Cash-strapped Guyana Forestry Commission (GFC) is looking for long-term solutions to dig itself out of the hole it finds itself in.
One of the immediate proposals on the table is to sell the High and Princes Streets property, the former headquarters of the Guyana Broadcasting Corporation (GBC).
Prior to 2015, the then administration of the People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) took $600M from GFC to help construct a new building. That building was later deemed unsafe and was never used.
Government has been contemplating what to do with it.
However, according to management and the current board, headed by Jocelyn Dow, the Forestry Commission never recovered from that dent in its reserves.
To compound matters, another $300M or so was transferred for the operations of the struggling Iwokrama forest conservation project. That was almost $1B wiped off from GFC coffers.
In recent months, amid falling exports of logs and increased activities relating to the conservation efforts brought on by the Norway US$250M deal to conserve the forests, GFC has been struggling to pay staffers.
Yesterday, Dow confirmed delays in payments to staffers, but stressed that some staffers were not paid in days, as not for months as reported.
She also traced the situation of the GFC back to the previous administration. She said that the current board members don’t receive fees until everybody else has been paid.
Government had ordered former Commissioner of Forest, Clayton Hall, to conduct an examination of GFC’s operations, including aspects of the welfare of staffers. He is expected to hand over his report to Government shortly.
Last week, officials of the Guyana Agricultural and General Workers’ Union (GAWU) which represents workers of the commission, met the board and Minister of Natural Resources, Raphael Trotman on the financial situation of the commission.
Trotman has reportedly since met with Finance Minister Winston Jordan to discuss help.
It was stressed that GFC had far more responsibilities as a consequence of the Norway deal and other international commitments.
“We are in problem-solving mode now. It is important we realize the forest has multiple roles. It is not only about timber. Under the laws we now have eco-services and more importantly, commitments under the Paris agreements. Those increased responsibilities come at a cost,” the chair pointed out.
Currently, GFC’s monthly salary bill is over $60M.
“We have to create more jobs. The days of cutting more trees to increase revenues will not work. It means we have to find the money for GFC from somewhere else. We have seen Baishanlin committing, but not processing one log. We now have oil, which is more obligations for GFC. It cannot be the same way.”
She said that one of the proposals was selling the High Street building to raise money.
However, Dow acknowledged, GFC’s problems on the long term will only be solved by a policy that involves all the stakeholders.
“Cabinet had agreed for the property to be sold. The union agreed that it should be immediate, with an infusion of cash into our purse.”
According to the chair, the current bad roads and weather have not helped to raise the projected revenues of the commission.
“So we are hoping that all the stakeholders get together so we can find a solution. The reality is that despite doing the work, GFC never received any money from the Norway deal.”
GAWU in a statement last week on the financial situation at GFC said that it was represented by its General Secretary, Seepaul Narine; Organising Officer, Porandatt Narine, and GFC GAWU Branch Secretary, Hewley Clarke at the meeting with GFC and Minister Trotman.
“During the meeting, the GAWU, among other things, drew the Minister’s attention to the regular delays in the payment of salaries and other benefits. The Union pointed out that salary is personal property and the management had no right to delay such payments beyond the stipulated pay day. We also pointed out that, in recent times, the Commission has been charged with additional responsibilities.”
GAWU said that it understands too that the commission has not been receiving any additional resources to meet its new obligations.
“With regards to one such obligation, the Union referred to a large number of employees employed by the Commission who are engaged in tasks reportedly unrelated to the Commission. On that score, we urged that given the roles of the Commission in protecting a significant natural resource of our people, the State, we felt, was obligated to provide appropriate support to ensure that the Commission effectively discharges its expanded mandate.”
The union said it pointed out to Minister Trotman that the Forestry Act stipulates any shortfall in the Commission’s expenditure be charged to the Consolidated Fund.
“The Minister expressed appreciation to the Union and thanked the GAWU for its presentation. The Natural Resources Minister committed that he would take the matter to Cabinet with a view to seek a subvention for the Commission as an immediate relief. He also informed that he would advise the Government to divest the High Street property and repay the GFC its investment. The Minister also committed to further engagements with the Union.”
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