By Abena Rockcliffe-Campbell
Absolutely not! That was the response given to Kaieteur News yesterday when Commissioner of
the Guyana Forestry Commission (GFC), James Singh, was asked to respond to suggestions that he might have been bribed to stay silent while Chinese logging companies abused Guyana’s resources.
Singh said that he is in no way corrupt and that he has proved that in a response GFC prepared to the forensic audit report. That report highlighted vast discrepancies and high levels of corruption at GFC.
On Sunday, Kaieteur News quoted Executive Member of the Working People’s Alliance (WPA), Dr. David Hinds, asking Singh to say if he got anything in exchange for his silence on BaiShanLin’s illegal activities.
The GFC forensic audit report said that not only did GFC condone unlawful practices by Bai Shan Lin Forest Development Inc, the Commission was also involved in the process.
This is what prompted Dr. Hinds’s question. He noted that Singh stayed silent while corruption took place right under his nose.
Hinds said that it is clear that BaiShanLin has a monopoly in the Forestry Sector.
Hinds said that foreign investments should be encouraged as the country needs it. But he said that such investments should not structurally undermine local, small and medium scale initiatives. And this is what the GFC has allowed to happen.
When contacted yesterday, Singh expressed disappointment that Kaieteur News did not contact him before carrying the article that quoted Dr. Hinds. He said that if he was contacted before he would have been able to note that GFC handed in a “detailed” response to the issues that were highlighted in the audit report.
Even though he tried to distance himself from schemes that have been highlighted as corrupt, Singh admitted that he has rented one of his properties to some Chinese.
Kaieteur News received information that the Commissioner rented one of his properties to Chinese involved in logging. However, while Singh confirmed that he rented to Chinese, he claimed that that set of Chinese are not involved in logging.
The Commissioner also told Kaieteur News that he could not have been involved in corruption as all “joint ventures” between GFC and BaiShanLin were approved by GFC’s board of Directors.
He added that the ventures “went through a process in keeping with the forestry act.”
In his forensic audit report, Goolsarran exposed how the Chinese company made swift moves to gain control of five major companies in the Forestry Sector.
These companies include Sherwood Forrest Inc, Haimorakabra Logging Co., Wood Associated Industries Co. Ltd., Puruni Woods Inc. and Kwebanna Wood Products Inc.
The forensic auditor noted however that there was no evidence that the specific approval of the GFC was granted in relation to the change of ownership/control of these companies.
He argued that in the circumstances, the holders of the Timber Sales Agreements should have surrendered their authorisations to the Commission.
He emphasized that these companies hold TSAs covering a total of 441,119 hectares. This means that BaiShanLin had access to a total of 627,072 hectares of State Forest.
Goolsarran said that since the Forests Act prohibits the transfer of ownership/control of a forest concession without the specific approval of the Commission, then the five concessionaires that have transferred such ownership or control to the officials of BaiShanLin should be made to surrender their concessions to the Commission for reallocation to other potential concessionaires.
Goolsarran also recommended that all state forest owned by the company should be returned to the Commission for reallocation.
In addition to this, he said that the coalition administration should consider terminating the investment agreements with the company and recover the value of the fiscal concessions granted to it.