Takataka faces the menacing pillage of loggers
ON the South East Coast of Malaita, lies a pristine piece of natural beauty, which is Takataka Bay.
Situated in the heart of East Areare, Takataka Bay is one of the remaining coastal regions of Malaita which has escaped pillaging by loggers.
For centuries, the surrounding forests have never been touched by huge commercial development.
The locals prefer their trees alive and standing until such time that a tree is required to build houses.
This selective and sustainable harvesting of their finite timber resource has not only maintained the natural beauty, but also ensures that their children and future children continue to benefit from the natural resource and beauty, which is Takataka Bay.
Yet this special place is now under threat by the greed of those who search for wealth at the expense of destruction and disunity.
This article is about a notorious logging company,Samlimsan LTD and its cohorts who want to log the forests off the sacred lands in the Takataka Bay area and how they are tearing the environmental and social fabric of the people of Takataka Bay.
As is usual in the logging industry, a few locals who are interested in cash now, and care not for what the future holds for their children, were interested in commercial logging at Takataka Bay.
Long time license holder,John Ririoa of ARIHA Resources Development Company and Samlinsan saw an opportunity to break through and pillage the forests of Takataka.
The norm of collective consensus, which is the hallmark of Takataka society was by passed by MrRirioa and his few associate pro-loggers; hardly representative of Takataka Bay society.
Rightful owners were not consulted, resulting in signatories on behalf of some plots of land to be totally wrong according to AreAre tradition.
This sort of covert collusion is as we come to realise, the preferred modus operandi of loggers and license holders.
In August 2011, [u1] at Maniaha Village, Takataka,a Timber Rights Hearing was convened by Malaita Province.
According to section 7 and 8 of the Forestry and Timber Utilisation Act [Cap 40] the hearing is held to determine if the landowners consent to the exploitation of their lands through logging.
Sitting at this hearing were the concerned landowners, the licensee and the Malaita Provincial Executive.
This went on as planned and, the gathered landowner groups, were asked if they would consent to their lands to be logged.
Although some agreed, we declined to have our lands logged and strongly opposed the idea of large scale commercial exploitation.
When we made our objections, there was no response by fellow land owners, Malaita Provincial Executive or Licensee.
We neither objected to those who wanted their lands to be logged nor try to convince them otherwise.
We, the landowner groups against commercial logging left the hearing with no reason to doubt that our strong objection was taken on board by our neighbouring landowner groups, the licensee, Malaita Province, forestry official, etc.[u2]
It was a huge surprise that on the 15th April 2014, a barge belonging to the notorious Samlimsan LTD arrived with logging machinery to be deposited on our land.
The land belonging to those of us who,strongly and in no uncertain terms conveyed our opposing views at the Timber Rights Hearing at Maniaha.
The barge was redirected to land belonging to the pro-logging group.
A bit of research on our part reveals[u3] the level of collusion between government agencies, licensee and loggers to undermine our wish to keep our land and environment for the good of our people now and into the future.
The ensuing paragraphs will help shed some light on this.
It was in 2012 that the situation began to escalate and a determination was already made by the Malaita Provincial Executive.
In early 2014, based on rumours that our opposition to logging was being ignored, the Minutes of the Timber Rights Hearing was sourced and found to have completely and utterly misrepresented our (the land owner groups of Karonai, Apora, Heranihio, Haukorekore and Tauri[u4] views), as articulated at the Maniaha meeting of 2011.
In response to this we protested in a letter to Malaita Province advising them of our contrary position to that purported by Malaita Provincial Executive in the minutes.
Prudent practice would have been for Malaita Province to share the Minutes with the participants, so that any erroneous content can be sorted out well before a determination is done by the Provincial Authority.
We were starting to realise just how secretive these dealings can be.
Despite our strong opposition to commercial logging,the determination by Malaita Province ignored this and stated that a unanimous consent was given by all land owners.
This was a blatant betrayal of our trust; and disrespect in its worst form that a government body would do such a thing.
This was outrageous and we were dumbfounded that the Malaita Provincial Executive would come up with this decision.
