“The rule of law? Not in the forest sector of Guyana”: Four articles by Janette Bulkan in the Stabroek News

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The rule of law? Not in the forest sector of Guyana: Four articles by Janette Bulkan in the Stabroek News

In January 2011, Guyana’s then-Junior Minister of Forestry Robert Persaud announced that the forest sector in Guyana was 99% legal. A recent series of articles by Janette Bulkan questions the veracity of Persaud’s statement.

The articles, which were published in the Stabroek News in January and February 2012, expose a series of flaws in the forestry sector of Guyana. Although the Memorandum of Understanding that the Government of Guyana signed with the Government of Norway in November 2009, mentions transparency and improved governance in the forestry sector, in practice illegal operations, corruption and inefficiency continue in Guyana’s forests. Bulkan’s fourth article makes a series of suggestions aimed at improving the forest sector in Guyana.

Bulkan’s articles are posted in full below, followed by an extraordinary response from Peter Persaud, of The Amerindian Action Movement of Guyana (TAAMOG), as a letter to the editor of the Government-owned daily newspaper, the Guyana Chronicle.

While Bulkan points out serious problems with the forest sector in Guyana, there is little evidence that the government is taking the problems seriously. In his response, Persaud points out that the “Government of Guyana congratulated the GFC [Guyana Forestry Commission] for a very good performance for the year 2011.”

  1. The rule of law? – not in the forest sector of Guyana, By Janette Bulkan, Stabroek News, 16 January 2012.
  2. The rule of law – inefficiency and corruption in the export of timber logs to Asia, By Janette Bulkan, Stabroek News, 30 January 2012.
  3. The rule of law – what Guyana loses through export of timber logs to Asia, By Janette Bulkan, Stabroek News, 6 February 2012.
  4. The rule of law – what the forestry industry could do in a levelled business environment in Guyana, By Janette Bulkan, Stabroek News, 10 February 2012.
  5. Janette Bulkan has once again emerged from her cave of doom, By Peter Persaud, letter to the editor, Guyana Chronicle, 9 February 2012.


1. The rule of law? – not in the forest sector of Guyana

By Janette Bulkan, Stabroek News, 16 January 2012

Janette Bulkan is a Social Anthropologist who was Coordinator of the Amerindian Research Unit, University of Guyana from 1985 to 1999 and Senior Social Scientist at the Iwokrama International Centre from 2000 to 2003.

In November 2009, the Government of Guyana signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Norway that provides for Guyana to demonstrate transparency and improved governance in the forest sector. The associated Joint Concept Note was revised in March 2011. The required REDD-plus Governance Development Plan requires movement towards independent forest monitoring, and negotiation towards a voluntary partnership agreement under the European Union’s action plan (2003) for Forest Law Enforcement, Governance and Trade (FLEGT). A citizen might suppose, therefore, that the Guyana Forestry Commission (GFC) would be working hard to remove and prevent all traces of illegalities in the forest sector. Indeed, on 26 January 2011 the then junior Minister for Forestry, Robert Persaud, “disclosed that there has been a decrease in infractions and illegalities in the forestry sector indicating a positive trend of compliance. The sector is at a 99 percent level of legality however, 100 percent needs to be achieved”.

Just how the Minister determined that legality was so dominant is not clear. Contrary to international practice, the Guyana Legality Assurance System (GLAS, available in printed but not electronic form from the Guyana National Bureau of Standards, report GYS 496:2010) does not have a definition of legality. The numerous defects in the draft GLAS were pointed out by the consultancy firm, Efeca, in its May 2011 report, released in August and handed to the Minister by USAID in mid-October, as reported in a Stabroek News article of 12 October 2011, ‘US report could help enhance Guyana’s forestry’. This report is not on the GFC’s website. However, significantly overlapping with Efeca’s study, GFA Consulting Group’s scoping report on independent forest monitoring, released on 16 December and accessible through the GFC website, also encountered many problems (Stabroek News news item, 24 December 2011 – ‘Assessment finds several weaknesses in forestry commission practice’). Efeca noted, but GFA did not, that the GFC’s pretence that the Forests Act 2009 was valid law was misleading. In legal terms, the Forests Act (cap. 67:01) continues to be the 1953 Act as amended to 1997.

