Updated: Sep 29, 2020
Interestingly, the Director of the Department of Forestry has not responded to our letter of 12th September 2018 pointing out that it would appear that the harvesting of rosewood for commercial purposes have continued, despite the current ban imposed by the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry , Fisheries, Livestock and Bio-Security in February 21, 2018.
Our letter of 12th September raised the following three key points as subjects to be discussed should the Department and its responsible officers availed themselves. • A copy of the advice of the Vanuatu Forest Board to the Minister for the export of the lucrative rosewood timber; • A copy of the Council of Minister’s Decision approving the export of rosewood in flitches or logs; • Evidence to show that the requirements of subsections (3) and (4) of Section 61 of the Forestry Act has been complied with.
Campaign for Justice 2018 believes that commercial trade in rosewood timber, in particular export of rosewood slaps have continued unabated, in total breach of the Forestry Act, particularly Sections 61 and 62.
Section 61 prohibits the export of logs and flitches. The same Section also allows the export of logs and flitches only if the requirements under subsections (2) and (3) are satisfied. Following investigations carried out by C4J so far, it is our considered views that the requirements of the Act have not been followed, and the ban seems to have been washed down the loo. The Forestry Act establishes the process for acquiring timber rights and establishes the Forest Board of Vanuatu, which is responsible for supervising the negotiations for timber rights agreements. (The maximum period for a Timber Rights Agreement is ten years, although these are renewable). The Act also establishes the process for obtaining a timber rights agreement, which involves obtaining approval from the Forest Board, the appointment of a Forest Investigation Officer to consult with the custom owners, and the appointment by landowners of a Management Committee to monitor the logging agreement and subsequent payments. Also under the Act, for cases where the value of timber is not sufficient to justify the expenses associated with granting a timber rights agreement, a Timber Permit can be granted for up to one year. Such are the stringent conditions provided under the Act for the protection, development and sustainable management of forestry resources in Vanuatu. We put to the Department of Forestry that the above requirements have been by-passed, and in many ways trodden underfoot for some selfish motives of unscrupulous Asian businessmen who seem to have been colluding with responsible officers of Government and the Department of Forestry to carry out their illegal activities. C4J is not only sure of this, but its own investigators witnessed firsthand during the months of June and July these same unscrupulous business interests harvesting rosewood timber in Santo and shipping them to Port Vila. Two boatloads were closely monitored on LC Mahalia from Santo to Port Vila by our Santo-based investigators.
To top it off, their activities took place in Vanuatu’s biggest Conservation Area in Big Bay Santo.
It would appear that those concerned have been exploiting a loophole within the ban over what constitutes round logs and what might be termed as timber slabs, which by definition is 20cm in thickness. The pictures below tell a completely different story. The timbers have been sawn and sliced to look like ‘slaps’. They are logs.
In April C4J witnessed loading of containers of rosewood as per photos below.
The Government’s ban is defective and permissive considering the profound abuse of our resources.
In 2017 Mr Stephen Quinto who established a protected area initiative known as Edenhope in West Coast Santo, and currently in the process of setting up another one known as East of Eden within the Big Bay area, filed a police complaint against the Minister of Agriculture, Forestry, Fisheries and Biosecurity.
The issues raised in the complaints included lack of Government’s enforcement of replanting programs by sawmill operators nor the buyers to sustain this lucrative industry. What has been exported were logs and not slaps, and the locals were not getting the fair share of the market value of these precious timber. Since then no steps have been taken by the ministry concerned nor the police.
Some estimates show that rosewood fetches USD4, 000 per cubic in China – 12 times what was being paid in Santo to landowners. And until the ban, thousands of containers had been exported.
Such unsustainable logging operations was initially raised with the Daily Post who shone the spotlight further on the activities, resulting in a Ministerial ban in February.
C4J seriously questions whether the ban imposed by the Ministry responsible for forestry is still effective and enforceable. C4J is considering legal actions.