There has been no activity on the forest concessions previously held by Chinese forester Bai Shan Lin, which government is holding on to at the request of the China Development Bank, according to Minister of Natural Resources, Raphael Trotman.
Speaking yesterday during the meeting of the Parliamentary Sectoral Committee on Natural Resources in Parliament chambers, Trotman referenced the 15% slowdown in the forestry sector, which he blamed on the removal of Bai Shan Lin from the forest, Barama Company Ltd’s voluntary exit and the slowdown in the Asian economy.
“Bai Shan Lin had two concessions both of which expired and we chose not to renew them; together those amount to approximately 180,000 hectares. Bai Shan Lin had also entered into joint ventures with five other companies and we have since repossessed the lands because those joint ventures had not been approved according to law. So at present there is no activity involving Bai Shan Lin or any other associates in the forest,” Trotman said. He added that government has not assigned the forests to any other concessionaire because the China Development Bank asked to be given an opportunity to procure new financiers to help to recapitalize what was given to Bai Shan Lin.
“So those concessions remain intact and are not being worked on at this point,” he emphasized. Questions have been raised about the felled logs that have been left on the concessions and Trotman explained that the ministry is currently exploring options on how to deal with them; one of the options is the auctioning of the logs by the Guyana Forestry Commission (GFC) to other local loggers.
Having established a presence here in 2006, Bai Shan Lin has been accused of making big promises to add value to forestry but failing to do so. Instead, it kept securing land and increasing the export of logs all the while gaining huge fiscal concessions under the former PPP/C government.
Between 2012 and 2015, the PPP/C government granted Bai Shan Lin concessions amounting to $1.8 billion despite its failure to fulfil obligations under its investment agreements.
Forensic auditor Anand Goolsarran, who made the finding, recommended that government consider terminating the investment agreements with the company and recovering the value of the fiscal concessions granted to it.
Many of the items for which tax waivers were granted were either unrelated to, or significantly more than the requirements for the company’s project, the report on the forensic audit and review of the operations of the GFC said.
Bai Shan Lin also became a source of embarrassment for the current APNU+AFC government when Minister of State Joseph Harmon interfered with the Guyana Revenue Authority’s seizure of its assets in settlement of a tax liability. Shortly after, Harmon proceeded on a trip to China where he was photographed with Bai Shan Lin officials.
Amid the controversy that swirled over his trip, Harmon later said that another Chinese company, Longjiang, had acquired 55% of Bai Shan Lin and would be taking over the company’s operations here. Longjiang never showed up.
GFC took back the concessions last year since the company was unable to settle its debt.
“We could not have allowed a company to have access to our forest and not be paying fees for forest concessions,” Trotman said yesterday.