Any GFC practice of using the 2009 Act to define forest offences or to prescribe penalties from the 2009 Act would be incorrect. Indeed, insofar as the Board of Directors of the GFC has allowed the GFC staff to impose penalties with reference to the 2009 Act, that Board is itself guilty of an offence under Article 44 of the Interpretation and General Clauses Act (cap. 2:01 of 1970) and liable to prosecution. No doubt the new Attorney General will be aware of this matter.

All logs extracted from concessions in State Forests, from agricultural or mining leases, or from Amerindian lands, should carry GFC-issued bar-coded timber tags. Half of each tag should be nailed to the tree stump and the other half to the log. In forests purportedly under sustainable forest management, the GFC should be able to match the log to the stump, and in 2010-11 it claimed to have matched 29 per cent of all issued tags. In forests not under long-term management, trees and stumps may be cleared by agriculture or mining or road building so that tag matching may be impossible. Huge amounts of logs supposedly coming from small agricultural leases or conversion forest lands probably include logs felled illegally elsewhere but are reported for GFC removal and transshipment passes as coming from such leases.

Logs can be exported legally only by holders of GFC logging concessions, or agricultural leases or titled Amerindian Village Lands. The junior Minister’s order in 2009 does not say that the logs must come from trees on those same lands, so it is quite legal for concession holders to buy logs from other sources and to export them.

As shown by the 130 logs intercepted in transit in Jamaica and associated with a cocaine shipment (Stabroek News news item, 21 March 2011 – ‘Timber cocaine switched ships’), surprising quantities of high-value logs are apparently being exported by holders of hinterland agricultural leases and small and short-term logging concessions to enterprises in China and India. How is it that such rural communities are so well connected to industries in China and India? Of course, they are not. The log traders are making use of Article 241 in the Customs Act (Cap. 82:01) that allows a broker to present documents on behalf of a client. The log traders – who may be citizens of China or Guyana or India, and who may be scrap iron dealers or restaurant owners or have shops selling imported clothes from China – pay in cash for the logs delivered to the roadside or to an address in Georgetown. The amount paid is about one tenth of the value of the logs landed in China. The traders also pay a token fee of around US$2 per Removal Pass to make use of the name of the concession or lease holder for passing the documents through the GFC and the Customs and Trade Administration of the Guyana Revenue Authority (GRA).

This practice is illegal in that the Forests Act makes no provision for the use of brokers to manage documents in this way, to obtain timber grading or export certificates. In addition, it is an offence against Article 158 of the Customs Act to make a false declaration. As the logs have been sold for cash to the log trader/broker, the use of the original owner’s name on the GFC and Customs documents is illegal.

Timber logs worth as much as US$36 million when landed in China are said to have been exported from just one region of Guyana in 2010-11, using these illegal practices. Could Minister Robert Persaud now justify his claim that Guyana forestry is 99 per cent legal? Is the GRA making any attempt to tax the traders’ income from the sale of logs to China or India?


2.The rule of law – inefficiency and corruption in the export of timber logs to Asia

By Janette Bulkan, Stabroek News, 30 January 2012

In the article ‘The rule of law? – not in the forest sector of Guyana’ published by Stabroek News’ In the Diaspora on Monday 16 January 2012, I outlined the simple ways by which some traders export timber logs illegally. In today’s article, I show some of the inefficiencies in the semi-computerised systems used by the Guyana Forestry Commission (GFC) and Guyana Revenue Authority (GRA), including its Customs and Trade Administration (C&TA). I show also some of the ‘small piece’ payments which lubricate the flow of documents for timber export through the government bureaucracy. And I mention the alleged forest offences for which the Guyana Forestry Commission (GFC) is imposing undocumented administrative penalties disproportionate to the nature of the alleged offences.

Guyana scores poorly in most international indices on quality of governance including those on ease of doing business. The tradition of numerous government licences to start and operate a business goes back to the post-Independence Burnham regime.

Rationalization of the licensing requirements has been slow during the years of PPP government from 1992. ‘An entrepreneur can expect to go through 8 procedures requiring an average of 34 working days in total in order to launch a business . . . To enforce a contract, some 36 procedures are required with an expected timeline of 581 days to complete the process’ (see Economy Profile: Guyana). The Global Competitiveness Report 2009-2010 by the World Economic Forum included among the most problematic factors for Guyana: tax rates, tax regulations, inefficient government bureaucracy. And The Heritage Foundation’s 2010 Index of Economic Freedom noted a weak rule of law, corruption in all areas of government, oversized government, an inefficient bureaucracy. Meanwhile, the tightening of US import rules against post-9/11 terrorism, against drugs and against illegally-produced timber has caused the Guyana Revenue Authority (GRA) to add more controls to the Customs administration, including a scanning device in the port area (‘Container scanner in operation’, Stabroek News news item, 01 June 2011).

