and barges.
The situation has led to the Ministry of Public Works having to assume maintenance of the roadway, pumping an average of $100M annually, along the Kwakwani to Linden road over the past five years.
The road has deteriorated to the point where it is almost impassable. Huge craters punctuate that stretch of road and travel is routinely made worse by heavy rains.
To make matters worse, the logging companies that depend on the road have refused to assist in its maintenance and have argued this case since they claim to have already assumed responsibility for the Unamco Road.
The Unamco Road is primarily a logging road that runs along the eastern bank of the Berbice River.
The Public Works Ministry currently has a small fleet stationed in Region Ten, responsible for the maintenance of the road.
The fleet includes one frontend loader, one excavator, one roller, one Bobcat, two trucks and a grader.
The fleet is often times removed to undertake emergency works in other locations limiting the capacity to effectively maintain the Linden to Kwakwani road.
The situation has reached such dire proportions that the Public Works Minister has indicated to this publication that come early next year, Government is looking to install a toll booth.
While this would be a new source of revenue meant to assist in the maintenance of the road, Public Works Minister, Robeson Benn, has admitted that the revenue would be nowhere close to adequate and as such Government would still have to utilize money from the nation’s coffers.
The predicament has now led to stakeholders calling for the timber companies to do more since it earns billions of dollars from the logs shipped out of the Guyana forest while paying Government a paltry royalty.
Forestry exports for the first eight months of this year have more than doubled compared to the same period of 2013.
A staggering 86,250 cubic meters of logs were exported between January and August. This earned US$14.5M. Last year, for the same period, 41,518 cubic meters were exported, earning over US$7M.
For this year, until August, log exports represented about 46 percent of the total forest exports as against the 30 percent for last year.
Regional Chairman of the affected area, Sharma Solomon, has told this newspaper that Bai Shan Lin and the other loggers using the road are destroying it, and that when they are approached to assist in repairing it, the companies insist that they already pay royalties and taxes to Government.
To make matters worse the company has failed to embark on value added exports which was supposed to see Guyana earning more than 40 per cent above what it currently receives from Bai Shan Lin in royalties.
The company has also been accused of cheating Guyana in an attempt to avoid paying more through what is known as transfer pricing.
Transfer pricing allows Bai Shan Lin’s parent company in China to set the price on logs.
The issue was raised recently by Chartered Accountant Christopher Ram, who is on record saying “In effect, they can set whatever prices they want because nobody does any serious review. At the end of the day, the Government gets lower revenues from its royalties and of course, more importantly, the seller…the poor local loggers…get whatever price is being offered to them.”
The use of imported Chinese labour and the transfer pricing practice also opens a real possibility for Bai Shan Lin to use its proceeds in China to pay workers without local taxes and other commitments like NIS being remitted.
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