Government will be pushing for logging and other companies operating here to do value-added processing locally and companies that do not fulfill their commitments would have to shape up or ship out, Minister of Governance Raphael Trotman says.
“All companies that have given commitments in or by their agreements to do things and they’re not, my view is that you either shape up or you ship out but we just can’t allow our resources to be utilised at a primary level, shipped out,” Trotman, who has been tasked with oversight of the natural resources sector, told Stabroek News in an interview on Monday.
He identified Chinese logging company Baishanlin as one of the companies that has not kept its commitments and he said that the ministry will ensure that the company fulfill these. The minister also pointed to a statement from First Bauxite which recently announced that it was going to process bauxite mined here in the US state of Louisiana.
He said that the processing should be done right here and he is hoping to meet company officials soon as Guyana is entitled to development too.
“We just can’t allow companies to continue coming here, taking our raw materials… without any value-added being done, taking them out and then sending the product back to us. We’ll remain for all time… drawers of water and hewers of wood. We got to advance beyond that and I think this government would be pushing for companies to have a strong sense of corporate social responsibility, to be able to develop our resources, to transfer technologies, in terms of training and to be leaving a positive mark,” he emphasised.
He emphasised that government will push for more in-country processing. “We all know that we can do value-added in Guyana and our forest producers themselves have to get away from just doing logs and basic planks,” the minister said, while adding that he did not think that they were encouraged in the past to do so as much as they should have been.
Trotman recalled that he was in Berbice over the weekend and visited RUSAL’s operations. He said that when the company moves on, he would like to see that the community would have benefited such as by having better roads, hospitals, school and scholarships. If companies commit to helping in development, they “must be made to develop and there is no… you are not going to get a free pass to get out of your agreement simply because you know somebody somewhere,” the minister asserted while adding that “we can’t run on like that any longer.”
As it relates to Baishanlin, Trotman acknowledged that “they’ve not kept their end of the agreement.” He said that the matter was uppermost on the agenda when he was scheduled to meet with the Guyana Forestry Commission (GFC) last Monday.
He said that government will be holding the company to their agreement. “We recognise that they have not done what they said they would do,” he said, adding that after the meeting with the GFC, “we’ll come up with a plan as to how we will get them to do what they’re supposed to do.”
Though Baishanlin has been here since 2007 and benefited from tax concessions, there is no sign of any progress towards value-added processing. In April, after numerous reports in the media about its failure to live up to its commitments, Baishanlin said that it has suffered “major setbacks” in completing its long promised wood processing facility and it said that this was due to the lack of adequate funding from its financiers, which it blamed on the “hostile environment” caused by the media.
However, the company has been building ships at its Moblissa site and exporting large quantities of logs.
Meanwhile, Trotman disclosed that he will be travelling around the country to check on the various operations.
He said that the list of places that must be visited includes where foreign companies are operating to ensure that they are sticking to their agreements, treating workers well and respecting the environment where they operate including the communities.
In terms of a forensic audit of the forestry sector, Trotman said that it was on the agenda to be discussed at his Monday meeting with the GFC. “We’ve got to do an audit of what we have, how much gold do we have, how many diamonds, how many carats, what’s really the true state of our forest canopy, bauxite. Unless we have that audit we can’t really proceed to manage or govern,” he added.
Trotman shares oversight for the natural resources and environment sectors with Minister of State Joseph Harmon. However, President David Granger retains the portfolio for natural resources and the environment. Trotman said that they are still streamlining the areas of responsibility and defining them between him and Harmon. Trotman has oversight of the GGMC, the GFC, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Guyana Lands and Surveys Commission, among others.
Harmon retains the functions of climate change management.