16 Dec 2005

Fiji opposition senators allege corruption in mahogany harvest

11:41 am on 16 December 2005

Opposition senators in Fiji have alleged high level political corruption in the harvest of mahogany forests.

The Fiji Times reports that Senator Ponipate Lesavua has told the Upper House that the secretary general of the ruling SDL party, Jale Baba, and the prime minister's son, Laisenia Qarase Junior, are benefitting from the mahogany harvest in Sote village in Tailevu.

Senator Lesavua said Jale Baba, of Baba Forests, is subcontracted to Fiji Hardwood Corporation and is operating a banned circular saw in Sote.

He said Laisenia Qarase Junior is co-owner of Trapper Haulage, which was offered the mahogany haulage tender.

Senator Lesavua said this was nepotism of the highest degree.

Another opposition senator, Ratu Dr Epeli Nailatikau, questioned why the Fiji Development Bank offered Mr Baba a loan of 47-thousand US dollars to buy a chainsaw and wrote the debt off in six months.

Senator Nailatikau said just three months later the state-owned bank gave Mr Baba another loan of 15-thousand US dollars.

He questioned why Jale Baba could be assisted through the Fiji Development Bank when landowners of the mahogany forests were not, even though the government makes much of its Affirmative Action Programme.