Bai Shan Lin’s Chairman Wenze Chu has denied that the company, which is undertaking a US$100 million forestry operation in Guyana, has broken any law and insists that it will be adhering to the Guyana Forestry Commission (GFC) regulations and standards as it seeks to move forward.
The company, which is no stranger to controversy, is in control of almost one million hectares of Guyana’s forest after taking controlling interest in a number of small forest companies with concessions.
Its subsidiary companies are Karlam South America Timbers (Guyana) Inc, Haimorakabra Logging Com-pany Inc, Sherwood Forest Inc, Wood Associates Indus-tries Ltd and Kwebanna Wood Products Inc.
Minister of Natural Resources and the Environ-ment Robert Persaud said Bai Shan Lin had access to three concessions where full-scale harvesting operations were being undertaken through legal joint venture arrangements. He explained that while Bai Shan Lin had direct access to 83,307 hectares, it also had legitimate access via State Forest Exploratory Permits (SFEPs) to 345,865 hectares.
The Minister noted that the SFEPs can be converted to Timber Sales Agreements upon satisfactory completion and acceptance/approval by government of a comprehensive Environmental and Social Impact Assessment (ESIA), Forest Inventory and Strategic Business Plan.
Forestry researcher Janette Bulkan has told Stabroek News she believes Bai Shan Lin is engaged in the practice of “landlording,” which is illegal under Forest Regulation 1953, Article 12, which states, “No transfer of any lease or timber sales agreement shall be made by any forest officer without the prior approval of the President where such lease or timber sales agreement grants exclusive rights to any person over an area estimated to exceed three thousand acres or is for an unexpired period exceeding three years.”
She said landlording is also illegal under Condition 13 of Timber Sales Agreements, which states “The grantee shall not transfer, sublet, mortgage or otherwise dispose of any interest arising under this agreement except in accordance with the Forest Regulations and any purported disposition made except in accordance with such regulations shall be null and void.” Landlording, according to her, is also illegal under Condition 2 of 16 of State Forest Permissions, which states: “This Permit is not transferable without the prior consent in writing of the Commissioner. It may not be assigned or sublet nor may the grantee allow any person to work under it on payment to the Grantee of any consideration whatsoever.”
However, in an interview with Stabroek News at the Guyana National Stadium during Building Expo 2013 last weekend, Chu denied that his company has done anything illegal.
“We are doing the timber business in Guyana in compliance with all of the laws and regulations and the GFC. We are not doing illegal logging… we are not doing over-harvesting… we will be operating according to the guidelines of the GFC and in an environmentally-friendly manner,” he said.
Asked what assurances the company could give to ensure that all of the GFC’s regulations are complied with, Chu said the fact that the company is investing in the wood processing plant in Linden is proof that it intends on value-added processing.
“As soon as the wood processing plant is completed we will then call the government to stop the export of logs and call on all concessionaires and suppliers of timber to go to our wood processing plant to process their logs,” he said.
“As a Chinese timber company operating in Guyana, we do not only comply with the laws and regulations of Guyana but also we follow the guidelines for overseas sustainable development of the forestry business from China’s State Forestry Administration,” he said. “Our purpose in doing forestry development here is not just harvesting the logs but we want to get the raw material and put it into our wood processing plant to add value to them. In so doing, we will increase the employment for our wood processing plant and make benefit not only for the local people but also for the economic development of Guyana,” said Chu.
Turning to the jobs for locals, Chu noted that the company advertised for hiring about 700 workers. “We can say up to now that there are about 300 workers are in place.
“They are all actively working in our company,” he noted, while explaining that some of the workers are employed as forest inventory personnel and some as machinery operators.
He added that it “might hire about 300 more Guyanese workers” for the construction of the company’s wood processing plant in Linden and commodity centre at Providence. “We have intention of doing mining but our main focus of business in Guyana is timber. Right now, we are at the first phase for the construction of our wood processing plant in Linden,” Chu said.
The company’s investment plans also include gold mining along a river in the interior but Chu explained that this would be considered later on.
“Later on, we will consider the mining business,” he said. “What we can say is that if the project will seriously impact the environment we will not consider doing. We will only follow the laws of Guyana in doing our business, we want to be friendly to the environment in doing our business,” he said.
Addressing the company’s planned housing development, Chu said since it published its housing design and posters, it has been getting “great feedback” from the local Guyanese, although land has yet to be allocated for the project.
“Our design for the community will be called New Life, which, according to our design, will be a high rank safety and high ranking community,” he said.
“The construction materials and equipment for the building of this housing project has already reached Guyana,” he noted. “Also, we can say that the personnel and the technicians for the project are also in place,” said Chu.
“It is also our wish that we want this [project] to be a reality in the short time possible,” he said. However, he added that the government has not allocated the land for the project as yet.
“We can say that all of the preparation is ready including the personnel, the construction materials and equipment,” he said.
“We hope that at the same time that the press can pay attention to the development of our company because even though we get all prepared, without the land for the construction of the housing project we still can do nothing. So we hope that with the help of the press we can put forward [our case for getting the land for the construction of the community],” said Chu.
He said that as soon as the government works out the land issue, the company stands ready to commence the project.
“According to our conversation with the government, they plan to allocate land behind the Providence Stadium for the project,” he said. The company plans to have some 5,000 houses completed within the next five years.
Chu said that the total investment for the housing project will be around US$500 million. He said that it will be inclusive of hospital and school and these will be free for use by Guyanese.