Apr 02, 2016 News
Investigation underway – Finance Minister
Before the historic May 11 General and Regional Elections, the APNU+AFC coalition party was highly critical about the actions of Chinese logging company, BaiShanLin Forest Development Inc. in Guyana.
In fact, many members of the APNU referred to the Chinese company as a heartless investor who has benefitted from billions of dollars worth in concessions while raping the nation of its prime forest lands.
Given the party’s position before the elections, many critics were under the impression that the coalition party had a clear sense of direction on how to deal with the company should it assume office.
But the recent actions of a Government Minister have left many wondering whether the party is now backpedaling.
One such person is Executive Member of the People’s Progressive Party/ Civic (PPP/C) Donald Ramotar. The former President recalled that it was only yesterday that Kaieteur News revealed that Minister of State, Joseph Harmon halted a seizure operation that was being carried out on BaiShanLin.
The operation was being executed by GRA in collaboration with officials from the Special Organized Crime Unit (SOCU). Kaieteur News understands that these vehicles were being seized due to the fact that the Chinese company failed to pay the required duties within the legally stipulated timeframe.
But, before officials from the GRA’s Customs Department and the Special Organized Crime Unit could carry out the seizures, they received a call from Harmon who gave strict instructions that the vehicles must not be removed, to leave the company alone, and to walk away from the premises.
Several attempts were made by this newspaper to contact Harmon on the matter, but all proved futile.
Ramotar said that if the report is indeed true then Harmon was indeed wrong to interfere in the operations of GRA.
The former President said that the APNU+AFC Party was one that boasted of doing better than the PPP and made a promise to restore confidence, transparency and accountability. Ramotar said that the party is only left wanting, given Harmon’s actions.
He said that the Minister of State should face the nation and explain himself. “It is the honourable thing to do,” he added.
Adding his voice to the matter was Executive Member of the Working People’s Alliance (WPA), Dr. David Hinds.
In an interview with Kaieteur News, he said that if what is reported was true, then it represents either a lack of coordination among government agencies or the absence of a clear policy by the political directorate on what to do with BaiShanLin.
“From the look of things it seems to be the latter. It is not unusual, especially for new governments which are finding their feet, for there to be a lack of coordination among the agencies or between the political directorate and the agencies. This could be a case of simple miscommunication,” expressed Dr. Hinds.
The University Professor said it is possible that that might be the case here. He said however that there seems to be different signals from different persons in the party.
Dr. Hinds said that if GRA has been moving to seize the vehicles, then it must have been doing so based on directives from above. He said that if it is now being told to cease the operation, then there must have been a change of policy.
“If this is so, the question is why this was not communicated through the proper channels? I think that the lack of a clear overall policy on what to do with BaiShanLin and similar situations is hampering the government,” expressed the political activist.
The Professor of Caribbean and African Diaspora Politics opined that there is a limit to how much one can innovate as you go along. He said that at some point the Government has to decide what to do one way or the other.
“Are you going to keep the deals made by the previous government or are you going to scrap them and start afresh or amend them? I appreciate that there might be differences of opinion on what to do. That is normal. But you have to arrive at some kind of consensus, even if it’s a preliminary one,” expressed Dr. Hinds.
Several Government Ministers confirmed that they were aware of this issue. They, however, declined to give an on-the-record comment.
Chairman of the Guyana Revenue Authority, Rawle Lucas, when contacted on Thursday, said that he became aware of the issue on Wednesday.
Asked if GRA would still pursue the matter despite the intervention of the senior Government official, he said, “I expect that this matter would be dealt with accordingly. At this stage I really can’t give any further comment. But at least we have a Minister (who could conduct an investigation).
“You have to remember that I am not an Executive Chairman of GRA, so I can only begin to seriously enquire as to whether that really represents acceptable policy from an entity like GRA, and if that is part of their modus operandi.”
Asked if he would be informing Minister of Finance, Winston Jordan, on the matter, he said, “Oh, I think my Minister is very much aware about this issue already”.
Jordan was contacted on Friday on the issue. He admitted that he is aware of the matter. Jordan however declined to offer a detailed comment, except to say, “I am going to investigate the veracity of this allegation.”
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