Leader of the Opposition, Bharrat Jagdeo, is disputing statements made by Minister of Natural Resources,
Raphael Trotman, who had told the National Assembly on Thursday that when the new government took office, it was to learn that its predecessor had distributed all of Guyana’s productive forest.
Jagdeo, who served as President from 1999 to 2011, told the National Assembly yesterday that it was approximately 55 percent of state productive land that was in fact allocated in the People’s Progressive Party’s (PPP) history.
“It is said in the newspapers that the PPP gave out all of the productive land in the forestry sector,” Jagdeo said. “The fact is that about fifty five per cent of the state forest has been given out so far in our history. It’s about seven million hectacres out of 12.5 million hectacres.”
“So it is not true that all of our state forests are given out,” Jagdeo protested to the house. “And out of that 55 per cent, just about 40 percent is under extraction. Of the (millions of) hectacres that were given out, almost half was given out in the pre 1992 era. Barama alone had 1.7 million hectacres.”
Jagdeo also informed the House that the PPP administration gave out 568 concessions in the state forest permits, totaling about two million hectacres.
Maps however reveal that the forest allocation to the mining sector is much larger than what Jagdeo says and closer to Trotman’s allegation.
Jagdeo said, “But if the argument was that we are raping the forest, the Norwegians every year based on payments, sent international assessors and these are people who come in here and examine the deforestation rate for the year.”
This is a reference to the Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD) concept, in conjunction with the Low Carbon Development Strategy (LCDS), which involved Guyana managing its forests and reducing deforestation in order to reduce carbon emissions, but get paid for it.
A REDD+ Investment Fund (GRIF), which financed activities and projects under the LCDS, was established in 2010 with the World Bank as the trustee. The establishment of the fund was owed to an agreement signed between Guyana and the Kingdom of Norway in 2009, in which Norway agreed to provide Guyana up to US$250M by 2015 as long as REDD was adhered to.
While Jagdeo is strongly disputing the government’s report on the amount of land granted, previous revelations about the operations of certain logging companies including Chinese giant BaiShanLin—-which has even reached into gold mining and housing development-—had long raised suspicions that this was the case,
Trotman had told the National Assembly that much to the “horror” of the new administration upon the assumption of office, “we were met with an alarming situation where we discovered that 100% or all of our productive forest was allocated by the past Government.”
“This is what a former Head of State would have referred to as ‘confounded nonsense,” the Minister said. “How could a responsible government preside over the allocation of all, not some, of its productive forest? Understandably, in the national interest we will have to do something about it.”
He said that this must have been done without any regard for future generations. Trotman said that in the context of the national patrimony, this can only be seen as a threat to the nation’s long term viability and security as a people.
Trotman had also noted that there have been many changes since the existing National Forestry Policy was crafted. In light of this, the Minister told the House that there has to be a revision of the policy.
He said that for 2016, his Ministry will continue to update and rationalize policies and laws relating to the conservation, management, protection and sustainable development of the nation’s patrimony, its forest resources.
Trotman asserted that an updated forest policy will mark a significant shift in emphasis from the development of Guyana’s timber to management of the forests’ multiple goods and services for the national benefit.
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