A local tribe in Choiseul Province is calling on responsible authorities to urgently look into a logging operation that the tribe alleges, landed illegally on its shores at Magara near Kakaza Village on 5th October 2023.
The Kibi Sopere (Roqepota) Tribe of Kakaza and Pangoe Villages in Choiseul Province, are appealing to the Commissioner of Forests, the Commissioner of Lands and the Registrar of Titles to look into their case with urgency as the tribe alleges that the landing was achieved through acts of fraud.
The tribe alleges that the landing happened without the payment of business license fees to Choiseul Province and without a survey and submission of specific plans as required by law before any landing for operation can take place.
The tribe further alleges that those behind the company’s landing may be trying to meet these requirements in reverse order.
“The company must have all its annual and short term plans submitted and approved by the Ministry of Forestry before an application can even be made to Choiseul Province for a business license and before any logging operation is allowed to enter the province’s jurisdiction to begin operations.
“We are aware that an inventory survey was only carried out 3 days after the company’s landing, therefore we can logically determine that the company had no harvesting or coup plans available when it landed as both these plans are dependent on that survey,” a spokesperson for the tribe, who wants to remain anonymous claimed.
The spokesperson further alleged that due to the lack of these documents, he doubted that those behind the company’s landing would have been in a position to apply for a provincial license prior to the landing, even if they wanted to apply.
“The company or those behind it need these harvesting plans approved before an application can be made to Choiseul Province for a business license to operate there,” the spokesperson claimed.
The tribe’s ordeal with pecuniary logging interests began in 2017 when one of its customary lands, located at the vicinity of Luti Bay, South Choiseul was first put up on notice for registration.
This was successfully objected to by the Kibi Sopere Tribe who were concerned by the lack of an acquisition officer, notices and due processes normally expected to be carried out by the Ministry of Lands during such undertakings.
However, a year later in 2018 another attempt at registration was made and despite a further objection by the tribe, the customary land was registered just 2 months later.
So began the tribe’s struggles against what they saw as commercial logging interests as a grant of profit was granted to the first logging company soon after.
In March of 2019, the tribe applied for a caveat over the contentious title but to this day, the tribe’s caveat remains unregistered.
In May of 2019, an attempt at landing a logging operation was met with strong resistance by the tribe and eventually left its shores.
At one point during the landing attempt, the landing vessel managed to by-pass the blockades set up by the tribe’s men and boys but was blocked when the tribe’s brave women and girls jumped in front of the moving vessel to prevent it from landing.
Arrests were made shortly after but the tribe refused to give up and began its own fundraising activities to send a private lawyer to Gizo where the tribesmen were being held and to pay for its High Court case against their land’s registration in Honiara.
The tribe rallied in Honiara, Noro, Gizo, Taro, Kakaza and Pangoe to raise funds for the tribe’s plight.
With most of its Kakaza men in custody, the tribe’s women and girls endured sometimes long journeys to sell their food products to continue to support their husbands, relatives and tribe.
The women continued their efforts without complaint until the men were released in late 2019.
Kibi Sopere (Roqepota) tribe is approaching things differently now as it embarks on a journey to right the wrongs that the tribe alleges, have been committed against it.
Since then, a further 2 grants of profits have been issued under the same title to 2 other logging companies and the title has attracted an equal number of caveat registrations, mostly by rival logging company representatives.
Meanwhile, the Kibi Sopere Tribe has engaged a lawyer to deal with the most recent landing on its shores.
Instead of a combative approach, the tribe has instead opted for dialogue and peaceful protests.
Representatives of the tribe have been in constant communication with the Choiseul Province Premier and Provincial Police Commander (PPC), seeking their advice and listening to their warnings.
“It is my prayer that other leaders at the Ministry of Forestry, Lands and that the Registrar of Titles’ office will offer our tribe the same level of willingness to hear out our concerns as demonstrated by the Premier and PPC of Choiseul Province.
“This is a major reason why no confrontation or unlawful activity has taken place at Kakaza despite how tense the situation has been since the company landed there almost 3 weeks ago,” the spokesperson claimed.
He claimed a recent peaceful protest was held in which the tribe’s representatives visited the logging camp to express their grievances.
The company was very open to the tribe’s concerns and even halted its operations following their dialogue as a gesture of peace.
The spokesperson added it was the intention of the tribe to maintain this posture while the tribe’s case was dealt with by the courts and relevant authorities.
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