An east Fataleka landowner says it would be a sad day for his people, Malaita Province, and the country if Evita was forced to abort its proposed multi-million dollar agro-forestry project on his land.
Chairman of Ro’ole Trust Board Allan Siau was commenting on the Ministry of Forestry’s decision to seize Evita’s equipment and logs.
The ministry took the action following allegations the Australian company trespassed into land it was not licenced to operate – a charge Evita rejected.
Evita has been in east Fataleka since 2013, clearing out forests and selling the logs overseas.
The large-scale agriculture project will follow when the land is cleared.
“Evita Solomon from the first day they came our lands in east Fataleka treated us not like landowners but like partners working together for development for generations to come,” Siau told the Sunday Star.
“Unlike loggers they built an office with manager quarters and guest visitor quarters,” he added.
“They also built a lodge for sleeping up to 20 people. They employed many carpenters and other workers.
“Creating additional income for our community. Before they were stopped by Ministry of Forestry they were already planning more building work to do for our new nursery area,” Siau said.
He said part of the development is the building of roads throughout Ro’ole and Kwasa lands and the construction of bridges and repair of bridges.
“Evita has constructed over 13kilometers of good roads and built over 7 bridges in our land , and is repairing others too.
“They are in fact doing a job that the government should be doing for us.
“They even employed local people and taught them how to do this work.
“When you walk through our lands now or even drive on our good roads you can see all the new houses being built that have been supported by Evita helping us landowners with utilising our timber resources and will agreeing to milling of timber for us.
“They never stop us from doing this but support our ability to improve our living standard.
“By paying good wages to the people on our land the community has had money to do things.
“Evita created an economy for us. People never before could build such dream houses for themselves and family.
“As the chairman of the Ro’ole Trust Board, I implore our Prime Minister to take note of what this company Evita has already achieved on our lands for our people.
“We have never been so happy and excited about development.
“Just when the next phase of agricultural work is to start, the Ministry of Forestry did not even bother to call us landowners in to talk with them before acting.
“On so many occasions I have been in meetings with the GM of the company and the PS of Forestry yet nothing from Forestry,” Siau said.
He added if this is how our elected ministers run their portfolios then the future dreams and aspirations for not just our people in East Fataleka, but the whole of the Solomon Islands is going to be lost.
“This is the Malaita 32nd Second Appointed Day anniversary weekend, give us something to celebrate please not something to mourn.
“On behalf of the people of Ro’ole please remove the Seizure Notice from Evita and let development and our future continues with promise.”
Earlier, Evita’s acting general manager Aaron Troy Cassar described the ministry’s action as a “death blow” to his company’s operation in Malaita.
He said since 2014 Evita Solomon Ltd has invested well over SBD$20 million into east Fataleka, including new machines, other equipment, building materials, fuel, wages paid locally and so on.
“The company employed 37 persons full-time from the local area plus over a dozen casuals,” he said.
“No expat operators were employed. The company trained locals to do skilled jobs and to learn how to drive heavy machinery to build roads, construct bridges, and clear land.
“Over SBD$2 million was paid in wages, including PAYE, NPF since 2014 to local staff.
“This money has been used to really improve the quality of life in the area and this can been seen by all the new housing we have supported to create.
“What other company is injecting that sort of money into Malaita?
“And yet this is how we are thanked by the Government of this country.”