It’s hard to follow the law when the law doesn’t follow itself, and this has long been a challenge for the timber sector in Guyana. Inconsistencies in the legal framework there have made it difficult for businesses involved in harvesting and processing wood from Guyana’s forests to follow the law. It has also made it difficult for authorities to enforce it. But that all changed this year, when Guyana enacted much-needed reforms.
Forests cover 87% of Guyana’s land area, and they make an important contribution to the country’s economy, providing jobs and livelihoods. To improve forest governance and promote trade in legal timber products Guyana has negotiated a Voluntary Partnership Agreement (VPA) with the EU.
The parties expect the VPA will help to combat illegal logging and will boost legal trade by improving the application and enforcement of forest laws. Having initialled the VPA on 23 November 2018, the EU and Guyana are now preparing to sign, ratify and implement the agreement. But already, the deal has brought legal clarity, including by strengthening recognition of Amerindian rights.
Until the recent reforms, Guyana’s forest sector was bound in part by regulations that had been in force since 1953 — thirteen years before the country gained its independence from Britain. When Guyana adopted a new Forest Act in 2009, this created immediate disharmony between the new law and the colonial-era Regulations. The 2009 Act refers, for example, to large and small concessions, but those terms were absent from the Regulations. This made it difficult for operators to know which requirements applied to them.
“We were being fined by the Guyana Forestry Commission for breaches that were not under the Regulations,” says Deonarine ‘Ricky’ Ramsaroop, President of the Forest Products Association of Guyana. “It used to change overnight to suit the situation. In other words, they could move the goal post as they wished.”
During the VPA negotiations, it became clear that such discrepancies would hinder Guyana’s efforts to verify the legality of its timber products. Recognising this, the Government of Guyana launched a consultation on new Forest Regulations, which it then enacted in June 2018 after input from the private sector and civil society. Ramsaroop welcomes the reforms. He says they make it easier for businesses act legally while making the Guyana Forestry Commission more accountable and promoting sustainability in the forest sector.
The new regulations will also make it “much easier” for the Forestry Commission to execute its mandate under the Forests Act of 2009, says the Commission’s Corporate Secretary Jacy Archibald.