Apr 13, 2016 News
By Kiana Wilburg
If a public servant is asked by his boss to carry out an unlawful instruction and he complies, should the
public servant be pardoned from sanctions? Or, should he be made to face some form of disciplinary action for giving into “the Mother of all vices”—Corruption?
These two questions have engaged some of our local political activists and anti-corruption leaders in the wake of a sobering revelation that was made by former Auditor General, Anand Goolsarran, over the weekend.
With all the instances of corruption he uncovered at the Guyana Forestry Commission, (GFC) Goolsarran made no recommendation for the Board or the GFC head, James Singh, to face any sanction. He had done so in his forensic audit report on the National Industrial and Commercial Investments Limited (NICIL).
Asked to explain why this was not done, Goolsarran told Kaieteur News that he could not find a “single piece of concrete evidence” which actually implicated a specific individual at GFC in the irregularities he cited in his report.
The Chartered Accountant said, “I am aware Government replaced the Board for the Forestry Commission. But I have to say that there was no concrete evidence to show that James Singh, for example, took decisions by himself.
“They were made by the former Board. I did not have hard or concrete evidence that there were irregularities carried out single-handedly by the Board.”
Goolsarran added, “One can obviously conclude that they closed their eyes to what was going on, but there is no evidence to tie them down to the decisions made, because what I observed was that there was heavy political influence in the GFC from the former Minister responsible for forestry, Robert Persaud and even Bharrat Jagdeo.”
Goolsarran said that based on the documents he saw, the former Board was “pressed to do things” and complied. “I suppose they did it with a heavy heart,” Goolsarran added.
“Besides, how does one discipline Board members who are no longer there? I have made it clear that BaiShanLin has failed to fulfill its obligations and Government should pull the plug on the company. It is necessary.
“There was indeed political interference in GFC, because we see in a number of cases that BaiShanLin should be writing the GFC Board but is instead writing directly to the former Prime Minister, Sam Hinds, on certain matters.”
While Goolsarran holds this view, some are in disagreement.
Specifically, University Professor and Executive Member of the Working People’s Alliance (WPA), Dr. David Hinds, said that the situation as explained by Goolsarran shows the nexus between political interference from above and the willingness of managers to bow to these pressures or knowingly collude with the politicians.
Dr. Hinds said that what the nation is now learning is how corruption took on a life of its own as it consumed all who were involved. He added that this is how the web of corruption is spun. Dr. Hinds believes that both the politicians and the managers are guilty.
He noted that in this instance, the former pressures and the latter enables. The Executive Member of the WPA asserted that based on what the citizenry is hearing from the auditor, this is what was at work at the GFC.
The University Professor said that once the politicians got involved in the process, the floodgates were opened. He opined that those at the Commission felt it was now open season and began to engage in their own instances of corruption. In this regard, Dr. Hinds stated that the challenge now is two-fold.
“Those who are guilty must be disciplined. There are no ifs and buts about that. Public Servants have to learn to resist the pressures from above to do wrong things. Yes, you may fear losing your jobs, but ultimately you will end up losing your dignity. If Ministers are found to be guilty then they must answer too. These are people who could one day become Ministers again. The second challenge is to dismantle the framework that facilitated the corruption. We are dealing here with institutional corruption.”
In this regard, the WPA Executive Member said that it is not just the individuals, but it is the modes of operation which they institutionalized that have to be rooted out if the nation is to make any headway in stemming the tide of corruption.
In his forensic audit report, Goolsarran exposed how the Chinese company made swift moves to gain control of five major companies in the Forestry Sector – Sherwood Forest Inc, Haimorakabra Logging Co., Wood Associated Industries Co. Ltd., Puruni Woods Inc. and Kwebanna Wood Products Inc.
Goolsarran noted, however, that there was no evidence that the specific approval of the GFC was granted in relation to the change of ownership/control of these companies. He argued that in the circumstances, the holders of the Timber Sales Agreements should have surrendered their authorizations to the Commission. He emphasized that these companies hold TSAs covering a total of 441,119 hectares. This means that BaiShanLin had access to a total of 627,072 hectares of State Forest.
Goolsarran said that since the Forests Act prohibits the transfer of ownership/control of a forest concession without the specific approval of the Commission, then the five concessionaires that have transferred such ownership or control to the officials of BaiShanLin should be made to surrender their concessions to the Commission for reallocation to other potential concessionaires.
Goolsarran also recommended that all state forests owned by the company should be returned to the Commission for reallocation.
In addition, he said that the coalition administration should consider terminating the investment agreements with the company and recover the value of the fiscal concessions granted to it.
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