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O’Neill’s illegal logging: 536 days and counting…

December 12, 2014 2 comments

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It is now 536 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 REPEATEDLY STATED the leases will be canceled and illegal logging stopped.

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”

In June 2014, announcing an NEC decision cancelling the leases, O’Neill said

“We are taking these steps to reclaim our customary land illegally lost to foreigners with the help of corrupt public servants and leaders”

“As a responsible government we want to ensure that all citizens have access to the lands of their ancestors. We will not allow our land to be lost to unscrupulous people out to con our people” 

But, WE ARE STILL WAITING for the leases to be cancelled and the logging stopped.

For 536 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: Theft of forest resources: Guilty

PNG Treasurer and SABL defender has long history of support for illegal logging

December 11, 2014 1 comment

pruaitch

A leaked letter has exposed how Treasury Minister Patrick Pruaitch has been actively supporting the SABL land grab and illegal logging in PNG and undermining attempts to implement the recommendations of the SABL Commission of Inquiry.

Pruaitch’s actions come as no surprise to observers of the logging industry in PNG. The Minister for Treasury and Member for Aitape-Lumi has a long history of staunchly defending the interests of foreign logging companies and supporting their illegal activities, as we documented in March this year

This is how commentator Keith Jackson described Pruaitch’s association with the logging industry on his PNG Attitude blog just after the last election:

After being appointed Forest Minister in August 2002, it was alleged Pruaitch enjoyed the generous patronage of the giant Malaysian company Rimbunan Hijau. For his part, Pruaitch defended the company at every turn, even taking out press advertisements to deny claims it had been logging without legal permits and claiming it to be “one of the most committed logging companies in PNG”.

The SABL Commission of Inquiry had this to say about Rimbunan Hijau:

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 and desperate for cash clan leaders’.

A preponderance of the evidence before us indicate that logging companies are the biggest beneficiaries of the SABL scheme.

Our investigations reveal that over 50% of the so-called developers’ currently holding subleases on SABLs are connected in one way or another to Rimbunan Hijau (RH) Limited, which by far is the biggest logging operator in PNG.

In 2013 Pruaitch was exposed trying to block the SABL Commission of Inquiry from publishing its report which exposed the fraud and mismanagement involved in the SABL land grab

Pruaitch has also been referred to the public prosecutor for corruption and in May 2011 convicted criminal William Nanua Kapris named Patrick Pruaitch (along with Minister Tony Aimo and Deputy Speaker Francis Marus) as accessories to his robberies [thus repeating claims first made in 2010].

With people like Patrick Pruaitch in senior positions in government will we ever see effective action to undo the SABL land grab and stop the illegal logging?

Court orders extension to ban on Rimbunan Hijau logging in Pomio

December 9, 2014 1 comment

The National Court sitting in Kimbe has ordered an extension to the ban on any forest related activities by logging giant Rimbunan Hijau in its contested SABL lease areas in the Pomio District of East New Britain.

The extension was ordered at a hearing on Monday. The original orders were granted on November 16 – as reported below. The matter will return to court later this month.

Court orders halt to RH logging operations in controversial Pomio SABL areas

Photo shows landowners trying to block logging company access into their Conservation area, Pomio, West New Britain. Armed police forced the removal of the road block.

Landowners trying to block RH access into their Conservation area. Armed police forced the removal of the road block.

via ACT NOW!

The National Court has issued a restraining order stopping any forest logging operations by Rimbunan Hijau in two controversial Special Agriculture and Business Lease areas in the Pomio district of East New Britain.

The orders have been obtained by landowners from Portions 196C and 197C who claim the SABLs were obtained by fraud and forgery and without their consent and without following the proper processes under the Lands Act.

The Pomio SABLs are part of a wider land grab in PNG which has seen more than 5 million hectares of land taken from customary owners under 99 year leases. A Commission of Inquiry has condemned the leases as being fraudulent and unlawful but the government has not acted to stop logging companies operating in lease areas.