Turn the clock forward. The surprise arrival of logging machinery on 15th April 2014 meant we had to go to another high authority, the Commissioner of Forest, with a letter of protest and personal representation.
The commissioner verbally assured us [u5] that he would issue a directive to stop the logging activity in Takataka Bay.
As the machines lay idle on the foreshore for some months, we were hopeful that sanity amongst our government agencies has prevailed.
Then on 30th August 2014 more machines arrived, with security personnel from East Kwaio; and now the machines were making a move into our land.
A second visit was made by two of our representatives in June 2014 to the Commissioner of Forest, to follow up on his earlier verbal assurance of a directive to stop the logging operation.
The Commissioner was not in country, and it was very difficult to find paper trail on this issue, so after much frustrated yet patient persistence, our representatives found out from the deputy commissioner that the Harvesting Plan was approved.
However, to this day the Harvesting Plan is a mystery in that the Commissioner of Forest cannot furnish us a copy despite a formal request by our lawyer.
Also we learnt that a Development Consent was issued by the Director of Environment and Conservation after Samlimsan LTD facilitated the Environment officers to do assessment on two separate occasions.
One would wonder why the machines were landed in April before the Felling License, Harvesting Plan (if there is any) and the Development Consent were issued.
What is not understood by Samlimsan LTD and its cohorts is the cordial relationship which the peoples of East Areare and East Kwaio have enjoyed for many years through friendship, years together on plantations, custom feasts, intermarriage, church and education.
Through this long historical and traditional relationship, our elders approached the Koloaia house of chiefs to engage with the security men from Kwaio, likewise the elders talk to our young men.
The risk we want to avoid is that disagreement will arise, and the young men of Takataka may end up fighting with securities, Samlimsan LTD will suffer not even a scratch, and Samlimsan LTD will have achieved its purpose of tearing down the ancient social fabric which had maintained our two peoples living together in peace and harmony.
The chiefs of both Koloaia house of chiefs and Takataka have done a great job with their respective youths.
Our boys protested by blocking the machines, and marking the boundaries which they should not breach.
When machine operators would not stop, they disabled the bulldozer but not beforeit had managed to destroy the water supply line to the villages of Arakao and Masupa.
The incident was reported to Police at Maka. With logic only the Malaita Police are capable of, it is the distant Auki and Atori Police who were tasked to go all the way south, with much fuel expenditure, and to supply the logging camp with several police officers.
The police took some of our youth to Auki, arrested without charge.
As to the water supply destroyed by Samlimsan LTD, two villages, a health clinic, a major rural port, and a major rural high school are all now without running water for over two months; and we have seen no action by police on this.
Samlimsan LTD and its cohorts, we are led to believe; can fix the damage on the proviso that they are allowed access to our lands.
This is a price which we are not prepared to pay. It is the ultimate in blackmail, and seemingly supported by police due to their inactivity.
A second group of our youth are currently taken by police to Auki, because of their effort in halting the machines advancing any further.
They too are all taken without any charges.And the Water supply damage by Samlimsan LTD?
No progress on that by police so far. We cannot help but think it not too farfetched to suspect that the police are there to serve Samlimsan LTD’s interests rather than the peaceful people of Takataka.
We wish to say to ARIHA Resources Development Company, Malaita Provincial Executive, Malaita Police, Commissioner of Forest and Samlimsan LTD that we the peaceful people of Takataka Bay are close to exhausting all reasonable means to stop the pillaging of our land, and we are taking this to the highest Court in the land.
We also hope that the Commissioner of Police is reading this article and will act accordingly.
Samlimsan LTD has already trespassed into land not consented for logging and destroyed the water supply to the communities, Clinic and School.
Even peaceful law abiding peoples the world over have a limit to their patience, both with transgressors and authorities alike.
We are close to ours, as we plead for understanding from the government agencies to help us rid Takataka Bay of ARIHA Resource Development Company and Samlimsan LTD’s logging activities, and seriously investigate our case as reported to police of the damaged water supply and the implied blackmail by Samlimsan LTD.
By DREADNAUGHT NAMOHUNU