stabroek news

Two forest exploratory permits held by controversial logging company Baishan-lin covering 134 316 hectares of forest in Regions Nine and Six have reverted back to the State.

“Two SFEPs (State Forest Exploratory Per-mits) have not been renewed,” head of the Guyana Forestry Commis-sion (GFC) Board, Jocelyn Dow, confirmed to Stabroek News yesterday. “Technically speaking, they have expired,” she said noting that one expired yesterday. “Those lands are back under State control,” she said.

Stabroek News understands that the company had not moved to fulfill the requirements under the SFEP. In June last year, it had submitted an application to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for environmental authorisation to undertake large scale logging in parts of Regions Six and Nine. It appeared to be a re-application for a process that had started in 2013. However, the process stalled and Baishanlin was unable to move the process forward. The proposed project encompassed an area of 331,904 acres.

Baishanlin has failed to fulfill several commitments made under its investment agreement here and is now being taken over by Chinese state-owned forestry company Long Jiang Forest Industries Group. That firm has acquired 55 percent of the shares in Baishanlin and intends to fully take over the company this year, Minister of State Joseph Harmon has said.

Following an uproar over a photo of Harmon and officials of Baishanlin in a private jet in China, Harmon had said that Vice Director of the company, Wong Dong Xu, in the presence of officials of Baishanlin, gave the assurance that the company’s officials will be in Guyana by May 2016 to complete due diligence for the takeover, and to satisfy and expand on the obligations of Baishanlin to Guyana.

Details of the company’s plans have not been made available and it is also not clear when Long Jiang Forest Industries Group acquired majority shares in Baishanlin.

Recently, it was revealed that during 2012-2015, the PPP/C government granted Baishanlin concessions amounting to $1.8 billion despite its failure to fulfill obligations under its investment agreements. The figure is likely to be significantly higher as the firm has been here since 2006 and according to figures previously disclosed by the Guyana Revenue Authority (GRA), in 2007 alone, Baishanlin was granted US$1.132 million in tax waivers, equivalent to $226 million. Figures for other years have never been disclosed by the GRA.

Forensic auditor Anand Goolsarran who made the finding on the tax concessions has recommended that the Government of Guyana consider terminating the investment agreements with the company and recover the value of the fiscal concessions granted to it.

Minister of Natural Resources Raphael Trotman has said that the audit report is with the GFC board and it is for the board to advise the minister on the way forward and he will not interfere. “I am awaiting and have tasked the board with determination of these and similar matters that is pulling back on some of the concessions and even termination of contracts,” he said last week.

Trotman added that termination lies within the bosom of the Ministry of Finance because the investment agreement was inked between the former Minister of Finance and the company so coming out of that agreement, “forest concessions were given so even if the concessions are taken away, the agreement is still in existence.” It is for the Finance Minister to make that determination of termination, he emphasised. (Gaulbert Sutherland)