Sep 19, 2016 News
– US specialist
By: Kiana Wilburg
Billions worth in concessions have been granted to Chinese logging company, BaiShanLin Forest Development Inc.
But what does Guyana have to show for it today?
Local forest experts and anti-corruption advocates like Dr. Anand Goolsarran have over the years compared the behavior of the Chinese company to that of a dangerous parasite in Guyana.
Those persons believe that the new policy makers must demonstrate accountability in this sector by publishing all concessions granted to all logging companies.
Forest management and governance specialist expert, John Palmer, told Kaieteur News that according to Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) guidelines on multinational enterprises (the latest being the 2011Edition, Section III Disclosure), all Foreign Direct Investment arrangements – such as those involving access to public (national) assets including State Forests – should be published.
He said that the Guyana Forestry Commission (GFC) forest concession policy of 1993 and the procedures associated with the amendment to forest law in 1997 require the GFC to carry out due diligence checks on applicants for forest concessions.
Palmer noted too that there is no public evidence that such checks were applied to either Chinese-owned Bai Shan Lin in 2006 or the Indian-owned Vaitarna in 2010.
Palmer said that it is a right of citizens to know how the Government is carrying out its responsibilities, including how it is disposing of national assets.
The forest specialist said that it is conventional to exclude only “commercial-in-confidence data”. However, Palmer said that that exclusion has been abused by former political leaders President Bharrat Jagdeo notably in relation to the financing of the Amaila Falls hydropower project.
The senior associate at Forest Management Trust in the USA also recalled President David Granger’s electoral promise in 2015 contention that all FDI concessions granted to companies should be published.
Chartered Accountant, Anand Goolsarran agrees with Palmer’s views.
He explained that there are two types of concessions granted in the forestry sector, namely fiscal and concessions; and forest concessions.
Goolsarran said that fiscal concessions are based on investment agreements entered into between the Government and the potential investors. These are processed by the GO-Invest and Ministry of Finance.
The former Auditor General said, “These agreements should be laid in the National Assembly soon after they are entered into. This is necessary for the public to be aware of their existence, terms and conditions contained in them, including the list of items for which fiscal concessions are granted. It would also be desirable for all such concessions to be publicized in the media.”
Goolsarran said that the Baishanlin experience has emphasized the need a few other pertinent changes that would prevent future abuses by other companies.
The Chartered Accountant said that the process for granting fiscal concessions should be de-politicized. He said that is vital so that each case could be looked at on its merit. Goolsarran said it can also be examined for its conformity with a policy framework paper presented and approved by the National Assembly.
The former Auditor General emphasized that there should be the highest degree of transparency in the granting of all fiscal concessions. He said that this can be done by making available to the public as much information as possible on a regular basis.
He said, too, that there should be rigid monitoring of the activities of investors for compliance with the terms and conditions of the investment agreements.
Any violation or deviation without reasonable explanation, Goolsarran said, should be met with invoking the remedies provided for in the agreement. He said that this would include the termination of the agreement and the recovery of all fiscal concessions granted.
The Chartered Accountant is of the firm view that all State Forest Exploratory Permits (SFEPs) and Timber Sales Agreements (TSAs) should be also be laid in the National Assembly for public scrutiny immediately after they are entered into.
Even though this idea has been acknowledged for its transparency merit, the Government remains cautious about the implications it might have in scaring away deep-pocket investors.
But in this regard Palmer says, “Why should investors be scared of the disclosures which are recommended or required by OECD and the international finance institutions such as the World Bank and InterAmerican Development Bank?”
He stressed that the only kinds of investors who might be scared are those intending to enter into corrupt deals with local politicians and government agencies.
“Are those the kinds of investors which the APNU+AFC coalition is hoping to attract?”
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