Presidential Candidate of the People’s Progressive Party (PPP), Irfaan Ali has laid the blame for the financial difficulties that the Guyana forestry sector is facing at the feet of the coalition Government.
With more responsibilities added to its mandate, the Guyana Forestry Commission (GFC) is currently strapped for cash and employees have been complaining of not receiving their salaries.
But according to Ali, an economist, this is as a direct result of the contraction of the forestry industry post-2016 caused by over two million hectares being removed from production forest.
“This has been as a clear consequence of Government action and measures. This driving factor has seen the fall in production and export levels within the forest sector and operators struggling to make a profit. Revenues from export and production comprise the main financing streams of the GFC,” he pointed out.
The PPP Presidential Candidate noted that the impacts of this has seen the inability of the GFC to meet core costs such as payment of staff salaries and field expenses.
“Staff are feeling the brunt of the effect by having their salaries paid late. In actual fact, this is no fault of the GFC but rather has been as a result of direct Government policy that has directly and negatively affected the sector,” he said.
The economist explained that reducing production forest by over two million hectares, which is a third of productive area allocation pre-2015, most certainly has a negative impact on forest sector performance, and in the process, the Forestry Commission has been collateral damage.
Added to this, he noted, is the state of hinterland roads which has plagued forest concession holders.
“It’s the worst it has ever been with no clear plan on continued upkeep. This frustrates forest operators and the trickledown effect is poor sector performance and low revenues for GFC. The Government has built up so much, the idea of green economy, the GFC is central to this ambition, yet the GFC is being neglected and not supported at all by Government. Ironically the sector is being shrunk without any plan to build back up its capacity,” the Presidential Candidate stated.
Ali went on to highlight that Guyana’s international reputation on forest and environment has made it stand out as a country that has prioritised forest protection and strong forest management. In fact, he noted that Guyana’s relationship with the United Kingdom (UK), European Union (EU) and Norway, all exemplify shared goals on natural resources. These, he added, are all suffering owing to GFC being stifled.
“It’s a shame what has happened to the GFC and the forest sector and Government must own up to its responsibilities in causing this. Unless proactive steps are taken by Government up revitalise the industry which will have a trickledown positive effect on GFC, the future for the forest sector and GFC staff is uncertain,” Ali asserted.
Earlier this year, Government had announced the restructuring of the Forestry Commission to bring it into alignment with Government’s green agenda plans and modernisation. A Task Force was subsequently established to oversee the restricting plans.
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.
According to the Ministry back in April, the Task Force will include the technical and administrative talent and personnel of the Natural Resources Ministry, the Board, and the Commission who will examine the structure and functioning of the GFC to make recommendations to Minister Trotman. He, in turn, is mandated to present a report to Cabinet.
However, the GFC staff were against such action since they felt that the APNU/AFC coalition Administration was using this move to conduct a “witch hunt” and advance its political agenda – something, which Natural Resources Minister Raphael Trotman had denied.
Nevertheless, the Minister is expected to meet with officials of the GFC including Board Members, and union and workers representatives, today to discussion assistance to the Commission.