FORESTS AGAINST THE WALL
Wiesława Lewandowska talks with dr. Piotr Lutyk about consequences of extortion imposed on State Forests by the government
WIESŁAWA LEWANDOWSKA: – The recent ‘national silver’, the richest state institution – this is the name of State Forests. Are they really so rich?
DR. PIOTR LUTYK: – This richness is a relative matter. If we consider the whole property which they are managing, they are extremely rich. However, it is not property for sale. State Forests in Poland are an overwhelming majority, are a pillar of ecosystem of the country. So, putting them for sale, we can say that we are ready to sell even everything, even Poland as such…
– In your opinion, the extortion imposed recently by the government on the enterprise State Forests proves this readiness?
– It is probable. This very painful ‘jump on money’ can effectively destabilize the whole forest economy. And, indeed, somewhere on the horizon, there is a known privatization process of the state property in the III Polish Republic by leading it to bankruptcy.
– The Prime Minister assures that in this case this scenario will not be repeated, he announces to strengthen constitutional guarantees.
– Even if these announcements did not turn out to be a smoke curtain, this binding and effective Polish model of forestry can be liquidated, and integrality of State Forests destroyed.
– Through taking material advantages from forests. And there are many ways. For example, one can divide forests into the protective and productive ones; to make the biggest income from wood sale from the productive ones for 10 years, and destroy them completely. And, in this situation, protective forests would have to belong to the direct board management of the state administration. Being doomed to the fate of all other budget institutions, they will simply die out.
– We know from the history of Poland, that owners or leaseholders of forests usually saw a possibility of quick becoming rich. Today Forests are the property of the State Treasury, so, it seems natural that the governing have a right to reach for their money…
– And they do, but this time it is dangerously deep. State Forests as well prospering enterprise, bring enormous sums of money to the state budget every year. However, this enforced extraordinary and sudden contribution may unsettle the basis of the whole forest economy, which may lead this developing state company to bankruptcy. Taking a high extortion does not go together with a good manager and a wise owner, but it rather reminds the well-known action of the occupant in the Polish forests.
– Strong words!
– It is easy to notice that the government behaves here – surely not being aware – like the occupant. If one wants to kill a hen laying golden eggs to roast for unexpected guests, then it is difficult to name it differently.
– Can this extortion imposed on the State Forests be a danger for their existence, if the Forests have quite much the so-called spare money?
– The fact is that the collected sum on accounts of particular State Forests is about 3 milliard zlotys but, in fact, the so-called pure capital is only 1 milliard zlotys. In addition, over the half of the whole sum (about 1.5 milliard zlotys) is assigned for covering the current payments (taxes, payments for services). Indeed, there are some savings, and because the former director of the State Forests had been stopping investments and employment for a few years. It does not mean that today these means are not need to the Forests, but on the contrary! There is a lot to catch up.
– Why were essential investments stopped?
– It is really difficult to understand. I suppose that it was ordered from the authority… It was then when the ‘richness’ of the Forests was the target of greediness. Three years ago the government was trying to include the State Forests into the sector of public finances. In fact, it would not have saved public finances, instead, it would have been a big catastrophe for the Polish Forests.
– If the attempt of that ‘reform’ was had been successful, today we would not have this effective enterprise which is the State Forests. It would have divided the fate of national parks, which had been functioning in this way for nearly a year and were saved from the oppression by statutory amendments allowing for earning additional money to budget donations. If the Forests were to function as an institution of the sector of public finances, it would quickly turn out that they are insolvent and are not pay to service providers, and forestry works would have been stopped. Surely, there would have appeared an argument that if the Forests were to be self-financed and are not able to do it, it is necessary to save them…
– Through privatization?
– Surely, because privatization is probably the best remedy for mismanagement. Even if it is so, forestry management is here exceptional and the whole history of the Polish forests proves it. Nobody has devastated Polish forests so much as their short-sighted private owners always aiming at quick and maximal profits.
– Why, in your opinion, is this present ‘jump onto the forest cash’ is also an omen of the dangerous scenario?
– Because there are attempts to reach for the capital which is to cover fixed means of the State Forests, provide financial fluency of the whole company. Even if now some superintendence has surplus, it results from the excessive saving in the past, which means that it is high time for implementing essential investments.
– What are the present problems of the State Forests based on?
– First of all, there is lack of roads. Export companies use a very heavy equipment and it is more difficult for them to operate in forests. It may cause a situation when the Forests selling wood at export roads will have to organize transport of wood in big distances, which will significantly increase costs of its gaining. The next big problem is the fact that we are entering the period of massed retirement of foresters, which must also entail high costs.
