O’Neill’s illegal logging: 431 days and counting

August 29, 2014 Leave a comment

431 days

Peter O'Neill: Theft of forest resources: Guilty

billboard poster - give land back to landowners

Papua New Guinea set to decide on RH logging renewal

August 27, 2014 Leave a comment

By ABC PNG correspondent Liam Cochrane 

PHOTO: A man walks past land cleared for oil palm plantations at Bairaman, near Pomio on PNG's East New Britain province.(Global Witness)

PHOTO: A man walks past land cleared for oil palm plantations at Bairaman, near Pomio on PNG’s East New Britain province.(Global Witness)

Papua New Guinea’s National Forest Board will consider a Malaysian company’s bid to continue to logging virgin rainforest in order to plant palm oil.

The clear-felling around Pomio on the island of East New Britain has been hotly contested by some locals, as well as international groups like Greenpeace and Global Witness.

Malaysian company Rimbunan Hijau (RH) says it is bringing jobs, infrastructure and long-term investment to the area.

RH says it has the support of the local people, but some locals object to their land being cleared for plantations.

The land is being used under PNG’s controversial Special Agriculture and Business Leases (SABLs).

Last year a Commission of Inquiry into SABLs recommended almost all leases be revoked, but there was no recommendation for Pomio because one of the three commissioners simply never handed in his report.

Pristine and profitable

Global Witness researcher Rick Jacobsen visited Pomio this month, and said it is one of the most beautiful places he has ever been.

“[The Nakanai] mountain range is covered in virgin rainforest, extensive cave and underground river systems, rivers that are clear and pristine like you will not find anywhere else in the world,” said Mr Jacobsen, campaign leader for international forest policy at Global Witness.

Four years ago, RH subsidiary company Gilford Ltd obtained a licence to clear the forests around Pomio and plant oil palms.

“It is one of the most important agriculture projects in Papua New Guinea. It has received huge support from the local populous in the area,” said Axel Wilhelm, RH’s corporate policy manager.

Mr Wilhelm said cutting down trees is part of RH’s plan for a long-term investment for plantations and a mill to produce the palm oil that goes into so much of the world’s food.

He said 7,000 hectares has been cleared so far and palms have been planted on 6,300 hectares of that land.

“This project is not a logging project. The only forestry component is simply to prepare the area for oil palm planting,” he said.

“If there is any timber of value in it, of course the timber will be commercially utilised. The landowners and the national government of course will receive their levies and their royalties.”

British-based organisation Global Witness estimates 500,000 cubic meters of timber have been cut from around Pomio and sent to China to make plywood, flooring and furniture.

Global Witness estimates the value of that timber to be around $50 million and believes some of these products are being exported to the US and Europe.

Villagers work and play on the beach at Bairaman

PHOTO: Villagers work and play on the beach at Bairaman near Pomio on PNG’s East New Britain province. (Global Witness)

Communities divided

While RH says the project has community support, not all locals want their land turned into palm oil plantations.

Paul Povol is a community leader in the village of Mu and said clear-felling has turned the land around him into “a desert”.

But he said the environmental damage goes beyond logging.

“To make oil palm grow in my area, they like to use a lot of fertiliser,” he said.

“The fertiliser sinks into the soil, ends up in the underwater rivers and gets washed out into the sea… so definitely it’s a permanent disaster.”

Mr Povol said his village is opposed to the development, which he said brings with it social problems.

“Most children don’t turn up to school these days because they go to work in the oil palm, they fill up nursery bags [for palm seedlings],” he said.

“Traditions, customs, culture … we’re beginning to lose all those things.”

Mr Jacobsen said many locals are not benefiting and have spoken out against the clear-felling of their forests.

“That [local opposition] led in 2011 to a police crackdown, that led the police commissioner to announce police would no longer be stationed in logging camps,” he said.

“That hasn’t been followed through on and there are still police stationed in the camps, and the communities cite that as one of the reasons why they don’t feel like they can protect their land.”

The land was originally leased to Gilford Ltd by a landowner company and some community leaders around Pomio have expressed their support for the oil palm project.

Mr Povol alleges that some landowner documents were forged and even bore the signatures of children not yet born at the time of the signing.

Last year, the RH subsidiary Gilford Ltd sought a restraining order against Mr Povol and other community leaders.

Special agriculture and business leases

In 2005, Mr Povol’s community was running a small-scale sustainable logging operation around their village.

Nearby communities had achieved certification from the internationally-recognised Forest Stewardship Council and Mr Povol’s village was working towards the FSC accreditation.

But in 2010, the forests they were selectively logging were included in four 99-year SABLs awarded for clearing and oil palm plantations.

The adjoining SABLs cover an area of 55,000 hectares and a Forestry Clearance Authority gives the company logging access to 42,000 hectares.

The process of granting SABLs in Papua New Guinea has been widely discredited for using agri-business as a cover for logging.

A Commission of Inquiry spent millions of dollars investigating and last year two commissioners tabled reports recommending almost every lease be revoked.

The third commissioner, Alois Jerewai, has never made his report public and it is that report that includes Pomio.

