The belief by some Rennellese that logging will make them rich is really a joke. The truth is logging will not only going to destroy Rennell biodiversity, but it will also cause huge financial loss to the people in terms of hewing their logs and the destruction of the environment.
Studies shows that tropical rain forest trees like ‘pencil cedar’ takes more than 30 years to grow to a sizable tree for logging.
Sadly however, Solomon Islands market value for log to foreign logging companies is $50 or less per cubic meter.
With the market value of round log at that price Rennellese will never grow rich as they falsely assume.
To be frank, logging is not only going to cause huge financial losses for the Rennellese, but is going to also cause huge negative impacts on the people in terms of social, economical and environmental disarray.
Now let me explain my assertion that logging will not make anyone in Rennell rich. As far as I am concern the revenue sharing is really unfair on the local people, and whoever design that piece of law has no concern for the local people; as that piece of law has been designed at the favour of the logging companies more than the local people.
Let me give a picture of the revenue sharing of round log I have sighted from a documents owned by one of my younger brothers who allied with Samlin San baby logging company that he wants to contract for a logging operation in our land.
The revenue sharing is divided as: Samlin San gets 60%, the National Government gets 25%, and the poor landowners get 15%.
This 15% is shared between the felling license owner and the landowning groups or tribes.
In most cases the license holder claim 10% to meet the costs of the timber rights hearing, the felling license, labour and other miscellaneous costs leaving 5% to be shared by the land owning families, groups or tribes; so how on earth will the landowners get rich, taking into consideration that most of that money has been taken by the logging company, the government and the felling license owner?
Let me put the picture in another perspective. If a shipment of round log is worth $1,000,000, Samlin San receives $600,000, the national government receives $250,000 and the license owner and the land owner shares $150,000, which the felling license owner get the lion share of the money; so how on earth will the landowner get rich when most of them don’t even know what investment is except chewing betel nut and smoking marijuana?
Let me further break down the sharing of the round log revenue. Take a round log which takes more than 30 years to grow, this would be roughly estimated at around 3 cubic meters a tree, and if the selling price is $50 per cubic meter the log will cost $150.
When it comes to sharing the revenue of that one log, it would be like this: Samlin San gets $90, the government gets $37.50 and Amos company and Vexy Tangata of Teogokai’amo landowning group shares between them $23.50 (probably Amos gets $15.67 & Vexy gets $7.83).
Now if Vexy Tangata half the $7.83 with his family and the Bizor Tebegi family of which I’m a member, probably the two families will get $3.91 per family.
And if the Bizor Tebegi family which is made up of eight members excluding the children, each is going to receive $0.48.
And if I get my share of $0.48 and share that between my wife and seven children each of us will get $0.053; so what will I pay from that amount in a Chinese shops?
So if I’m not satisfy with my $0.053 I have to agree with Vexy Tangata to allow Amos logging company and Samlin San to log 1000 trees in our Teogokai’amo land, which means I am going to receive only $391 share on behalf of the Bizor if Vexy Tangata live up to our agreement.
From our family share I have to share the money equally amongst Bizor’s eight children.
This means that I am going to receive $53. If Hellen Niuika is fair with Bizor’s other children and grandchildren that continues her legacy after peacefully rested in 1992.
So how on earth Hellen and I will ever get rich with that amount of money? So, I will advice the members of the Bizor family the way to get rich and that is for me and other members of our family to agree that Hellen get the $391 from the shipment of the first 1000 round log and each take turn until Samlin San logging company winds down.
This means that by the time it reaches my turn to get the $391 share, 8000 trees from our land have been logged already.
So who on earth in his right mind will accept $391 to cut down 8000 trees that takes mother earth to feed for more than 30 years to grow?
Only fools will do but not me, and for this reason too I strongly opposed logging; although my major concern is the destruction of our island paradise biodiversity.