– How is it possible? Forest schools educate a sufficient number of suitable successors, and there is going to be only the exchange of the natural generations…
– It could seem so. However the specifics of forestry must be – good if it was! – the exchange of generations ‘into a bookmark’. Next generations in the forests should not pass by with one another because here it is important to pass knowledge and experience to others in reference to particular management of forests (forestry, superintendence). Young workers should work under the supervision of their older colleagues for at least a few years. In my opinion, at this moment, it would be necessary to increase employment in the Forests so that there would be the ‘bookmark of generations’.
– And will it become completely impossible in relation to the new financial duty imposed by the government?
– Surely, we will have to resign not only from it. And today it is really difficult to say because, assuming from the action of the government, it is not known what else we can expect…Now, there has been an attempt to reach for the money, without any economic analysis, and it was decided to take away the maximal amount. State Forests have been put against the wall – in fact they do not have any solution out and must agree…
– Because the managers of forests have nearly always been related to the current government, somehow by its assignment.
– That is true. It reminds the times of Gierek. The question: ‘Comrade, will you make it?’ can be answered only in one way: ‘Yes, we will, comrade, the first secretary’. This time the State Forests will also do everything to make the payment. It would be good if the management of the State Forests was politically independent, but I do not know if it will be ever possible at all…
– Instead it is the first time many foresters are rebelling.
– Yes, they are rebelling against this way of treating the State Forests. This massed opposition was articulated by labour unions which have always been strong in the Forests, and the Movement of Polish Forest Protection – the same one which had participated in a protest years ago against privatization attempts of the government of Solidarity Movement and Freedom Union. Unfortunately, I regret to say it but these all social actions and oppositions bring poor results. Three years ago, Forests were endangered by pacification through including them into the sector of public finances, and we had a conspiracy of silence on this issue…
– Now, there are voices criticizing the refusal of foresters to the country in need. Money from the forest donation is probably to support self-governments. It is said that rich foresters do not want to share their big property with poor self-governments.
– That’s it. There were perverse promises that this money would get to building of village roads. But, honestly speaking, I do not believe it at all, because it has never happened that money taken to the budget would be assigned to fulfill any earlier promises. In my opinion, it would be quite logical and effective if local roads were built by superintendence and local self-governments. Only a usual agreement would be needed between both interested parties. The forests have already proved that they are building roads well and cheaply. So, instead of the disagreement between the self-governments and the Forests caused by the government, we could have a real integration of local communities. And help given to the village would be real.
– It seems that the previous co-existence of foresters and village people was quite successful. Can there be any disagreements?
– We can expect some grudge from village communities, if they do not get the promised roads, despite the forest payment. Foresters who did not want to pay may be blamed, although the good prime minister promised… Moreover, if the Forests will decrease the amount of done tasks in this new financial situation, village inhabitants will also be victims, who are often employed by the plants of forest services. I am sure that despite such dedicated forest payment, the village will receive less money in fact, than it has had so far thanks to the Forests.
– Do you really think that the Forests will become poor in such an acute way?
– Yes. Because of the de-capitalization of the company, there may appear the loss of financial fluency. It is obvious that possibilities for the development of the whole company and ecologic methods of management, requiring special financial means, will disappear. I am afraid that this disappearance of the developing Polish forest economy in Europe may appear quickly, if the good economic situation of wood decreases for some reasons. As it is known, this economic situation undergoes various fluctuations.
– According to the worst scenario, can the State Forests ever announce bankruptcy?
– It may be probable. Because after de-capitalization through the two-year extortion, the company is burdened with the sales tax which, in fact, will remove the whole profit. So, the restoring of the capital is being made impossible. It is incredible because the sales tax is prohibited in Poland and in the EU.
– Can it be said that the State Forests are helpless towards the state machine destroying them?
– Rather towards the governmental machine. Foresters are trying to counteract the evil within their – unfortunately limited – possibilities. We were looking carefully at the actions of the parliament, we were submitting petitions, information about economic results. However, this all was not responded but ignored, and any amendments to the act project were rejected with votes of the governing coalition. The act was quickly accepted by the Sejm and signed by the President, who is known for his great reluctance to the State Forests.
– So, why was he given the nickname ‘gamekeeper’?
– Maybe because we have not had any gamekeepers for a long time….President Komorowski always emphasized, despite the declared fondness to people of forests, first of all, to foresters that he was a supporter of privatization, especially re-privatization of the State Forests.