Solomon Islands police, prosecutors and several Government Ministries have formed a new high level taskforce to crackdown on environmental crime.
The taskforce was created during a forum to discuss the investigation and prosecution of crimes committed by companies engaged in logging, mining and other extractive industries, held at the Heritage Park Hotel last week.
The forum was a joint initiative between the Landowner’s Advocacy and Legal Support Unit (LALSU) of the Public Solicitor’s Office and the Royal Solomon Islands Police Force.
LALSU Senior Legal Officer, Tearo Walenenea, explained that the initiative is a response to an increase in allegations of environmental crimes and growing frustration over inadequate civil remedies.
“Logging without development consent, logging close to streams, or failing to rehabilitate a log pond are all crimes under our law, yet these laws are rarely enforced,” Ms Walenenea said.
Representatives from RSIPF, ODPP, the Ministry of Forestry and Research, Ministry of Mines, Energy and Rural Electrification, Immigration, the Participating Police Force (PPF), Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Resources , Central Bank, Company Haus and others participated in the forum, highlighting the importance of inter-agency cooperation in combating environmental crime.
Acting Assistant Police Commissioner, Gabriel Manelusi, welcomed the group by reminding participants, “together we share the resources of this beautiful planet and together we share the responsibility.”
Chief Immigration Officer, Mr Chris Akosawa told the forum that cooperation is critical to achieving results.
“We are dealing with people who have money. If one agency stands up, the companies will go through another. We need to stand united,” Mr Akosawa said.
The Director of Public Prosecutions, Mr. Ronald Bei Talasasa, said relevant agencies should prosecute all environmental offenders, treating illegal actions by landowners and companies equally.
“Are the people now saying that the criminal law is only there to protect the rights of those who have the money, the logging companies? We need foreign investors. Yet maintenance of the rule of law is a prerequisite to economic prosperity,” Mr Talasasa said.
The forum was told that when environmental crimes are not prosecuted, angry landowners often resort to criminal activity themselves.
“What happens if we are not sensitive to the desires, to the cries of victims, to those who find life in their own surroundings, to those who rely on the reefs, to those who rely on the forests, and see before their own eyes that according to their interpretation wrongs have been done and have not been addressed,” Mr Talasasa said.
“There is no excuse for violence, or taking the law into your own hands, but we need to apply justice fairly.”
The taskforce will focus on prosecuting test cases and assisting to develop training for investigators and prosecutors.
“The ODPP is there waiting. Should LALSU bring about a complaint through the police, the office is there waiting. As long as we have breath the office remains alive to continue with its Constitutional mandate and responsibilities,” Mr Talasasa said.
The PPF added its support, informing the forum of its own recent parallel project.
“PPF recently initiated the Environmental Crime Awareness Project in 2013. We are looking at developing the knowledge and processes around environmental crime issues,” PPF Superintendent Eric Grimm said.
A key focus of the PPF project will be the creation of an environmental crime manual, with the assistance of forum stakeholders.
Participants in the forum acknowledged the importance of foreign investment, but cautioned that Solomon Islands must attract and support lawful companies and lawful practices. The taskforce has committed to meeting again in two weeks.
Source: Press Release, Government Communications Unit