Region 10 (Upper Demerara/Upper Berbice) has been carved up for multinationals, with the government’s indifference only surpassed by the mounting reports of breaches of laws by these companies, according to analyst and attorney at law, Christopher Ram.
“Essentially Region 10 has been carved up and out for BOSAI and RUSAL for their bauxite and now by Bai Shan Lin for their forestry resources. The entire regional development prospects are now entirely in the hands of foreign companies whose sole purpose is to extract and export resources”, Ram, who visited the area on Sunday told Stabroek News on Monday.
He added, “The scale and manner of conduct of Bai Shan Lin’s operations make it clear that they are here for one purpose and one purpose only, and that is to extract and ship out logs”. He said that, in the process, these operators are quite prepared to skirt laws and in the process destroy the roads and environment while offering little prospects to the people of the region.
He continued, “In fact what is clear to me is that the People’s Progressive Party (PPP) government has largely … washed their hands of the region, leaving a disproportionally weak regional administration to deal with the multinational juggernauts”.
In recent weeks the logging operations of Bai Shan Lin of China and Vaitarna of India have come under intense scrutiny as they have failed to establish promised processing plants.
Ram said serious questions have been raised about Bai Shan Lin’s compliance with several of the laws of Guyana, including the Customs Act, the Forestry Act and the EPA Act. The regulators however have become the defenders of the perpetrators instead of trying to put Guyana first, Ram stated. He asserted that even if the Guyana Forestry Commis-sion (GFC) was not a cheerleader for Bai Shan Lin, it simply is not prepared to allocate the resources necessary to monitor the forest operations of Region 10.
“During my visit, there was but one officer at the Bissaruni office of the GFC who did not even speak Chinese. I therefore wonder how it is he is able to communicate with the individuals there, all of whom speak only Chinese”, Ram queried.
He added: “Bai Shan Lin is logging extensively in the region evidenced, not exclusively, by its vast log yard at Kwakwani, where piles of logs for shipment to China were visibly being transported by some 10 trucks according to my count”. The suggestion that most of the logs came from the community-based associations is dispelled by the size of the logs from those organisations and those in Bai Shan Lin’s yard, he stated.
Ram said that the persons he spoke with on Sunday, mostly from Ituni, complained of their roads being destroyed by the large vehicles used by the logging companies. He noted that while present he witnessed the situation of despair when it rains and the roads become almost impassable. This is not only the fault of the multinational corporations, he said as he attributed blame to the government, which he argued has failed to grant local administrative bodies any power to mitigate the situation.
What is worse, he said is that the main opposition, A Partnership for National Unity (APNU), which derives considerable support from the region, appears to have abandoned them. He said that APNU’s vice chairman, Dr Rupert Roopnaraine, who is the chairman of the sectoral committee on Natural Resources did not ask the relevant questions on the investment arrangement between the Government of Guyana and Bai Shan Lin.
Ram said he is of the belief that the purported investment agreement with Bai Shan Lin, which the government is unwilling to show to anyone is non-existent.
“The reason the Government cannot show it to anyone, for it to be assessed to verify whether the company has been honouring its commitments is because it doesn’t exist”, he declared.
“Region 10 is potentially one of the richest regions in the country and the people should not have to suffer under the dehumanized conditions I have observed, where people are living in houses worse than logies from the days of indentureship”, Ram said.
He said that Bai Shan Lin in its quest to export logs is exploiting any potential loophole, particularly those which only persons with inside knowledge would be able to confirm. It is widely suspected that the landlordism being practised by some of the entities now in “Joint Ventures” with Bai Shan Lin as well as the transactions with these community based associations are not in compliance with the requirements, Ram said.
Bai Shan Lin in a public statement earlier this month denied any wrongdoing and said that it had invested a total of US$25M and injected a monthly average of US$400,000 in foreign exchange earnings. The statement also boasted of employing 151 Guyanese in the company’s interior locations and said that it is expected to employ another 300-500 upon the completion of its wood processing plant, three years from now. To this Ram said, “If they’re making all those claims of capital investment and monthly cash flows then let them produce financial statements to prove these assertions.” He added, “They have been incorporated under the company’s act, since commencement of their operations but have not once produced a financial statement, another breach of the law”.
With regards to employment, he said that on Sunday, when he visited their Kwakwani site, there were only Chinese workers present and their promise to provide more jobs is difficult to believe. He further elaborated that the promise to provide more jobs with the advent of value added operations is but a fallacy since they have been operating in Guyana since 2007 and have failed to do so. He added that to date, they have not shown any evidence of how many people have been employed and to do so would require them to show that they have paid taxes and NIS contributions on total remuneration for their expatriate employees. He said that Bai Shan Lin, BOSAI and RUSAL must also show their pricing policies. He further argued that since they all are in commercial operations and their activities are not of a development nature, they should not be enjoying any tax holidays.
He asserted, “If the government doesn’t address this, the domestic operators will forever suffer from comparative disadvantages, namely foreign investors who improperly enjoy such benefits. He urged the government to consider proper policies for the forestry sector, including facilitation of local enterprises that extract produce, sell locally and export wood products. He added that there needs to be incentives to those who organize to set up commercial entities, pooling capital and having access to local financing, in light of Bai Shan Lin allegedly accessing a $1B loan from a local bank. This, he said, is an abuse of the society and makes a mockery of all the claims of the vast sums of capital injected into the economy.