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Posts Tagged ‘Douglas Tomuriesa’

O’Neill’s illegal logging: after 1386 days is it finally over?

April 10, 2017 1 comment

Has Prime Minister Peter O’Neill finally acted on his promises and ended the SABL land grab and stopped the illegal logging?

It is now 1,386 days since the reports of the SABL Commission Inquiry which detailed the widespread fraud and mismanagement that allowed foreign logging companies to gain illegal access to over 50 thousand square kilometres of land.

Over that time the Prime Minister has made repeated promises to cancel the leases and stop the logging but, for almost four years, nothing has happened, while the logging companies continued to chop down and export logs worth hundreds of millions of dollars.

But, in recent statements, both the Prime Minister and the Minister for Lands have claimed the government has finally acted and CANCELLED all the SABL leases.

Minister Benny Allen has been quoted saying:

“The Government has taken a blanket cancellation of all special agriculture business leases in the country and as we speak, they are all illegal”.

“I have given directions to acting secretary to write letters to all special agriculture business lease holders, informing them that the leases that they are holding are illegal and no longer in force now. It’s another useless document of no legal value and effect”.

There is, of course, a sting in the tail; the Prime Minister and Minister Allen also say the government will now assist ‘genuine’ investors to acquire a new title to the land they have illegally occupied, using incorporated land groups and land registration. It is not clear which SABL areas this applies to, although the PM has singled out Rimbunan Hijau’s operations in Pomio for praise, despite the strong community opposition to the logging and oil palm operations there.

Silent though has been Logging Minister, Douglas Tomuriesa. Has the Forest Authority stopped all logging in SABL areas and are all the Forest Clearance Authorities being cancelled or withdrawn?

Without any word from the Minister or PNG Forest Authority, the public will be wise to remain skeptical.

Peter O'Neill: Theft of forest resources: Guilty

Minister Chan demands action on illegal Konoagil logging

January 3, 2017 5 comments
Mining Minister Byron Chan has reacted angrily to illegal loggi

Mining Minister Byron Chan is demanding action on illegal logging in his electorate

Mining Minister Byron Chan has reacted angrily to revelations on this blog about illegal logging operations in the Konoagil District of New Ireland. He is demanding action to stop the logging and police investigation of those responsible.

But is the Minister REALLY SERIOUS or is this just pre-election posturing? Will Minister Chan really ensure proper investigations are carried out and effective action is taken against those responsible for the theft of forest resources and destruction of the environment?

BY JEFFREY ELAPA, Post Courier, January 03, 2017

MINISTER for Mining and Member for Namatanai Byron Chan has called on authorities to investigate two foreign companies [Millionplus Corporation and Islands Forest Resources] involved in logging activities in his district.

Mr Chan is also calling on the authorities to investigate how Government authorities had allowed the companies to conduct business in the country and wants their Malaysian principals [Kie Yii LING, Ting Ping LAU and Tiing Siu HAH] deported.

He said he is outraged over their being issued environment and logging licences.

“I’m totally disgusted and immediately call for a full investigation into the illegal activities occurring at Forest Department and the Department of Environment and Conservation.

“I further call on the two Ministers Douglas Tomoresia (Forest) and John Pundari (Environment) to institute an investigation into the conduct of the two companies.

“I also call on the police fraud and anti-corruption unit to investigate the activities of these foreigners cheating my people. How can authorities allow foreign companies to conduct illegal businesses in the country.

“I also call on the Minister for Forest to cease the operation of the company and Immigrations to immediately deport the two foreigners and blacklist them as they have misled and abused the trust of my people and my district. We do not need people involved in illegal activities they also pose threats to the sovereignty of the nation.

“This is the kind of business conduct by foreigners under the guise of doing business and involved in local politics are not welcomed to stay in this country.

“My people are innocent like most rural Papua New Guineans. There have been a lot of false promises and false hopes given to my people and I’m really disgusted by the action of such foreign companies conducting business in my district and the country,” he said.

Mr Chan also called on local elites not to mislead the people for whatever motives they had.

“As a concerned national leader and leader of my people I’m calling for an immediate investigate by the authorities,” he said.

Konoagil Oil Palm Project just another illegal logging scam

December 28, 2016 11 comments
Walter Schnaubelt listens as local people talk about their greviances

Walter Schnaubelt is the man behind the illegal logging of southern New Ireland

Thirty years on from the Barnett Commission of Inquiry that exposed widespread corruption in the logging industry, the people of New Ireland are still falling victim to illegal logging operations set up without the informed consent of ordinary people.

