Why the National Assembly should hold public hearings on the Guyana Forestry Commission

(This is Part One of a series of five reviewing

the reports of the Guyana Forestry Commission for 2005-12 which were tabled in Parliament

on November 7th,  2013)

By Janette Bulkan and John Palmer

This commentary is a partial analysis of the annual reports for years 2005-2012 from the Guyana Forestry Commission tabled in the National Assembly on 07 November 2013, at the same time as some of the backlog of reports from other government agencies.  It is a requirement of the Guyana Forestry Commission Acts 1979 and 2007 for annual reports and audited accounts to be tabled by the appropriate Minister yearly at the National Assembly1.  So far as we know, the Assembly has received no apology from the Minister for his failure to comply with this legal requirement.

Why is it important for the National Assembly to hold public hearings into the operation of the Guyana Forestry Commission (GFC) based on these eight annual reports (ARs)?  There are two main reasons.  Firstly, in a democracy, it is a duty of the National Assembly (the legislative branch of government) to scrutinize the activities of the agencies of the Executive branch of government on behalf of the citizens, to demand explanations and justifications, and to verify that tax monies have been spent in accordance with the approved budgets.  Secondly, because the GFC is inscribed in international processes which require a high level of transparency in governance, objectivity in reporting, and verification of performance; such as the REDD Readiness Preparation Planning (R-PP) of the Forest Carbon Partnership Facility coordinated by the World Bank; the Voluntary Partnership Agreement under the EU Forest Law Enforcement, Governance and Trade (EU-FLEGT) process, and the associated Legality Verification System.

These are in addition to the commitments in the REDD+ Governance Development Plan (June 2011) under the Norway-Guyana MoU (November 2009).  And in future we can hope that Guyana will follow the lead of Liberia and place both mining and forest sectors under the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI, mentioned in the Joint Concept Note under the Norway-Guyana MoU).

These eight annual reports indicate that the GFC is seriously deficient in its communication with stakeholders and in the discharge of its legal responsibilities.

Support for an analytical capacity in the National Assembly – conventionally, in other Westminster-type parliaments, such annual reports are analysed thoroughly by the technical secretariats serving the relevant Select Committees.  The Natural Resources Sectoral Committee of the National Assembly of Guyana has no such secretariat, notwithstanding offers by some bilateral doors (EU and UNDP and USA (via USAID), possibly also UK through the Commonwealth Secretariat?) to support such normal appurtenances of democracy.

The work of analyzing the bundle of 41 timely and overdue reports which were submitted all at once by the government agencies to the National Assembly on 07 November 2013 cannot be undertaken by the current Sectoral Committees without additional support.  This support is especially important if the other agencies are, like the GFC, producing incomplete and inconsistent reports.The delivery of this bundle provides a good reason for the National Assembly and/or its Sectoral Committees to take up the donor offers to support the parliamentary process.  In this respect, the USAID-funded non-partisan Leadership and Democracy (LEAD) project is most timely; some details of this project are in ‘Legal drafting among scope of activities on offer under snubbed democracy project’ (Stabroek News, 22 December 2013).

General points common to several or all years of these seven GFC reports

The general points are organized in three groups: A – comments on the summary accounts and audits; B – general principles of annual reports; and C – specific topics.  Salient points from individual annual reports are perhaps too detailed for a newspaper readership but have been sent to the editor and to the Speaker and Clerk of the National Assembly for members of the relevant Sectoral Committees.  In the next article we will present points on or arising from the summary accounts and audits.

1 Extracts from the Guyana Forestry Commission Act (cap. 67:02, 2007) –

Section 14 (1) The funds of the Commission comprise –

Money appropriated by Parliament and paid to the Commission for the purposes of the Commission;

Other money or property lawfully received by the Commission for the purposes of the Commission; and

Income derived from any money or property of the Commission.

Section 14 (3) The Commission shall keep proper records of the general fund maintained under section 15, the reserve fund maintained under section 16, and the special funds maintained under section 17.

Section 15 (1) The Commission shall maintain a general fund and pay into it all money paid to the Commission for the Commission’s purposes and all income except money kept in the reserve fund maintained under section 16 or in a special fund maintained under section 17.

Section 24 (1) The Commission shall keep accounts of its transactions to the satisfaction of the Minister and the Auditor General shall audit these accounts annually.

Section 25 (1) No later than six months after the end of each financial year, the Commission shall submit to the Minister a report containing –

An account of its activities during the financial year in the detail directed by the Minister; and

A statement of the Commission’s accounts audited under section 24 (1).

Section 25 (2) The Minister shall as soon as practicable, and in any event no later than eight months after the end of the financial year, cause to be laid before the National Assembly the report referred to in subsection (1) together with a copy of the auditor’s report on the Commission’s accounts following the audit under section 24 (1).

 

 

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