Number Eight: 27 July 2002
Loggers now collecting the benefits of their election funding support
PDM scrambling to unlawfully issue new logging permits and extensions before they loose office
With the change of Government imminent the People’s Democratic Party is looking increasing desperate to make good on the promises that they made to the loggers in return for election funds.
In a frenzy of activity at the Forest Authority, public servants and their political masters are pushing through a whole series of illegal permits and extensions in total disregard for proper procedures, due process and the letter of the law.
Attempts have been made to grant at least five unlawful new permits and extensions in just the past few weeks.
PDM kicked off their election fund raising back in December with the huge new Timber Authority for Concord Pacific in Western Province (see below). This permit allows access through 2.7 million hectares of forest. The allocation is totally illegal as there was no attempt to meet the necessary requirements of the Forestry Act or to follow due process.
One source within the Concord camp has suggested that this TA cost K5 million.
This was followed in February by the illegal 10-year extension of the Wawoi Guavi permit, also in Western Province. The landowners, the Provincial authorities and the National Forest Service all recommended for just a 6-month extension but the Minister and his Managing Director totally by-passed the Forest Board and granted the 10-year extension (see below).
In May another new Timber Authority was granted, this time for Simbali in East New Britain. This time it was the Secretary for Planning, another controversial and recent PDM appointee, who dirtied his hands (see below). Without any ostensible authority, he gave approval for road line and agriculture clearances with no limit on the scale of the operations – a flagrant breach of the reforms introduced in the Forestry (Amendment) Act 2000.
Now, Forest Authority sources say that approvals are being hurriedly processed for a further three permit extensions, a whole new timber permit and a permit variation all of which are either in direct contravention of law and policy or have been hurriedly processed with little regard for proper procedures.
The timber permit for Bonua Magarida in Central Province is to be granted as an extension to the West Gaidasu concession. Just like Kamula Dosa that the Ombudsman is already investigating, the extension is larger than the original permit. The new permit is in flagrant breach of the legal requirements of the Forestry Act and breaches government reform commitments including the Forestry Action Plan and the Forest and Conservation Project agreement.
The variation for the Nutuve timber permit will change a small concession dedicated to downstream processing into a major log export operation – something that was specifically outlawed when the original permit was granted in 1995. With no consultation with the landowners or the Provincial Authorities and no assessment by the National Forest Service, the variation will quadruple the level of annual harvest and allow the export of 100,000 cubic metres of logs each year.
The timber permit for Vailala Blocks 2 and 3 in Gulf Province is to be extended for 10 years, despite a review by the Provincial forest authorities that concluded that the current permit holder has totally failed to fulfil its obligations and that the resource owners have completely missed out on any benefits from the existing operation.
Similarly, the permit holders in East Kikori and Edevu are also to be extended, by 10 years and 6 years respectively, despite no evidence of effective landowner consultation and in the face of very poor compliance in the existing logging operations.
In each of these cases, the Managing Director of the Forestry Authority, who has himself been illegally appointed by the Minister, is trying to force the National Forest Board to give consent to the extensions with no meeting being called or opportunity been given for discussion. He has even already prepared, and in some cases dated, the Ministerial approval forms (see below).
As one forestry officer has recently said in the Post Courier, "I can see clearly the fraud and corrupt practices lurking within the authority headquarters. Unless the authority is left alone from political interference, the National Forest service is at the brink of disaster."