Konoagil district, New Ireland

Konoagil district, New Ireland

From New Hanover in the north right down to Lak in the south, New Ireland is awash with illegal logging operations, the latest being the so-called Konoagil Oil Palm Project, set up by Walter Schnaubelt, the intending National Alliance candidate for Namatanai.

According to the media reports on the project launch in April, the logging will cover an area of 120,000 hectares and will involve the establishment of 35,000 hectares of oil palm and an “international hospital and school, nurse training centre and banking facilities for the local people”.

However, ever since the project launch landowners have been raising their objections – even presenting a petition to the Forest Minister. The local people say there has been no proper awareness and consultation over the occupation of their land and destruction of their forests.

Forest Minister, Douglas Tomuriesa, has failed to investigate claims the logging permits were bulldozed through his department

Forest Minister, Douglas Tomuriesa, has failed to investigate landholders claims the logging permits were bulldozed through his department

In July, Schnaubelt was on-hand as CEO of Konoagil Agri Development Ltd, one of the companies he has set up to orchestrate the project, to try and reassure locals and the media all proper processes have been followed – but the truth is the project has been bulldozed through every stage of the legal process by Schnaubelt and his lackeys.

It was Schnaubelt who was behind the incorporation of land groups in highly suspicious circumstances. Local people say some were even forced to complete and sign the registrations while clan boundaries were done in haste and no genealogy studies were ever completed. Proper verification of ILG formation process and issuing of certificates was never done by the Department of Lands.

Schnaubelt then used the ILG certificates to induce two Malaysian owned logging companies, Millionplus Corporation and Islands Forest to move into the area and start logging.

Landowners say they have never been given proper information on project impacts and benefits – including the terms and conditions on which KADL claims to hold 20% of the equity in the business on behalf of the landowners. The landowners say no documentation has ever been shared with them.

Tomorrow we will present the evidence of how Walter Schnaubelt has set up a string of companies to try and hide his involvement as the orchestrator of the whole logging scam. We will also present documentary evidence of how Schnaubelt bulldozed the project through the PNG Forest Authority without the consent of local landholders – and scandalous details on the finances of the Malaysian logging companies involved.

Forest Minister, Tomuriesa, a complete hypocrite over the SABL land grab and illegal logging

November 15, 2016 Leave a comment
The Forest Minister sitting comfortably on his trip home from Paris

Forest Minister, Douglas Tomuriesa, is so full of bullshit…

The audacity, bare faced cheek and hypocrisy from Forest Minister Douglas Tomuriesa is just jaw dropping!

This is a man who for three years has vehemently denied any suggestion of illegal logging in PNG, and has wholly heartedly endorsed the destructive logging operations in SABL lease areas that have seen timber worth more then US$400 million stolen from customary landowners and exported to China.

That logging in SABL areas is still continuing today, with Tomuriesa’s seal of approval, yet he tells Parliament:

  • ‘The government decision to cancel the leases is commendable’
  • ‘The leases should ‘never have happened’
  • ‘Due diligence must be done before any approval can be granted’
  • ‘Our people’s rights and our children’s future must be protected’

Most staggering of all, Tomuriesa says:

“The land belongs to our people. It must remain with our people, the forest belongs to our people and it must not be taken away from them”

So Minister, please tell us why you have allowed over 4 million cubic meters of logs to be stolen from SABL lease areas without the informed consent of local people but under the guise of approvals granted by you and your Department. 

Why are you STILL allowing the logging to continue when you say our people’s rights must be protected!

By HELEN TARAWA, The National (owned by Rimbunan Hijau), November 11, 2016
The Special Agriculture Business Lease (SABL) was designed to fail and the Government’s decision to cancel it is commendable, Forest Minister Douglas Tomuriesa said.
Tomuriesa told Parliament last week that SABL was designed for disaster and the Government had taken a corrective measure, with land going back to the people.
“The investors can now go back and renegotiate proper deals with our people,” he said.
“We should not allow this to happen again, such practice that is approved by this Parliament or by bureaucrats should never have happened.
“I want to commend the prime minister and his Cabinet for looking at the Commission of Inquiry report and eventually cancelling the SABL.
“Due diligence must be done before any approval can be granted; as leaders we allowed this to happen.
“We have to look at any similar controversial acts like the SABL that have been approved in the past and we must stop them now.
“Our people’s rights and our children’s future must be protected by this parliament and not allow foreigners come and dictate to us.
“The land belongs to our people. It must remain with our people, the forest belongs to our people and it must not be taken away from them.
“Our people were given rubbish, today they have the power in their hands to sit back and negotiate.
“I would like to acknowledge all parliament members for your support in making sure that we fix this issue once and for all.
“This SABL must not happen again.
“It there are other initiatives like this, we must stop. We must not sell the birthrights of our people to foreigners.”

