The Bai Shan Lin deal has negative implications for present and future private investment

Dear Editor,

I just finished looking at the power point presentation of the Profile of Guyana- China Timber Industry Economic and Trading Cooperation Park, which was alluded to in your news item, ‘Bai Shan Lin holds 960,000 hectares of forest’ (May 5). My mind is flooded with a lot of unease, resentment and disappointment at our leaders, who would shamefully want to display this as development when, in fact, it is a distasteful and undesirable return to a new form of imperialism, less than fifty years after we have broken the stranglehold of another imperialist.

One can rightly proclaim that Dr Cheddi Jagan was the father of this nation. He was fighting imperialism long before he returned to Guyana after studying in the US. One remembers the letter he wrote to his father while still at school. As the story goes, he essentially asked his father, a sugar worker, why he was still working for those imperialists. The irony is that his father could not read, so he took the letter to an expatriate supervisor to read it for him. Dr Jagan was that committed to his belief.

So, with that as a background, how come the party that Dr Jagan built would ultimately perpetrate this atrocity on the Guyanese populace? Make no mistake about it. This is a return to modern day imperialism, demonstrated shamelessly by one particular country in the world. This is not a foreign, private, business investment. This is the government of another country, operating under the disguise of China Bank loan approvals. That is like having the financial disposal of the second richest country in the world, getting the full approval of our government to set up shop here without an iota of benefit for Guyanese, outside those who are benefiting personally.

This is no different from the motherland establishing tobacco plantations in this part of the world in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. We have travelled a complete circle due to the incompetence, personal financial avarice and materialism of our leaders. The potential for ordinarily qualified and unskilled persons to get exceedingly rich has clouded the essence and need for the real guidance and governance of a nation, and the imperialist minded have noticed the weakness and are taking full advantage at the expense of Guyana as a whole.

This deal has considerable negative implications for present and future private investment, and the fact that this business can disguise its real intent and sell this to the Guyanese people without a significant uproar is unbelievable. For one, local logging companies and potential furniture manufacturers would not be able to compete with this new company. Take, for example, a business like a Toolsie Persaud or a Precision Woodworking competing with this new company. The value added equipment a Precision would need is manufactured in abundance, in China. Imagine Precision having to purchase equipment versus the Chinese manufacturers dumping the equipment on this new business.

In the business profile, the company boasts of having 11 overseas companies under the “China Forest Industry Group (Hong Kong).” Be assured the number will increase. Note there is a river mining claim in the mix. I expect other investments to be incorporated, thus making irrelevant potential private Guyanese entrepreneurs and investment. I believe that although not mentioned in the ‘business profile,’ the Marriot, the Amaila hydro and the airport expansion ventures are all related or inter-related. When observers were looking at those projects in isolation, and they were wondering what the wisdom of these projects are; this is the answer. This is fundamentally the biggest sell-out of the country ever envisioned.

At a glance, this project would be welcomed by most because it tends to indicate a lot of job opportunities. It may also seem to suggest enormous benefits for Guyana financial coffers, but I am sad to say, there is no indication of any reality to those suggestions. In fact, Guyana stands to benefit nothing from this investment. Except for the ability, like the money-laundered edifices that litter Georgetown and its environs, to show superficial progress, this investment would end up being the cash cow of China, sitting on prime Guyanese real estate.

Bai Shan Lin, in response to the Marriott uproar quickly rushed to advertise this proposal with a plan to employ 10,000 workers. Imagine that. How would that be accomplished? Don’t you think we will need to import a work force of that magnitude? Where will it come from – the Caribbean, South America, Haiti or China?

Well if it is not going to benefit Guyana’s workforce in an outstanding way how about infra-structure? There is none to that effect in the business plan. Indications are the company will be piggy-backing off our existing fragile infrastructure. A case of concern is what they are currently doing in Moblissa. Note article (SN, April 18) ‘Bai Shan Lin Forest Development Inc has been accused of carrying out unlawful works at Moblissa, Linden, and refusing to sign a Cease Work Order (CWO) served on it by the Guyana Geology and Mines Commission (GGMC). Bai Shan Lin has been removing laterite, a type of soil, from the community of Moblissa for the construction of a two-mile road at Bamia. The company, which has been operating in the area since the last quarter of last year, was served with three CWOs so far.” This is a road of convenience.  No independent road for the people was built, and they are already bullying their way with firm backing in place from the powers that are there to represent us.

