Forestry body stands by its export figures

-Finance Minister still has explaining to do

The Guyana Forestry Commission (GFC) yesterday stood by its wood products export figures supplied to organisations including the International Tropical Timber Organization (ITTO), doing nothing to defuse the claim made by Minister of Finance Dr Ashni Singh that the increase in timber export earnings this year was due to “an expansion in plywood exports.”

Singh has come under fire and been accused of disseminating falsehoods as a result of the statement which was made in the official mid-year report on the economy. Singh reported that for the first six months of the year the forestry sector recorded growth of 38.1%, “supported by the introduction of new incentives to harvesters and sustained demand from the construction sector and furniture manufacturing subsector.” This was not explained.

As a consequence, the growth target for the sector has been revised upwards significantly from the budgeted 3.3% to 15% growth for 2014. The report said that timber export earnings rose to US$21.3 million, a 31.3% jump due to an increase in export volume, “reflecting an expansion in plywood exports.”

However, GFC data does not support Singh’s statement that the increase in exports was largely due to an expansion of plywood exports. Information supplied to the ITTO and to the Forest Products Development & Marketing Council (FPDMC) of Guyana Inc by the GFC show that plywood exports for the first half of this year amounted to 1931 cubic metres from 1851 cubic metres for the same period last year, an increase of just 4.3%. These plywood exports were valued at US$973,925.

In contrast, log exports for the first half of this year amounted to 54 376 cubic metres compared to 30 356 cubic metres for the same period last year, an increase of approximately 80%. These log exports were valued at US$8,726,893. Singh has not attempted to explain the gulf between his figures and the GFC’s.

Asked at a press conference to validate their figures yesterday, GFC Head of Planning and Development Division, Pradeepa Bholanauth responded that the “the information supplied to the ITTO as well as the information provided to the Ministry of Finance were accurate.” She said that the data summarized the plywood and veneer production increased by 65 and 71 percent respectively and the total increase in export earnings for the country was by approximately 30% for the first six months of this year compared to the same period last year.

Further pressed on the 80% increase in log exports, Bholanauth said “the exact figure is 79.3%, that’s right.”

Singh’s statements have elicited strong reactions from the political opposition. “He is now disseminating falsehoods and misrepresenting the truth to the Guyanese public,” AFC leader Khemraj Ramjattan told Stabroek News on Sunday while saying that Singh must be held to account. “Coming at a time when log exports are a major public issue, the statement by the Minister which understates the scale of log exports does little to reassure an increasingly skeptical public,” chartered accountant and activist Christopher Ram said while APNU’s finance spokesperson Carl Greenidge told Stabroek News that Singh has to explain his statement.

Meantime, GFC commissioner James Singh said that he has not seen the acceptance by APNU MP Joseph Harmon of his invitation to have an open debate on Bai Shan Lin’s logging operations. Harmon has called for a variety of documents to be released before the debate. “I have to review the documents first and when I review it, then I will make a decision as to what we can provide and what we can’t provide,” the GFC head stated.







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