Breaking the Grip of Rimbunan Hijau over Papua New Guinea

April 21, 2016 2 comments

RH boycott sticker

By Frederic Mousseau*, IPS news

James Sze Yuan Lau and Ivan Su Chiu Lu must be extremely busy men. Together, they are listed as directors of some 30 companies involved in various activities and services related to logging or agribusiness in Papua New Guinea (PNG). The former is the managing director of Rimbunan Hijau (RH) PNG and son-in-law of RH’s founder Tiong Hiew King; the latter is executive director of RH PNG Ltd.. All but two of these 30 companies have the same registered address at 479 Kennedy Road, in the national capital, Port Moresby–the headquarter of the RH group in the country.

Frederic Mousseau

Frederic Mousseau

How the group – the largest logging operator in PNG – manages to operate at a loss for so many years, and yet still remains in business? If it were unprofitable to log and export timber from PNG, why would these companies continue their operations? These are some of the critical questions raised in a report released in February 2016, The Great Timber Heist: The Logging Industry in Papua New Guinea, by the Oakland Institute. The report exposed massive tax evasion and financial misreporting by foreign logging companies, allegedly resulting in non-payment of hundreds of millions of dollars in taxes.

Their ability to magically fit into a relatively small office space on Kennedy Road is not the only puzzling fact about the subsidiaries of the Malaysian group, Rimbunan Hijau. Out of the 30 above mentioned companies, 16 subsidiaries that are directly involved in logging or agribusiness have one other thing in common. According to their financial records , they don’t make a profit. Most of them have been working at a loss for over a decade. During the 12 years for which financial records were available to the Oakland Institute’s researchers, all together, the subsidiaries declared an average loss of about US$ 9 million every year.

Recovering tax revenue would be certainly welcomed by PNG given the acute budget crisis the country has been facing in recent months. Yet, it is unclear whether the government of PNG will decide to take action following these revelations. After all, despite the promises made by the Prime Minister, still no action has been taken two and a half years after the damning report on recent land leases, produced by the Commission of Inquiry (CoI), which identified all sorts of malpractices and irregularities and concluded that most leases were illegal.

A first step for any government would be to start monitoring the declared sale prices of exported timber. PNG prices are much lower than those of other exporters of tropical timber (nearly 50% cheaper in 2014), which suggests that logging companies undervalue their exports and therefore their profits. But the recent statements by the Forest Minister in denial of the findings of the report, and given the well-documented deficiencies of the PNG Forest Authority, there is little hope of decisive action by this agency.

Another level of action is the enforcement of tax compliance by the Internal Revenue Commission (IRC), the government agency in charge of tax collection. However, although many RH companies are conveniently located at the same address, it may prove difficult for tax auditors to ascertain the extent of their wrongdoings. The Group has been built as a complex and opaque financial structure: almost all RH holding companies–the parent companies of those operating in PNG–are located in tax havens, primarily the British Virgin Islands, known for facilitating illicit financial flows.

Moreover, the use of multiple subsidiaries in logging operations makes auditing even more complex to conduct. For instance, in one single project in West Pomio, Gilford Ltd.’s records indicate financial transactions with 16 other RH subsidiary companies. This interrelation facilitates transfer pricing as companies of the same group can charge each other an artificially high price for goods, equipment, and services, thereby increasing the sister company’s operational expenses, and artificially reducing their profits. This interrelation would require investigators to not just focus on individual logging companies but to extend their audits to the larger RH Group. But who would they go after?

RH is controlled by Tiong Hiew King, one of Malaysia’s richest men. Although logging is the core business of the group – ‘Rimbunan Hijau’ ironically means ‘forever green’ in Malay, his empire covers a multitude of sectors, and all continents from fisheries in New Zealand, timber in Siberia, to Chinese speaking newspapers in California. RH’s grip over PNG goes far beyond the forests, as it is present across all sectors of the economy. The company’s most recent investment in the capital Port Moresby is a project known as Vision City, which contains the largest shopping mall in the Pacific Islands region and is expected to be expanded to include an office tower block, service apartments, a hotel and convention centre. It also owns the National, the largest of the two daily newspapers in PNG, an airline, Tropicair, as well as shipping and logistics companies.

