Forest bill sent to select committee

Minister of Agriculture Robert Persaud yesterday sent the Forest Bill to a special select committee for further consultation after Govern-ment MPs voted down a petition calling for the bill to be withdrawn.

The main opposition PNCR-1G, while offering its support to the bill going to the select committee, bemoaned the fact that a motion yesterday to allow a petition to be laid in the House calling for the withdrawal of the bill was voted against. The party is however hopeful that further chances at consultations would come with the commencement of the committee’s work and with the debate on the committee’s report.

Speaking for the PNCR-1G, Winston Murray said that the party supports the bill going to the select committee since this was in keeping with the procedures put in place by the Parliamentary Manage-ment Committee, namely that all new bills considered complex should be sent to a select committee.

Khemraj Ramjattan of the Alliance for Change sought to introduce a petition calling for the bill to be withdrawn on the grounds that it contained convoluted language and should have included wording which responds to forest provision in the United Nations Framework Convention for the Conservation of Biological Diversity and the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).

The proposal for the introduction of the petition was put to a voice vote. With the result uncertain a division was then called for and the government majority prevailed against the petition.

The petition said that a draft of the Forest Bill prepared in 2004 met some of the requirements and was broadly accepted. But the Minister said that the new bill isn’t meant to replace the 2004 draft, only make it more coherent.

The signatories to the petition were Pastor Sewnauth Punalall, Reverend Compton Merabux, Reverend Malcolm Rodrigues and Reverend Harold Wong. They asked that the members of the National Assembly consider the negative implications of the bill and therefore vote on its restriction and invalidation. But the chance to do this never arose.

Back in September, Minister Persaud at a stakeholder forum said that the volume of the debate on the Forest Bill has prompted a decision to send it to a Select Committee.

In the past weeks, there has been heavy criticism of the Bill in its present form and forest researcher Janette Bulkan has been one of those critics.

The Bill sets out the permitting regime for state forests in order to provide for the sustainable management of state forests.

Under Part Two of the Bill, a state forest authorisation from the Guyana Forestry Commission is needed in order to carry out activities such as entering state forests, or taking forest produce or occupying land in state forests, unless they are exercising a right, power, duty, or privilege under any written law, or under Amerindian custom.

Part Two of the Bill also provides for five types of state forest authorisations: concessions, exploratory permits, use permits, community forest management agreements, and afforestation agreements.

Regulations will prescribe matters such as the form and content of applications, qualifications, restrictions, criteria to be considered, and conditions for each type of authorisation.

The Bill states that the commission can require a security bond to be paid upon the grant or renewal of any state forest authorisation except a community forest management agreement. Other provisions of Part Two deal with features of state forest authorizations, joint holders of a state forest authorization, compliance with occupational safety and health requirements, amendment, suspension, revocation, surrender, and transfer of a state forest authorisation, and restrictions on changes in the effective control of a holder; and removal of property brought onto land under a state forest authorisation.

Part Three, sub-headed Forest Conservation, is aimed at protecting and conserving forests. It provides for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to declare specially protected areas within state forests.

It also prohibits acts that could cause fires in state forests, allows the commission to declare any area of state forest, and any area of land within 1.6 kilometres of that area a fire protection area and provides for controlled burning by forest officers.

Part Four, sub-headed Forest Operations and Activities Relating to Forest Produce, regulates forest operations, other activities relating to forest produce, and quality control of value-added forest produce.

It also provides for the minister to adopt legally binding codes of practice that can be amended from time to time.

This part of the Bill bans the importation and conveyance of unlawfully obtained or unlawfully exported forest produce, the under-pricing of forest produce for export, the selling of timber as seasoned or graded timber, except timber graded and marked in accordance with the commission’s guidelines, and certification of forest produce as complying with any international standard for export from Guyana, except by duly accredited persons.

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