This week the DCC Government has fired the first salvo in a war of sorts that, win or lose, only the legal practitioners benefit handsomely. The Government announced that it was auctioning “illegally-harvested” round logs on Rennell – about 26, 000 cubic metres of it – a lot of money to let go easily.
It’s a bold move, backed by the logging industry watchdog, Solomon Forest Association (SFA), to clean-up the industry. It was a lead story in Thursday’s paper.
According to the front page yarn (story), the Government, through the Office of the Commissioner of Forest, acting on advice by the Attorney General’s Chambers, is auctioning the consignment of illegally-harvested round logs.
The Government’s move is based on a seizure order issued last month against controversial logging company, Asia Pacific Investment Development Ltd (APID). Among other things, the Order authorises the Government to seize machinery and equipment and forest produce and to dispose of through public tender.
The Government did exactly that.
APID which has neither a felling licence nor an export permit in its possession at the time the logs were felled or cut is claiming ownership over the logs. The Government disagrees.
APID’s claim appears to be based on a recent High Court ruling, which allowed the logging company, masquerading as a mining company, to export as it did an initial 6, 000 cubic metres in September.
Now the real fight is on. And it could be heading straight to the courtroom. Yesterday it did, to the Magistrate’s Court.
APID’s legal counsel, prominent lawyer, Gabriel Suri, succeeded in blocking the Government’s intention by obtaining a restraining order in the Magistrates Court yesterday afternoon (on Thursday.)
The legal challenges mounted by Suri is interesting in that his Clients know very well that they do not possess a licence to fell and that their felling would be a contravention of the forestry law of Solomon Islands. Yet, they are running to the Courts for protection. Shouldn’t the Court be vigilant in safeguarding the exercise of their discretion?
By his own admission, Mr Suri made it clear in an article which appeared on Friday 18th September that APID does not possess a logging licence, nor does it have an export permit.
The second point which raises serious questions is whether such a move by Mr Suri or any other lawyer for that matter is to undermine the Government’s action to clean up an industry which has been subjected to a whole lot of serious claims of corruptions over the years.
For simple minded people like me, once you have no licence, you have no rights whatsoever to deal in that particular business. In Kwaio, we say, “A’MOE A’MOE NA.”
Having said that, it is fair to say that the onus is now on the Attorney General’s Chambers to ensure the Government takes the necessary steps to ensure that the forestry laws are complied with and to ensure that it wins the case to auction the consignment of logs sitting on Rennell.
While the question of equality and fairness is paramount in our legal system, the fact of the matter is that our court does not have the luxury of time to waste it in frivolous arguments that only add to suspicions.
At the same time the judiciary is acutely short of judges. It makes little sense to allow its judges to waste their precious time in matters involving so-called investors who came here with little or no money of their own at all with the intention to maximise their gains within the shortest time possible using our resource sectors.
The clean-up of the logging industry now calls for a royal commission of inquiry.
By Alfred Sasako