The Guyana Agricultural and General Workers Union (GAWU) on Monday engaged members of the taskforce set up by the Government of Guyana and which is charged with examining the operations of the Guyana Forestry Commission (GFC). The meeting which was held at the Union’s High Street Headquarters saw a delegation from the Union comprising of its General Secretary, Seepaul Narine; Assistant General Secretary, Aslim Singh; Organising Officer, Porandatt Narine; Executive Committee member, Gordon Thomas, and GFC GAWU General Council member, Monica Jacobs meeting for nearly two hours with taskforce members – Clayton Hall, Dr David Singh, Simone Benn, Rickey Jagroop, and Jacy Archibald. Two of the taskforce’s other members – Beverly Alert and Fredrick McWilfred – were unable to attend the engagement.
The taskforce, for its part, gave an overview of the Forestry Commission which was established in its current form in 1979. Over the years, the Commission, the taskforce pointed out, has been generally concerned with logging and sawmilling and that its revenues were primarily derived from forestry activities. However, in more recent times, given advancements in technology and concern about protection of biodiversity, environmental degradation, watershed management and other tasks within the context of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the role and work of the Commission has expanded. Those developments have resulted in the Commission taking on several new responsibilities and is incurring higher expenditure in the pursuance of those tasks. The taskforce did share with the GAWU delegation that it recognized that the Commission continues to be managed well and has done a good job in fulfilling the new obligations put on its plate. With the now new roles of the Commission, the taskforce will be examining means to ensure that the GFC remains on a sustainable footing so that it can adequately deliver on its new mandate. In this regard, the taskforce will examine the addition of new revenue streams or alteration to existing streams in order to meet the Commission’s costs today and tomorrow as well.
Our Union said it was pleased to have this opportunity to engage the taskforce and drew to its attention that the GAWU wrote Natural Resources Minister, Raphael Trotman on April 12, this year pointing out its status as the bargaining agent on behalf of the Commission’s workers. The GAWU told the Minister that it has a deep interest in the work of the taskforce bearing in mind that, among other things, it is tasked with examining the job descriptions and employees conditions-of-work, including pay levels.
The GAWU also said that it recognized that since the taskforce has been established several commentaries have appeared in the media but the Union is nevertheless prepared to engage in good faith. Our Union urged the body, however, not to ignore the sentiments in the media. Our Union expressed that the Commission’s employees were very much concerned as to whether the exercise will serve to reduce the staffing levels of the GFC. On this score, the taskforce assured it had no preconceived notions and that it would merely make recommendations which may or may not be accepted by the Administration. We nevertheless pointed out that the valid views of the GFC workforce be taken into account as ultimately they will be charged with the implementation of the taskforce’s recommendations that may be accepted.
We shared with the taskforce that we recognized from the GFC Act, that the Commission has many functions and that its employees have manifold responsibilities. We expressed our concern too about the financial situation of the Commission which has been plaguing its operations for some time now. Such a situation is not healthy for the organization, we opined, and could well harm the organization in the medium-term.
GAWU noted that it saw in the National Budget Estimates, the surplus of the Commission declining from $213M in 2013 to an expected $2.2M in 2019. In the same period, we noted revenues have risen from $711M in 2013 to an expected $1.435B in 2019, a 101 per cent rise whereas expenditure has risen from $498M to $1.432B, a 187 per cent rise. The rapid rise in expenditure vis-à-vis revenue, we contended, must be a matter that should not escape the taskforce’s attention.
On the possible re-structuring of the Commission, the GAWU noted that this is not a matter that should be treated with lightly bearing in mind the nuances of the organization. On this score, we urged that there be close examination and study and expressed hope that it is treated with utmost sincerity bearing in mind the anxieties that have surfaced.
Our Union saw the taskforce’s success linked to a process that is seen as fair and impartial and that its recommendations being responsive to the circumstances of the Commission and, above all, are able to withstand scrutiny. We contended that an open and transparent approach is necessary and the need for inclusion among the stakeholders, most significantly the Commission’s hard-working and dedicated workers. Of course, we added, that such engagements must be facilitated in an atmosphere of respect and cordiality and with an open mind.
The taskforce expressed its appreciation of the Union’s views and committed to keeping our concerns in its deliberations and thoughts. The body also assured the GAWU that it will be kept abreast of its progress and that it will be consulted on relevant matters as well. Our Union wished the taskforce well in its mandate and said that it was willing to share its ideas, thoughts and suggestions if requested.