Southern Enterprises sawmilling owner responds to councilor’s accusations


Elijah Owa Hirumae, one of the owners of Southern Enterprises Sawmilling, has issued a strong response to Councillor Reginald Ngati’s recent call for action against logging companies that allegedly violate Solomon Islands’ laws.

This public dispute centers around allegations of illegal logging and environmental damage on Small Malaita, drawing attention to the nation’s forestry and investment sector.

Ngati, Honiara City Councillor for Vura ward, had called upon the Foreign Investment Board to take action against companies like Southern Enterprises Sawmilling, accusing them of flouting the Forestry Act, the Environment Act, and other related laws governing their investments in the country’s vital forestry sector.

Ngati’s plea follows a dispute with Southern Enterprise Sawmilling Company Ltd, a licensee of Graceland Logging Company Limited.

In this dispute, Graceland Logging Company has agreed to compensate Ngati with $80,000 for the illegal cutting of 21 logs in Small Malaita.

However, Ngati contends that the company has failed to cover the costs of environmental damage to the land and has instead encouraged him to pursue the matter in court.

Ngati was particularly dismayed when he discovered that the Deed of Agreement provided by the company did not bear his signature.

Responding to these accusations, Hirumae clarified that the Deed of Agreement in question was a draft, which he had sent to the Commissioner of Forest for review.

He maintained that Ngati could sign it if he agreed with its contents.

Hirumae argued that Ngati’s environmental damage claim was not included in the Deed of Agreement because it fell under the Environmental Act, whereas the current dispute was related to the Forestry Act.

Hirumae also criticized the environmental report, stating that it had allegedly been conducted solely on a desktop computer by the acting Director of Environment and his team, without an on-site assessment.

He further claimed that Ngati himself did not know the precise location of the land in question.

In response to Ngati’s insistence on compensation for environmental damage, Hirumae suggested that if Ngati was dissatisfied with the company’s stance, he should take the matter to court.

He emphasized that the onus was on Ngati to initiate legal proceedings.

Hirumae also clarified that the company was currently engaged in road alignment work on Ngati’s land and that even if logging operations were to occur, it would not exceed $600,000 due to the relatively small one-hectare size of the land.

Earlier, Minister of Forestry and Research, Dickson Mua Panakitasi, exercised his powers under Section 39(2) of the Forest Resources and Timber Utilization Act. He deferred the suspension of the Appellant’s felling license A10112, pending the resolution of the dispute concerning encroachment onto Sulukokolo customary lands. Minister Panakitasi urged the Appellant and Grace Logging (SI) Limited to resolve the issue of encroachment and trespass on Sulukokolo customary land in a fair and just manner. If the conditions are settled, the suspension order may be lifted, allowing the license to be reinstated.

Minister Panakitasi emphasized that his decision aimed to ensure a just resolution of the matter, considering the interests of all parties involved.

This dispute underscores the complexities surrounding logging activities and environmental concerns in the Solomon Islands, and the resolution will be closely watched by stakeholders and the public alike.

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