The sudden decision to provide aid to Guyana was hardly puzzling.
We knew that another principle of distributive justice was at work; one that was not formally articulated, perhaps deliberately muted because of the disparate goals of the parties at the deal table.
The world was already watching on at the not so subtle creep of China into the Caribbean and surrounding countries that shared the same dependency on foreign aid because the choices of their post colonial leaders – selfish governance, greed, corruption – led to economic underdevelopment and stagnation that left these countries sitting on potential they were unable to develop.
India, its equally insidious partner, was hot on its heels and did not go unnoticed, either.
Guyanese were never really sold the reasons why the country should engage China and India in the magnitude that it had under any of its governments but the governments under the People’s Progressive party did, exponentially, less to advise the citizens why their involvement was necessary.
Guyanese were never told that China and India were really interested in helping Guyana realize its natural resource potential because China and India is in desperate need of what covers some 90% of Guyana’s terrain.
What was never given as much coverage as the inking of the value-added deals these generous countries were offering, is the economic disaster that these two countries are facing because of their government’s forced control of forestry to slow down the impending ecological disaster each country and particularly, China, continues to face because of reckless harvesting of trees and, in the case of China, dumping of industrial waste in the country’s forested areas, which continues to extinguish its forestry.
This Opinion Editorial offers an encapsulated over view of why China and India , with staggering rates of poverty, would suddenly have such economic assertiveness, an effusion of largess, in a country that is, relatively, economically insignificant.
In 1996 India’s Supreme Court banned the felling of trees in Jammu, Kashmir and Tamil Nadu. The ban later spread to all provinces in India. This was done to stem flooding, mudslides, the loss of forest cover, wild life and ecocentric bodies that are vital to the preservation of our planet.
In 1998 China imposed a ban on the cutting of trees to preserve its forests after irresponsible logging caused flooding along the Yangtze and Yellow rivers. The ban was subsequently extended to 18 of its 23 provinces as the country continued to, literally, lose ground as a result of tree loss. Not wanting to be out done by nature, the Chinese Academy of Sciences, the Think Tank of the Communist Party, was tasked with finding a solution to counter nature’s damage and discovered that the nitrogen emissions from China’s smog was continuing to destroy the country’s forests. Just in case we need some clarification on what China’s smog is, it is, in two words, unbelievable pollution caused by the use of coal for their manufacturing industry – China’s raison d’être. So, smog pollution will just have to be accepted as the cost of doing business and as a by-product of China’s journey to its goal of superpower.
After its logging ban, India became one of the world’s largest importers of timber second only to China. Might we add that, in 2013, India was amongst the biggest importers of illegal wood with 17% of its imports being illegally sourced. China another of the world’s largest importers of wood received some 15% of its import illegally in 2013.
Now, things are coming in to focus; why these two countries would, practically, get on their diplomatic knees and woo Guyana. Now we’re understanding the stadium diplomacy; the building of the Guyana International Conference Center by China in 2006 and the construction of the Guyana National Stadium by India in 2007. Now we’re understanding why China, which has some of the world’s poorest housing availability and accommodations, is proposing to build – if they haven’t as yet started- a gated housing development called New Life Community, with, undoubtedly, the timber they are harvesting from Guyana’s rain forest.
And now that we’re understanding the interest of both India and China in our natural resources and their generosity in granting credit lines, offering scholarships as an extension of aid to attend educational facilities in their countries, and their lent expertise to areas that remain challenges to our technology bank, we should pay keen attention to the upsurge of immigrants, particularly from China, their residency status and how they are making a living in Guyana. We should look at the business development licenses that these groups have been granted, in what areas and the level of over sight government is executing to ensure compliance. We should, also, pay keen attention to the hundreds of Chinese businesses that are popping up, offering substandard consumer products and hiring under aged employees, apparently, without required appropriate government oversight.
And, let’s not underplay India. Though China’s presence in Guyana is significant, India is not to be discounted. Guyana’s 51% Indian population offers India the possibility of establishing a more rooted political network and it’s no trivial speculation that the political government between 1992 and 2015 has shown political pliancy and economic partiality to India with more of a familial overture, than it has to other ethnic investors.
We have proferred these reasons to attempt to assign some degree of rationale as to why Guyana seems so beholden to these two foreign investors; why our national patrimony remains threatened by lack of strict accounting and regulatory oversight, particularly during the Jagdeo/Ramotar years that gave China and India claim, control, ownership of too much of our land and access to all of our natural resources.
We want to say, too, though we do not profess to be legal eagles, we do understand the fundament in the law of contracts and know that any agreement entered into must be honored and cannot be changed unilaterally. And we expect if those elected to higher office take upon themselves to engage certain economic pariahs and opportunistic leeches, they would do so understanding their fiduciary responsibility to the citizens whom the government was created to serve.
