The APNU+AFC government is presently seeking legal advice about whether logging company Baishan-lin Forestry Limited is able to engage in activities outside of the “wood processing” they originally came to Guyana to do.
This is according to information provided on Monday by Minister of Governance Raphael Trotman. Trotman was at the time addressing Parliament’s Sectoral Committee on Natural Resources where he provided an overview of government’s proposed policy agenda in the area of Natural Resource Management.
The Sectoral Committee on Natural Resources is chaired by Opposition Parliamentarian Odinga Lumumba. Also present were committee members Minster Finance Winston Jordan, APNU+AFC Member of Parliament Audwin Rutherford and PPP/C parliamentarian Yvonne Pearson Fredericks
During Trotman’s appearance Lumumba explained that the committee does not have the ability to create or implement policy rather its role is to review policy; to get a sense of what it should be and to ensure that that policy is carried out for the rest of the government’s tenure.
Surrounded by various heads of departments Trotman shared government’s proposed policies for the natural resources and environment, wildlife protection, protected areas, Guyana Geology and Mines Commission (GGMC), Forestry and the Sovereign Wealth Fund.
After his presentation the Minister was asked by Lumumba whether, in light of media condemnation of its activities the ministry will “isolate” Baishanlin as an entity for review particularly in Region 10.
In responding Trotman said that it is “not strictly a natural resources issue” as the former Minister of Finance Ashni Singh signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the company.
He stressed that while the MoU suggest that they were here to engage in wood processing he cannot say whether or not there was a restriction on the company entering into any other activity.
“I can’t say because I have not seen that. That would require a legal opinion,” Trotman said adding that “these are things that will require legal opinion. We have solicited them and we are waiting. We are not going to rush in any wild and whimsical manner based on what is reported in the press. Because, as I said, an MoU aside, it could be that a company once it is lawfully registered and maintained in the Companies’ Registry, may do other things.”
Baishanlin’s operations have been under intense scrutiny for failing to establish wood processing facilities while all the time engaged in the export of logs. Further, the legality of its landlording arrangement with a series of other forest concessionaires has also been queried as the law that would cover this was brought into force long after this arrangement had begun. Logs have still, however, been drawn from various concessions.
During their time in opposition, APNU and AFC, which now make up the current administration, had called for the foreign direct investment contract with Baishanlin to be made public. This was never done.
On Monday, Trotman also disclosed that the operations of the company have now been brought to a minimum.
“My sense is with the very limited if any activity on their part many of the complaints that existed last year are no longer present. Because the activity is now down to the minimum. I think it is widely known that they suffer from financial impediments. I think they are trying to subcontract. I believe I saw a report where their trucks might be moving sand for their airport project or stone for Toolsie Persaud or some other company. In so far as actual Baishanlin activities are concerned my sense is that not much is happening by the company in the area of its forest concession,” Trotman said.
Baishanlin has been accused of focusing only on the export of logs while making lofty promises of value-added production. The previous PPP/C government had been accused of facilitating this.
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 had 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.