This loophole means the SABLs around Pomio have not been cancelled and it is why this week the National Forest Board will sit down to consider whether to renew the license to log within that leased land.

The nine-member board includes representatives from the government, the forestry industry, women, landowners and environmentalists.

Chairman of the National Forest Board Thomas Paka said trying to make sense of often-conflicting information is “complicated” but both sides will get a fair hearing.

“There’s always this argument that we brought in investment [but] that investment must also be supported by compliance issues and the board will look at those issues very closely,” he said.

“And the communities – why is it that half of you wanted it and half of you didn’t want it? Is there evidence of bribery?”

RH insists all necessary approvals have been obtained and relevant laws followed in Pomio, so is confident the logging license will be renewed.

“We cannot see any reason why the government should cancel, would cancel such an important project, important for the economy of Papua New Guinea,” Mr Wilhem said.

‘Like David against Goliath’

Mr Jacobsen from Global Witness said the board decision is a test of PNG prime minister Peter O’Neill’s pledge in June to cancel any SABLs acquired illegally.

“This decision is really an opportunity for the Govt to follow through on its recent commitments to address the SABL situation,” he said.

Mr Poval is determined to fight on but he is well aware that his little village is taking on a giant.

“It’s like David fighting against Goliath. But somehow David won,” he said.

“In our case it’s very hard because we are very small people – once we see an issue it takes time to get money, travel out and share the information with people who can help us.”

The National Forest Board will meet on August 28 to consider the renewal of the Forestry Clearance Authority for Pomio, which expires on October 7.

Big gap between government promises on SABL and action on the ground

August 26, 2014 Leave a comment

From Institute of National Affairs

INA seminar

INA Seminar on SABLs, notably Pomio and Turubu, 21 August 2014, with presenters Rick Jacobsen and Alex from Global Witness and Paul from Pomio…who together with the other stakeholders, including Governor Gary Juffa (of Oro) and Collingwood Bay landowners, highlighted the big gap between the statements by Govt over revoking SABLs and action on the ground, with some operators on these land and forest grabbing projects logging as fast as possible (including at night) in case of any action to close them…

Besides the lack of any due process in acquiring the resource, in some cases there are police contingents on site used to harass opposing landowners, who actually own the resource and have every legal right to take action…this is despite the direction by the (former) RPNGC commissioner several months back that police units must be withdrawn from doing these companies dirty work and being based on the SABL land…

It was highlighted the need for legal support to assist landowners overturn these SABLs, in the absence of action by Lands and other Government agencies. Indeed, it seems to be the case that some officials in these agencies are endeavoring merely to rejig these SABLs and claim them now to be legal….

Rio Tinto stripped of nothing on Bougainville – and the ABG knows it!

August 25, 2014 Leave a comment

 MRA records show BCL’s mining lease over Panguna expired in 2011 and its exploration licences will expire next year. BCL’s own Annual Report and a previous statement from John Momis appear to confirm this state of affairs. So where does that leave all the media of the last few weeks…

So the plot thickens. Over the past fortnight, the media has gone into a fervour after Rio Tinto declared it will reconsider its majority stake in Bougainville Copper Limited (BCL).

This change of heart occurred, so we are told, after the Transitional Mining Act ‘stripped’ Rio’s subsidiary BCL of its mining leases and exploration licences. Some more shrill shareholders have called this expropriation, pure and simple.

Indicative of the recent headlines is the following remark which appeared in the Wall Street Journal:

‘The Anglo-Australian company [Rio Tinto] on Monday said it was reviewing its options for its controlling stake in Bougainville Copper Ltd, after the [Bougainville] government passed new laws that could strip the company of its lease on its Panguna mine’.

This seemingly bold step has been trumpeted by the Autonomous Bougainville Government as evidence that it is no stooge of Rio Tinto or the mining industry.

But it seems we may have all been fooled by what appears to be an elaborate hoax, which has been played out through the national and international media.

In their eagerness to trumpet the headlines ‘Rio Tinto stripped …’, no one has actually bothered to verify if BCL still actually holds a lease over Panguna!

Tsk tsk.

Now, according to PNG’s Mining Resources Authority BCL’s Special Mining Lease over Panguna expired in 2011.

mra map of mining lease area

Yet on 12 August this year President John Momis wrote to BCL’s Chairman to advise him that:

‘Prior to that [Transitional] Act coming into operation, BCL is the holder of an SML [Special Mining Lease] over the area of the current Panguna SML, primarily by virtue of the operation of the relevant provisions of the Mining (Bougainville Copper Agreement) Act concerning the SML.  As a result, when the Bougainville Mining Act commences, section 212(2) will vest BCL with an Exploration Licence for the area of what will then be the previous SML’.

Surely the good President is well aware that the SML had lapsed? From the above ‘letter’ it would seem not.

But the plot thickens further. Here is a very interesting report which the Post Courier published on 29 November 2011:

‘BOUGAINVILLE president John Momis last week thanked PNG Prime Minister Peter O’Neill for his decision not to approve the renewal of the Special Mining Lease (SML) held by Bougainville Copper Limited (BCL) in Panguna for the last 42 years’.

