These recently published GFC documents expose further incompetence over the Vaitarna concessions

Dear Editor,

Without an explanatory article in the Press, the Guyana Forestry Commission has recently posted documents which appear to relate to the illegal and improper issue of two forest concessions to the Vaitarna (VHPI) subsidiary of the Indian coffee retailer, Coffee Day.  As usual, the GFC documents are undated and unsigned.  The documents summarise some of the procedures for the issue or allocation of forest concessions: State Forest Permissions, State Forest Exploratory Permits (SFEPs), and Timber Sales Agreements (TSAs) or Wood Cutting Leases.  The documents include nicely-drawn flow charts to accompany the summary texts.  So should we not welcome these quietly published documents?  No – because they show how the GFC either does not know the forest legislation, national forest policy and relevant administrative procedures or the GFC is trying to bend the rules to sanitise the VHPI deals.

Section NFP 300 – Forest resource planning and allocation – in the National Forest Plan 2001 includes on page 7 “The Forest Policy requires that all commercial utilisation of State Forests takes place under concessions or licences issued by the GFC and that allocation of the resources is made in a competitive, fair and transparent manner”.

Concerning SFEPs, here are some omissions and one error in the GFC documents:

Section 1 – “GFC identifies areas suitable for allocation as SFEPs” – there is no description of how such identification is made.  According to the National Forest Plan 2001, there should be a strategic plan for forest allocation but as I have pointed out several times previously the GFC has not prepared such a plan in the decade since the National Forest Plan was published.

Section 2 – “GFC advertises areas as available for allocation” – there is no description of the advertisement process.  Article 6 (6) of the Forests Act provides for publication in the Gazette and in at least one daily newspaper in Guyana.  Does the GFC seriously expect anyone to believe that Simon & Shock in Minnesota or Coffee Day in Mumbai read the almost inaccessible Official Gazette of Guyana (try finding this Gazette through a Google search) or the Guyana Chronicle, the on-line edition of which does not carry such advertisements anyway?

Section 2 again – “. . .These applications with relevant supporting documentation” – the required supporting documentation is not described.  The applicant should include a policy on indigenous peoples (section 9e of the GFC manual on SFEPs, April 1999) and should be prepared to develop the forest management plan (checklist 4 of the GFC manual on SFEPs, April 1999), not only the business plan.  And considering that both Simon & Shock and VHPI had no relevant prior experience or qualifications, the GFC should have required a security bond as provided for by Article 6 (9) of the Forests Act.

Section 5 – “GFC Deputy Commissioners then review all applications in accordance with approved criteria” – no criteria are described.

Section 11 – “Cabinet then makes a final decision on the award/non award of the SFPE”.  It is not the Cabinet which has this legal responsibility.  Cabinet is not mentioned in the Forests Act.  It is the Minister as prescribed in Article 6 (1).

Concerning TSAs, this is how the GFC now tries to justify the award of the former CRL TSA 04/89 to VHPI, in the document on ‘Procedure for issuance of Timber Sales Agreement or Wood Cutting Lease’:

Section 1 – “Applicant must have a valid SFEP or have applied for a previously issued concession (TSA/WCL) which has reverted to the State”.

Section 2 – “Holders of an SFEP must submit within the valid duration of the SFEP: a Business plan, an Environmental and Social Impact Assessment (ESIA) and conduct a strategic level forest inventory in accordance with GFC approved methodology” – but no mention of the forest management plan required in the SFEP manual, with extensive prescription in checklist 4.

Section 11 – “Areas for re allocation are not required to undergo the SFEP phase (items 1-10).  TSA/WCLs that are being reallocated are required to submit a plan outlining the proposed TSA/WCL operations . . .”.  Unlike the detailed prescription in the SFEP manual, no details are here mentioned of the required contents of this plan.  More seriously, the GFC has omitted or overlooked that “(d) Concessions shall be transferable to new concessionaires provided that qualifying standards are satisfied.” (National Forest Policy 1997, III.A.4).

What qualifying standards were used to evaluate the VHPI bid?   How was this bid consistent with the above-mentioned requirement in the National Forest Plan 2001 that  “allocation of the resources is made in a competitive, fair and transparent manner”.  The Commissioner of the GFC could not even remember the details of the CRL TSA – “an ad was placed in the media sometime around last July” (‘No big export of logs by Vaitarna – Persaud’, Stabroek News, 13 April 2011).

In view of the errors and omissions by the Government of Guyana, and recalling its agreement with Norway to operate transparently, I request through the Editor that the Government publishes simultaneously in all daily newspapers in Guyana the following documents:

1. the advertisement about bidding for the rescinded TSA 04/89 previously held by Caribbean Resources Limited.

2. the foreign direct investment arrangements including tax concessions, bid premia and security deposits from VHPI for the two concessions.

3. the technical qualifications and experience which shows that VHPI can develop and operate a sustainable forest management plan for the CRL area.

4. the actual SFEP licence awarded to VHPI for the former Simon & Shock Rewa area.

5. the actual TSA licence awarded to VHPI for the former CRL area.

Yours faithfully,
Janette Bulkan

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