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False declarations by logging companies under scrutiny
Guyana - Several forestry companies operating locally are currently under scrutiny for under declaration of produce harvested as well as the locations from which they were harvested.
Minister of Agriculture, Mr. Robert Persaud said yesterday that investigations have been launched into breaches of a 'very serious' nature within the sector following recent discoveries made by the Internal Audit Unit of the Guyana Forestry Commission (GFC).
He said that these breaches, if verified will have serious implications for GFCs revenue; for tax concessions issued to these companies by the government and for the GFC staff members at the locations.
The investigation is at the moment being headed by selected Officers of the GFC as well as members of the Internal Audit Department but may involve other parties such as the Guyana Revenue Authority (GRA) if the basis for such an additional intervention is found.
The investigative team is expected to present a preliminary report to the Minister of Agriculture by October 10.
Persaud made the disclosures during a press conference also attended by Commissioner of Forests, Mr. James Singh whom the minister credited with breaking the news about the suspected scams.
Singh had drawn his attention to the suspected breaches by way of a letter sent on Monday last, Persaud said.
The under declaration of forest produce harvested robs the GFC of revenue from Guyana's forestry resources, while false declarations as to the origins of the harvested produce seek to hide real abuses of these resources by the culprits, Singh said.
He stressed that the loggers are given permits for clearly defined geographical areas and exploitation of resources elsewhere amounted to a very serious breach of the Forestry Regulations.
Companies found guilty of these breaches are liable to heavy monetary fines and/or suspension or revocation of their licences.
The Commissioner said that the information which had triggered the suspicions of the GFC's Internal Audit had been amassed over the past two months.
Those under scrutiny are the companies which have been granted large scale permits by Government to harvest forestry products, many of them foreign owned.
The investigation will also target staffers of the GFC who are on the ground and whose duty it is to ensure that the regulations are adhered to.
He added that it was possible that this type of activity had been ongoing for much longer and the investigators would consider that possibility even if it meant pushing back the original October 10 deadline for a report to a slightly later date.
Persaud also announced that there will be major changes next year as the Ministry and the Commission fine tunes its arrangements for ensuring that Guyana gets its proper dues from those exploiting its forestry resources.
He stressed yesterday that arrangements which allow for joint operations in the industry will be the first to be abolished.