Dear Editor – The Prime Minister, the Hon. Manasseh Sogavare, announced just a few days ago, the Solomon Islands Government would be reviewing its policies on the Forestry and Mining Sector.
During his address to the National Parliament when introducing the National Anti-Corruption Strategy (NACS), the PM specifically referred to what he deemed the ‘third agenda’ of NACS.
This is what he had to say, as a précis.
Elaborating on the third agenda, the Prime Minister said the Government will review its policies on the Forestry and Mining sectors.
He said the reviews will be underpinned by the intention to provide more transparency in the process required by law, leading to the awarding of licenses and during mining and logging operations.
The Prime Minister also said existing laws governing these sectors might be amended in the future as a result of those reviews, to provide statutory provisions requiring mining and logging operators to comply with measures aimed particularly at achieving transparency and accountability for due processes within these sectors.
He said provincial consultations have confirmed what news reports and scholarly research have found over the years and that is the process for acquiring logging and mining concessions creates multiple opportunities for corruption.
The Prime Minister said the major reason for this, is that potential investors, especially in the forestry sector, often deal directly with landowners-many of whom do not have the knowledge and skills to negotiate a fair deal and therefore vulnerable to being misled or cheated into sign timber rights agreements.
Furthermore, the Prime Minister said because the Government cannot afford to sponsor timber rights hearings and surface access agreement hearings, potential investors fund them and as a result, the potential investors wield an extraordinary degree of influence over a process aimed at ensuring fair and equitable concession agreements.
A correspondent, who chose not to reveal personal details, contacted me (after I had published the Prime Ministers address about the NACS policy on my website- www.solomonislandsinfocus.com) and claimed a Malysian registered company was operating in one Solomon Islands Province with, ‘allegedly,’ a suspect logging license after allegedly submitting an “alleged” false business registration document to the Solomon Islands authorities.
The allegation went on to claim that a logging business with a business registration in Malaysia had been banned from operating in the Solomon Island but came back with a new business registration name that including all the same principals, Directors etc, business address and telephone details in Malaysia.
The informant forwarded me details of the original business name (the banned business) and the subsequent one.
It was pretty obvious that the second business had been acquired by the original principals but second time around the family names and given names of the Directors had been switched on the business registration document.
Let me illustrate but not quoting real names.
The first business registration listed two Directors, namely TONG boon hui and WONG tao yong.
The subsequent business registration listed Directors, namely HUI boon tong and YONG tao wong.
The same informant claimed other logging licenses in the Solomon Islands had been acquired falsely in a similar way.
If what, prima facie, appears to be a crude false business registration that succeeded in getting a logging license then it would seem entirely appropriate for the Solomon Islands Government to commence its review of the Forestry sector as soon as practicable.