The government has dropped a bombshell. Late last week, it was announced that Cabinet had appointed a Task Force to oversee the restructuring of the Guyana Forestry Commission (GFC). Former GFC official Clayton Hall has been appointed to head the Task Force.
The rationale provided, however, for the proposed restructuring makes little sense. This newspaper reported that, according to the Ministry of Natural Resources, the restructuring was in keeping with Guyana’s movement towards a green economy and the realignment of critical agencies towards this goal.
It is hard to imagine why the Guyana Forestry Commission would have to be restructured in order to be realigned to the goal of a green economy. The Guyana Forestry Commission cannot be faulted for its record in promoting forest conservation and reduced deforestation. It did more than any other government agency in ensuring that Guyana kept its deforestation levels low and in accordance with the Low Carbon Development Strategy and the agreement with Norway.
The Forestry Commission has developed a credible and internationally respected Monitoring, Reporting and Verification System At the end of 2017, the Commission could justly claim success in ensuring a low deforestation rate of 0.048%, the lowest since 2010.
The Commission has successfully piloted a Voluntary Partnership Agreement with the European Union to ensure legal timber trade and sustainable forest management in keeping with the strict requirements laid down for entry of timber products into Europe.
It therefore can hardly be the case whereby there is any need for realignment of the Forestry Commission to the green economy. If anything, greater attention needs to be paid to correcting the slothfulness of other government agencies in ensuring the completion of the Green State Development Strategy. The strategy has fallen into a deep coma over the past year.
So is the reason for the restructuring of the Guyana Forestry Commission really related to the green economy or is this a pitiful excuse in pursuit of another stealthier agenda? The government has indicated that the mandate of the Task Force is to examine the restructuring of the Commission shall include, but will not be limited to, an examination and evaluation of current job descriptions and performance standards, personnel procedures, conditions of employment and appointment, wages and salary structures and payroll administration. These are not a terms of reference aimed at aligning the Commission to the green economy. They seem more geared towards an administrative shake-up.
But why? Reports in this newspaper point to a financial crisis within the Forestry Commission. In yesterday’s edition, it was pointed out that staffers are complaining bitterly about being owed money by the Commission. According to staffers, they have been saddled with late payments of salaries, absence of leave passage and uniform allowances and unpaid retroactive payments due since 2018. They are also owed allowances for field outreaches and out-of-town visits. The Commission is said to have suffered a shortfall of G$1 B.
Money is short and this is being attributed to problems with collection due to only 20% of allowable logging being done, marketing hurdles, high cost of transportation and the poor state of hinterland roads.
None of these, however, can be placed at the feet of the management of the Guyana Forestry Commission. If anything, the Commission has taken steps to improve its revenue base. Last year it proposed the implementation of a stumpage value charge and a revised structure of fees and penalties. The Forestry Commission charges range of fees including application fees, issuance fees, operation fees, royalties, administrative fees, licence fees, penalties and export commissions.
The forestry sector is not in crisis. Production of forest products declined marginally by 0.2% last year, merely on account of a disastrous performance in the last quarter relative to the previous year. The sector was expected to rebound this year and register a modest growth of 1.9%. Prior to now, there was never any public indication that the Forestry Commission was cash-strapped
Who then is to blame for the shortfall in revenues? Politicians are not fond of accepting blame. They are notorious for passing the buck and punishing workers for the policy mistakes approved and sanctioned by the politicians.
Instead of commissioning administrative restructuring, the government may wish to consider whether its own actions have created the present problems. Barama’s concessions, totally 1.6 million hectares, were repossessed in 2016. This was the main contributor to the 41% reduction of plywood production in 2017. Since the APNU+AFC took office, timber exports have declined by more than 20%. Last year, almost 100,000 cubic meters of lumber were affected by the poor conditions of hinterland roads – a government responsibility.
Administrative restructuring is not the solution to the financial woes of the GFC. The sector has problems which require progressive government policy. The problems plaguing the Commission resulted from cockeyed government policies and should not be thrown at the feet of management of the GFC
The Task Force appointed by Cabinet should therefore take a wide-ranging look at the government’s stewardship of the forestry sector. Administrative restructuring must not become an excuse for what is being feared: a possible purge of professionals.
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