Govt’s Forest Inventory Project leaves more questions than answers

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Junior Natural Resources Minister, Simona Broomes

The Parliamentary Opposition seeking details on the consultant carrying out the Forest Inventory Project, which received a further allocation of $244 million, in the National Assembly on Tuesday proved futile.

Under questioning from the Opposition, Minister within the Ministry of Natural Resources, Simona Broomes, informed the National Assembly that the works were being carried out by the Guyana Forestry Commission (GFC).

The Junior Minister gave details of what the project would entail.

According to her, the inventory would document both flora and fauna, as well as where these natural resources are located.

“The GFC will be going to look at the forest species that we have, where they are; even the wildlife. So it’s an extensive project, very robust. It’s about tagging and naming,” the Minister explained.

A sum of $35 million in capital expenditure was allocated for 2019, while a sum of over $250 million was allocated to the Ministry under ‘other’.

However, the revelation in the Committee of Supply that the second phase of the Ministry of Natural Resources’ project will cost some $244 million, raised eyebrows in the Opposition benches of the National Assembly. Those eyebrows were raised even higher when it was made clear what the allocations would be spent on.

Broomes informed the Assembly that monies will be used to purchase an All-Terrain Vehicle (ATV), a Land Cruiser and a computer. This did not sit well with the Opposition, and Opposition frontbencher Anil Nandlall requested a breakdown of how the money would be spent.

“We have here an allocation of $35 million,” Nandlall pointed out. “And the legend reads ‘provision for forestry inventory study’. I heard the Minister explain to us they are buying vehicles under this provision. Might I ask for a breakdown of how much of this money is actually going to forest inventory and how much is going to be spent on acquiring vehicles? This thing says clearly ‘provision for forestry inventory study’.”

In response to questions from Nandlall on why the project money was being spent to acquire vehicles, and not on the project, Broomes defended the allocation.

“These monies will be spent to buy these things to support the study, because, to execute this study, the personnel will have to go in the fields. It’s not a study that will be done (indoors), it calls for field activities,” she explained.

Pressed further, Broomes related that the project was subjected to the public tendering process and to Cabinet approval, but successive Opposition Parliamentarians tried to ascertain whether a consultant was undertaking the study, or whether the GFC itself was doing so.

“The Ministry of Natural Resources with the Forestry Commission will be carrying out this project,” Broomes said. In response, Opposition MP Juan Edghill repeated his request for the identity of who would be undertaking the study. Broomes repeated her previous answer, and this did not satisfy Edghill.

“I’ve asked specifically for the Minister to tell the House who is undertaking this study, and she has said this is being undertaken through the Forestry Commission. If this is being undertaken through the Forestry Commission, then this money should have gone as a subsidy and contribution to a local organisation.”

“It has to be a consultancy or a project where persons are being engaged and being paid. Could the Minister tell us who is undertaking this study, and if the Forestry Commission is providing any counterpart financing for the study?”

Even with all this prompting, Broomes could not provide the name of a consultant. Asked point blank if the GFC was awarded the contract to carry out the study, Broomes reiterated her earlier comments that the project had gone through the procurement procedure, and she promised to lay over the relevant documents.

“You said this went through the procurement process. The procurement process will also include public advertisement, so are you saying the Ministry of Natural Resources went to public advertisement and the Guyana Forestry Commission submitted a bid to conduct the study?” asked Opposition MP Nigel Dharamlall.

“I’m saying that the Ministry of Natural Resources, through the procurement measures, procured the Forestry Commission,” was all Broomes would say in response, adding the benefits of the project.

A perusal of the Appendix of volume one of the budget estimates shows that the GFC did not receive any monies from the Ministry of Natural Resources in 2018 or 2019 by way of subsidy contribution or capital grant.

Edghill pointed out that in the absence of this information, GFC could not be undertaking the project.

But Broomes ultimately promised to lay over the information, leaving more questions than answers.

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