Move baffles Rennell landowners
LOGGING company, Asia Pacific Investment Development Ltd (APID) has taken a 10-year caveat over mining tenements in West Rennell, deepening the controversy over the controversial grant of its mining lease as well as the process of its land acquisition
At the same time, the company has doubled the size of its land area (tenement) from an initial 31,736.62ha to 61, 226.283ha, a move that has angered resource owners on Rennell.
“We want to know where the extra 29, 489.66ha comes from. Is it for the whole of Rennell or does it include Bellona as well?” landowner spokesman Jefter Tuhagenga asked in an interview earlier this week.
APID chairman, Ray Set Fah Chu, an Australian citizen of Malaysian origin, took out the caveat on 18th June this year, claiming he has spent SBD$5.8 million in the preparatory work his company had carried out on the island.
His action could lock away the multi-million dollar project for the next ten years.
But sources in the legal profession say there is no basis for the caveat because the due process on land acquisition was never followed.
For example, APID has never carried out any work, nor has it conducted any public hearings before applying for the land.
The only activity it engaged in is illegal logging operations and a subsequent attempt to export the logs without a valid licence, sources said.
APID’s shipment of 6, 000 cubic metres of round logs, is being impounded by Customs and is sitting in the Western Provincial commercial port of Noro, incurring a daily charge of USD10, 000 (about SBD70, 000).
“It’s a futile exercise for the APID chairman because the land acquisition process was never followed from the start.
“As a result, the process was void abinito (that is, it is void from the beginning.)
“It follows then that everything else that happened thereafter is void,” one source said.
“It’s the same mistake the Mines and Minerals Board has made in granting a mining lease to APID in the first place.
“That approval is void because it never followed the process set out in law.
“The Board has no legal powers to grant licences. That power is vested in the minister.
“In this instance, the Board had never advised the Minister, a mandatory requirement of section 6 of the Mines Act that the Minister must first be advised of the outcome of the Board’s deliberations.
“Issuance of licences, including prospecting licence, mining lease and reconnaissance permits are vested in the Minister, not the Board.”
The source said the approach APID had taken actually turned the process back to front.
“There’s a lot of work for APID chairman to do to ensure his claim over the West Rennell land stand up in court.
“For example, the burden of proof will be on him to show the court that he had in fact spent SBD$5.8 million in the preparatory work on Rennell when there’s nothing tangible on the ground to show for his claim,” the source said.
The source went on to explain the process of land acquisition.
“There are two types of acquisitions provided for in law – voluntary and compulsory.
“Voluntary acquisition such as that carried out by the Land Acquisition Officer for mining is wrong because voluntary acquisition is intended for any purpose which is not public interest and mining.
“Compulsory acquisition under the Land and Titles Act is intended for public purpose and in case of mining where landowners refused to sign surface access agreement.
“The Minister of Mines will then decide whether it is in the government/crown’s interest to mine.
“If he so decides, he will then advise the Minister of Lands to organise a compulsory acquisition,” the source said.
The source said in the case of the West Rennell land, there was no application from either the resource owners or the provincial government.
APID actually applied for the land acquisition itself.
“This is void because there is no provision for this approach in law.”
He said the sad thing about APID’s approach is that there was no lands acquisition officer and if there were he did not perform his duties, which included convening public hearings, establishing findings and publishing that finding.
“What it boils down to is that it deprives landowners of their inherent rights to appeal the acquisition officer’s determination.
“The upside of this matter is that the caveat would be in force for only 30 days,” he said.
Meanwhile, it has been revealed that APID had chartered a flight for senior officials of the Ministry of Mines, Energy and Rural Electrification as well as the Ministry of Environment, Conservation and Meteorology to conduct an assessment of the mining lease tenement on West Rennell, raising the question of conflict of interest.
The $44,000 Honiara-Rennell-Honiara charter was paid for by Bintan Mining Company (SI) Ltd, a subsidiary of APID, on 08 January 2015, according to a Solomon Airlines passenger manifest obtained and cited by this newspaper.
It appears the trip was purposely to investigate the boundary of PT Mega Bintang Borneo Ltd mining tenement on West Rennell, which now resulted in the company having increased the tenements it purportedly own in West Rennell.
PT Mega Bintang Borneo Ltd is an Indonesian mining company, which APID is trying to block from developing the rich bauxite deposits on the island.
The Solomon Airlines receipt (1 193 200 00175366) for the charter flight on 15 January this year was made out to Bintan Mining SI Ltd, APID’s subsidiary.
Government officials on the flight were former director of Mines, Peter Auga, deputy director of Environment, Tia Masolo and the speaker of Renbel provincial assembly, Dicter Maitaki.
Mr Maitaki is said to be staunch supporter of APID, whose core business is logging, according to Company Haus records.
The trip was undertaken two weeks after PT Mega Bintang Borneo Ltd had responded to the “show cause” issued by the then Minister of Mines, Energy and Rural Electrification, Samson Maneka, on 23rd December 2014.
The Minister has since been removed in a minor reshuffle earlier this year.
PT Mega Bintang Borneo Ltd responded to the Minister’s show cause letter on 30 December 2014.
To date, the Ministry has not responded, despite repeated attempts by the company’s lawyer.
By ALFRED SASAKO