A few weeks ago Minister of Natural Resources, Raphael Trotman, declared that Indian logger, Vaitarna is ‘cooperating’ – referring to a recent compliance drive by the Guyana Forestry Commission which was, essentially, defunct of specific purpose when the last Administration was running things. Apparently, the Forestry Commission is now back in the regulatory business and the leases and/or ownership of patrimonial property are being scrutinized. Of the holders of lands, Bai Shan Lin and Vaitarna are the two that many are more familiar with but we can’t disregard the Barama Company Limited which was courted by President Desmond Hoyte during desperate times and was granted the startling amount of 1.7 million hectares of land, covering the greater part of the northwestern region near Venezuela…which they are still holding.
Can we say oil?
Each of these companies signed a contract for land use in Guyana. Each company promised some form of value added benefit to Guyana as a condition of its lease. Bai Shan Lin, the Chinese operator, has failed to stick to the tenets of its contract by, to name a few, failing to employ the thousands of Guyanese they contracted to, providing the requisite training for logging and setting up operations that Guyanese could control. Vaitarna, the Indian logging entity was bare-faced enough to place some portable logging equipment on the ground in lieu of the brick and mortar facilities and heavy equipment that was to be part of their contractual agreement.
We’re not asking for reams of turgid reports or formulaic pronouncements to confirm the brazen wrong doing of these companies on our soil. We don’t need verbal explanations of political ramifications involved in the dubious distribution of lands to foreign entities, under the former regime. We are concerned that citizenship was granted to several foreign nationals who didn’t satisfy the Constitutional requirement for Citizenship, many of whom are Chinese who subsequently acquired lands for the express purpose of raping our natural resources. We’re concerned that these people with unconstitutional citizenship have greater access to our natural resources by virtue of the clumsy, unsophisticated, crafting of contractual language combined with the shady but reckless issuing of citizenship to people who now stake claim to ownership of our most precious areas. Chu Hong Bo, a chinese national who rode in on the Bai Shan Lin scam express, was granted citizenship in 2014 and now lays claim to vast expanses of our land because of ‘contractual agreement”. This is what we are concerned about and want to see corrected by the current Administration.
Natural resources seem to breed natural corruption in countries that face financial crisis and the Chinese have a reputation, as recorded in several economic media, for presenting themselves as fairy godmothers with cash and opportunity, and lots of gifts for corrupt government officials.
We’re not saying that the Jagdeo regime was corrupt, ahem, but we remain curious about the wealth and real property many of their officials and extended associates acquired during the proximate period Bai Shan Lin, Vaitarna, and the list of other investors who acquired so much of what belongs to the citizens of Guyana.
The bottom line is that every one of these foreign companies has failed to execute according to the tenets of their contracts. Based on that breach alone, Guyana has the right to void every contract engaged in with these charlatans and ask them to leave our soil.
And we should.
If we’re honest and not only after the money – which came with extensive kick backs but that’s for another Op Ed – we’ll be honest and look at both India and China through the double lens of their paradoxical conditions – as both super economies yet emerging countries; filled with challenges and contradictions.
China is known for its smoke and mirrors and has little international credibility even if its propaganda programs like stadium building, scholarships and credit lines give the appearance of financial well-being. Corruption is epidemic, unemployment is astronomic and the reverence to the politics and ideology is still the culture. India, though a manufacturing giant like China, is still treading the water out of anemic economic growth and fears of inflation; even if President Obama is hopeful enough to have visited them twice, since taking office.
Frankly speaking, the only thing cloudier than China’s desire to aid Guyana is its polluted skies…and that’s a photo finish. India, though less flamboyant ,is equally as crafty. There is a calculated type of hype with which these countries approach poor countries like Guyana, big boosterism, appealing to the base needs of the decision makers, knowing that the kick back is the ultimate deal- sweetener.
But we expect our leaders to question backroom type deals and have enough patriotism to protect our natural resources from these modern-day pirates. We expect them to be wary of lines of credit that offer more opportunity to spend than probability to repay. We expect them to reject terms that say the lines of credit must be spent at companies selected by the creditor and expect them to work out, to the closest penny, basic things like project cost, loan terms and repayment conditions.
These things may not have been done with the Baishan Lin’s and Barama’s and Vaitarna’s but fortunately, we have lucked out. They have violated their terms of the contracts by simply not providing any palpable, calculable value-added amenities. … as a start.
So, though we support Minister Trotman’s new diligence on the land grabbing that these countries have engaged in under the pretext of offering value -added aid, we ask that he stops asking them to cooperate, stops expecting them to surrender the lands that they operate under very questionable leases.
They have already violated their contracts.
Please send them home.