High court ruling to export illegally harvested round logs sets bad precedence, says forestry watchdog
The High Court has allowed a shipment of illegally-harvested round logs to leave the country, setting “a dangerous precedence” for the industry, the judiciary and politics in this country, the Solomon Forest Association has warned.
In a statement questioning the logic of the decision two weeks ago, the powerful SFA said:
“That decision has placed the country on an uncertain path and as the official representative of the majority of logging companies within the Solomons, we will be pursuing this matter at the highest levels to seek further clarification on the legal implications of these orders by the High Court,” said the statement.
The landmark decision was handed down two Fridays ago after a shipment of round logs harvested by Asia Pacific Investment Development Ltd (APID) on Rennell was impounded by Customs more than a month ago.
In its decision, the Court ordered that “all proceeds of the sale… be paid into a joint trust account in the names of the Solicitors of the parties,” until trial or further order of the Court in relation to other matters, including the land registration over the area in question and allegations of contempt for breach of a High Court Order by APID.
But the SFA believes this ruling makes no difference.
“This ruling makes no difference to the fact that APID has been permitted by the Court to export logs harvested without an existing felling licence, exemption order or a valid export authority, yet loaded aboard a log ship despite the existence of a Court order preventing such action from being taken,” the SFA has said.
“APID used the land registration to justify their rights to fell and export logs which are irrelevant when it comes to the requirements under the Forestry Act. Also the registration process was completed and title acquired well after the logs had been illegally harvested and loaded (on the ship),” says the SFA.
“This decision by the High Court in allowing a company to export logs in the absence of any valid legal authority except by virtue of an Order from the Court has set a dangerous precedence and now placed the country on an uncertain path.”
Customs impounded the log ship after it was found that APID did not have a felling license or any export authority for the 6, 000 cubic metres of round logs it had loaded aboard the log ship for export.
It is not clear whether APID used its contractor, Supreme Resources Co Ltd, to export the shipment. Either way, there is no record of any existing licenses, exemptions or authorities formally approved by the regulatory authorities, aside from an order by the Magistrates Court which seems to have established sufficient authority for the signing of a Consent Order allowing the export to proceed.
This was until a High Court Order was served on representatives of APID and its subsidiaries to prevent the log export from taking place.
Despite this the logs were still loaded aboard the log ship, Morning Star before it was detained by Customs Officals in Noro as a result of the High Court Order.
The log ship spent about two months in Noro, Western Province, costing approximately USD$10,000 a day for each day the boat was in port at Noro.
“This decision has raised more questions than answers with the latest Order by the Court to allow the logs to be exported in such a manner. The fundamental question now poised before the Judiciary and all authorities responsible for regulating the processing and sale of forest resources within the country is, how does this decision reflect public policy interests by risking the floodgates being opened for this practise to be used by other unlicensed log exporters choosing to cite this Judgement as a precedence for their actions?” questions the SFA.
“The ruling by the High Court has shown that irrespective of whether a company possess a valid logging licence that company can still be allowed to export logs that were illegally felled.
“There is no deterrent mechanism enforced by the High Court to ensure that such practice ceases in the future. The SFA will also be requesting that legislative changes be made to the current legislation to ensure that this does not occur in the future,” it said.
By Alfred Sasako