Some of the inefficiencies in the bureaucracy seem to stem from a government failure to use a systems approach. In order to obtain an export certificate from the GFC HQ, an exporter (or broker on behalf of a nominal exporter) needs: a timber marketing (grading) certificate with the grader’s signature, brand and date; a timber inspection certificate with the GFC timber inspector’s signature, brand and date; presentation of the load list with the relevant 9-character GFC timber tag numbers (there may be hundreds of these numbers in any one consignment), removal pass, commercial invoice and bill of lading; confirmation from GFC that relevant royalties and the export commission (levy) have been paid.

Separate signatures from 2 out of 6 named GFC senior staff must be obtained.  At present, this process involves four separate forms. Why not use just one form? Instead of manual completion and hand-carrying from office to office, why not use an on-line system with electronic signatures? If only 6 GFC HQ staff can sign, why not have a publicly-visible rota so that at least 2 out of the 6 are available at any one time at HQ? – instead of the exporter having to wait for the HQ staff to appear in their offices, perhaps for days.

The GRA is likewise only partly computerized, with multiple forms and repetitive entry of data into different GRA and C&TA databases in different offices at different locations. Mistakes by GRA or C&TA staff in data entry cause delays at the expense of the exporter. The only partial nature of the automation of process provides opportunity for graft, in that delays can be reduced or prevented by payment to the government staff of a ‘small piece’. As in the GFC, some steps in the GRA/C&TA process require signatures of 2 out of 4 senior staff, who may not be available when needed.  Informants indicated that 4 to 8 ‘small pieces’ may be needed to expedite processing of documents for a single consignment, totalling around US$ 110 per consignment. Bribery is proportionately cheaper for larger numbers of shipping containers included in a single consignment.

Storage costs are of course less if Customs clearance can lead directly to ship loading. The certificate from container scanning is only valid for 72 hours, so if the ship arrival is delayed or if loading is delayed, then scanning should be repeated. It is unclear why the scanner cannot operate on a 24/7 basis, especially as the scan must be booked for date/time in advance. The GRA Commissioner said that ‘it is impractical for the GRA to scan the nearly 1,000 containers that are exported from Guyana on a yearly basis’ (SN 01 June 2011). However, as the scan and report per container takes only 20 minutes, 1000 containers could be scanned in only 333 hours or less than 8 weeks of 46-hour weeks. What is this million-US-dollar scanner doing for the rest of the year? Year-round operation would help to reduce demurrage charges when ship departures are delayed by late loading.

Why do exporters need to carry bundles of paper documents between GRA and C&TA offices?  And why does the process take up to two weeks (‘Exporter experiencing inordinate delays’, Stabroek News, 22 June 2011). All exporters have at least laptops and internet connections. Why not have an entirely electronic processing system at least for containerized cargo, with almost all the data entry carried out by the exporter and the GRA and C&TA only verifying and extracting statistical information? The GFC claims to have a standard operating procedure for exports (as reported to the GFA study on independent forest monitoring, October 2011) although this SOP is not in the public domain. The GRA does not seem to have such an SOP, and as in the GFC there are an extraordinary number of points where apparently whimsical administrative decisions can be made to delay exports. On what basis, for example, does the Enforce-ment Department decide that a container should be subject to a manual search rather than the radiation scanner? Why should the damage and delay caused by such unloading and reloading be charged to the exporter if no fault is detected? – it is usually not reclaimable from business insurance.

