By Yehiura Hriehwazi

PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (The National, Nov. 18) - Just minutes after Forest Minister Patrick Pruaitch granted the timber permit for the East Awin timber area, the first signs of problems surfaced.

Middle Fly Member of Parliament and Minister for Higher Education, Science and Technology Roy Biyama, who arrived midway into the ceremony and took the head-table with Mr Pruaitch and fellow Member of Parliament Martin Tapi (North Fly Open), refused to raise a toast with all who had gathered.

Mr Biyama left soon after ceremony but not before expressing his disappointment that he was not informed and the provincial government was left in the dark.

He also delivered a letter from Western province Governor, Dr Bob Danaya to the National Forest Service objecting to granting of the timber permit.

Dr Danaya said his government should be involved in the approval and sanctioning process of all major impact projects in the province.

Mr Tapi, however, was full of praise for the Minister and the landowners for working hard to bring the project into fruition.

He said there was false impressions that the giant Ok Tedi mine had made the Awin people rich. 

Former Western province Member of Parliament Kala Swokin, one of the frontline campaigners for the timber permit, brushed aside complaints by Dr Danaya.

He said the Western province government had tried to halt the approval but was defeated in a court of law and he should not deny the "poor villagers" their projects.

"Like most timber projects in our country, nothing was easy and it didn't come on a golden plate. Various legal battles followed and as if that wasn't enough, the World Bank and IMF imposed conditions that suffocated this project until now," Mr Swokin said.

"East Awin is a very remote area and the people don't have access to essential goods and services. It's common knowledge that the government doesn't have money to provide these goods and services and development to create these impact economic projects," said Mr Swokin.

He said Dr Danaya should not work against the project as it has the full support of all villages and the blessing of provincial administrator Nelson Hangrabos.

Mr Hangrabos was represented by deputy administrator Manise Tomonai and other senior provincial public servants including provincial lands officer Bob Miri, Western province district administrator Petrus Morokim, provincial forest officer Karai Kavi and forest resource owners' representative on the National Forest Board Konene Kurokuro.

"We have the support of the provincial and national government, we don't know what Dr Danaya is talking about," said Mr Swokin.

The developer is GL Niugini Limited, a subsidiary of Malaysian logging firm, General Lumber.

G L Niugini general manager Mok Chow Kheng told The National that as soon as the company's five-year development plan and one-year development plan was approved, the company would start work.

Mindful of the political issues and landowner problems that normally hamper such projects, Mr Mok said work would start as soon as possible unless there are disputes.

November 19, 2003

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