By JASON GIMA WURI
THE Government, through the National Forest board, signed the East Pangia forest management agreement with developer Madang Timbers Limited amidst division and differences by landowners groups from the area.
Forest Minister Belden Namah while witnessing the signing between the National Forest board chairman Joseph Lelang, managing director of WTK group of Companies Kie Yik Wong and Madang Timbers Ltd general manager Peter Hii, said the signing was not an overnight agreement.
Mr Namah said it had taken almost 15 years for the Government process to take its course for clearance.
“I am proud because this project is taking place while I am the minister responsible for Forest Department which will now see services reaching our people in the Pangia area,” Mr Namah said.
He said the project was for 100% downstream processing which added value for the timber.
“Not even the politicians have any say in the agreement, because it has all the input of the landowners who will have big timber value and premiums and levies,” Mr Namah said.
The minister described the push to have the villagers sign up for carbon trade under the Government’s carbon trade policy as “a cargo cult”.
But it was clear that some villagers and landowners were not convinced with the timber project.
Some of the landowners were vocal about the signing of the project agreement said there were outstanding issues in Southern Highlands province that needed to be sorted out before allowing a foreign owned company to enter into business.
A representative of the group opposing the signing of the agreement said the Government was bringing in Asians to destroy the forests and accused the other landowner groups of having a shallow understanding of the processes taking place.
However, he was shouted down by the other landowner groups who wanted the agreement to go ahead because they wanted to see tangible results received by their people as stated in the agreement.
The signing was also attended by Southern Highlands Governor Anderson Agiru, Public Service Minister Peter O’Neill and Treasury and Finance Minister Patrick Pruaitch.
Mr Agiru supported the project as long as it offered the villagers equity, is supported by reforestation plan for every tree cut and is 100% downstream processing in the area.