Delays in the High Court deprives govt of “Millions” in log export taxes
Protracted delays in promptly dealing with cases involving logging companies have prompted calls for the “realignment” of the High Court to ensure its integrity is not compromised.
“These delays are costly, frustrating and do not give the judiciary a good image,” a frustrated logging industry executive, Chan Chee Min, of Orion Ltd, said in Honiara at the weekend.
“It is costly because it deprives the national and provincial governments of tens, if not hundreds of millions of dollars in export and other taxes as well as in licensing fees,” Mr Chan said.
“I am frustrated because it seems individual entities in the logging industry are playing the system through their connections with the powerful. As a result, the governments are deprived of much-needed revenue in terms of various statutory taxes and business licence fees.
“At the same time the resource owners also lose out because their rights of ownership have either been hijacked or controlled by those in the system, which seems to favour certain entities in the logging industry over others,” he said.
Mr Chan cited one example of a case over a concession in North Rennell, Renbel Province, which took nine years to come through the entire court system. A frustrated landowner by the name of Patrick Sanga took logging company, Samlimsan and Amos Company Ltd to court over logging operations in the concession.
“That case ended up in the High Court, which concluded its hearings almost two years ago. A decision on the case is still pending. What sort of justice system is this?,” he asked.
Mr Chan cited another case over a concession on Choiseul. He said the case was listed for hearing on 13th June this year.
“When we fronted the High Court that day we were told that the date for the hearing has been moved because the Court was in recess. Now, what is going on? Didn’t they know that the Court was going to be in recess on that date when court listing was being prepared?,” Mr Chan asked.
“This sort of practice is not giving the High Court, the highest court in the land, a good public image that it deserves. It gives the public a wrong image. The public now concludes, rightly or wrongly, that corruption has reached the highest level of our judicial system,” he said.
“If there’s one thing I would want to see it is that the integrity of the judiciary remains intact and above compromise. That is what I want to see,” Mr Chan said.
Meanwhile Supreme Resources Ltd, he said, has been fighting a High Court injunction, which stopped it from exporting some 5,000 cubic metres of felled logs on West Rennell.
The injunction has also affected Mugihenua Investment Company (MIC) Ltd, a registered local company owned by West Rennell landowners. The landowners have some 12, 000 cubic metres of round logs, which has been sitting in the log pond there for the last nine months.
“Now that’s a total of 17, 000 cubic metres of round logs, sitting on West Rennell,” Mr Chan said.
“The potential value of export taxes to the government is around SBD10 million.”
Mugihenua Investment Company (MIC) Ltd has signed a technical and marketing agreement with Supreme Resources Ltd after it (MIC) had a falling out with Samlimsan (SI) Ltd.
The Ministry of Forests and Research has informed Samlinsan (SI) Ltd of the termination of the agreement it had with MIC, effectively putting an end to Samlimsan’s access to the West Rennell concession, according to a letter from the Ministry, dated 30 May this year.
Mr Chan said one thing the High Court needs to understand is that each day the logs lie in the log pond, the losses in terms of value of the timber, are very high and significantly affect what the governments and resource owners get in the end.
By Alfred Sasako