…awarded to close friends by Jagdeo’s administration – GFC records says
Records that were once kept under tight wraps by the previous government are lifting the veil on what transpired in the forestry sector in the last two decades.
With Government saying that no productive forest lands remain available, records and complaints, including maps, are indicating that several concessions were repossessed, some forcibly, only to end up in the hands of not only close friends but a few foreign companies that have been under the spotlight.
The concessions are located in Regions One, Seven, Eight and Nine.
Last week, Minister of Natural Resources, Raphael Trotman, said that his Government, shortly after coming to office last year, discovered that hundreds of thousands of acres of the area set aside for logging and other forestry activities are all gone.
However, Opposition Leader and ex-President Bharrat Jagdeo, denied this was so, saying that only 55 percent of the forest has been allocated.
He said that most of the lands were granted before 1992, under the PNC government, to companies like Barama.
Recent maps and other records indicated that indeed no lands in the areas allowed for activities are available.
Other records, acquired by Kaieteur News, along with complaints of concessions holders, are showing a pattern where lands were taken away and then re-allocated.
In some cases, the lands were acquired, under questionable joint ventures (JV) and other arrangements, by companies like Chinese-owned BaiShanLin and Vaitarna Holdings, an Indian company.
Some of the concessions that have been re-allocated included those belonging to Kwebanna Wood Products; Caribbean Resources, Unamco, Simon and Shock; Sherwood Forests and Demerara Timbers.
According to the records, these prime forest lands were allocated to not only BaiShanLin, but also to companies like Rong An Inc, Grand Bright Forestry; Hi Tech and Puruni Woods.
Some of the concession holders said that they were told to sell or enter joint venture arrangements or face the concessions being taken away.
In one case, a Region One concession under a prominent family from Essequibo ended up in the hands of a foreign affairs official who is based in Florida. This concession was acquired by BaiShanLin shortly after.
Most of the concession holders said that they were fearful of speaking before.
They said that they were also pressured by the Guyana Forestry Commission which used “all sorts of reasons” including non-compliance, to force them to sell off.
Significant to note also is that the concessions given out did not see any processing taking place there.
It would raise questions about the monitoring of GFC.
Minister Trotman last week said that land grabbing was done without any regard for future generations.
He made it clear 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.
The administration is now moving to change the forestry laws.
The issue of forest lands is part of a bigger concern over the giveaway of the country’s resources.
With the last two decades, especially under Jagdeo’s rule, state properties, and vast lands for gold mining and logging ended up through questionable circumstances in the hands of a few, many of them foreigners.
Some of the companies and individuals were mere speculators. They sold out their concessions for hundreds of millions of dollars to foreigners, another official pointed out.
Guyana, on the other hand, lost out on taxes and other obligatory revenues that would have been earned by the state.
Little monitoring and corruption have also helped some of the companies to operate in a seeming wild-west situation, with smuggling, under-declaration and environmental issues resulting.
The new administration has vowed to regulate the situation but few persons or companies have been brought to the court or penalized.
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