Whereas the group appears as PNG’s superpower, citizens are left powerless. As documented in 2013 Oakland Institute’s report and film, logging in PNG hides a multilayered tragedy of daylight robbery, whereby local communities are being deprived of their resources and their rights, with the complicity of their own government. RH has often been accused in the past of connections within the political elite in the country and of involvement in corruption and violence in relation to its logging operations. In a number of occasions, local police forces have been used to intimidate and arrest local landowners opposed to logging and land grabbing by RH subsidiaries.

A single corporate group, RH, thus materializes the betrayal of the unique constitutional protections that PNG citizens are supposed to enjoy. The 1975 Constitution guaranteed people’s land rights and upheld national sovereignty, self-reliance, and the preservation of natural resources as key principles for the country. It called on the State “to control major enterprises engaged in the exploitation of natural resources.” Ironically, today a major enterprise has turned the statement around and appears to be controlling the state and the country’s natural resources. Will Papua New Guineans eventually decide to put the things back in place?

*Frederic Mousseau, Policy Director of the Oakland Institute, coordinated the research for the Institute’s agroeocology project.

Forest Minister fails to discredit critical analysis

April 21, 2016 Leave a comment

timber heistBy ACT NOW!

The Forest Minister has taken out full page adverts in the media this month [see below] trying to refute allegations of illegal logging and financial misreporting by the logging industry. But his lengthy explanations fail to answer the central allegations and many of his admissions actually add weight to the arguments he is trying to dispute!

The Minister complains that ‘despite the assurances of the PNGFA that all logging is conducted within the law, various interest groups continue to use the issue of illegal logging for their own purposes’. What he fails to mention is that those ‘interest groups’ include bodies like the International Tropical Timber Organisation and the World Bank who were invited to do their studies by the PNG government and concluded the logging was unsustainabe and illegal. What possible motive could such organisations have for publishing false analysis?

The Minister claims ‘since 1994 the Government has engaged SGS to monitor the export of logs to prevent under-valuing and transfer-pricing’, which is completely untrue. SGS counts the logs and checks the export duty paid, it does not check or authenticate the declared log prices – as the Minister later implicitly admits!

The Minister says ‘SGS also confirms all the logs are sourced from legally approved and valid timber concessions‘ – which is completely misleading. SGS merely checks there is a logging permit or licence, it carries out no checks to see if that permit or licence was validly issued or is legal.

The Minister claims Oakland Institute ‘have deliberately used the ITTO composite price for tropical logs to distort the facts’ but then he admits PNGFA does not have any direct comparison figures to challenge the OI analysis, accepts such figures “would indeed be very useful” and then tries to rely on international export prices for plantation teak logs to disprove the OI analysis when such log exports “from PNG are of very insignificant volumes” and “constitutes a very minuscule proportion of PNG’s total log export volume”.  The Minister says the OI log price comparison is ‘rather simplistic’ but admits the  PNGFA does not have any data to allow it to do a better job!

The Minister further claims the OI report “is inept and inaccurate” but:

  1. Admits, since 2014 PNG is the biggest exporter of unprocessed tropical logs in the world
  2. Admits, the Forest Authority has approved logging in 785,000 hectares of land acquired under SABL
  3. Admits, cumulatively, some 11 million hectares of land have been industrially logged and a further 5 million hectares of forest is currently under active logging.
  4. Does not deny almost all logging operations and all log exports are driven by foreign owned companies.
  5. Does not deny the logging industry declares no profits year after and year and does not pay any corporate taxes.
  6. Does not deny the total land area leased under SABL is over 5 million hectares.
  7. Does not deny PNG Forest Products (a plantation based timber company) is the only forestry company paying corporate taxes
  8. Does not deny PNGFA struggles to monitor and verify log export prices and, admits, if given more resources, it would more closely monitor international prices.
  9. Implicitly admits transfer pricing is going on and says the log export tax was specifically imposed to counter transfer pricing!

PNGFA statement 5 April 2016 1

PNGFA statement 5 April 2016 2

Forest Minister hiding behind false claims

April 12, 2016 1 comment

tomuriesa

Forest Minister Douglas Tomuriesa has a big problem with the truth. He refuses to admit the evidence from numerous independent studies that almost all logging in PNG is illegal. He refuses to admit the SABL leases are unlawful and the logging operations illegal. He even tries to pretend that logging companies are not foreign owned…

He also clearly fails to understand that as a government Minister he is supposed to be fighting for and protecting the rights and interests of Papua New Guinean people – not fighting for and defending the criminal actions of foreign logging companies!