Loggers to mount legal challenge to Forestry Commission fines…Source

The $275m in fines imposed on several loggers by the Guyana Forestry Commission (GFC) for breaches of its regulations are yet to be paid and according to an informed source in the forestry sector the loggers are likely to move to the courts to challenge the fines.

Last month the GFC announced that it had imposed fines against some of the leading logging companies in Guyana including A Mazaharally & Sons Ltd, Demerara Timbers Ltd, Willems Timber & Trading Company, Barama Company Ltd, Barakat Timbers Ltd, and Caribbean Resources Ltd, citing a range of transgressions including the failure of the logging companies to submit Annual Operational Plans.

But the source told Stabroek Business on Tuesday that there was no provision in the country’s forestry legislation for the imposition of the fines and that the loggers were likely to move to the courts to have the fines overturned. The source said that the move to the courts was likely to be initiated by the Forest Producers Association (FPA) as the representative of the timber producers.

But the FPA itself appears to be in a state of uncertainty over its next move since, according to the source, the Association is yet to receive information from the loggers regarding the specific charges that have resulted in the fines. While the source could not say definitively why there had been such a long delay in the submission of the information required by the FPA in order to proceed with its legal preparations, Stabroek Business has learnt that some of the bigger ‘players” in the industry are yet to make up their minds as to whether they want to move to the courts through the FPA.

Only a relatively small percentage of the loggers in the sector are members of the FPA and Stabroek Business understands that even some of the registered members of the Association have been delinquent in the payment of their dues. The industry source told Stabroek Business that it was clear that “tough challenges” lay ahead for the forestry sector and that the strengthening of the FPA to help its members respond to those problems was “an absolute priority.

According to the source while there is no legal basis for the imposition of the fines several logging operations now feel intimidated by the GFC and the Ministry of Agriculture on account of the fact that there have been many transgressions in the sector. “While the loggers feel that there is no legal basis for the imposition of the fines they are not keen to voice their objections publicly since there is probably more than enough reason for the authorities to read a riot act against the sector anyway.”

Agriculture Minister Robert Persaud was quoted at a meeting of the GFC earlier this year as saying that the Commission’s regulations dictated that all forestry concessions in excess of 20,000 acres must have in place a Management Plan in addition to which the concessionaire must submit an Annual Operational Plan to the Commission. But the FPA source said that while official pronouncements sought to give the impression that it was only the industry that was guilty of indiscipline, the truth of the matter was that the regulatory framework for the management of the industry was “frail and fragile.” The source said that while the Forest Bill 2007 was currently before a parliamentary select committee the industry was not looking forward to its passage as legislation since it provided the Minister of Agriculture with “vast powers”.

Meanwhile the source conceded that the FPA itself was in a state of “confusion” arising out of “questionable commitment” to the Association. The source said that the FPA was effectively controlled by a handful of large operators in the logging sector and that the larger number of loggers are not members of the body. Additionally, the source told Stabroek Business that some members of the FPA had been delinquent in the payment of their dues for some time and that there were “probably only about a dozen paid-up members” of the organization. Part of the problem is that “the FPA is not a particularly strong body,” the source said.

Stabroek Business has learnt that the Asian timber company Barama has already paid a $94.4m fine imposed last year for a number of breaches of GFC regulations. The company also faces a further $50m in fines for breaches in third-party concessions.

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