The Leader of Opposition, Hon. Matthew Wale has expressed his disgust at the recent revelations made by Mr. Chan Chee Min of Orion Ltd against Solomon Forest Association (SFA) and various other logging companies said to be involved in ongoing illegal logging, export of round logs and other breaches of domestic laws.
“The allegations made by Mr. Chan Chee Min include logging operations being conducted under licenses issued on timber rights granted for different concession areas, by-passing of tax laws, exemption from payment of relevant fees and price fixing, all of which are identical to those made separately against Gary Cheah’s Sino Capital logging company, a member of SFA,” says Hon. Wale.
Hon. Wale points out that while he understands from the media articles by Mr. Chan Chee Min that there are existing trade disputes between his company, SFA and other members of SFA, the allegations are matters of national concern for the government and the resource owners also.
“The primary objective of the logging law is to allow for the extraction of our round logs to yield revenue to meet services needed for our people. The allegations suggest that the country and owners of our resource are not getting maximum return from exploitation of their resource. This suggests a hole in the government purse and if there are people manipulating our laws and systems causing this, they must be brought to account and appropriate measures put in place to close this gaping hole,” says the Opposition Leader.
Wale said, “Considering how long the logging industry and our administrative systems have been rigged with corruption, one wonders whether there is any hope for something to be done at all now”.
“It is clear that the some players in the logging industry have had a very strong influence on the government at the highest levels which has served their interest well over the years. This is a tragic reality for Solomon Islands and one that looks to remain for some time unless drastic changes in policy are driven from the top down,” the Opposition Leader adds.
Hon. Wale said the allegations made are so serious and corruption so widespread that by now red lights for immediate action should be flashing so bright in the minds of our leaders in high positions in the industry, adding that with the gravity of the recent allegations, he isn’t sure the Ministry or the Prime Minister or the Police can be trusted to take on the challenge.
“It seems, the people of Solomon Islands no longer trust their own government to do the right thing when it comes to the logging industry for time and time again, and we see the Minister and those in power below being implicated for abuse of their official positions,” adds Hon. Wale.
He said, the fact that the recent allegations were being made by a logger says a lot about the level of seriousness posed to the industry and how we want it to move forward now with the resource getting to near total depletion. The allegations made by Mr. Chan Chee Min are likely to be the tip of the iceberg.
Hon. Wale further said, “I am also concerned that the level of seriousness of the allegations only confirm the existence of a serious gap that we have in our laws and enforcement systems. Clearly there are no regulatory mechanism to be invoked to hold those abusing their official powers to serve the interest of corrupt loggers. This only plays to the advantage of those intent on breaking the law for their own ends.”
He added that the sad reality is this has over time led to government officials accepting malpractice and corruption as being the normal way of doing things, stressing that this is a serious breakdown in our administrative systems that must be stopped.
Hon. Wale goes on to say, “The situation looks even bleaker when bodies like SFA whom are supposed to be assisting in monitoring and ensuring that its members abide by the law have their leaders accused of using this body as a shield to hide their own corrupt dealings”.
Hon. Wale therefore urges the government to do something about these allegations, stressing that the people of this country are entitled to steps being taken and to see those implicated face the law.
“While the parties can deal with their issues in court, the public is entitled to see the maintenance of the integrity of our administrative systems and that the country is getting maximum benefit from our depleting resources. Maybe it’s time also that a proper audit be carried out on the affairs of SFA and its legitimacy,” Wale further adds.