‘Current system makes it hard for illegal logging to take place’

National, Normal

ILLEGAL export of logs is not  possible with the current checks and balances in place, the National Forest Authority revealed yesterday.
The forest authority agreed that the window of corruption was with its own officers on the ground but could not be true with illegal exports as landowners were also monitoring the loggers, because they too are  concerned about their royalties on the number of logs exported.
Senior forest authority officers including caretaker managing director, Benjamin Taupa, director of corporate services Robi Lovai, and acting director of forest development Tuno Sabuin, were answering  questions during an interview yesterday.
Mr Sabuin said the organisation was going through a process of restructure to address issues which included giving grassroots the maximum benefits from their forests.
He said the forest management areas (FMA) were large scale operations with lifespans of 35 years and landowners benefitted directly and indirectly from it.
Mr Sabuin said there were 33 steps involved before a timber permit was issued and the process involved the extensive involvement of all stakeholders from landowners and provincial governments.
“After we execute the FMA, we develop a forestry development guideline … the policy is for sustainable development.”
On the question of pricing, Mr Sabuin said the market price of logs was regionalised unlike oil, copper, gold and coffee which were globalised.
He said China was the major buyer of round logs and with South Korea and Taiwan coming into the market, the price of export logs would be affected.
Mr Sabuin also said the forest authority, as a Government agent, did not have the power to do market intelligence.
“We must have a State market agency that will have the power to manipulate and check if the price we sell is the right price.”
He said although forestry was dominated by foreign-owned companies, there was an opportunity within law for landowners to have an equal opportunity to venture into downstream processing.
Mr Taupa said non-compliance issues had reasons behind them, one being that, before the project started, there was a lot of “shopping lists” including a list of desired infrastructure.
He said companies complied by building roads, schools and aid-posts but the problem was the ignorance and inability to maintain these infrastructure.
“There are classrooms being built but with no teacher and aid-post with no medical-orderly.
“Companies deliver but we do not maintain resulting in the collapse of the infrastructure,” Mr Taupa said.
The forest authority also said the current contract with SGS would be reviewed to strictly monitor log exports.
On questions about  aliens within the forestry industry, the officers said there was no evidence of such but said without manpower and resources, it was possible.