It is a citizen’s right under Articles 146 and 149 (D) of the National Constitution 1980/2003 to have information about the procedures which the government agencies are applying with respect to his/her business. A major and widespread complaint against the GFC is its imposition of administrative penalties for minor mistakes. There is no public document which lists the eligible offences or the penalties. Article 31 of the Forests Act 1953/1997 allows the GFC ‘in substitution for any proceedings [= court prosecutions], [to] accept on behalf of the State a sum of money by way of compensation from any person reasonably suspected of a contravention of this Act not being an offence under section 24 [counterfeiting]: provided that — (a) such compensation shall be accepted only where the person reasonably suspected of such contravention has expressed his willingness in the prescribed form that the contravention as aforesaid shall be so dealt with, and where the prescribed royalty value of the forest produce or thing in respect of which contravention has taken place does not exceed two hundred and fifty dollars if the person accepting the compensation is a forest officer other than the Commissioner or seven hundred and fifty dollars where such person is the Minister or a member of the Commission or the Commissioner; [and] (b) such compensation shall not exceed five times the market value or alternatively, where the value of the forest produce or thing cannot be estimated, the sum of one hundred dollars.’

In practice, the GFC has for years been avoiding prosecutions so its allegations of offences have not been tested by cross-examination in open court.  And for what kinds of alleged offences?  Here are some examples from my informants:

  • transcription error in the 9-character GFC timber tag;
  • mistake in calculating the volume of timber in cubic metres;
  • mistake in writing the GFC-designated name of the timber;
  • transporting timber with a GFC removal permit one day expired by one day (although no expiry date is given on the standard forms for removal permit in the Fourth Schedule of the Forest Regulations 1953);

The GFC has been using this administrative procedure to impose penalties totalling millions of Guyana dollars; in other words, far in excess of the limits prescribed by the law quoted above. The GFA report mentioned above notes several instances of the GFC trying to claim administrative discretion and exceptions for which there is no backing in law.

Both the GFC and GRA need to be hauled back into application of the rule of law and the application of publicly-available standard operating procedures, prohibiting the discretionary decision-making which is the bane of client citizens. An early task for the relevant sectoral committees of the National Assembly would be to inquire into these abuses of authority.


3. The rule of law – what Guyana loses through export of timber logs to Asia

By Janette Bulkan, Stabroek News, 6 February 2012

In the second article in this series ‘The rule of law – inefficiency and corruption in the export of timber logs to Asia’ published by Stabroek News on 30 January 2012, I showed how a non-systematic approach by government agencies added to business costs and opened doors to corrupt and illegal practices. This followed the first article ‘The rule of law? – not in the forest sector of Guyana’ published by Stabroek News’ In the Diaspora on Monday 16 January 2012, in which I outlined the simple ways by which some traders export timber logs illegally. In this third article, I trace the change in price along the value chain towards the final consumer. It is entirely contrary to national policies, from the National Development Strategy of 1995-7 onwards, for these fine timbers to be given away at such low prices to Asian countries instead of converted into high-value-added products here in Guyana. The government agencies and their Boards – Guyana Forestry Commission, Guyana Revenue Authority, Go-Invest – are at best culpably negligent.


The graph shows the value accrual for fine Guyanese timbers, from forest to flooring at the point of sale from a factory in China. The added value is clearly being captured by the Asian enterprises, not by Guyanese business.

The National Constitution states ‘The goal of economic development includes the objective of creating, promoting and encouraging an economic system capable of achieving and maintaining sustainable competitive advantage in the context of a global competitive environment, by fostering entrepreneurship, individual and group initiative and creativity, and strategic alliances with domestic and global business partners in the private sector‘ (Article 14) and ‘The goal of economic development includes the objective of laying the material basis for the greatest possible satisfaction of the people’s growing material, cultural and intellectual requirements, as well as the dynamically stable development of their personality, creativity, entrepreneurial skills, and cooperative relations in a plural society . . .’ (Article 15).

To give effect to the National Constitution, ‘The object of the Guyana Forestry Commission is to encourage the development and growth of forestry in Guyana on a sustainable basis (Guyana Forestry Commission Act, cap. 67:02, revised 2007, Article 2). The relevant sections in the National Forest Policy 1997 have been repeated in the 2011 edition: ‘(a) The size, scope and scale of the forest industry sub-sector shall be related to the availability of timber and non-timber forest resources from sustainably managed forests, supplemented by those from such other areas as may be designated by the Guyana Forestry Commission’ and ‘(b) New technologies for the economic utilisation of timber to broaden and diversify the range of species available, to minimise waste, and to maximise the returns from the conversion of felled trees, shall be developed and utilised so long as the sustainability of the forests is not impaired’ (Part IV, B Forest Industry Strategies, 2 Industry Viability, page 26) and ‘Efforts shall be made to encourage greater utilization of logs in downstream activity’ (Part IV, A Forest Industry Policies, 4 Processing, page 25).

