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Stiffer penalties for forestry offences

Today, the Senate ratified Forest Amendment Bill. This means that the penalties for people who are caught committing forestry offences were restructured. In other terms, the fines imposed for this particular offence will be tougher since the fines were too lenient. Lead Government Senator, Godwin Hulse, explained.

Senator Godwin Hulse

“Actually as most people are aware, one of the big forest issues is the illegal cutting of Rosewood which is a valuable species and in fact, Senator Thompson, the last time this came up, suggested that the ministry of which I am in charge, ensures that we deal with that in a proper manner and dispose of it properly. When the case went to court with respect to the gentleman who was charged for 31 thousand board feet, the magistrate himself as I understand it was a bit surprised that the maximum fine that he could be charged with a thousand dollars. This amendment seeks to adjust and correct that and as it categorizes, one looks at the bill in the second schedule, the amendment to the second schedule, begins to categorize the various species and it creates what is called, a penalty unit and what that means is for example like Pine which is roughly two dollars a board foot, the penalty would be three times that two dollars but other species, the penalty unit goes up and if you look you will see, the second is Rosewood. It goes up four to one so the penalty unit for that one would be eight dollars a board foot times the amount of board foot times the penalty that is levied and for all other species which are not listed here it is 10,000. So that is what this intends to do to try to discourage that.

Senator for the People’s United Party, Valerie Woods pointed out that the new restructuring does not protect Belize’s national tree, the mahogany, as it does for Rosewood.

Senator Valerie Woods

“I fail to see why the government would not have the penalty for illegally harvesting the national tree of this country at the highest level as Rosewood and Zericote, even if the board foot for Mahogany, Mr. President is at a lower selling price in the domestic market. Additionally mahogany is used widely in Belize and is among the top exports in the timber industry. Recognizing that of all the hardwoods we have, of all the timber species so listed in this amendment it is only the mahogany that is our national tree, so why not have the penalty be based as an example on the export price which should then have the penalty increased to a level of that of Rosewood and Zericote when you check what that export price is per board foot. Indeed if you were to check with several of the licensed holders right now for this industry, mahogany is one of the driving forces of why they even get involved with this enterprise. So one should ask why not ensure that it is protected for that industry in the sense that it garners the highest penalty if found illegally extracted.”