Fika responses to TSI and media reports

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The Minister of Environment, Climate Change, Disaster Management & Meteorology, Honourable Titus Fika, wishes to clarify the misreporting, untruthful and unethical reporting by Island Sun Newspaper.

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The Minister is concerned on how bias the reporting was but says that given Island Sun’s closeness to Mathias Loji, who being a major shareholder and Managing Director of the paper, it was reasonable for him to use his newspaper to advocate his own personal interest.

In addition, given that the issue is pending before the High Court in Civil Case No.374 of 2020, Mr Mathias Loji, himself, a Claimant should refrain from carrying out trial by media. Such actions will only prejudice his own interest and the function of the High Court to operate and administer justice independently and impartially.

The Minister wish to reiterate that the order to seize and the decision to forfeit the tubi following conviction of the Director of Sunrise Investment Ltd was the decision of the previous Minister of Environment Honourable Dickson Mua who has now moved to the Minister of Forestry & Research.

That decision was made on 7 December 2020 by the Minister Mua. The power to sale was an executive decision made by the previous Minister under the Minister’s power given to him by Section 13 and 32 of the Wildlife Protection and Management Act 1998, as amended. Section 13 and 32 of the Act provides as follows:

13. Any item or object used in the commission of an offence under section 11 or 12 shall be forfeited to the Government and the proceeds from the sale of such item or object shall be deemed to be property of the Government.

32.       (1) Where a person is convicted of an offence under the provisions of this Act, any specimen to which the offence relates together with any equipment or material used in storing or housing such specimen shall be forfeited to the Government and any expenses or cost incurred in the upkeeping or holding of such specimen up to the time of conviction of the offence shall be recovered from the person convicted of the offence.

(2) Without prejudice to the provisions of subsection (1), the Minister may at any time prior to the disposal of the matter by Court cause the specimen to be destroyed or dealt with in any manner he sees fit.

Section 32 (2) as outlined above, clearly gives the Minister the Power to dispose of the forfeited specimen as “he thinks fit”. The Minister says that notwithstanding his limited understanding of English and law, the words are as he understands, discretionary and all depended on him. Whether he relies on a wrong information or a right one, at the end of the day, that decision solely lies in him.

As the succeeding Minister who took office later in December 2020, he has no reason to deviate from the decision already made, after all it is but one government.

Mr Osifelo, a so-called journalist in Island Sun infamous for unethical and one-sided report, is of course a subject of Mr Mathias Loji and susceptible to twist the facts to suit “managements view”. This is indeed a sad day for journalism and the Media Association of Solomon Islands should do something about Mr Osifelo before a reputable trade such as journalism is brought into disrepute.

To put the record straight, Mr Osifelo in his questions to me by phone was asked “did you issue a license to Sunrise to export the logs?” The Minister’s response was no, he did not. It was not put to the Minister whether he at any time issued directives to various government authorities to facilitate the export of tubi.

Had the proper question was put, the Minister would have provided an accurate answer.

The truth of the matter was that on 21 December 2020, the current Minister after taking over, the Office issued an Executive Order for government bodies to facilitate the export by Sunrise Investment Ltd.

The reason for this is because the tubi log were already vested on the Government and becomes the property of the Solomon Islands Government.

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Funds are needed by the Government to conduct its business. The Minister says that as the responsible Minister he has a duty to the Government to ensure Government property is disposed of and funds paid to the Government.

The Minister understands that Mathias Loji and some other Claimants in Civil Case No.374 of 2020, are seeking entitlement to export the logs.

They claim to be the landowners. Unfortunately, Mathias Loji and his co-Claimants have not up to this day been able to provide any proof of ownership of Korona Customary Land.

According to the Sworn Statement of Edwin Rogemana the Chairman of Korona Land Trust Board filed on 29 January 2021, the Minister understands there are three tribes claiming ownership of Korona Land, namely the Vihuvunagi Tribe, Posamomgo Tribe and Thavia Tribe. Wilson Tohidi is a member of the Posamongo Tribe, whilst Mathias Loji is a member of Thavia Tribe. The Minister says that in his inquiries he was advised that no two or more tribes can own one customary land. There may be some exceptions but not generally. So, there is clearly a dispute as to ownership of Korona Land.

However, the Minister says that is besides the point. The crux of the issue is that the tubi logs were now the property of the government and as the Minister taking over the Ministry, he has no reason to rescind or revoke the decision of the previous Minister forfeiting the tubi and ordering Sunrise Investment Ltd to sell them on behalf of the Government.

The Minister said that the choice to appoint Sunrise Investment Ltd is many which outweighs the fact that it was the illegal logger. Primarily Sunrise Investment Ltd has the capacity to quickly export the logs for the Government.

The decision to appoint Sunrise Investment Ltd was seriously considered by the previous Minister and Hon Fika as the current Minister agrees with the decision and will standby it.

The Minister wishes to also raise concern regarding TSI.

He says that TSI was supposed to be an independent watch-dog and its role was to ensure that proper information about government functions and actions are disseminated properly.

Instead TSI called for his sacking as if it has verified facts about the issue. It shows clearly how TSI speculates and jumps on the bad wagon at any opportunity without conducting proper research and due diligence. The more it barks the more likely it attracts funding. In reality TSI is just an old dog without teeth that barks.

The Minister says that he is surprised that for a body which employs lawyers and professional people they still succumb to political rhetoric and bias. This is indeed a sad state of affairs.

The Minister calls on the Government to scrutinize the role of TSI because it has outlived its relevance and usefulness. This also calls into question, the credibility of TSI who also continues to feed off biased and misinformation to further an agenda that clearly is outside their mandate. Does TSI even do independent verification of issues or do they simply rely on misinformation provided by unprofessional journalists such as Mr Eddie Osifelo?

The Minister’s call against unbiased and factual reporting by Island Sun is because as a newspaper company it helps the government to disseminate correct information to the public. Mathias Loji as a shareholder and Managing Director should draw a line separating his personal interest and the interest of the paper. Mr Mathias Loji should also respect the fact that his case is before the High Court. He should stop trying to make submissions in the media. He is not only undermining the function of the Court but also undermines the capability of the very institution he now relying on to deal with his interest.

Is Mr Mathias Loji trying to influence the Court through the media?

It is about time that Solomon Islands has laws in place to ensure the likes of Mr Osifelo and Mr Loji do not continue to use Journalism to further a personal gain but ensure that the Journalism promotes fair and informed reporting to the public.

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