Sunway appeals to Forest Minister after suspension of felling licence


SUNWAY (SI) Limited has submitted a written appeal to the Minister of Forests and Research, Dickson Mua, after the suspension of its felling Licence No. A102303.

The company’s operations were halted by Commissioner of Forest, Reeves Moveni, on June 16, 2023, shortly after logging activities had commenced on registered land in Vangunu, Marovo, Western Province.

According to Moveni, the suspension was prompted by a dispute over the representation of the Geruana tribe. The company claims that Plinty Vigulu, who raised the complaint, does not accurately represent the tribe and that their activities were authorized by Dr Vaeno Vigulu, the enthroned chief recognised by the Marovo councils of chiefs.

Moveni further explains that the Geruana tribe is traditionally represented by the Geruana Tribe Trust Board Association (GTTBA), of which the registered trustees of Block C were members. However, the complainant argues that Plinty Vigulu acts on behalf of the enthroned chief and should be recognized as the legitimate representative of the Geruana tribe. They contend that matters concerning customary lands should be handled by the enthroned chief rather than a self-proclaimed chief or the GTTBA.

Additionally, the company asserts that they had obtained necessary agreements, including a log pond agreement, campsite agreement, and road access agreement, with the Land Trustees of the GTTBA. They argue that the GTTBA was appointed by the Geruana people to represent their interests and that their activities were lawful based on these agreements.

However, the complainant party, under the leadership of the enthroned chief (MFR Permanent Secretary, Dr. Vaeno), disputes the legitimacy of the GTTBA’s representation. They argue that the GTTBA does not have ownership rights over the customary land and represents the business interests of a select few individuals. According to them, the Geruana customary land is under the custodianship of the enthroned chief, who denies authorising or signing the aforementioned agreements.

Consequently, Moveni suspended SUNWAY (SI) Limited’s felling licence, emphasising that their operations within the Geruana customary land, without proper timber rights or a valid felling licence, are deemed unlawful. He cited a serious breach of Regulation 10 (c) of the Forest Resources and Timber Utilisation (Felling Licenses) Regulations 2005, as well as a forest offense under Section 4 of the Forest Resources and Timber Utilisation Act (FRTU Act).

In response, SUNWAY (SI) Limited maintains that the Geruana Tribe Trust Board Association was established and recognized by the Geruana chiefs and tribe prior to Plinty Vigulu’s complaint. They argue that their previous logging operations on Geruana Customary land were carried out without objections from the Geruana tribe or the complainant, resulting in a Timber Rights Determination in favour of the GTTBA. They stress the significance of their logging operations, highlighting the contribution to government revenue and the overall benefit to the citizens of the country.

As the appeal process unfolds, SUNWAY (SI) Limited seeks reconsideration of the suspension and the reinstatement of their felling license, highlighting the validity of the agreements they entered into and their belief in acting lawfully within the boundaries of their agreements and permissions.

The resolution of this dispute will not only determine the fate of SUNWAY (SI) Limited’s logging operations but also shed light on the broader issue of representation and authority over customary lands.

As the appeals process progresses, the Minister of Forests and Research will play a crucial role in ensuring a fair and just outcome for all parties involved.

Discover more from Theislandsun

Subscribe now to keep reading and get access to the full archive.

Continue reading