He came in yesterday morning just to thank me.
“Thank you for raising the concerns which we have been trying to disclose but we never got through even with our government officials,” he said.
“The logging activities on Parcel Nos. 191-060-01, 191-060-02 and 191-060-03 by One Pacific Company Ltd are illegal. Why? It is government land, not customary land anymore,” the man said.
“We told the director of the company, Mr Wong Hook Ping, that we cannot log the area because the land is on lease to the government. It is government land,” we told him.
But he turned around and said the influential people in appropriate ministries “are my boys”.
To date, more than 66, 000 cubic metres have been logged, earning some $64 million in export revenue for landowning community group between 24 November 2015 and 04October last year.
Under a five-year Felling Licence granted by Commissioner of Forest, Reeves Moveni, One Pacific Company Ltd still has about 400, 000 cubic metres to log. But the future may not be as rosy as they once thought.
Since Island Sun newspaper had broken the story on the illegal logging activities, Prime Minister Ricky Houenipwela has ordered an investigation to determine the Commissioner’s involvement.
Some in the government were already calling for Mr Moveni’s head, arguing that as a senior government official that he is, he should have been well-versed with all government land.
In this case it would appear both the Ministry of Forest and Research and indeed the Office of the Commissioner did nothing to help the Commissioner determine the issuance or otherwise of the felling licence.
There was not even any consultation between the Office of the Commissioner of Forest and that of the Commissioner of Lands, who is the custodian of all government land, including the parcel numbers in question.
As it is the Commissioner of Forest proceeded with issuing Felling Licence A1011521 on 23 April 2015. It expires on 23 April 2020.
Under the licence, some 50, 000 cubic metres are to be extracted annually – 40, 000 cubic metres for export and the balance (10, 000 cubic metres) to be sold as sawn timber locally.
There is no doubt the Commissioner of Forest and his officers have their own explanation for their actions. And that is what Prime Minister Houenipwela too was interested in.
Why for example did you, Commissioner, for example, allow other people to make tons of money from government land? True, Mbetilonga Landholding Group Community Company Ltd paid import duties totalling $14, 849, 142.62 up to 4th October last year.
But that is a statutory charge obligatory on anyone engaged in logging activities in Solomon Islands.
In the instance of the operations, it is estimated that the government was denied around $30 million in lost revenue – money that can become really handy at a time when even the government cannot find enough money to provide essential services.
One would only hope that a fair and respectable outcome would result from the investigation.
Already, a landowner has denied the communities in the area having benefitted from the operations, despite the company having raked in about $64 million from the operations.
Where has the money gone? Who benefitted from the money?
For communities that are not so large, one would expect to see huge improvement in the people’s livelihood. According to my visitor, there is none of that sort.
The disturbing allegation that one government official was receiving $4 per cubic metre from every cubic metre of log exported is and must be investigated.
The investigation ordered by the Prime Minister is an opportunity to clear the air of suspicion over this type of hearsay allegation.
The landowner is even calling on the government to deport the director of One Pacific Company Ltd.