THE nation’s patrimony belongs to its people, to be exploited in a sustainable manner for their benefit. To do this requires development of national policies, programmes and laws that could deliver for the citizens today and in the future. The issue of our pristine forest continues to be of concern, and is informing conflicting positions among the managers of the country, conservationists, the business community, and the wider citizenship.BaiShanLin (BSL), which is one of the nation’s largest forestry businesses, continues to attract public attention. There was a recent matter involving this company and the Guyana Revenue Authority on the alleged non-payment of taxes for its vehicles, which saw direct intervention of the Ambassador of China and the Minister of State, Joseph Harmon. The Minister of State, on his return visit from China in March, informed the nation of his engagements on matters pertaining to this company and the pending takeover by LongJiang, a state agency of the People’s Republic of China.
As Guyana seeks to develop and shape its policies, it is interesting to note that the properties of BSL have had both guidance and involvement of the Government of the People’s Republic of China. In that it is clear that a state company will own the properties of BSL and may be granted continued operations of its forest concessions by the Government of Guyana, it is not unreasonable to ask why Guyana is allowing itself to be placed in a position where, even as the State is discouraged from doing business of a productive nature, the Government is allowing governments of other countries to form companies, come to Guyana, and be allowed to exploit our natural resources.
It should be said that this question regarding indigenous production has nothing to do with being anti-foreign investment, racist, or xenophobia. It is that the action of Government gives rise to the concern why the State is not allowing its citizens, through state agencies, to engage in similar productive endeavours that will not only see the cultivating and unleashing of skills and potentials, but also nationalistic pride that Guyanese can produce and compete in markets, domestic and foreign.
The conservationists and persons interested in the management of our forests have brought to the nation’s attention the wanton and unsustainable exploitation of forested areas in Region 10. This abuse of the forest, outside of undermining efforts at establishing a Green Economy, also impacts the psycho-social and economic well-being of those who reside within the areas, or have cause to traverse or do business in the affected areas.
In the presence of the stated, there is concern that the required indignation from the Government of Guyana has not been forthcoming. And this also includes the apparent absence of verifiable positions on the enforcement of the laws and management of the forested areas. Ms. Janet Bulkan has written extensively on this area, and more particularly as it relates to BSL investment, management of the forest, and non-compliance with laws and agreements. Recently, through the media, she felt compelled to make her opinion known that the dealing of this company and the Chinese Government is illegal.
Subsequent to Ms. Bulkan stating her position, there appeared comments from the Minister of Natural Resources, Raphael Trotman, under whose portfolio forestry and BSL/LongJiang investment fall. The minister was addressing issues of natural resources; and on the matter of the forest, reportedly said that Government will not be lectured to through the press on forest concessions. Though it is wont to be believed that the minister was not being facetious to citizens, who use the media to speak on this matter and gain their government’s attention; in like regard, it cannot be overlooked.
The role of the media, in large part, is not to lecture to the Government, any group or citizen. Speaking for this newspaper, in our watchdog role, it’s our aim to stimulate and facilitate, among other things, conversations on issues relating to, and impacting on, Guyana and the welfare of Guyanese, domestic and foreign.
As an aside, though it is unfortunate that the minister sees the media as lecturing Government, notably with reference to an area within his portfolio, in his political growth, the media was courted to advance his views and desire to influence positions and decisions in society.
Conversations on Guyana’s patrimony, which includes its forest, would obviously be of concern to Guyanese. Where these concerns exist, citizens have a right to express them through the media, and the media has a corresponding responsibility to facilitate the expression. The growth of this society would be more assured if Government were to see the media as a partner and medium through which issues are transported and facilitated, and a source of feedback on the pulse of the people. Thankfully, President David Granger is respecting of our role.
BaiShanLin has at its kernel the nation’s patrimony. Where it is perceived that the Government of Guyana is not facilitating national discussions on this issue in order not to influence its policies, citizens would continue to entertain doubts and suspicions as to the motive of their Government and those with whom it does business on their behalf. The experiences of past administrations serve not only as lessons for the incumbent administration, but also to inform citizens’ reservations.