Whilst I’m making Teogokai’amo land as an allegory, let me kindly remind Amos Teikagei logging company and Samlin San logging company and any other person from Rennell who might claim the land that they must not cut any log from that land without taking Vexy Tangata and my consent; as your logging operation was meant for Tehakamagoku land and Takitonu-Tenukumanongi land.
By stepping over your line to Teogokai’amo land means that you are inviting trouble to your land as there are other history in the land that you claim that I chose to keep silent about them.
Please note that out of the land owner and the license holder’s 15%, that will also meet the costs of the timber rights hearing (the budget, drawn up by the province treasurer usually ranged from $70,000-$100,000+) and the cost of the felling license (fixed at $250), which is paid to the National Government via the ministry of forestry. These costs are usually paid by Samlin San baby logging company but will be reimbursed by the land owners after the shipments.
So if the land owner has to reimburse such huge sum of more than $350,000, how much will they receive from the shipments?
Now some may argue that the land owner will benefit from the license after the logging; who on earth will be crazy to lease the license, which will have no value after the logging activities wind up?
I have seen many logging license which are as good as coconut husks; so how will license holders from Rennell get benefits from the license which costs $250,000 after the logging operation is wind down?
Let us look at other benefits that usually attracted the local people of Rennell to go for logging.
Normally, logging companies’ negotiators first break through is by getting bags of rice, cartons of noodles, cartons of second grade tin food and some cash not more than $2,000 to give away to the local people.
Now let me ask, how long will a poor family of ten members live on a ration worth $5,000, which is equivalent to $500 per head?
And how long do you think the company will sustain the ration without accumulating the costs to take it back from the landowner’s shares when the operation begins?
When I was working in one part of the island of Guadalcanal there was a boat loaded with food by one logging company negotiators entered the village to negotiate for logging.
I admired the attitude of the villagers—they forced the boat to leave with their food. When I asked some of the elders whom we were standing they informed me that this was the usual technique used by the loggers to convince land owners that they had seen happen in other parts of their province, who always suffer after the company left. The villagers made direct reference to Aola which used to be one of the biggest logging camps in Guadalcanal, and see what had happened to them after one leading logging company left the place? The villagers said.
Yes, but we have our roads built by the logging company, some argued. Now let me say that the roads are not for the land owners but for the logging company.
The roads are usually built at the company’s interest, but not for the land owners as they falsely perceived.
You just wait for a few years after the logging company leaves then those roads will be deteriorated and become hard to maintain.
Just take the main road from Kagua to Tebaitahe for instance. If it is hard for Renbel province to maintain the main road, how on earth will those private access roads be maintained by individual families and tribes who usually claim the road for them?
In the case of the used vehicle, how long do you think the used vehicle given by the company to the landowner as a deceptive way to take away the 15% share will last? The most could be three years because used vehicles depreciate faster than one imagines; or those used vehicle can take even less than a month if there is an accident, especially when roads are rough and rugged with no spare parts around to do the servicing.
Wantoks, mark my words that after the logging company winds down, what will be left behind in Rennell are this garbage: waste plastic bags, tins, bottles, dead heavy plants machine, waste oil, rotten logs, a damage environment, and some half Asians. The Asians on the other hand will get rich and become better than they were before coming to Rennell.
Let me inform my fellow Rennellese that Asians practice wantok system more practically than any of our societies in the Solomon Islands.
And in the merchandise world they are the most cunning people who could not care to do anything to anyone to get their interest serve.
And I have no doubt that this is what they did to Rennell that was once a closed region for logging and mining by the government of Solomon Islands that want to keep Rennell intact and undisturbed by man made disasters like logging as it has the potential to be developed for tourism.
I strongly believe that the Asians logging company operating on the island must have bribed the responsible politicians, government administrators and the local Rennellese to grant them the right to operate logging activities on Rennell.
This is despite earlier decisions made to close the island from that kind of business undertaking which threaten the island biodiversity and environment.
By Pautangata Hakatigisa’a
Pacific Adventist University
Papua New Guinea.