So the President would seem to KNOW the SML has expired, yet has maintained publicly it is still in place. Why would he do that? And why would BCL play along? Or has the SML been renewed since November 2011 under the table, without public consultation (though this would presumably be reflected in the Mineral Resource Authority system)?

If it has not been renewed, why did BCL inform the Australian Stock Exchange on 25 June this year that ‘BCL holds a number of resource tenements in Bougainville, including a Special Mining Lease (SML), various  Leases for Mining Purposes and several Exploration Licences’.

The significance of this statement must be read in light of corporation laws. Giving materially false or misleading information to Australian Stock Exchange potentially breaches section 1309 of the Corporations Act. Doing this knowingly is a criminal offence punishable by a fine of up to 200 penalty units and/or imprisonment for up to 5 years.

At the very least this June 2014 announcement would appear to contradict not only Mineral Resource Authority records, but admissions made in BCL’s 2013 Annual Report, which states:

‘The company’s special mining lease lapsed through effluction of time on 10 April 2011 and in accordance with the applicable legislation the company is entitled to a 21 year extension which has been applied for but not as yet granted‘.

And then there is the issue of the exploration licences. They are ALL set to expire early next year, something that has not been mentioned in the media.

mra map of exploration licences

Owing to the time frame they are basically worthless given that there is little chance of any exploration activity taking place before their expiration.

So what exactly has Rio Tinto been stripped of, or have they  been stripped of anything at all?

We dont know – its not clear.

Has the transitional legislation actually strengthened BCL’s position?

According to the legislation passed earlier this month, ‘If, on the commencement of this Act, an application for a tenement (other than an alluvial  mining lease) under the Mining Act 1992 in respect of land situated in the Autonomous Region of  Bougainville is pending, the application has effect, on and after that commencement, as if it were  an application for the corresponding tenement under this Act and must be dealt with under this  Act’.

The Mining Resources Authority records suggest the renewal of the Special Mining Lease is pending – so will it now be treated as a pending application for a mining lease under the transitional legislation?

If so, what does this mean for the landowning community? As they have no enforceable right to contest the grant of mining leases over resources they ‘evidently’ ‘own’, will this in effect mean that BCL can return to Panguna without landowner consent?

Other questions must be asked.

Was this transitional legislation rushed in place to facilitate the renewal of BCL’s expired interests? If so, why is Rio Tinto so ‘upset’? Is it all a facade?

Once again, the answer is not clear.

And why has the Autonomous Bougainville Government not alerted the media to the misreporting, given that the ABG must knows that the lease has expired and the exploration licences are nearly expired?

Now that is an important question!

What is clear is the real story is much more complex than the media narrative, and no one is prepared yet to reveal the truth behind the headlines.

O’Neill’s illegal logging: 424 days and counting…

August 22, 2014 2 comments

424 days

It is now 424 days since Prime Minister Peter O’Neill was told that the SABL leases were unlawful and should be revoked.

It was on June 24, 2013 that he was given the reports of the SABL Commission Inquiry which detail the widespread fraud and mismanagement used by foreign logging companies to gain illegal access to over 5 million hectares of land.

O’Neill has promised to cancel the leases and stop the illegal logging several times.

In September 2013 O’Neill told Parliament:

“We will no longer watch on as foreign owned companies come in and con our landowners, chop down our forests and then take the proceeds offshore”

But, despite an NEC decision in June we are still waiting for the leases to be cancelled and the logging stopped.

For 424 days O’Neill has failed to revoke the SABL leases and has been complicit in the illegal logging of our forests by foreign logging companies.

Prime Minister Peter O’Neill has aided and abetted the theft of logs worth hundreds of million of kina and the destruction of thousands of hectares of pristine forest.

peter-o-neill

Fifteen hundred email Forest Board calling for end to illegal SABL logging

August 21, 2014 1 comment

From ACT NOW!

AN_sticker22062014More than one thousand five hundred people have emailed the members of the National Forest Board calling on them to stop the illegal logging occuring in SABL areas.

The email action was set up by ACT NOW! to highlight the actions of foreign-owned logging companies who are stealing logs, destroying the valuable forest environments communities rely on for their subsistence and subjecting local people to violence and abuse.

The National Forest Board oversees the management of forest resources in PNG and is the body with the power to act and stop the logging. But to date the Board members have not taken any action despite the fact the logging companies have illegally gained access into pristine areas of ancient forest by making false promises of long-term agriculture development and have convinced officials to by-pass proper processes to get their logging licences.

A Commission of Inquiry has already revealed how the logging companies have cheated their way into the forests:

With corrupt government officials from implementing agencies riding shotgun for them, opportunistic loggers masquerading as agro-forestry developers are prowling our countryside, scoping opportunities to take advantage of gullible landowners

In total more than 5 million hectares of land has been grabbed from local communities using a mechanism known as Special Agriculture and Business Leases. The government has ordered some leases be cancelled – but nobody has taken any action to stop the logging.

O’Neill’s illegal logging: 417 days and STILL counting…

August 15, 2014 Leave a comment

417

peter-o-neill

SABL_billboard

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