Rimbunan Hijau has already cleared at least 7,000 hectares of forest in the Pomio area alone and exported more than 500,000 cubic metres of timber with a declared value of over $50 million.

In October, the National Forest Board renewed the logging permit for the Pomio SABLs despite widespread opposition from local landowners. In September, the elected ward councillors and other community representatives from the villages of Bairaman, Mauna and Lau, wrote to the National Forest Board requesting the forest clearance permit issued in 2010 not be renewed.

When the Forest Board refused to listen to the landowners plea and elected instead to renew the logging permit the landowners turned to the courts for assistance.

The court orders stop the National Forest Authority doing anything to give effect to the new logging permit and stops RH from conducting any logging or associated activities in Portions 196C or 197C or doing anything else in reliance on the new permit.

The restraining orders were issued by Justice Batari in a court hearing in Kimbe on Friday, 14 November. The matter will return to court in December for further legal arguments.

Bougainville’s President Momis teams-up with Filipino execs slammed in human rights scandal

December 8, 2014 5 comments

Bougainville’s President John Momis has engaged the ABG in a joint-venture with Filipino executives allegedly involved in land-grabbing, violence against landowners, illegal labour practices, and environment breaches...

President Momis inspects A Brown Company’s facilities, a company slammed in a range of human rights reports

President Momis inspects A Brown Company’s facilities, a company slammed in a range of human rights reports

Bougainville’s social media has recently been full of speculation after questions were raised about the company, Bougainville POGE Development Ltd.

The company is a joint-venture between the Autonomous Bougainville Government and POGE Development Corporation. Apparently the relationship was facilitated by the ABG’s development adviser, Global Seagate, a Hong Kong based hedge fund and private equity firm.

The venture was launched by President Momis at the end of 2013 in the Philippines, where he asked ‘educated, technically qualified’ Filipinos to ‘come and help us’ Bougainvilleans who lack ‘expertise and capital’.

Incorporated several months later as Bougainville POGE Development Ltd, the ABG owns 30% of the company, while POGE Development Corporation has a 70% stake.

The majority owner of the joint-venture, POGE Development Corporation, is a Filipino company. Its senior management team are all shareholder-directors of Bougainville POGE Development Ltd, as is John Momis, Michael Oni and Albert Punghau (see Table 2 below). More worryingly POGE Development Corporation’s Chairman, Executive Vice President and Senior Vice President are also senior figures in the hugely controversial A Brown Company, a business group with significant interests in mining, oil palm and real estate.

Table 1: POGE consortiums links to the ABG and A Brown Company

Table 1: POGE consortiums links to the ABG and A Brown Company

A Brown Company stands accused of land-gabbing, terrorising landowners, and attacking environmental defenders in the Philippines.

In a 2012 report [21MB pdf file] by the Asia Indigenous Peoples Pact, it was observed, ‘the A Brown Company, Inc. (ABCI) is a large corporation owned by the Filipino-American businesspeople Walter W. Brown and Annabelle Brown’ (Walter W Brown is a shareholder-director in Bougainville POGE, he is also Chairman of POGE Development Corporation, the majority owner of Bougainville POGE Development). Through its subsidiaries, A Brown Company has set up large oil palm operations in the Philippines.

According to the report, rural land was accessed by A Brown Company’s subsidiary ABERDI through promises of development:

‘The company promised the community a hospital, educational scholarships and other social services. A. Brown also promised not to force those who did not want to relinquish their lands to do so. In the long run, the company did not keep any of its promises. A. Brown instead committed various human rights violations’.

The report continues:

‘Among the violations against the indigenous peoples rights included destruction of crops, burning of houses, arrests, imprisonment, shootings, death threats and the desecration of sacred sites. These transgressions were committed by A Brown after it began its operations’.

It adds:

‘furthermore, adverse health and environmental effects [from the palm oil plantation] were reported. These were due to pesticide use in the palm oil plantation. In Opol, residents have observed the outbreak of diseases including cough, colds and skin disorders that they attribute to A. Brown’s chemical use. The plantation workers have either insufficient or no protective equipment at all. They are also uninformed about the effects of pesticide application’.