The large amounts of timber logs exported without processing show how the GFC has failed to implement the 1997 forest policy and how the national log export policy discussed in February 2007 and implemented in January 2009 has signally failed to stimulate local added value through processing. During the period 2007 – September 2011, log exports have totalled over half a million cubic metres (> 200,000 logs) and averaged 37 per cent of log production.

Using the GFC’s current estimate of log production cost (23 January 2012) as US$100 and a value multiplier of 14.6 for log-to-furniture – that is, using technology already familiar to and installed in Guyana – those half-million m3 of logs could have been processed in Guyana to furniture worth over US$734 million. So how is the value actually being captured? Here are some estimates based on interviews in December 2011 and January 2012, all expressed in US dollars per cubic metre for the flooring-quality timber wamara (Swartzia leiocalycina) and closely related itikiboraballi (three other species of Swartzia). Wamara is a species endemic to Guyana and for which therefore Guyana should have been a price-maker rather than a price-taker.


The table assumes no loss in volume by buyer rejection. Informants indicate that volume is retained but price may be lowered for second grade logs.  Asian traders are using undocumented log grading systems different from the official Guyana grading rules for hardwoods.

The most striking feature of the graph and table is the very small amount of revenue captured for the nation of Guyana. The largest single item is the GFC export commission, still only 10 per cent of declared FOB value in 2011, when the excess profits being captured by the log traders are clearly very large; as pointed out by Mahadeo Kowlessar in 2007 (Stabroek News letter, 04 July 2007, ‘Guyana would do better to process logs rather than ship them out unprocessed’). This is and has been an easily corrected fault but the political will of the GFC and GRA appears to be lacking.

The GFC has pointed out, in the context of current discussions on revision of the log export policy, that there is no absolute shortage of bank liquidity or credit, and that tooling up for the elements of a more modern forest industry is not very expensive. The GFC and GRA however are not acknowledging the major barriers to investment. These include the arbitrary and discriminatory way in which Go-Invest investment subsidies are granted or refused; the lack of collateral caused by the short-term approach to forest concessions (25-year Timber Sales Agreements actually treated by the GFC as annual licences); petty hassling by police and GFC staff of timber trucking; the arbitrary and discriminatory application of GFC penalties for minor infractions; the sheer amount of running around to collect approvals and signatures from GFC and GRA staff who disappear from their desks, and to provide transport and lunches and ‘small pieces’ to government staff at several levels.

Under these discouragements, is it surprising that loggers sell prime timbers at low prices to Asian buyers with suitcases full of cash, just to avoid the inconveniences and uncertainties of Guyana’s bureaucracy? Yes, the private sector should and could do more, but it is the political leadership and the government agencies which have a constitutional obligation to provide the level playing field for investors, national and foreign. There is no lack of consultancy advice on what is needed. There is a real shortage of political commitment to fair and rational application of national policies. This ought to be a positive incentive for a new political administration to break from two decades of overt corruption.


4. The rule of law – what the forestry industry could do in a levelled business environment in Guyana

By Janette Bulkan, Stabroek News, 10 February 2012

In three earlier articles in this series on distortions in the rule of law in the forest sector in Guyana (Stabroek News, 12 and 30 January, and 06 February 2012), non-application or selective application of laws, policies and administrative procedures were shown to make it possible for timber log traders to maximize personal incomes by avoiding national policies for in-country processing and value addition. These practices mean non-compliance with the requirement in the National Constitution 1980/2003 that natural resources should be applied for the benefit of the nation rather than for personal profit. Avoiding the national policies also leaves the forest sector as an enclave economy for Asian factories, where skills are developed and used and employment is generated in Asia instead of in Guyana. Timber decking which is finished in the USA could be entirely produced in Guyana. Furniture and flooring made in China with Guyanese timber and exported to the European Union and North America could be entirely produced in Guyana. The Private Sector Commission’s argument that Guyana cannot compete in markets in developed countries because of tariff barriers is shown to be absurd by the success of the Chinese exporters in these markets with products based on Guyanese timbers. In addition, there are several arrangements for products from CARICOM countries to enter Northern markets with no or reduced trade barriers.

