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Courts ‘overwhelmed’ by land dispute cases over logging

FROM Western to Temotu provinces, formerly known as the Eastern Outer Islands, their cries are the same. Landowners’ appeal for government help to sort out the ownership of their customary lands is often denied.

In most cases, landowners were never aware their land had been given away in logging concessions licences until logging equipment and machineries started arriving.

It’s a case that the Solomon Forest Association (SFA) – the self-regulatory industry body – has been working with the government to overcome in ensuring the proper process is satisfied. But SFA too is finding difficulties with the licensing authorities.

The moratorium on issuing of new logging and export licences is a case in point. The idea is to ensure orderly process in the industry when it comes to logging and export licences.

SFA wants to see every operator abides by the same rule. It never happened. For example some two dozen logging licences were issued while the moratorium was in place.

While the never ending cat and mouse race goes on without resolution of any of the issues, landowners have now turned to the court – the only avenue opened to them to seek remedy. But even there too it seems, landowners have hit a brick wall.

Not that the court refuses to deal with landowners’ cases, no. Rather, the court system, starved of resources, has hit a bottleneck.

The Magistrates Court for example – the first entry point for aggrieved landowners seeking remedy – is now overwhelmed with the number of land dispute cases and is struggling to cope, sources have revealed.

“Much of the disputes by landowners relates to logging,” they say.

The answer or potential answer(s) may come from neighbouring Papua New Guinea which in 2013 set up a Commission of Inquiry (COI) to delve into the forestry sector and the logging industry.

PNG and Solomon Islands share a lot of striking similarities regarding land issues and landowners’ concerns. An independent Commission of Inquiry cannot be overlooked.

As a result of the 2013 COI, the PNG Government cancelled all the unlawfully issued Special Agriculture and Business Leases otherwise known as SABL and in turn handed over the land back to landowners.

Based on the recommendations in the Commission of Inquiry report, the PNG Government had made “a complete overhaul of the laws and policies on land use in PNG.”

Has the time come for Solomon Islands to set up a Commission of Inquiry similar to PNG’s to inquire into the logging operations and other land related issues in the country?

The PNG Inquiry had uncovered a lot of abuses and corruptions within the forestry sector and the logging industries. Who could say it is not happening here until an independent Commission of Inquiry is set up?

It is the only way to know, isn’t there?






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