Of particular concern is the fate of those who are exposing the impacts of A Brown’s palm oil operations. According to the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, environment defender Gilbert Paborada was shot in the head after a prolonged campaign against A Brown on behalf of his Higaonon tribe. Shortly before his execution Paborada allegedly received death threats from A Brown Company representatives. A Brown Company denies any involvement in the killing.

Yet rather than repudiate the firm which stands accused of serious, repeat human rights abuses, President John Momis has courted and celebrated their achievements. Following a visit to A Brown Company’s facilities earlier this year, Bougainville’s President made the following remark:

‘Bougainville can have a set up like the one at ABERDIN [A Brown’s subsidiary implicated in numerous human rights violations] … We have a lot of arable land that we can use for extensive [oil palm] agricultural development’.

Further information on A Brown Company’s human rights abuses can be viewed through these links:

Not for the first time President Momis has invited a fox into the hen house. Except this time it is not ‘the devil we know’, as he likes to put it, but a brand new ‘devil’.

Bougainville POGE POGE Dev Corp Management Other
John Momis Director/ Shareholder No ABG President
Michael Oni Director/ Shareholder No ABG Minister for Natural Resources
Albert Punghau Director/ Shareholder No ABG Finance Minister
Director/Shareholder Chairman Chairman of A Brown Company, Inc., Palm Thermal Consolidated Holdings Corporation, Palm Concepcion Power Corporation and A Brown Energy & Resources Dev’t. Inc., President and CEO of Apex Mining Inc. and Director of ISM Communications Corporation, Forum Energy Plc and Monte Oro Resources and Energy, Inc.
Roel Castro Director/ Shareholder Executive Vice President Vice President of Business Development at A Brown Company, Inc. since May 2010. Mr. Castro serves as Vice President of Business Development and Administration at Atok-Big Wedge Co. Inc. He serves as the Chief Executive Officer and President at Palm Concepcion Power Corporation.
Luis David Director/ Shareholder Senior Vice President Mr. David serves as Consultant of A. Brown Co, Inc
Rufino Tiango Director/S hareholder Board Director Chairman of the Board of Marala Vitas Central Terminal & Shipyards Corp.; President of Trufsons Holdings Corporation; President of Ruvict Holdings Corporation; Director of F & J Prince Holdings Corporation; Director of Magellan Capital Holdings Corporation; President of Vructi Holdings Corporation; and Chairman & CEO of R.A.V. Fishing Corporation.
Dominador Tupaz Director/Shareholder President Economic Adviser, Autonomous Bougainville Government. President of Seagate Global Commodities Services.
William Lawton Director/Shareholder No Chairman and CEO of hedge fund and private equity firm Global Seagate. Seagate also acts as an economic adviser to the Bougainville Government.

Table 2: Director-shareholders at Bougainville POGE Development Ltd

O’Neill’s illegal logging: 529 days and counting…

December 5, 2014 Leave a comment

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cartoon showing Peter O'Neill being fed by Rimbunan Hijau while he sits on a pile of SABL reports

Peter O'Neill: Theft of forest resources: Guilty

Pomio deaths further evidence SABL is a disaster for local communities

December 4, 2014 1 comment

logging

On Friday 28 November a local Pomio man, Leo Kaukau and a child, Roland Akin, died after eating crabs cooked in water contaminated through the SABL logging and oil palm operations of Rimbunan Hijau. Four others were hospitalized.

Rimbunan Hijau is clearing forests and exporting logs from three Special Agriculture and Business lease areas in the Pomio District of East New Britain. The operations are opposed by local people who say they have not given their consent and the leases were obtained by fraud. Serious human rights abuses by mobile police squads employed by RH to intimidate local people have been documented in an independent multi-agency report.

Roland Akin had left school and run away to the log camp where he was staying with Leo and his family but ended up losing his life.

Local people say Rimbunan Hijau has totally failed in controlling the management of the waste from their logging and oil palm operations and have failed to manage the safety of local people.