A project of this magnitude should have at least given us, the country, the Linden to Lethem road and the Linden to Kwakwani Road as an incentive. One may argue that if the incentive is already given to others there will be none left for the ordinary Guyanese people. Presently I am privy to a group of Guyanese investors whose business plan, of far less magnitude, caters for the development of Guyana’s road infrastructure for free if they can acquire some lands adjacent to the roads to recoup their investment – a few gas stations, some land for agriculture and possibly housing development, but this new company is coming in without doing any of that.

Added to that, they are getting tax deals, and the ability to export profits, which will certainly be the envy of Barama, Omai and GT&T. For example, new enterprise is exempted from corporate tax in certain years, enterprises’ product export is exempted from customs duty, enterprises can open foreign exchange accounts and can exchange their profits and dividends into foreign currency and transfer them out. This is unbelievable. Why don’t we encourage foreign Guyanese investment or make it a prerequisite that other companies engage in real joint ventures with local businesses?

How did this happen and how was it allowed to happen? Well, some devious people grasped the opportunity after Dr Jagan’s demise and his wife was forced to step down. Just like the two sons of Narine in the stage play 83 million gees the young brigades were able to surprise the old stalwarts of Dr Jagan’s legacy with their new approach to power and its possibilities. And, just like a father, while holding your head in shame in private, in public you do your best to protect. That has given tenure to the arrogance of the new brigades, flaunting their ways while expecting no reprisals ‒ not from ‘dad’ anyhow. When the Chinese found this phenomenon in place, they meticulously got to work on their game plan.

Note. Of the 11 companies grouped in this venture, 4, Baishanlin Mining Development Co, Ltd. (2012); Baishanlin Real Estate Development Co, Ltd (2012); Baishanlin International Shipmaking Co, Ltd (2012); and Baishanlin Guyana Chinese Products Mall (2012), were established in 2012. That was since the 2011 elections. Was this ever addressed in our parliament?

On the other hand, the principal opposition party seems so bent on acquiring power to replicate the strategy of the young brigades that they failed to be the deterrent they are supposed to be in a well-functioning governmental system. Given the gift of a majority opposition in parliament since November 2011, the senior party in the coalition has shown no leadership in addressing the main issues that were leading us down this path, even with considerable promise from leaders of the lesser coalition leadership.

From day one, I was trying to get these persons to see that budgets and the frivolous battles they got into were of minor significance to the larger picture. I always knew that the biggest problem was the government’s sole ability to make decisions and deals on foreign investments. I am still amazed at their hold on all investment deals in Guyana and how it is affecting Region 10 right now. From all of this, it is clear that the principal opposition is incapable of matching wits with their counterparts in power.

I expected the current Speaker to create some turbulence and call the constitution null and void and let the court thrash it out while he places some restriction on the lack of clarity in the foreign investment deals, when he took the seat. But he prefers to be and feels comfortable being the decent boy and insists on going by the book.

That would have driven considerable fear in government. After all the ruckus made about his appointment, government could not have asked for a better deal. To further complicate things, the opposition leader is out of his depth in his role. So, while we are blindsided by minor issues and distractions on turf wars, a prominent minister travels alone to China.

I cannot understand why no one else seems to recognize the greatest opportunity for corruption is the lack of a second opinion and a wider review of these substantial foreign investment deals. The press is silent on this. They are not asking questions about seeing these deals and the opposition seem as if they couldn’t care less or are clueless. SN’s article did little to open up questions and I did not see an editorial.

Since November 2011, the government appeared to have been scared out of their wits three times. The first is the last election itself. The majority opposition stood the chance of jeopardizing the trust of this deal, which was hibernating since 1997-98 with gradual acquisitions and tax deals over the years. Government was able to weather the storm and began to breathe easy when the opposition went after the 2012 budget.

Then came the Linden unrest, which had the potential of derailing this deal – too much unrest in the country for a sustainable financial investment. It was attacked with a vengeance and it petered out. (There is more to tell about how government was able to accomplish this, without being held to strong commitments. Nothing tangible has come out of those deals to stop the protests). Finally, it was the Marriott lack of Guyanese workers fiasco. Here, the unions were relegated to impotence in relation to the Shanghai Construction Group, but Bai Shan Lin rushed to come out and announced a plan to employ 10,000 workers.  With the constant lack of meaningful political opposition, the Chinese investors and their partners, the Guyana Project Promotion Team that includes President Ramotar, Prime Minister Hinds, ex-President Jagdeo, Mr Robert Persaud and four others, whom I do not recognize because their names are all written in Chinese, must be feeling safe to launch.

It cannot be emphasized enough. This deal must be rejected and resisted vigorously in the absence of the true extent of the Guyana give-away and proof of just how much Guyana as a country stands to gain or lose.

Yours faithfully,
F Skinner



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