Parliamentary Affairs and Governance Minister, Gail Teixeira on Friday confirmed that the Guyana Forestry Commission (GFC) is in a state of bankruptcy, after just five years under the APNU/AFC rule.
The Minister related that when the People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) had demitted office in 2015, the Commission had over $4 billion in its coffers. Now, the agency does not even have sufficient funds to pay salaries. This is topped with high debts.
“For the public to know, when we left office in 2015, the Guyana Forestry Commission had $4 billion surplus. Today, it cannot pay the staff. It did not pay the staff in July because it didn’t have money. There’s hundreds of millions of dollars in debt,” she positioned.
The Minister also question how the agency has been completely drained, since it was garnering significant revenues at the end of each year.
“We have no apologies to make for bringing the public’s attention to what is happening to our country and what has happened to our country. How could $4B just disappear in a Ministry which brings in revenue all the time.”
Her comments came on the heels of newly-appointed Natural Resources Minister, Vickram Bharrat disclosing that reports from the various agencies within the Ministry point to gross mismanagement of the sector under the previous Administration.
It was during his first engagement at the Ministry last week that he was informed that the Commission was unable to pay salaries for July to its staff and more so, millions of dollars are owed to utility companies. In response, Bharrat had suggested major restructuring at the various agencies to ensure that they function in a more effective manner.
Guyana has an area of 214,970 km2, of which nearly seventy-five per cent is covered with natural vegetation. Of this area, approximately four-fifths is classified as State forests under the jurisdiction of the GFC.
The deficit balance comes as a surprise, given that the 2019 Mid-Year Report had shown that the sector was one of the few economic success stories. The report had said that the forestry subsector was estimated to have grown at the half-year.
This growth had encompassed the production of timber, including logs, round wood, primary lumber, split wood and fuelwood. According to the report, the production of these commodities rose by 7.8 per cent above the level achieved at the end of June 2018.
“This pushed growth in the sector to 8.5 per cent in the first half of 2019. The improvements to interior roads in the latter half of 2018 saw community loggers, particularly in Region 10, realising higher production levels in the first quarter of 2019. Production continued to surge, driven by small-scale concessions and community forestry operators,” the report had indicated.
“At the end of the first half, log production grew by 6.8 per cent, mainly on account of the increased extraction of greenheart logs to meet local demand. On the other hand, weaker international demand for round wood resulted in a contraction of this category in the second quarter, which resulted in a 2.6 per cent decline relative to the previous half-year,” the report adds.
According to the document, primary lumber producers recorded gains of 32.4 per cent in the first half, which was attributed to them capitalising on local demand for construction. The report also projects a positive outlook for the remainder of the year for the sector.
When the coalition took office five years ago, the Ministry was headed by AFC Executive, Raphael Trotman – who later came under fire after a damning report by international corruption watchdog, Global Witness found that the 2016 oil deal he negotiated with US oil giant ExxonMobil could cause Guyana to lose billions.