By Gary Hatigeva
FINANCE Minister and Member of Parliament for East Choiseul has categorically denied and rejected claims that logging operators have heavily influenced the government or its ministers over their forestry policies.
At the eve of deliberations into the 2018 Budget at the committee stage, Member of Parliament for Aoke/Langalanga Matthew Wale accused the government in the way it has been handling the logging issues, suggesting that loggers have direct control over government programmes in the industry through the Solomon Forest Association (SFA).
Based on explanations from forest ministry officials during the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) hearings in the way prices are determined for logs domestically, which is seen to have continuously disadvantaged resource owners, Mr Wale claimed that government continues to fail by submitting to loggers, who he described as criminals.
He said the Governor of the central bank, who is trusted far more than the government, informed the PAC that the determined price is set by the logging industry and given to government, and this has been going on since the determined price mechanism was established.
He added that PAC was also informed by the Permanent Secretary of Forests that government negotiates the determined price with the logging industry.
âWow! Really? Negotiate with the criminals who rape our country and rob our people? This is how bad this situation really is. And it has been this bad for so long, so many years.
âHow many years have we carried on with the nonsense of the determined price being lower than the market price? The determined price has never, at any time, been the same as market price,â Wale said.
He suggested those who are in it, have been in it for so long they are numb to it, they canât see whatâs wrong with it, and they have even gone to the extent of defending it.
âHow can anyone defend the theft of national resources from the people of Solomon Islands? The country has been literally robbed of billions of dollars. And it is ok? This is state capture by the logging industry.
âWe must not allow this same practice to be transposed to the mining industry, as that industry is also being swamped with loggers,â Wale added.
He suggested that government must deregister the SFA, which he repeatedly alleged to be a criminal organisation that exists solely to protect its membersâ interests by conspiring against the interests of the people of Solomon Islands.
He further claimed that the Association meet to scheme ways to control government and that they collect cash money to help what he termed as, their pet politicians who do their bidding.
âThey give cash to maintain a government that protects their interests against the interests of the people.
âShame! The government of the people of Solomon Islands has been used to protect criminals who are robbing the people in whose name government gets its legitimacy,â Wale further alleged.
But in his response to the claims made by the Aoke/Langalanga MP, Sogavare suggested that allegation raised against the government are very serious ones that warrants arresting and throwing of people in jail.
âHe also raised some serious allegation against the government about colluding with those in the logging industry. Is he saying that they are paying us and influencing the way we make our decisions?
âAnd other serious allegations, strongly implying that the minister is directly involved and receiving bribes in the design of policies that affects the industry,â the Finance Minister said.
He however emphasised that with regards to the claims and allegations raised by the Independent MP, there are laws in the country and if things like these happen, they should be reported to police for proper actions to be taken.
âArrest people and put them in jail!
âOtherwise Mr Speaker, donât use the privilege of parliament to come and say something you have no proof of,â Sogavare warned.
Sogavare then suggested that with no stands behind his claims and allegations, he suggested the Independent MPâs main objective was to discredit everything the government had said about the budget.
âUsing his public speaking ability to misinform the public about the genuine intention of the government in the way the 2018 budget is structured,â he added.
âIt is no surprise because that is the nature of this manâ¦â