Dear Editor – I am writing this letter to you in response to not only the issue facing Evita Solomon Ltd but also in relation to the Sunday front page news featuring Minister of Forests Bodo Dettke again on his stance to clean up logging companies not operating legally or under proper license.
The issue surrounding the August 6th Seizure notices against Evita Solomon Ltd, is really a demonstration of the inflexible application of policy by the Forestry Department and its Minister Bodo Dettke. Differentiating between predominantly Chinese or Malaysian logging companies and a genuine Australian agriculture focused investor as Evita Solomon Ltd should not have been difficult I would have thought.
The FACT is that Evita Solomon Ltd is not a logging company at all and has never purported to be such and never been licensed for such activity. Evita Solomon has been working under the approval of Agricultural Development and has been applying for Exemptions as it enters new lands supported by agreements with land owners. Evita Solomon is also properly licensed to carryout its activity in Malaita.
On June the 19th, 2015 it was stated that by the Forestry Permanent Secretary Vaenu Vigulu in a meeting attended by both Evita Solomon’s past General Manager Chris Anns and the Chairman of Ro’ole Trust Board Allan Siau that the Agro-Forestry Scheme was still in a draft stage since March this year. A copy of the draft was asked to be provided, so that Evita Solomon could use this as part of the agricultural planning process. The draft copy was never given.
So then given the above PS statements, how could the Ministry of Forestry grant nine (9) Exemptions since March 2015, prior to any new revised regulation governing the s4 (1) (c) of the Forest and Timber Utilisation Act Cap 133? Of these 9 licenses 6 of which were to Western Province, 2 to Central and 1 to Isabel all for Coconut and Bettlenut Plantations.
It can be easily construed here that the Ministry and in particular the Minister of Forests is inflexibly applying his own interests in deciding on whom to grant exemptions to, and not following proper policy in regards to Evita Solomon Ltd.
On the 6th of July before the issue of the Show Cause Notice, the Forestry Permanent Secretary after giving verbal permission to Evita Solomon to continue had come back saying that the Minister has taken a position not to grant exemption to Evita Solomon Ltd because he does not have the power. If so, by what statutory power was it that the Minister of Forests Bodo Dettke granted the 9 other Exemptions?
The Permanent Secretary further went on to say that the Ministry is working on finalising the regulation and will soon have it go before the Cabinet for their vetting and endorsement. So would it not make sense then to allow Evita Solomon to continue operations and issue a special Exparte Order for any forestry produce to be exported till this process was completed instead of taking the action to issue a Show Cause Notice and then a Seizure Notice?
Worse still, the application for Exemption was submitted by Evita Solomon in early April 2015. At no time, did the Minister Bodo Dettke avail himself to meet with Evita Solomon Ltd, nor formally respond to Evita Solomon Ltd. So it cannot be claimed that the policy only changed in June on how such Exemptions where being granted.
This is administratively serious, and amounts to pure discrimination in the way that the Minister of Forests Bodo Dettke has used his powers to decide on who has been afforded favour or not.
An investigation into the 9 granted exemptions should be carried out to see how many are actually properly supported by agricultural plans. Do they even have supporting letters from the Ministry of Agriculture or the PM’s office or from their local Premier as Evita Solomon’s had? Do they have a demonstrated investment plan as Evita Solomon has been able to supply?
This casts a real concern on the conflict of interest of having a logger as a Minister of Forests. The merit for granting these 9 Exemptions should really be investigated further. It would not be a surprise if some of the Exemptions issued help further the Minister of Forests own direct financial gain, I hope not.
The National Advisor Simba Paza really needs to wake up and take action on this matter and advise the Prime Minister of how to resolve this situation quickly and restore back Evita Solomon rights to continue ahead with its ongoing development of East Fataleka, Malaita. Failure to retract back the Seizure Notices will end up in legal action being taken against the Ministry of Forestry and possible legal suit for damages.
If the Evita Solomon Ltd issue is not unresolved, it will really undermine the potential confidence of other overseas investors to invest in developing the Solomon Islands. The real damage will be to future of the people living In rural areas such as those in East Fataleka, Malaita.
Acting GM Evita Solomon Ltd