Timber companies' environmental compliance way below standard

Stabroek News
July 10, 2000

The Guyana Forestry Commission (GFC) has completed inspections of the timber concessions in its Essequibo Forest Division (EFD) which revealed that a few companies were not complying with even minimal environmentally acceptable standards.

Deputy Commissioner of Forests, Luvindra Sukhraj, who has responsibility for monitoring and certification of forests, also reported that some timber companies had been attempting to prevent the GFC monitoring team from visiting their concessions, in contravention of the legal requirements.

The companies in the EFD named by GFC as not conforming to environmental standards were Vergenoegen Sawmills, Guyana Sawmills Ltd and A. Mazaharally and Sons (AMS) Ltd (Skull Point operations). "The results of these visits were not so encouraging and all three companies need to make considerable improvements before they comply with even minimal standards," Sukhraj stated.

When contacted last week, managing director of AMS, Yacoob Ally, told Stabroek News that his company was cognisant of the environmental requirements and took this aspect of forest operations seriously. He stressed that AMS had been making stringent efforts to comply with these standards.

Ally's timber firm is one of the largest in Guyana, with sawmills located at Kwebanna in the North West District, Supenaam on the Essequibo Coast and Skull Point in the Mazaruni.

He stated that AMS had always cooperated with GFC to ensure that the forestry regulations were being adhered to.

"We're taking steps to comply with whatever legitimate complaints... have been levelled against the company," Ally said.

He said AMS had engaged the services of former conservator of forests, Vivian Vieira, who was currently working closely with the Commission on the preparation of management and operational plans. The managing director took the opportunity to highlight the plight of the local timber industry which he stated was experiencing a "tail spin."

He revealed that he had had to make the unwelcome decision of closing down the Kwebanna operations because of the high cost of production for the company which was calculated to be $102 per board measurement. AMS's Skull Point operations was currently working at 10 per cent of its capacity while at Supenaam work continued as usual. Hundreds of workers had been laid off as a result.

He pointed out that the timber industry was a capital intensive sector and urged the expeditious establishment of a merchant bank. "To borrow funds from the commercial banks is almost impossible and the interest rates are killing," he stated.

Ally lamented the lack of action by the government to assist the ailing industry and suggested that duty free concessions could be given to companies.

The management of the two other timber companies could not be reached for comment on Friday.

Sukhraj said that none of the companies had prepared management or operational plans and forest operations were generally of a poor standard. "The forest resource is being under-utilised, regeneration of the forest after logging is being damaged and basic health and safety procedures are not in place."

Commissioner of Forests, James Singh, has expressed concern about the operations of these companies and about the attitude of some companies to the GFC monitoring staff.

He pointed out that a condition of granting forest concessions was that GFC staff must be able to enter the concessions and monitor forest operations at any time.

The commissioner declared that companies which made no attempt to comply with the operational requirements of GFC's Code of Practice for forest harvesting would have their operations halted. So too would those companies which refused to cooperate fully with the GFC.

He noted that companies had been given more than two years to implement the Code of Practice on a voluntary basis and some had been making genuine efforts to comply. But those which showed lack of cooperation would be penalised.

Singh stated that operational plans were essential if forest operations were to be carried out efficiently and the resource utilised effectively.

Strong action would likely be taken against companies which did not submit plans for the year 2001. This would include the withholding of permits for the removal of produce from their concessions.

Sukhraj said that of all the companies visited, the foreign-owned Caribbean Resources Ltd (CRL), based at Wineperu on the Essequibo River, had made the greatest effort to improve forest management and utilisation practices.

According to Sukhraj, CRL was close to 70 per cent compliance with GFC's operating requirements and might be close to achieving the standards required for international certification of forest operations.

He said that greater attention needed to be given to log skidding and extraction practices which were currently causing damage to forest regeneration. The health and safety rules also required stricter enforcement.

Sukhraj said the company had not yet complied with GFC's management planning requirements but all other operations were either satisfactory or above average.

GFC is hosting a forest certification workshop at the Hotel Tower which ends on Wednesday.

Forest companies could voluntarily submit their operations for inspection by an independent certifying agent, accredited to an internationally recognised certifying body. A successful inspection would allow a company to display a label on its produce certifying the standard of its forest operations. Such labelling was increasingly being demanded, particularly by the environmentally conscious and high-value markets for forest products in North America and Europe.

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