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Lawmakers to consider amendment to Forestry Act

By Todagia Kelola PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (PNG Post-Courier, March 31, 2010) – In Papua New Guinea (PNG), the proposed amendment to the Forestry Act seen by many as an attempt by the National Forest Board through the executive arm of the Government to avoid complying with a recent decision by the Supreme Court has been given the green light to go before Parliament.

[PIR editor’s note: Environmental groups led by the Eco-Forestry Forum (EFF) charge that the amendments pushed by the Somare government are a deliberate attempt to circumvent the law. "The amendments opened the door for further 'bending and manipulation' of PNG laws". In August 2005 the government got the PNG Parliament to repeal section 59 of the Forestry Act, which allowed for consultation with landowners on matters relating to timber permits.]

The National Executive Council (NEC) on Monday approved the Forestry Amendment Act of 2010 to go before Parliament while rejecting the Forestry Validation Act which was to go with the amendment.

Sources within the NEC confirmed this yesterday.

The proposed amendment sought according to legal sources is a way to avoid compliance with a recent Supreme Court decision in the case of Madang Timbers Ltd v The National Forest Board, the National Forest Authority and the State – SCM No. 16 of 2008.

The Supreme Court had held that a decision of the National Forest Board not to follow the recommendation of the Madang Provincial Forest Management Committee (PFMC) relating to the Middle Ramu FMA (Forest Management Area) was wrong. The PFMC recommended that Madang Timbers Ltd be selected as the preferred developer for the Middle Ramu FMA. Madang Timbers is partly owned by the Madang Provincial Government. The board however did not follow the PFMC recommendation. It instead chose Timbers PNG Ltd, a subsidiary of the Rimbunan Hijau Group of Companies as the preferred developer.

A timber permit was subsequently granted to Timbers PNG Ltd. Madang Timbers Ltd challenged the decision of the Board and the Minister (to grant a timber permit to Timbers PNG Ltd) in the National Court where the claim was dismissed.

However, an appeal to the Supreme Court was upheld.

The Supreme Court ordered that the board follow the PFMC recommendation and deal with Madang Timbers’ project agreement (for the Middle Ramu FMA) as required by the Forestry Act.

The Supreme Court quashed the decisions of the board and the Minister (to grant a timber permit to Timbers PNG Ltd).

To date, the board has not complied with the Supreme Court order. From the draft Bill, the amendments sought to be made to the Forestry Act 1991 will result in Provincial Forest Management Committees (the PFMC) serving no purpose at all.

The amendments will instead result in the National Forest Board taking over the powers and functions of the Provincial Forest Management Committees.

The proposed amendments provided for the amendments to have retrospective application.

This is unusual as Acts of Parliament are supposed to have prospective applications.

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