Suppose that the Guyana Forestry Commission and the Guyana Revenue Authority were to cease their discriminatory and selective practices and actually apply the laws and regulations and national policies as written. Suppose that the ‘policy directives’ of unknown authority, which set aside laws and regulations and which the GFC claims as justification for unconstitutional discrimination (recorded in the GFA Consulting Group report of December 2011), are properly abolished. Suppose that the Go-Invest investment incentives which supposedly apply to the forest sector actually do so without discrimination, and that VAT on domestic sales of timber logs is actually refunded within the promised 30 days instead of several months.

The GFC’s ‘quick reference guide for the implementation of the Code of practice for Wood Processing Facilities’ (undated, probably 2011) recommends that ‘investors/wood processors should . . . focus on niche markets that are lower volume but more dynamic in nature . . . low volumes and high values’.  But then there are problems of lack of economy of scale, and the lack of co-operation between family-owned timber businesses in Guyana has been a persistent complaint from overseas timber buyers for almost 90 years. Memory of failures during the Burnham years taints the notion of co-operatives. In addition, almost two decades of consultancy reports comment on potential and actual negative effects of family ownership of businesses in the forest sector. Re-investment of profits into the core timber businesses as opposed to other investments is limited. Bookkeeping and accounting practices minimize tax exposure rather than make the business efficient. The obscurity of the family business accounts makes commercial banks wary of making loans.  Nor are the Asian-owned companies which benefit from substantial FDI arrangements secretly negotiated with Cabinet any more reputable (‘Barama and the law’ by Chris Ram, Stabroek News, 02 June 2007). Suppose, however, that children of family enterprises who have business degrees from the University of Guyana or US universities were allowed to use their qualifications to develop the family businesses, and suppose that the commercial banks overcame their suspicion of the riskiness of timber businesses.

What can be done technically to bring the forest industry of Guyana closer to the efficiency and effectiveness of the parallel industries in China and India, so that we produce and export the finished products rather than the Asian factories use our timbers for exportable products?

It is a safe bet that it is not worth modernising the technically unsuitable second-hand gangsaws installed decades ago in several of the fixed sawmills of the older families. At least five factors are positive for a modernized forest industry:

