The State Assets Recovery Unit (SARU) is considering aerial surveillance of Baishanlin Forest Development Inc’s properties in order to fully visualise the extent of the Chinese logging company’s foothold in Guyana.
In a recent interview with Stabroek News, head of the unit Dr Clive Thomas told this newspaper that the various transgressions of Baishanlin were becoming more apparent. He called revelations that the company had their own tanks of gas at stations and the amount of trucks owned by the company alarming. He said that “we don’t know how they are regulated. If they went through the normal processes.”
Thomas said that to fully grasp the length and breadth of the Asian company’s holdings, aerial surveillance could present a significant opportunity. “Our resources are limited so for something like that we may have to ask the security forces to do it for us or we may ask a friendly foreign government who might do that pro bono,” he told Stabroek News.
Thomas noted that the statistics weren’t there to fully comprehend some of Baishanlin’s transgressions given that they have been accused of illegal logging and exporting. He said that the figures simply weren’t available. Baishanlin has said very little publicly about the accusations levelled against it.
These unanswered issues and the need to present an accurate description of how Baishanlin operates in Guyana would be significantly assisted through surveillance.
When asked what was the most disturbing finding by SARU of Baishanlin, Thomas said “I think mainly the size of their holdings in the country, the acreage, very large, the types of activities they are into which … sometimes never reaches the public.”
Thomas, an economist by trade, told Stabroek News that for a country as populated as China there will always be a “scramble” for adequate resources.
He said that the government needed to have operating relationships with large foreign companies that were at arm’s length. “Too many people have been too cozy with these companies”, Thomas said directly referencing Baishanlin along with Indian logging company Vaitarna Holdings Private Inc and Malaysian logging venture, Barama Company Limited.
The head of the assets recovery unit said that public complaints against Baishanlin have been numerous and centred around the misuse of natural resources. The naturalisation process that was used to grant citizenship to a key Baishanlin official needed to be looked into as this was one avenue that could have been manipulated to award large land concessions.
Thomas said that so far he has not received any formal complaints over alleged corruption stemming from unethical relationships between government officials and Baishanlin. He said plainly “nobody has reported to me yet that somebody has gotten kickbacks.”
He told Stabroek News that he differs greatly on the government’s take on how to proceed with Baishanlin.
Minister of Governance Raphael Trotman recently distanced himself from a statement made in June where he had said that if it didn’t live up to its value-added commitments, Baishanlin could see its contract terminated. Baishanlin has been in Guyana since 2007 benefitting from various tax concessions granted in relation to the promise of value-added forestry.
In November, Trotman stated that the Chinese logging company has requested another two years to begin substantial value-added production. This request raised eyebrows considering the number of years the company had already been given.
At a recent meeting of the Parliamentary Sectoral Committee on Natural Resources, Trotman said that government was seeking legal advice about whether Baishanlin is able to engage in activities outside of the “wood processing” it originally came to Guyana to do. It has expanded into housing, mining and trucking.
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.