20 Nov 2020

Developer in Fiji court over controversial Malolo work

5:45 pm on 20 November 2020

The trial against real estate developer Freesoul is underway in a Fiji court.

Freesoul Limited has been charged with one count of undertaking unauthorised development and failure to comply with a prohibition notice.

The State alleges Freesoul carried out development on land at Wacia, Solevu, on Malolo Island in 2018, without an approved Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) report.

Freesoul lawyers had argued the officers from the Environment Department should not give evidence in the trial because they were not environment officers.

But Suva Magistrate Seini Puamau ruled the reports could be used during the trial as evidence.

Solevu Village on Malolo

Solevu Village on Malolo Photo: Supplied

In court on Thursday, Environment officer Kelera Tokalau recalled receiving a screening application from Freesoul.

As the State's first witness, Puamau said the application included the agreement of lease, layout of the proposed project and the company registration document.

She said the application was received at the Department of Environment's central office in Suva and later sent to its Lautoka office via mail.

One of her duties as an environment officer involved assessing environment impact assessment (EIA) applications, she told the court.

Tokalau said reports were important because they identified the potential environmental impacts a proposed project may have.

She said the reports also recommended mitigation measures for any environmental impacts that could arise.

Tokalau said there were a number of projects under the Environment Management Act 2005 that were required to undertake EIAs.

These included projects that were likely to alter the physical nature of the land, she said.

She added they also involved mining, tourism and development, gravel extraction, quarry operations, logging and soil excavation projects.

Tokalau said there were five stages of the EIA process and the first step included screening determining whether an EIA was required or not after assessing the application.

She said sometimes insufficient information on the application could trigger a site visit.

Scoping was the second step which required the department to carry out site inspections and assist them in the preparation of the terms of reference, she said.

Tokalau said the terms of reference, valid for a year, were information on the ground such as the flora and fauna at the site of a proposed project before any development was undertaken.

She said within this period, the EIA study was also expected to be completed and the report submitted to the department for review and decision.

Tokalau said once approved by the Director of Environment, the study was sent to the applicant who was then required to engage a registered EIA consultant.

She said the scoping exercise assessed the environmental impacts that could arise at the proposed site.

If convicted, the company directors face fines of up to $US345,000 or a term of imprisonment of up to 10 years, or both.

Malolo Island

Photo: Google Maps