Tuesday, 4 November 2008

Blow to Rimbunan: Logging in PNG 'illegal'

Blow to Rimbunan: Logging in PNG 'illegal'

Nov 4, 08

The Papua New Guinea's highest court has last week delivered a blow to Malaysian logging giant Rimbunan Hijau by overturning its rights to log the country's vast Kamula Doso forests.

According to environment group PNG Eco-Forestry Forum, the PNG Supreme Court had on Oct 30 quashed the granting of logging rights to Rimbunan over the huge forest area in the country's Western Province.The NGO has been fighting through the courts in the past two years to overturn Rimbunan's rights to log in Kamula Doso.

Rimbunan conceded that their logging rights were awarded illegally just before the three-member Supreme Court bench was to begin hearing the case last Thursday.Environmentalists lamented that Rimbunan had fought the case for two years when it knew its logging rights were illegal.

"For two years, Rimbunan has known that the concession was illegal but waited until minutes before the case was to be heard by the Supreme Court to admit its guilt," said Sam Moko, Greenpeace Australia Pacific forests campaigner.

"In those two years, it has used the PNG legal system to intimidate the plaintiffs in the hope that the case would be dropped."Forum chairperson Kenn Mondiai described the decision as "a major victory for good governance".

"This decision demonstrates to the whole world what has been going on for far too long, and legally reaffirms the Forum's claim of widespread illegal logging in PNG facilitated by the government and the logging industry.

"One of world’s richest individuals Rimbunan Hijau was founded in 1976 by Sarawakian timber tycoon cum media mogul Tiong Hiew King, an ex-senator for the Sarawak United Peoples' Party. He controls Chinese Malaysian newspapers Sin Chew Daily and Guangming Daily, as well as The National in Papua New Guinea and Ming Pao in Hong Kong.Tiong, who has an estimated net worth of about US$1.1 billion, is ranked 840th richest person in the world by Forbes magazine.

In PNG, Rimbunan operates half of the biggest logging projects and directly account for one-third of the country's raw log exports. Meanwhile, Forum executive director Thomas Paka praised the Supreme Court judges for showing that "the ordinary people of PNG can stand up to corruption and win".

The 800,000-hectare Kamula Doso concession is considered the jewel in the crown of PNG's remaining untouched tropical forests with logging companies vying to get the rights to log the area. International environment group Greenpeace said 90 percent of all logging in PNG was illegal, mainly due to the lack of consent by traditional landowners and the failure of the PNG government to enforce its own forestry laws.

"All existing concessions must be reviewed and any that are found to be in breach of forestry laws should be revoked. There should also be an immediate investigation into the serious allegations of corruption between politicians and logging companies," said Greenpeace's Moko.Rimbunan has been accused by locals and environmentalists of using violence, intimidation and bribery in pursuing its logging activities.