  1. Smaller logging concessions within a national strategic plan for forest allocation
    The dynamic ecology of the natural tropical forest is better known (mainly through the doctorate studies of the programmes of the University of Utrecht and Tropenbos International from the 1980s to 2002). The natural infertility of the hinterland soils mean that Guyanese forests are never going to be as biologically productive or as commercially rich as those of the Amazon Basin or West Africa or South East Asia. So the harvesting and management models developed during FAO/FIDS in the late 1960s and early 1970s – large-scale logging concessions to amortize costs for extracting large quantities of huge logs – are not appropriate. Moreover, the long-lived trees are often defective and so yield low proportions of usable lumber. It therefore makes no sense to haul out logs with little prime lumber and a lot of residue. It makes more sense to leave the residues to decay back in the forest and to haul out only the usable lumber. This is what the chainsaw millers have been doing since the early 1990s, producing lumber at ¼ the cost of the fixed mills but at the cost of poorly sawn boards. Portable narrow-kerf high-strain bandmills now produce a much higher yield (up to 70 per cent log-to-lumber compared with 40 per cent in Guyanese fixed mills and less again with chainsaw milling) at 1/3 the cost of fixed mills. And the capital cost of portable bandmills is much less than for fixed mills. It is thus practicable to issue much smaller concession areas (relative to Barama’s 1.61 million ha) in the context of the national strategic plan for forest allocation, but still operating to sustainable forest management standards, to employ more people, to enhance local skills, and to provide a better return on investment.
  2. Modern technology for processing Guyana’s timbers
    More and more wood is consumed globally as engineered products. Wamara (botanical name Swartzia leiocalycina) and itikiboroballi (possibly two other of the 34 species of Swartzia in Guyana but more likely wamara under another name) were not popular in Guyana because the wood is difficult to saw with conventional steel blades. Asian metallurgists have developed saw blades which can saw this and similar timbers efficiently, so Asian log traders have been buying up under-appreciated timbers to convert into expensive high-end furniture and flooring, for consumption by the rising middle class in India or for export from China to Europe and North America. Merbau from South East Asia, cumaru (called ‘tonka bean’ in Guyana) and wamara/itikiboroballi are desired because of their timbers’ engineering properties, not because of their names. Wamara/itikiboroballi was little sold from Guyana before 2005 but during 2009 – September 2011 almost 70,000 m3 of logs were shipped to Asia, mostly for flooring. This timber was the second largest (after purpleheart) out of the total volume of 253,181 m3 of exported logs in this period. The third article in this series (Stabroek News, 06 February 2012 `The rule of law – what Guyana loses through export of timber logs to Asia’) showed how little we earned from this valuable timber compared with the Asian log traders and factories. In contrast, in Peru, a factory now has installed Chinese machinery to convert cumaru/tonka bean into almost-finished flooring, so capturing a much higher value for the producer country. We could do this in Guyana.
  3. Marketing a technical product, not a timber name
    The Guyana Forestry Commission (GFC) expressed surprise that dressed lumber of washiba (botanical name Tabebuia serratifolia, known as ipe in Brazil) was declared at FOB US$ 2500/m3. The fortnightly Timber Trade Marketing report from the International Tropical Timber Organization shows that Brazilian ipe decking (the end use for the Guyanese washiba) routinely imports into the USA at US$2,650 – 2,875. We could do that too, using several different species and selling according to the technical specifications for decking, not by timber name. In that way, the massive over-cutting which the GFC has allowed for purpleheart (by some 30 times its natural regeneration rate) and wamara would be avoided for other species.
  4. Buying an engineering material
    It is shameful that the GFC has abandoned the yield control by tree species which is prescribed in the GFC Code of Practice for Timber Harvesting (November 2002, section 2.3, page 8). However, instead, the GFC is pressing the holders of the large-scale Timber Sales Agreement concessions to work systematically through their approved logging blocks, extracting more species per hectare; this was first suggested in 1948 and is the norm in many other countries. The GFC allows up to 20 m3/ha over a 60-year rotation (forest regeneration period) but most loggers in Guyana take only 6-12 m3/ha, leaving much timber behind. The reason given by the loggers is that the other species are difficult to sell. That is because they are being sold as species, by timber name, instead of as an engineering material. The specifiers of government contracts could help by detailing requirements in terms of strength or durability characteristics, so that any timber which satisfies those requirements could be supplied, instead of only a small number of increasingly scarce timbers; scarce because those timbers have been over-cut for years past.
  5. Selling and buying according to fitness for purpose
    As part of its promotion of the Code of Practice for Wood Processing Facilities, the GFC should stimulate other government agencies and contractors, as well as consumers in general, to buy timber according to fitness for purpose. It makes no sense to buy top-grade purpleheart and then paint it white. Instead of detailing how sawmillers should do their sawing, the GFC should be teaching people to ask for timber by strength class or durability grade. In this way we could have more rational and more sustainable forest management and an abundant supply of cheaper timber.

Working on these five factors would be cheaper and easier than struggling to keep technically unsuitable and worn-out fixed sawmills in operation, or to build roads for trucks hauling massive logs. The GFC, the trade associations Forest Products Association and Guyana Manufacturers and Services Association, and the individual enterprises need to apply some strategic thinking before we exhaust our fine timbers through senseless conservative adherence to inappropriate traditional practices.


5. Janette Bulkan has once again emerged from her cave of doom

By Peter Persaud, Letter to the Editor, Guyana Chronicle, 9 February 2012

I wish to refer to ‘In the Diaspora column’ of Stabroek News under the caption, “The rule of law – what Guyana loses through export of timber logs to Asia” by Janette Bulkan, in its issue of Monday February 6, 2012. Kindly allow me to state the following in your letters column:

(1) Not satisfied that she has lost her mischievous agenda against Guyana’s LCDS, Janette Bulkan has once again emerged from her cave of doom to wickedly malign the Guyana Forestry Commission (GFC) where the export of timber logs to Asia is concerned. But Bulkan, an unpatriotic Guyanese now living abroad has definitely been transformed into a serf for local and foreign rascals who are currently waging an anti-government of Guyana agenda and more particularly its LCDS. But the great spirit knows that Bulkan’s vendetta against Guyana will continue to fail.

(2) But Bulkan, instead of pursuing unpatriotic machinations against Guyana, should occupy herself with the task of reviving her family’s furniture exporting business in Georgetown which has collapsed using her forest expertise. Or is it because of Bulkan’s expert advice that her family’s business is staggering for survival.

