Upsurge in forest crimes similar to domestic terrorism

Dear Editor,
Recently, there seems to be an upsurge in violent crimes in Guyana. But as we grapple with the crime situation, there seems to be another upsurge in forest crimes perpetrated on the forest by rogue elements within the divisional forest monitoring unit and seemingly led by the senior functionaries within the unit.
Recently, in November 2018 to be exact, our representative stakeholders were invited to the signing of the EU-FLEGT Forest Governance Agreement at the Cara Lodge Hotel. A ceremony attended by Minister Harmon and the EU Ambassador. The purpose of the agreement, I am told, was to strengthen and build on Guyana’s long history of good forest compliance systems and governance. I understand the UK Government, DFID, EU, FAO, Norway and many other international donors have supported this process and there is an expectation for more support.
In little under a year, the GFC Forest Monitoring system has gone seemly completely berserk under the leadership of Madam Chair (JD) and Head of the Forest Monitoring Unit. Seemingly, organised rouge elements planted at strategic locations have manipulated the system and have created serious, and what one may consider fraudulent, forest criminal activities within the system. There has been a complete breakdown of system and process and this is a very worrying trend. Stakeholders have complained and written numerous complaints to the authorities but all have been futile. It seems there is a willingness to tolerate this siege on Guyana’s forest or perhaps as some may want to believe those in authorities are benefitting. While not accusing anyone, a number of board members, including the Head, are also stakeholders/producers and thus, it is the belief that tainted products are being siphoned off to their personal operation.
The forest monitoring unit has created a parallel system to completely bypass the once-strong forest legality system. The forest crimes are overwhelming and they range from:
1.       Use of expired documents, tags and permits.
2.       Cut and transport of thousands of BM of wood illegally outside your boundary and without a permit.
3.       Selling of tags and permits by officers.
4.       Delays in inspection to force an outcome.
5.       Waiver of penalties for particular individuals.
6.       Under-declaration to bypass royalties and fees.
7.       Mixing and switching of species to bypass payment of royalties and fees.
8.       Exporting more than the declaration.
9.       Using fake receipts and documents to transport produce.
10.   Operating without a licence.
The list goes on… but many of the issues have been highlighted in previous articles and need not repeat. All stakeholders want is a fair system and for full cooperation and compliance by all— not selective treatment. But the collusion of the authorities is worrying. Stakeholders are planning to meet and also engage the international community and SOCU on these matters very soon.

E Smith