Editorial: Post Courier August 25th 2020
Last week we applauded the government efforts through a joint effort that uncovered illegal workers and unregistered equipment in a logging operation in PNG’s Northern Province.
In fact, our exact phrase was to urge the PNG Government to “deal decisively with foreigners who do not respect our laws”.
And if the most recent report on the joint operation in Northern Province is correct, that another logging company had deliberately attempted to avoid being implicated, by flying out 16 of its foreign workers ahead of the investigation teams arrival, then surely this must be the tip of the iceberg in the PNG logging industry.
We must ask the question of all the other logging operations in PNG. How many more illegal workers are being brought in and escaping the scrutiny of the PNG authorities? How many more illegal and unregistered vehicles or equipment are there in each of the logging operations in PNG? How many are consistently complying with the environment permits and the permit conditions? How confident are we that all our logging exports are being dutifully recorded so that we get the maximum benefit from them?
Yes, we understand that the government lacks adequate resourcing to conduct routine inspections of all logging sites in the country. Taking into consideration the fact that most of these logging sites are situated in very remote areas adds to the complexity of access.
But these issues are not new to the government of the day. If we are serious about enforcing the law where it relates to compliance in the logging industry then we must be willing to seek alternatives to enforce the laws where it relates to logging operations in PNG. And where these laws are broken or deliberately circumvented, as we are beginning to see from the reports coming out of the Joint Investigation Task Force in Northern Province, then we must apply the harshest penalty available.
We fully support the call by Northern Province Governor, Gary Juffa that companies who have no respect for the laws of PNG and habitually breach them must be banned from operating in PNG.
While we agree and welcome genuine investors into PNG, those who knowingly take advantage of our weak regulatory enforcement systems and in many of these cases, we believe, proffering “gifts” or bribes to go unnoticed by the government system must be fined and banned immediately and effectively.
We need to change the image of PNG as an easily penetrable nation that can be used, abused and exploited for the gain of greedy corporate entities.
So far the work done to uncover many illegal activities that are taking place beneath our very noses and so often in plain sight is a welcome sign that we can expose illegal activities by working together. The next step is to enforce and apply the appropriate penalties so that we deter the repetition of such activities at other sites, by other operators who think they can get away with it.
As the good governor for Oro said:
“When we take no action against habitual offenders, they keep taking advantage of this weakness and keep exploiting the situation.”
Yes, logging has and contributes greatly to the government’s revenue stream but if this behaviour by a few rogue foreign logging operators are allowed to continue uninterrupted and without reproach, we stand the risk of being seen internationally as a prey easy for the picking. Let’s not just expose the rot within the logging industry. It’s time we root it out completely while we are at it.