Kwakwani residents are being mobilised to demand more from Bai Shan Lin, which has been accused of reaping significant benefits from the community and leaving desolation in its wake.
A variety of grievances were voiced by community members during a meeting on Tuesday evening, which was attended by Region 10 Regional Democratic Council (RDC) Chairman Sharma Solomon, Linden Member of Parliament Vanessa Kissoon and other regional officials.
During the meeting, community members indicated a four-pronged approach toward remedying the situation of the Upper Berbice River community. This approach includes seeking to be furnished with the agreement/contract under which the Chinese logging company is allowed to operate; to have members from the community be a part of a process which will see the community garnering tangible benefits from the company’s activities; to have the Linden-Kwakwani road fixed; and for loggers in the area to get fairer prices for the logs sold to Bai Shai Lin.
Jocelyn Morian, an elected representative of Kwakwani, told the meeting that repairs to the Kwakwani-Linden road, which he says Bai Shan Lin has left in ruins, is key among the community’s interests.
He told Stabroek News that the road is currently in the worst state in its existence. While he acknowledged that other people and companies, including the local bauxite company, also use the road, he and the rest of the community attribute the heavy damage it has sustained to the constant traffic it under the wheels of the convoys of Bai Shan Lin trucks that traverse it.
Morian said that on the best of days it now takes residents at least one and a half hours to get to Linden, while on bad days the journey can take as long as four hours. “Not a single stretch of the entire road,” he stressed, is in a good state. He added that the state of the road continues to hamper Kwakwani’s residents. Asked if Bai Shan Lin has fixed the road on any occasion, he related that regional officials said they would engage the company pursuant to fixing the road earlier this year but nothing came of it. He also said the community wants its loggers to get a better deal than they are receiving from Bai Shan Lin. The loggers, he noted, are underpaid. He also expressed his belief that the process by which it is determined how much they are paid for their goods is flawed and needs to be amended. These sentiments seemed to be shared by members of the community, who cheered after they were expressed by various persons.
Though he was not able to provide figures, Morian said that the volume of logs Bai Shan Lin takes out of the community suggests that the scale of its operations is unsustainable. He noted previous promises of value added operations but said this is no longer taking place. “Now it’s full-scale logging… [with] the amount of logs and containers leaving Kwakwani there will not be any logs left…it’s a full-scale clear and finish with.”
Chairman of the Kwakwani Development Group Carl Liverpool, meanwhile, says the company is making zero contributions or investment in the development of the community. In essence, he said, the company is assuming no social responsibilities in spite of the profits it continues to make off its surrounding forests. He recalled writing Bai Shan Lin on one occasion to get it to support a football game and said that the company never even acknowledged receipt of the letter. He too highlighted the need for the company to fix the road it has damaged and believes the loggers should get “a little more money.”
Morian also said that Bai Shan Lin did not conduct an Environmental Social Impact Assessment (ESIA) before commencing its operations. Had such an assessment been conducted, he says, the community would have been benefitting from social development projects from the company. He also said the damage now done to the road could have been foreseen and mitigated.
The situation is unfortunate, he explained, especially since another venture, which would have seen the development of a village with education and health facilities, in addition to the setting up a saw mill, was refused the additional lands for the development.
At the meeting on Tuesday night, Solomon urged the community members to remain aware of their situation and to commit themselves to fulfilling the process. “No one is supposed to bargain on your behalf or in your interest but you, because you are the ones who will suffer…,” he told them.
He also related to them the plight of other communities which have suffered at the hands of Bai Shan Lin and said Kwakwani needs to stand with them as Region 10 seeks to demand a better arrangement from the logging company.
The company continues to be the target of immense scrutiny over its alleged excessive logging, and the fact that it seems to not be engaging in the value-added processing activities required of it.