Locals report that empty chemical containers can be seen everywhere around the log camp where anyone even children can collect them to use for themselves. Nearly all the households within the SABL area are using the empty containers but nobody from Rimbunan Hijau seems to care about their safety.

Local leaders say they are gravely concerned and that the SABL lease and logging operations are turning into a permanent disaster.

As well as the chemical containers, there is spilling of fertilizers and other chemicals and pesticides everywhere around the log camp. When these spills are reported to the company or local officials there is always a cover up and no action is taken.

RH worker spraying herbicides with no safety clothing. Photo: Andrew Lattas

Rimbunan Hijau worker spraying herbicides with no safety clothing (Photo: Andrew Lattas)

Minister overrules SABL CoI findings on New Hanover leases

December 3, 2014 2 comments

pruaitch

In February this year, current Treasury Minister and former Minister for Forests, Patrick Pruaitch, gave his seal of approval to three controversial logging operations and SABL leases on New Hanover island that the SABL Commission of Inquiry found to be fraudulent and unlawful.

A TUTAMAN LEASE smallIn a letter dated 24 February [450Kb] Pruaitch claimed the leases and Forest Clearance Authorities were ‘all in order’ and said they had the ‘fullest support’ of his Ministry. This is in direct contradiction of the Commission’s detailed findings of fraud, intimidation and a complete failure to follow proper process in issuing the SABLs and FCAs to Malaysian owned logging company, Tutuman.

Two months after the letter was written, Pruaitch was elevated by the Prime Minister to his new position as Treasury Minister.

The leaked letter graphically illustrates why the Prime Minister’s promises of action to revoke the SABLs and an NEC decision endorsing the Commission of Inquiry recommendations have not been implemented – too many Ministers and other politicians are involved in the unlawful leases and the corruption that lies behind the SABL land grab and widespread illegal logging.

When Pruaitch wrote the letter he was the head of the Ministerial Committee charged by the government with reviewing the SABL Commission of Inquiry report and says, as Minister for Forests, he had directed a specific review of each SABL project.

“I am pleased to advice [sic] that FCA’s portion 887 C Central New Hanover, Portion 886 C Umbukul and Portion 885 C Tabut were all in order and wish to congratulate the Leaders, the Landowner and the Developer, Tutuman Development Limited… these projects will have the fullest of support from my Ministry and the National Forest Authority”

This statement by the Minister is totally at odds with the findings of the Commission of Inquiry, which recommended the three New Hanover SABLs, which cover 93,000 hectares, 75% of the whole island, be revoked and a criminal investigation be undertaken of Tutuman for ‘major irregularities’.

The Commission of Inquiry visited Hanover island, interviewed numerous witnesses and reviewed the files from three government departments. It found:

  • The whole land investigation process was flawed and corrupted and consent was not properly obtained
  • The majority of people were totally unaware of the SABL process until after the leases had been issued
  • Tutuman misled the PNG Forest Authority when applying for its FCAs
  • There was harassment of landowners by Tutuman and the use of arms and force by police Mobile Squads including at least one shooting and hospitalization on the orders of the company
  • Tutuman purported to sell the land under the SABLs to a third party for US$1.6 million – a deal that should be the subject of a criminal investigation as it was fraudulent and dishonest
  • Tutuman does not have the capacity and expertise to undertake a high-impact agro-forestry project
  • Tutuman has failed to meet its implementation schedule for agriculture planting as part of its logging permit
  • The log pond is well below international standards
  • Massive destruction of mangroves, waterways, sago palms and destruction of coral reefs
  • Machinery dumped in waterways
  • Dredging of coral reefs to build logging roads

Pruaitch’s letter also totally contradicts the statement of the Prime Minister, Peter O’Neill, that the three leases were part of the 38 which together ‘reveal a shocking trend of mismanagement and corruption in all stages in the [SABL] process’.

The letter is also completely inconsistent with the decision of the National Executive Council, made in June, endorsing the Commission of Inquiry recommendations and directing the leases be revoked.

Rimbunan Hijau puppets cartoon, 2003

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