2 July 2019
Allegations of illegal logging and corrupt practices associated with the logging industry are a blight on the Solomon Islands and need urgent investigation
Honiara with its estimated population of 67,000 has, again in the last few days, suffered from water supply interruptions with Solomon Water citing illegal logging around the Kongulai water catchment area causing high turbidity when there is rainfall.
Solomon Water says that the interruptions have been, understandably, an inconvenience but nevertheless necessary to protect the water system, pipes and meters from damage, as well as to protect customers pipes and systems and also to ensure water is properly chlorinated to make it safe.
Water has been restored in most areas, although it may take some time to refill tanks supplying Honiara residents, and also air pockets forming in the system might delay supply in some areas.
Solomon Water has encouraged residents in Honiara to store water when supply is good, particularly with the wet season fast approaching.
Solomon Water is planning big investments in a filtration plant, one that would be able to treat our water, and deal with high levels of turbidity without disrupting the supply of water.
Solomon Water CEO Ian Gooden has said the plant will cost around USD$13 Million dollars with the actual tender for the work around September.
Solomon Water says that the primary cause of the high levels of turbidity is illegal logging, something that is beyond their control.
Illegal logging might well be out of the control of Solomon Water but given the bigger picture in the Solomon Islands the illegal logging practices are muddying the waters everywhere and high time for what is perceived by many observers as corruption in the logging industry to be fully investigated
Transparency Solomon Islands (TSI) has been at the forefront of highlighting the perceived corrupt practices and issued many statements giving details of alleged wrongs and repeatedly called on the Solomon Islands government to address the illegal logging issues faced by the people and the “corruption’ of “our system by the loggers and the corrupt officials.”
TSI commented recently
“The largest number of complaints raised with Transparency Solomon Islands relate to the Logging Industry. Transparency Solomon Islands gives legal advice to these clients in accordance with the existing laws of the country and where to go and get help. In most cases this is a losing battle as all the systems, mechanisms and institutions that is there to assist people as well as hold logging companies for breach of the law seem to always make decisions in favour of the logging companies. They feel abandon by the institutions to whom they give their entrusted power to the Executive Government including Provincial Government and the Public Service, the Legislature [50 Members of Parliament] and the Judiciary. “
In the same statement which was released to the local media, TSI also said:
“The landowners are convinced that the courts are corrupted by the loggers, and both the provincial governments and loggers and chiefs’ hearing are working together. They also question why, when there is a land dispute over boundary and ownership, the courts base their judgment on the validity of the Licence. Why are the logger’s lawyers always taking the disputes to the High Court when the Chief’s Hearing is the right place to hear these cases?”
The publication ‘Mongabay’ recently published a two-part series on logging in the Solomon Islands, focusing on how governance is affecting the Solomon Islands forests and on the country at large.
Quoting extracts from that series of publications they underscore what TSI has been saying for some considerable time and without seeing the change that is undeniably needed to bring an end to illegal logging practices and stopping corruption linked to logging which continues to fly in the face of the Solomon Islands own Constitution.
“Resource owners who try to oppose logging are fighting a losing battle, everything is stacked against them. Lots of protesters are sent to prison,” said Ruth Liloqula, executive officer of the anti-corruption NGO Transparency International Solomon Islands.”
“The Solomon Islands may be inching toward graduating from the United Nations’ Least Developed Country category, but observers say few people living hand-to-mouth existences, predominantly from farming and fishing, can resist the incentives timber companies pay to get what they want.
“It is normal for the logging companies to pay expenses to the provincial government executive members to hold the hearings; they get huge allowances,” said Inia Barry, from the civil society organization Development Services Exchange. Conflicts of interest permeate every level of these proceedings; multiple sources reported that police officers were frequently paid to intimidate logging opponents, which was said to be the case on Nende.
“Watchdog group Global Witness also found a range of evidence that timber companies are routinely violating landowners’ rights.
“We believe this to be quite a prevalent problem, which casts doubts on the legality of many logging licenses,” Beibei Yin, Global Witness senior campaigner, told Mongabay.
“The situation with illegal logging has gotten worse over recent years, said Transparency International’s Liloqula. “There’s a brazen attitude by loggers not to comply with existing laws,” she said. “We’ve got to the point where they land their machines in places where they didn’t even have a timber rights hearing, and they just don’t care because they know somebody at the top is looking after them.”
“The majority of the people of the Solomon Islands still live traditional rural existences on the 900 islands that make up the seven regional provinces. Communities are based on tribal lines and ownership of tribal land is passed on from generation to generation.
“Commentators say the arrival of logging operations invariably upsets this kastom system, as it is called, and creates tensions and segregation between those who benefit and those who do not.
“The corruption of logging money has also infiltrated the chief-led appeal system for resolving land disputes, making the process prohibitively expensive for most people, according to Transparency International. Liloqula says this corruption is felt throughout the legal system “from the traditional judiciary to the customary land courts, because there are hardly any lawyers who have not worked with logging companies.”