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Is the forestry sector the next battleground?

30 June 2016

ON June 14 this year, the nation’s forestry industry regulator, Solomon Forest Association (SFA) issued a warning that illegal logging practices were “getting out of control”.

The SFA called on the Government to act immediately, or it would dissolve itself so thatthere is a level playing field on corruption for everyone in this country.

“The Government must act. The police must act. The Commissioner of Forest must act. We simply cannot sit here and allow people to disregard the law, using SFA as a cover for their illegal activities,” a spokesman said two weeks ago.

“Competent authorities must now formalise a Moratorium on new logging companies so that a measure of control is introduced in the industry. Without that, there is no hope,” the spokesman said.

This measure of control the SFA has in mind is a proposed Moratorium stipulated in Legal Notice 114 – Forest Resources and Timber Utilisation (Licensing and Tree Felling) Regulation 2007.

Having waited for more than a year without any progress, the SFA in April this year wrote to the Commissioner of Forests on the matter.

“In reference to the above subject matter, the Solomon Forest Association request a formal response on why this particular Regulation is neither being applied nor enforced by the Ministry of Forestry and Research as a legal requirement under the Forest and Timber Utilisation Act (Cap 40) (the Act).

“In the absence of effective regulatory enforcement by the relevant authorities, Solomon Islands forest resources will continue to be depleted at an unsustainable rate,” the letter dated 15 April 2016, said.

The important part of the Regulation is restriction on issuing licences to new logging companies (that) are not members of the Association.

“Regulations 7, 8 and 9 of Legal Notice 114 are quite clear as to their application, yet licences continue to be issued in direct contravention of these regulations,” the letter said.

To date, there’s been no response at all to the SFA letter. As a result, some 20 new logging companies have entered the market, some it seems with the assistance and or knowledge of government ministers.

Alleged political involvement under the guise of “development” has turned ugly in far-flung places. In Vanikoro, Temotu Province, for instance, a turf war of sorts had broken out, after a barge and boat landed machineries and equipment there recently.

The violence that followed reportedly resulted in the destruction of properties and equipment and machinery last Sunday.

RAMSI was warned of the impending trouble two weeks earlier, but it seems they are not interested – perhaps rightly so.

After all, they are guests in this country. The last thing they would want to do is to rock the boat, especially when politicians might be on board.

In the Havulei District of Isabel Province a similar operation commenced there recently without the knowledge of the owners of Sareai land, which belongs to former MP, Nelson Kile’s children.

The twist to this tale is that former senior policemen were allegedly engaged to ensure no police intervention in what is clearly an illegal operation. Kile’s children were smarter.

They sought and received a High Court injunction on the operation along with $3 million intended to assist in the operation. The money is sitting in the bank in Honiara until the outcome of a High Court hearing, scheduled for next month, is known.

I am sure there are similar situations elsewhere. The Government of the day must not only act but seen to be acting in cleaning up the mess in the forestry sector.

Whatever we do, the forestry sector which served this nation well must never be allowed to become the new battleground where the power of money rules.

(In tune with today’s happenings)


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