Solomons Minister Denies Being Coerced To Issue Logging Licenses

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Forest minister believes company had ‘strong case’ for license renewal

By Douglas Marau

HONIARA, Solomon Islands (Solomon Star, July 31, 2012) – Forest Minister Dickson Mua says his decision to renew the license of Earth Movers Logging Company was done without any influence or pressure from the Prime Minister.

However, Mr. Mua said the decision was based on his professional judgment.

"At no time, I had received a text, telephone or letter from the Prime Minister forcing me to grant the license to Earth-Movers," Mr. Mua said.

Mr. Mua made the clarification in response to a statement from Opposition Leader Dr. Derek Sikua claiming that the Minister was pressured by the Prime Minister.

As a result, Dr. Sikua claimed that he (minister) ignored the Attorney General’s advice when approving the renewal of Earthmover’s license last week.

But the minister explained he advised for the license to be issued on July 24 2012 after Earthmover’s made three appeals against the decision to decline the renewal of the license at the beginning of this year.

In a more detailed explanation, Mr. Mua said that the Attorney General’s advice then was not a straight no.

He said after a thorough analysis of Earth Mover’s appeal, he realized that they have a strong case to make.

Mr. Mua explained that in 2005, following the ethnic tension, the Government introduced a new FIB Act which amongst its conditions was to give incentives to investors that suffered during the crisis; one of which was Earth Movers.

He said the Government then also agreed in a Memorandum of Understanding to grant and renew their licenses with some investment incentives.

"In August 2005, a new regulation (timber utilization Act 2005) on forestry was introduced by the then Government," Mr. Mua explained.

"Therefore in 2006 Earth Movers was granted the license under the 2005 Act. In granting the license then, the Commissioner was duly satisfied that Earth Movers had met all the requirements under the 2005 Act."

"Based on that understanding, they (Earth Movers) wrote to the Commissioner for the renewal of their license at the beginning of this year."

The minister further explained in 2005 when the new regulation was enforced, Hyundai did not enter into the management agreement with Earth Movers.

However, the license and management agreement did have a provision for transfer with the consent of the Commissioner of Forest which was applied.

"Regarding Timber Rights Hearings (TRH), which was one of the issues raised by the Government, the company had met the requirement as there were valid TRH conducted by Tasimate Local Council in 1987, 1995 and 1996, and later preceded by signed TRA and Supplementary Agreements in 2005, 2006, 2011 for the same landing groups and trustees who had already been determined by the Tasimate Area Council," Minister Mua said.

Therefore, Mr. Mua adds, based on his judgment, the company had strong grounds for the renewal of their license.

"I therefore took the decision based on Cap 40 Section 39:2 of the Forest, Resources and Timber Utilization Action (gives the minister the right to make the final decision) and advised the Commissioner to renew the license," he said.

Meanwhile, Mr. Mua also refuted a claim by Dr. Sikua alleging that he and Commissioner for Forests Reeves Moveni signed the renewed license at the Henderson International Airport last Friday.

Dr. Sikua claimed this was done prior to the commissioner’s departure for Fiji.

"This is not true. The license was signed in my office and it was delivered to Earth Movers on Tuesday (24 July) last week not Friday as claimed by the Leader of the Opposition," Mr. Mua said in a statement yesterday.

Mr. Mua said that he hoped the explanation would clarify some of the misinformation that have been published and aired by the Opposition and certain quarters of the society.

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