(3) Bulkan is a failure. But she is stubborn not to lift her head from the sand. She failed in her management plan for the conservation of forest in the Waini, NWD of Guyana and failed in the effective production of a forest certification scheme for Guyana.

(4) Bulkan also failed in effectively advising Suriname, a participant country of the Forest Carbon Partnership Facility (FCPF) on its original Readiness Preparation proposal (RPP) and, as a result, Suriname failed its RPP. However, what was noteworthy about Suriname’s RPP maps which Bulkan turned a blind eye to due to her unpatriotic behaviour  towards Guyana was that the New River Triangle, a portion of Guyana’s territory was featured on those maps giving the false impression that the said portion of land is part of Suriname’s territory. Bulkan who worked with the World Bank section that deals with the RPP of participant countries of the FCPF had her services terminated upon request by the Government of Guyana for working against the interests of Guyana where its REDD+ Initiative is concerned to combat Global Climate Change.

(5) But it is said that the devil finds work for its disciples to do. Bulkan now has a problem with the GFC and GRA in accusing these bodies of loosing financially where the export of timber logs to Asia is concerned. Based on Bulkan’s track record of failures, I am of the view that she is totally incompetent to make pronouncements on the work of the GFC in the management of Guyana’s Forest Estate.

(6) Bulkan’s analysis to justify her claims against the GFC that is losing as a result of timber logs export to Asia is totally flawed or misleading, as a result of unsubstantiated evidence based on her poor research methodology.

(7) But while Bulkan is wickedly claiming that the GFC is losing as a result of logs export to Asia, the Government of Guyana congratulated the GFC for a very good performance for the year 2011.


UPDATE – 15 February 2012: The name of the letter writer to the Guyana Chronicle was mistakenly written as Robert Persaud. The author was Peter Persaud, head of an Amerindian NGO called TAAMOG. In the discussion following a previous post, I attempted to find out how many people are members of TAAMOG – without success. The organisation does not have a website.

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  1. Peter Persaud wrote another ad hominem response to Bulkan’s fourth article:

    Bulkan is a confused twit

    By Peter Persaud, Letter to the Editor, Guyana Chronicle, 14 February 2012

    I WISH to refer to Janette Bulkan’s article in the Stabroek News under the caption, ‘The rule of law – what the Forestry Industry could do in a levelled business environment in Guyana.’ Kindly permit me to state the following:

    Bulkan is a confused twit now living in Guyana, and does not understand why specific laws are made. But to fulfill her wicked and misleading agenda against the Management of Guyana’s Forestry sector she is now accusing the GFC of selectively applying laws, policies and administrative procedures for timber traders to maximise personal incomes. What is Bulkan’s point here?

    If the GFC has specific laws relating to the export of timber logs and enforces these laws, policies and administrative procedures where the export to timber logs are concerned, then the GFC is doing its work in the right way and ought to be congratulated for being consistent with the applicable laws for timber exports.

    But Bulkan has a problem with timber traders who are exporting their products to Asia and making money while family-owned businesses like hers are unable to do so because they lack the necessary capital. This however, is not a concern for the GFC.

    Bulkan used her article to point out that the financial fragility of family-owned businesses in the Forestry sector is as a result of the “obscurity of business accounts” which is a reflection of poor financial management and where the commercial banks expressed wariness in giving loans due to “the risk of timber business”. This is of no concern to the GFC.

    Bulkan however wondered in her article that “suppose, however, that children of the family enterprises who have business degrees from the University of Guyana or US universities were allowed to use their qualifications to develop their family businesses and suppose that the commercial banks over came their suspicion of the riskiness of timber businesses.”

    What Bulkan fails miserably to understand is that a business degree from any university is not a guarantee for successful business development but more so a natural inclination for the application of sound business principles and good financial management which will enable reinvestments. Even a school child knows this. Further, is expert Bulkan saying that she has no say in her family-owned business?

    Therefore the reason for Bulkan’s article under my reference is to get the GFC to facilitate the entrance of family-owned businesses into the exportation of timber logs to Asia based on the word ‘suppose’, hence her submission of five factors which she claims “are positive for a modernised forest industry.”

    Bulkan’s lobbying for family-owned businesses into the export trade of timber logs is poor. But the reality is that anyone or company can enter the export of timber trade.

    The GFC is currently equipped with experts and therefore does not need Bulkan’s advice or proposals for a modernised forest industry, since it is already moving in that direction.

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