Illegal practices in the logging sector - Solomon Star News

Illegal practices in the logging sector

24 May 2016
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ON the 27th April 2016, an EX PARTE INTERIM ORDER was executed by His Lordship Foukona Judge (HCC 176 of 2016) Restraining Richfield Timber Company Limited and Vungasilo Investment Limited (licensee) owned by Joseph Tausuli, a member of the Guadalcanal Provincial Executive from landing logging machinery and equipment on Vungasilo concession license area.

The Order was served with the Licensee, Vungasilo Investment Ltd and its new contractor, Richfield on the 28th April 2016.

Richfield under the guidance and advice of Vungasilo does not take heed of the orders and landed its Machineries on Vungasilo Concession on the 29th April 2016.

The orchestration of this landing is vested on who does approve the landing of the machineries, whether it be the Commissioner of Forests or any other forest officers, despite of the High Court Order that was in place.

However, it doesn’t matter who approves the landing, but the essence of the issue is, does the Commissioner of Forests or the officer who approves the landing, has the power to overturn an Order from the High Court? 

Further still, is there any provisions under the discretionary and statutory functions of a Public Officer’s power that can evade or supersede an order from a Court of law?

Or do you have to comply with the applicable law necessary? The result of the above decision, is the unfortunate scenario transpired few weeks ago resulting in the chaotic situation that escalated between the peaceful people of Variana and Tiaro in West Guadalcanal recently.

A camp belonging to Richfield Company was destroyed, and machines were driven to the villages.

The issue was, for two or so years, a renowned executive member for Guadalcanal Provincial Government and former Minister of Forests for Guadalcanal Province, Joseph Tausuli engaged an investor who was a member of the Solomon Forest Association (SFA) prerequisite.

The Investor had funded and facilitated the Timber Rights acquisition process on which a license was obtained from Forestry by Vungasilo Investment Limited thereafter.  

A Technology and Marketing Agreement (TMA) was signed between Vungasilo and the Investor, but was eloped when Joseph Tausuli signed another TMA with the contractor known on paper as Richfield Timber Company Limited without the knowledge or consent from the investor who legally facilitated the license process for two years.

What is more surprising is, Forestry accepted the Technology and Marketing Agreement signed between the two culprits (Richfield and Vungasilo), despite having full knowledge of the legal binding sealed between Vungasilo and the rightful investor and the fact that Richfield Company Limited is not a Solomon Forest Association Member under which 2007 forest regulations is manifested, a piece of law Forestry itself is duty bound to enforce and to protect.

Forestry business as we know is very critical because it has something attached to the environment we live in therefore, the attempt to control the conduct of players in that industry is so crucial.

That is purposefully, the intention of the Forest Regulations 2007.

It states that only the logging investors with good standing in the forestry industry can become an association member and Solomon Forest Association Members are the ones guaranteed under that regulation to do any tree felling for logging business in Solomon Islands.

Good Standing is the precondition called for, and those who are well versed with the code of logging practices and have better logging records trying to comply with all relevant laws relating to the Forestry Sector.

It is regrettable, that some people did not have any respect at all for the laws of Solomon Islands.

Even if the HIGH COURT ORDERS can mean nothing to them, what respect do you think they would ever have for other laws of this country?

It would be so surprising, if the authorities do nothing about the issue and let those who break the law of this country go free.

As a law abiding citizen, this is a terrifying account.

Richfield Timber Company Limited mastermind the show after signing the TMA with Vungasilo Investment Limited.

Derrick Ngu as appeared and translated in mandarin as Mr NGU ZI HO aka Derrick Ngu is well known for his NGU brothers logging business.

Another tactic need to be investigated is, the sole shareholder and Director of Richfield Timber Company Limited known to be Simon Wetney, as far as records are concerned.

Who is Simon Wetney? Is he a foreigner or a local?  How can Mr NGU who owned a logging company, NGU Brothers (SI) Ltd, being a member of the SFA, can operate under Richfield Timber Company Limited owned by Simon Wetney who is not a member of the SFA?

Fellow Solomon Islanders, please be proactive in your investigation on which genuine companies are operating in this Country.

It is to avoid investors who want to escape and break the laws and evades certain revenues that should be collected by the Government.

The government ministries such as the Company Haus, Foreign Investment Board, Labour, Immigration and etc. and the banking institutions must uphold this understanding.

In that same context, I believe Simon Wetney is an innocent Solomon Islander who is ignorant of the skills played by crooker.

Does this Solomon Islander, knew the fact that he would be responsible for any unlawful conduct made by Derrick Ngu?

If a claim of trespass succeeded in any courts of law, will he stand the cost?

 In fact, Derrick Ngu is only an agent of Richfield Timber Company Limited and have been operating in Malaita Province, Western Province, particularly Guadalcanal Province under SLH Timber Company owned by Donation who is also unaware of the filthy conducts.

In any countries or organisations the fundamental principle was, all the citizens and investors should abide and adhere to the laws of the land and the authorities who administer and coordinates the affairs of a country or organisation to attain peaceful and harmonious investment strategies that respects and honours the law of that country or organisation.

There is no exception here, however, the above case is an interesting and classic example of the malpractices going on within the Government authorities of this country.

It’s a very sad situation when the authority deemed to neglect the requirement of the law, procedures and processes of this country.

In that I mean, some of the decisions made contradicts the applicable laws that should be complied with at all times.

In such situations, it is crystal clear that those who make such decisions contributes and supports corruption or corrupt practices.

In that same note, I think the Commissioner of Forests is only a custodian to the Forest Legislation and its regulations in ensuring that all the forest stake holders do comply with its applications in its enforcement and monitoring strategies, but cannot make ULTRA VIRES decision as has been made on this case.

The EXTRA ORDINARY GAZETTEE published under Legal Notice No. 114 of 15th March 2007 is an interesting piece of regulation.

It requires all logging Investors, whether it be a foreigner or local who acquire a felling license from the Ministry of Forestry and Research, must be a member of the Association ascribed as the SOLOMON FOREST ASSOCIATION (SFA) under its Extra Ordinary Gazette, Sections 7, 8, and 9 respectively.

The Extra Ordinary Gazette forms part of the Forest Regulations under the Forest Resources and Timber Utilisation Act (FR & TU) Act, therefore, any company operating without adhering to the laws of this country must be penalised according to the law.

Right now I think, only SFA can properly screen and identify all the logging investors being its members, the genuine ones and the hit and run who do not care about the laws of this country.

Finally, without beating around the bush, the Commissioner of Forests and the provincial member, you are belittling the laws of this country, which resulted in demeaning the morale of some of the genuine Investors.

Why allow a company who obstructs the laws of this country to continue operating?

What actions are you going to take against such culprits and someone who contempt a High Court Order?

Or was it the way this country will deal with such no care attitude Investors, and neglects those Investors who are genuine and abide by the laws of this country?

This is a really sad situation and I must admit here that authorities please do act now to avoid precedence and tampering with the laws and to avoid cases of the same nature to happen again in the future.

By TONY DESMOND
LCW

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