Systems failures making possible cocaine in timber exports could be easily closed if government would learn from other countries

Dear Editor,

It is no doubt a coincidence that the discovery in Jamaica of 122 kg of cocaine inside a container of logs was reported just one day before the article in Kaieteur News ‘Guyana reviews system to ensure that logging meets international standards’ (March 18).  The Efeca consultancy report to the Guyana Forestry Commission (GFC) and the Forest Products Development and Marketing Council will take some time to finalise but the cocaine episode shows a number of weaknesses in the command-and-control approach to government.

Guyana has been intermittently developing a legality assurance system since 1999, when SGS proposed a timber tracking system.  The partial implementation of that proposal by the GFC created opportunities for corrupt malpractices (http://www.illegal-logging. info/uploads/Timber_Tags_Guyana_Paper_CH_Update.doc).

ProForest Oxford (UK) was funded by USAID to review the then GFC system in 2006 and the GFC was funded by the International Tropical Timber Organization to implement a version of the ProForest proposal (see Pradeepa Bholoanath (GFC) ‘Keeping it legal: an ITTO project improves the detection and prevention of illegal logging in Guyana, ITTO Tropical Forest Update 19 (1) 2010:7-9’).  The Norway-Guyana MoU includes as one of the progress indicators “evidence of Guyana entering a formal dialogue with the European Union with the intent of joining its Forest Law Enforcement, Governance and Trade (FLEGT) processes towards a Voluntary Partnership Agreement (VPA)” (MoU page 15).  The recent Efeca mission was to verify developments along that track.

Meanwhile, a national legality assurance system has been under development since 2006.  A draft issued by the Guyana National Bureau of Standards in March 2010 was re-issued with only minor editorial changes in February this year (document GYS 496:2010, a priced publication not available electroni-cally).  This Guyana Legality Assurance System (GLAS) differs notably from international practice in two respects: (1) only private sector responsibilities are described, not the primary responsibilities of government agencies nor the necessary coordination between those agencies; (2) there is no mention of independent forest monitoring, a ‘red line’ requirement for an EU FLEGT VPA.  This omission is at variance with the GFC’s acknowledgement of the need for independent monitoring in its REDD Readiness Preparation Proposal (version of April 2010, pages 28, 39 and 41, http://www.forestry.gov.gy/Downloads/Readiness_Preparation_Proposal_April_2010_Revised.pdf.

A consequence of paper acknowledgement without follow-up action is the failure of coordination just shown between the GFC and Customs Administration in the Guyana Revenue Authority. If the GFC had examined the Legality Verification System (LVS) of Ghana, for example, the coordination effort could have been understood.  Or, for a high level of detail, the eight volumes of the LVS in Indonesia.

From the response reported from the GFC (‘Timber cocaine switched ships,’ SN, March 21), the GFC Commissioner did not state that his staff had physically verified that the 130 logs shipped by container to Jamaica were included in the previously checked 180 logs inspected by the GFC from Aroaima Forest Products Association.

If the timber tag numbers had not been physically inspected, what checks were made to prevent different logs being included in the 130 which were shipped?  This is an elementary part of the operation of a LVS.

The Guyana Police Force has been recommended many times to apply intelligence-led policing. The same applies to checks on exports.  It would seem that neither the GFC and GRA noticed that there has been no published record of logs shipped to Jamaica during 2010 (at least), so this would have been an unusual shipment.  But no flag was apparently raised in either administration, another systems failure.

The switching of containers reported by SN may have been intended to confuse the links with automated ship tracking systems required by international maritime law since 2002.  However, the introduction of container-specific tracking systems accessible to police and customs authorities internationally should close that gap.

Meanwhile, this episode shows systems failures in the government agencies which should be easily closed if Guyana would learn from developments in other countries.  The absence of progress in the year since the GFC made the April 2010 R-PP commitments must be disappointing to the Government of Norway.

Yours faithfully,
Janette Bulkan

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