Authorities are insisting that proper due diligence and other checks were carried out on Rong-An Inc. (RAI), a Chinese-owned company, that was last month granted 417,809.23 hectares of the lands that were once in the control of Barama Company Limited.
Questions arose about the level of due diligence carried out on RAI by the Guyana Forestry Commission (GFC) after it became known last month that a vessel the company once owned, Vicky B, was seized by the St. Lucian government in 2011.
Last month, St. Lucia’s Comptroller of Customs (ag), Rody Alcindor, in a notice published in the Official Gazette of Guyana, announced that his country is moving to seize the vessel.
The notice named RAI, last known address of 139 Lindley Avenue, as the owner of the vessel with the country of registration as Guyana.
According to the notice, the 1960-built cargo vessel, Vicky B, is the subject of seizure by the Customs and Excise Department of Saint Lucia.
The St. Lucian official said that interested parties have 28 days following the second publication of the notice to object. The notice was dated August 8th, 2017.
The vessel, in late 2011, was seized after St. Lucia’s security officials, acting on information, stopped it about six miles off the island.
During a search, the officials reportedly found 30 kilos of cocaine, 46 kilos of marijuana, a shotgun, ammunition and grenades. Six Guyanese were slapped with charges by the St. Lucian authorities.
The vessel had apparently been under surveillance. The boat has been held and anchored in the waters of St. Lucia since then.
Responding to questions about RAI’s involvement in the St. Lucia’s incident, GFC last week explained that after the situation because known in 2011, its Internal Audit Unit (IAU) was asked to determine if there were any linkages to Chinese-owned company.
“Based on its investigation, IAU verified that the vessel MV Vicky B is registered to RAI but was actually disposed of via an Agreement of Sale. This was all done prior to the detention of the cessel in St. Lucia.
It was also established that the purchaser(s) were given full possession via the Agreement of Sale and were the culpable party at the time of that interception by St. Lucian authorities.”
GFC said that it even consulted with the Customs Anti Narcotic Unit in 2011 which advised that the operators at that time were the culpable party and not the vendor- RAI.
“IAU was also satisfied that there were no other business connections at that time between RAI and the operators/purchaser(s) of MV Vicky B beyond that Agreement of Sale.”
With respect to the due diligence followed in granting the forest concessions last month, GFC said it that it advertised the lands in December 2016 to January 2017.
Expressions of Interest (proposals) were then invited with a closing date of February 10, 2017.
Some 10 submissions were made at the deadline.
“The ten (10) interested parties were then requested to submit a completed SFEP (State Forest Exploratory Permit) application and a Business Plan Summary using the GFC Board approved template…”
A requirement was also the payment of the application fee of US$20,000 by April 28, 2017.
Five paid applications were submitted by this deadline, GFC explained.
“The GFC reviewed these and a due diligence report was prepared for the review of the GFC Board Technical Sub-committee. This report also included an asset verification of all existing local applicants, inclusive of RAI.”
The vessel was not listed as an asset for RAI.
“According to GFC, following the review by the GFC Board Technical Sub-Committee, final approval was determined by the GFC Board of Directors. This gives further assurance and credibility to a fully transparent process.”
In addition to forestry, RAI, which has been present in Guyana for over a decade, has ventured out into the fuel business, gold mining, boat building and other ventures.
Close attention is being paid to the Barama’s concessions. The Malaysian company came in the 90’s and managed to strike a major deal for 1.6 million hectares spanning a number of regions.
It was the largest ever forest concession granted by the Government of Guyana.
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