The Guyana Forestry Commission should take major offenders to court

Dear Editor,

I was pleased to see that all three major newspapers carried on October 23 reports of the administrative penalties imposed on the largest Asian-owned logging company by the Guyana Forestry Commission (GFC). Given the magnitude of estimated earnings from the illegal export of unprocessed logs (US$ 3-5 million monthly) during the last several years, the fines totalling G$ 106.4 million are a token penalty. Recall that Samling Global Limited, the parent company of Barama, secured US$ 269 million from its initial public offering (IPO) on the Hong Kong stock exchange in March 2007, partly on the basis of its claimed legality and sustainability of production in Guyana. Given also that Barama illegally rents other forest concessions and has logged Amerindian Village Lands in violation of the requirement to ‘negotiate in good faith with the Village’ (Article 55(1)(d) of the Amerindian Act 2006), surely it is in the national interest for the GFC to take the offenders to court in order for the whole story to be exposed through cross-examination by trained prosecutors?

Instead, the GFC has quite improperly used an administrative procedure (called “compounding of forest offences”) which was designed to cover small-scale and low-value offences and to prevent such trivial offences from cluttering up the courts. The author of the standard text “The law of forestry” (1955), barrister W A Gordon – who was also the Conservator who drafted the Forests Act 1953 and associated Forest Regulations for Guyana – states clearly “The power of compounding is a useful one which can greatly lessen the incidental work involved in the task of forest protection. It is perhaps unnecessary to emphasise, however, that there are dangers of its being turned into an instrument of corruption and oppression” (page 358). Compounding can be used only when there is an admission of guilt by the offender and an agreement to pay an administrative penalty. Compounding is final, preventing further action being taken for the same offence”. The Prime Minister’s statement that Barama can appeal the fine, as reported in KN (24 October 2007) is simply incorrect. So Barama has got off very lightly, on a token charge and with a token penalty, for persistent and widespread law-breaking. After further investigation of Barama’s illegal activities, the Minister for Forestry Robert Persaud and the Minister of Forestry HE the President should insist on the cases(s) being turned over to public prosecutors for legal action and much more appropriate penalties.

Yours faithfully

Mahadeo Kowlessar

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