Forest minister quashes suspension order issued by Commissioner of Forest
BY JARED KOLI
MINISTER of Forest Dickson Mua has used his power under Section 39 (2) of the Forest Resources and Timber Utilisation Act to quash a suspension order issued by the Commissioner of Forest (COF) over serious allegation of breach of the country’s code of logging practice.
This is in relation to logging operations inside a customary land area (Veuru land) in west Guadalcanal where the licensee, Tsetsele Investment Company and contractor, King Solomon Limited are alleged to have breached the Solomon Islands Code of Logging Practice (SICOLP), particularly Key Standard 6 of the code.
It was alleged that the contractor was operating within Buffer by felling and removing logs from Veuru land. It was further alleged that a skidding track was created to skid logs across the fuel storage which was only 10 metres away from a river bank, and trees were felled five metres from the river bank.
This was done without prior written approval from the office of the COF.
Island Sun finds out that this matter was first brought to COF attention by the Land Advisory and Legal Support Unit (LALSU) within the Public Solicitor’s Office. This was after a complaint was raised to their office.
LALSU requested the COF to issue a suspension notice to the licensee based on the breaches violated, including logging operations carried out on the water sources in the area.
On March 15 this year the Commissioner responded to the request and issued a ‘show cause’ notice to Tsetsele Investment Company. The show-cause notice directed that a seven (7) days notice be served as to why Tsetsele licence should not be suspended for breaching Key Standard 6 by operating within the buffer on Veuru customary land.
“The fate of the licence shall be known after your response is received. Otherwise, we advise that you immediately withdraw all operation from the buffer zones further restrained from entering the buffer area,” stated the letter from the office of the COF.
On April 19, 2021 the COF suspended Tsetsele Investment Company’s felling licence A101578 for reason that it breached Key Standard 6 of SICOLP and Regulation 19(f) of the Forest and Resources and Timber Utilisation (Felling Licence) 2005.
By letter dated April 27, 2021, Tsetsele Investment Company, having aggrieved with the suspension order issued by the COF, made an appeal to the Minister strongly denying breaching Key Standard 6 of the SICOLP and Regulation 19(f) of the Forest and Resources and Timber Utulisation (Felling Licence) 2005.
Tsetsele Investment Company contended that the basis of them carrying out felling and extraction of trees within buffer zones was from the fact that the legal trustees of Tsetsele inclusive of landowners have given them consent and legal right to fell and extract the commercial trees along the buffers.
They further claimed that they had complied with the requirements by applying to harvest buffers zones through the Guadalcanal Provincial forest officer, however, the provincial forestry office had failed to respond to their request.
Tsetsele Investment Company is a private company registered under Solomon Islands Company House with registration number, 201516920.
The company has three directors, they are John Potino, Francis Tsatsia and Banoventure Ture.
According to Form B of the Forest Resources and Timber Utilisation (Felling Licence) regulations, the company’s felling licence applies to Vungati, Vaigoro, Alesa and Paratsitsi customary land in west Guadalcanal.
Mr Tsastia (also the current director of Biosecurity, MAL) and Mr Ture told Island Sun that they had appealed the COF’s suspension order based on the fact that land owners had applied to harvest trees along the buffer zone at the first place, 10 months prior to the issuance of the suspension order by COF. But their application had been misplaced by the COF office.
Furthermore, they contended that by the time the suspension order was issued, Tsetsele had already ceased operation, withdrawn from the area and rehabilitation work carried out on the buffer zones as confirmed by the field assessment report of October 12, 2020.
The Minister of Forest, Dickson Mua after meeting with the licensee and contractor, wrote to the Director of Tsestele Investment Company and used his power under Section 39 (2) of the Forest Resources and Timber Utilisation Act to quash the suspension order.
Below is the extract of the letter obtained by Island Sun.
“I have viewed the field assessment report produce by Guadalcanal Forest officers and I am satisfied that the remedial and rehabilitation work on the buffer zone areas has been satisfactorily carried out and that pollution of streams and rivers are less evident.
“I am also satisfied that the suspension order issued by the Respondent (COF) is untimely and should not have been issued on the basis that the felling and extraction of commercial trees within buffer zones have since ceased and the Appellant (Tsetsele) withdrawn from the area several months prior to the licence being suspended.
“With due respect to the Respondent, such delay action to the Appellant in my view, may be unfair and unjust on their behalf.
“Having pursued the appeal together with the documents submitted hereto, I am satisfied that the suspension order issued by Respondent to Appellant did not comply with the provisions of the Forests Resources and Timber Utilisation Act as there has been a remedial measure undertaken.
“It is my view that any such claim for compensation by the complainant party should be made through the Courts.
“Therefore, pursuant to my powers under Section 39(2) of the Forest Resources and Timber Utilization Act, I hereby quashed the suspension order issued by the Respondent of April 19, 2021 and accordingly, make the following orders;
- That the suspension order issued by the Respondent of 19th April 2021 is hereby quashed.
- That the suspension order issued over felling licence A10415 is hereby lifted and reinstated accordingly.
- That the Appellant refrain from further entering, felling and extracting commercial trees within buffer zones with immediate effect.
- That the Appellant strictly observe the Solomon Islands Code of Logging Practices in your logging operations.
Section 39(2) of the Forest Resources and Timber Utilization Act states that:
“Any person who is aggrieved by the cancellation or suspension of his licence or permit under subsection (1) may within two months thereof appeal in writing to the Minister whose decision thereon shall be final.”
The letter was copied to the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Forestry, the Commissioner of Forests, Chief Forester of Guadalcanal Province, Attorney General Chambers, Provincial Police Commander of Guadalcanal Province, President of Solomon Forest Association and Managing Director of King Solomon Development Company Ltd.