Through your columns, Editor, I would like to ask the Minister for Natural Resources and the Environment for clarification after his evasive responses to your reporter about the expansionist Bai Shan Lin (BSL) in our forest sector (‘Bai Shan Lin holds 960,000 hectares of forest,’ Sunday Stabroek May 5). Readers may recall the exchanges in SN during August-September 2007 about the de facto takeover by BSL of Demerara Timbers Limited (DTL) leading, after some prodding, to the intervention of then President Jagdeo as Minister of Forests (‘Transfer of assets between forest companies must meet approvals – Jagdeo,’ SN, August 28, 2007).
The current Minister of Natural Resources and Environment told SN that BSL has acquired access to Guyana’s state forest through “legally approved Joint Venture agreements.” That implies presidential approval for such takeovers, under Condition 13 of Timber Sales Agreements and Section 12 of Forest Regulations 1954. When was such approval given, for what areas and under what conditionalities? Why were the existing logging concessions not rescinded and then publicly advertised to capture a bid premium at auction, for
government revenue to the Consolidated Fund, in accordance with the National Forest Policy 1997/2011?
SN asked when wood processing investments will materialize and what safeguards were in place to monitor them with regard to job creation and value-added processing. Minister Robert Persaud failed to reply to these reasonable questions. Recalling the failures, under the same Minister Persaud, for VHPI (Café Coffee Day of India) and Barama Company Limited to fulfil vague promises to invest in on-shore processing, it is fair to ask again:
1. Exactly what are the foreign direct investment arrangements for the various BSL enterprises?
2. Exactly what wood processing will take place, where and when (investment schedule)?
3. What raw materials will input to these wood processing facilities – species, dimensions, volumes, qualities of timbers?
4. What kinds of products will be produced which are not already milled in Guyana – species, volumes, values, intended markets?
5. What is the agreed schedule to phase out exports of unprocessed logs (such exports being contrary to national policies and to PPP election manifestos in 2006 and 2011) – species, dimensions, volumes, qualities of timbers?
6. What is the training programme for Guyanese at all operational and managerial levels of BSL to replace imported staff?
7. How many foreign workers have been brought into Guyana, and how many more visas are being processed?
We are entitled under Articles 13 and 146(1) of the Guyana Constitution to ask such questions and to receive full responses from the relevant ministers (President and MNRE).
And if BSL is going to consume an additional 300,000 m3 of timber per year, this will massively exceed the threshold set for log production in the Norway-Guyana MoU of November 2009 and will demonstrate the continued bad faith of the Government of Guyana in implementing this MoU.