VIEWPOINT- Loggers disregard of legal requirements

Logging impacts in Solomon Islands IMAGE story.
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TRANSPARENCY Solomon Islands (TSI) in its recent visit to South Choiseul was approached by community members of Posarae, Lituni and Loloko village who shared their concerns about logging activities happening within their various communities and the loggers’ blatant disregard and non-compliance to logging code of practice.

We have existing laws and rules to regulate the timber industry in Solomon Islands.

And although some areas of our laws need to be refined and strengthened to protect citizens and natural resource owners, the purpose of having these laws is aimed at reducing and somewhat managing the inevitable environmental and social damages and impacts that resulted from logging.

Laws and rules aim to strengthen regulations, including some important aspects of the Code of Logging Practice, and is intended to help communities and logging companies to have a clear overview of the regulations that protect communities and the environment. 

Member of Provincial Assembly (MPA) for ward two, Katopika in South Choiseul, Harrison Benjamin says loggers are unhelpful and continuously fail to comply with the rules.

He was disappointed with loggers failing to comply with the logging code of practice and their lack of support for community development.

In his continuous stand to advocate against unfairness and corruption in the logging industry in his ward and community, Benjamin shared with TSI the experiences and the plight of his people with regards to logging.

One of the main concerns shared by his people is non-compliance, loggers failed to comply with the rules, and worse still, communities in Choiseul province not maximizing the benefits they truly deserved from their natural resources – forest.

Transparency Solomon Islands was informed that most logging activities around Choiseul are re-harvests however, the sad reality shared by the people is that only a few may be benefiting but the majority of members within a landowning tribe gets nothing or do not benefit from their natural resources.

Agreements between resource owners and companies favor the companies and poor resources owners sometimes sign documents without fully understanding the impacts of such agreements.

Natural resource owners expected development assistance from these so-called developers but the only thing that happened is the pillaging of their forests, not once but repeatedly.

In Posarae, community members witness the negligence of logging companies who continue to re-harvest forest on the land whilst not giving back to the community in terms of community development, particularly infrastructures as it was expected.

The MPA stated that their communities need better infrastructures like classrooms, staff houses, wharves, walkway bridges across small streams and creeks, better roads and most importantly sea walls to counter high tides.

These are some of the sad realities that the people are faced with, yet logging companies continue to harvest, promises and obligations to help develop communities are ignored.

Landowners are often times ignored during Timber Rights Hearing and are told to appeal matters to Court.

Given the exorbitant legal fees and overall costs required to take matters to court or to even travel to town for that matter, poor landowners are always left on their own in their villages feeling that the government that is supposed to help and protect them with stronger laws and enforcement of these laws, failed to protect the resource owners of this country.   

MPA Benjamin echoed concerns raised by others in their community, that apart from royalty, it is very disappointing that the community in general does not get any form of help to improve infrastructures in the villages.

Adding that communities in ward two continue to face challenges in terms of access to better infrastructures, which both government and logging companies failed to help.

A visit around Posarae village shows the ongoing challenge faced by the people, sea water intrusion into kitchens, bathrooms and beneath houses.

Areas where house used to stand now filled with water.

MPA also said that loggers failed to comply with the requirement to obtain consent from Ministry of Environment, in some cases there is no Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) done prior to logging.

“Many damages to the water sources, garden sites and wildlife habitats were never dealt with by the responsible authorities,” he uttered in disappointment.

He said landowners get little from their resources and communities get nothing from loggers.

“This is unacceptable,” he continued.

“I’ve been raising the issue of none compliance with the logging code of practice in Choiseul but it seems the ministry of forest and the loggers are not listening,” stated Benjamin.

Meanwhile, John Vona, of Lituni also shared with TSI that he had been struggling to find timbers to build two staff houses for the school in the village, something which he think loggers should step in to provide building materials as a form of giving back to the community, but that never happens.

Transparency Solomon Islands continues to advocate for good governance and carried out activities to share information and help citizens fight against corruption and roll back corruption in this country. Logging practices in the country continues to be an issue that resource owners are very concerned about.

The cries of the people in South Choiseul are similar to others around the country – that the government authorities, especially responsible ministries like Forestry and Environment failed the rural communities’ big time.

That their cries fall on deaf ears, enforcement officers usually take on the loggers’ side whenever there is a dispute and citizens are isolated from their government.

This sad reality that our resources owners face must not be ignored and TSI joins the people of South Choiseul to call on the government and responsible Ministries to ensure that natural resource owners are protected.

It would be naïve to call for a total stop to logging in the country, however current practices must be reviewed and stronger enforcements in place to ensure there is no unsustainable harvesting and damages to environment.  

Having heard these concerns shared by villagers in South Choiseul, Transparency Solomon Islands agrees with their views that it is important for both the Ministry of Forest and Ministry of Environment to work closely with the provincial governments, landowners and communities affected by logging to ensure there is no breach of the code of logging practice in the provinces.

This concern is not only raised in Choiseul but other provinces raise similar concerns about logging practices in their communities.

Allegations of reluctance by forestry officials to respond to reports regarding breach of the laws is concerning, it is because they are under-resourced and not able to carry out their duties?

Why are logging companies meeting costs of Timber Rights Hearing?

It is little wonder most decisions are in their favor and landowners are left to pay for hefty legal fees just to rectify decisions made during Timber Rights hearing to allow logging.

Such sad realities faced in rural Solomon Islands because of logging is reflected in the statement made by MPA Benjamin who stated that it is embarrassing when tourists visited the village to learn that our forest been reaped-off but our community is without a wharf, no seawall to counter high tides, run down classrooms and even no crossing over creeks for children to reach school.