Solomons Logging Companies Demand Proof Of Unpaid Taxes

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Allegations of levy avoidance yet to be backed up by evidence

By Koro Vaka'uta, in Port Moresby

WELLINGTON, New Zealand (Radio New Zealand International, Sept. 10, 2015) – Solomon Islands loggers say the government could face legal action if it cannot back up claims some companies owe millions in unpaid levies and taxes.

The allegations were originally levelled at logging companies by the former Minister of Forests Bodo Dettke when he was removed from his portfolio amid concerns of it conflicting with his extensive logging interests.

Since then civil society organisations and members of the public have been calling for the offending companies to be prosecuted.

But the president of the Solomon Forest Association, Johnny Sy, says it is almost a month since the allegations were made and no evidence has surfaced to support the claims.

"We can come back, yeah, actually we can come back and sue them. If you really cannot prove that it is true that we don't pay any taxes. And I don't believe that, 500 million dollars (SBD) [US$62 million] you need another, at least 500 shipments. How can we believe that you don't pay for 500 shipments for the past seven years."

Meanwhile, the Solomon Forest Association has condemned a recent high court ruling allowing the export of illegally harvested logs.

Johnny Sy says last month's ruling, which released an impounded shipment of round logs harvested by Asia Pacific Investment Development Ltd in Rennell and Bellona Province, sets a bad precedent for the industry.

"Because this precedent opens up everything, like illegal logging can cut anywhere because at the end of the day the court will release the cargo. So that is what we are against because we want to clean up the mess that has been created over the past how many decades. We try our best to clean it up and then this kind of precedent comes up."

Johnny Sy says the Solomon Islands government needs to stop talking and start acting on its promises to reform the troubled forestry sector.

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