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By Peter Wagner

HONOLULU (Pacific Islands Report, July 21) – Solomon Islands businessman Robert Goh yesterday denied any impropriety in a decade-old commercial logging license that has recently raised concern in the country’s Temotu Province.

Goh, reportedly a special advisor to Solomons Prime Minister Allan Kemakeza, is former owner of Progressive Resources Ltd., which he said obtained the license in question. 

He said in a statement released yesterday that the timber rights, to Santa Cruz Forestry Plantation, were granted by the Solomons government about 10 years ago, before provincial legislation that now bans the export of logs from Temotu.

"The plantation lands were owned by Solomon Islands government and Temotu Province had no registered legal rights regarding the land at the time," Goh said..

Goh was responding to allegations this week by Temotu Deputy Speaker Gabriel Teao that the logging license was granted to Goh's company by Kemakeza when the prime minister was the country’s forestry minister.

Kemakeza yesterday denied that he issued the license.

The Santa Cruz Islands lie about 250 miles southeast of the Solomon Islands chain.

Teao told the Solomon Star on Tuesday that the timberland, deeded to Temotu province by the Solomons government subsequent to the granting of the license, now belongs to the province.

"The province remains opposed to round log exports and will not succumb to business or political pressure to lift the ban imposed by Sir Joh Ini Lapali’s previous government," he said.

Teao also questioned the granting of the license to Progressive Resources Ltd., a company once headed by Goh, and called for a formal investigation of the matter.

Prime Minister Kemakeza yesterday denied any involvement in the matter.

Goh, in his statement, acknowledged that he had been owner of Progressive Resources, but said the company and its timber rights had long ago been sold to "a well known, long standing and reputable local business and timber operator."

As for the license, Goh said it was granted by the Commissioner of Lands and noted that Kemakeza was not then in the Solomons government.

"Clearly, the prime minister had no role in the granting of the rights to Progressive Resources," he said.

Goh said the, while the land in question had been given back to Temotu Province by the Solomons government, timer rights held by Progressive Resources remain intact.

Meanwhile, he said, the company’s license is under litigation in the Solomons High Court.

July 21, 2005

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