Logging companies run roughshod in PNG, says MP
The Governor of Oro Province Gary Juffa has accused Papua New Guinea's government of ignoring rampant illegal logging across the country, saying logging companies can operate in the country however they please without obeying the rules.
The Governor of Oro Province has accused Papua New Guinea's government of ignoring rampant illegal logging across the country.
Gary Juffa's comment follows recent revelation about widespread tax evasion and financial misreporting by logging companies operating in PNG.
He has also criticised government for allowing logging to continue on dozens of Special Agricultural Business Leases found by a commission of inquiry three years ago to be fraudulent.
Governor Juffa told Johnny Blades the government has repeatedly failed to take action against illegal loggers.
Gary Juffa: Their brutality, their oppression of landowners and landowners' rights, and the facilitation of their illegal activities by government departments, it's amazing, but it's not news here. Every government that comes in does absolutely nothing about it. I mean, you look at the SABL saga, this government has been promising to do something about it and they've been dragging their feet, and now they're not doing anything about it. The Forestry Minister is constantly coming out on the media to say that there is no illegal logging. Where does this guy live? What planet has he been living on?
Johnny Blades: The Forestry Minister told me last week that forestry pays, through tax collection it's paying up to 700-million kina into PNG's internal revenue coffers, and he says he and his ministry is keeping a very close watch on all logging operations, and things seem to be pretty water tight.
GJ: That's a blatant lie. That's simply not true. I can say this from the perspective of my province where significant illegal logging has been taking place. And the Forestry Minister himself has come out and said that's not true, that logging in Oro is all legal and above board. But I have a document, Johnny, I have an actual document of satellite images that demonstrate that the companies logging in our part of the world, or in this province, have overstepped their boundaries.
JB: Rimbunan Hijau and its many subsidiaries seem to really have mastered the system, with this tax evasion and so forth. Is there any government will to actually clamp down on these people and make them accountable for what they're doing to the forests?
GJ: I don't see that will. I have not seen that will since I left Customs (Juffa was formerly PNG's Customs Commissioner), and there is even evidence in the form of satellite imagery which shows that many of these companies have gone beyond their boundaries in so far as illegal logging is concerned. Landowners are being suppressed, being oppressed, they (loggers) are using even state forces and state entities and state resources to suppress the people and landowners and their queries and protestations and so forth. we are the only province that has cancelled a SABL and we are the only province that has successfully taken a logging company to court, and now we're taking the second one to court, and we will win, and we will kick them out of our province and we will be the only province that actually does that.
JB: The majority of the SABLs, which that inquiry found were mainly fraudulent, have they actually stopped operating in this interim period or have they just kept going on?
GJ: Absolutely not. They do as they please at will and whim. The logging industry and, may I say, the fishing industry as well, these two industries, basically the entities that operate in these two areas do as they please. They pay virtually zero taxes or if they do pay taxes, the very minimal taxes they pay... there's massive transfer pricing, there's massive tax evasion. The operators in these two areas are basically gods and kings in Papua New Guinea. They can do as they please.
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