Tuesday, May 06, 2008

A son of Bua talks about timber

from w
Furthermore to the last post, here are the views of a son of Bua province that was published in the Fiji Times.

Bua's green gold awaits axePAULA TAGIVETAUA
Sunday, April 27, 2008

IF you travel from Labasa to Nabouwalu one of the sights that will take your breath away is the acres of dark pine forests covering hill after hill. The pine and hardwood intermingled in the forests were planted 25 years ago and are in their prime. They are just waiting to be logged, sawn and exported. But the pine forests are still standing, beautiful.

They call it Bua's green gold but at the moment, they may never get to see any cent from all that gold.

I have been there in a pine forest and it was an experience. I once was "lost" and walked for three hours, one way, across a pine forest in Bua with an uncle, Ta Noke. It seemed I was taken for a stroll through a pine forest belonging to the Nabukewairua clan of my grandmother and thought it was huge.

Then I saw a map of the whole forest and they showed me where we had gone walkabout and it was just a tiny patch.

A new wharf was built at Wairiki near Nabouwalu for the specific purpose of transporting the timber or logs from the pine forests of Bua when they were cut but everything is at a standstill, it seems. Before that, they said the wharf would be built at Sasake in Lekutu near Nasarawaqa. But some politics shifted the wharf to Wairiki. I sensed something wrong because Lekutu has three quarters of all the pine in Bua province but on second thought, better to take the wharf away from the Lekutu qoliqoli for sustenance sake.

What I am talking about happened in the past three years.

I must tell you about an experience from my village, Nasarawaqa in the tikina of Lekutu, as an intro. I took my leave to the village and practically butuka na vanua, walking from place to place most of the time. Not that I wanted to walk, transport is scarce in Bua, but as they say, if you wanna see the place, walk it. It was a Sunday and the people from the Fiji Pine were coming for a meeting with landowners at Nasarawaqa. It was the best time to catch all the villagers at home.

An uncle told me to represent our mataqali and I went to see and learn in the hall under the new two-storey church. I sat at the back and watched the proceedings. Two men from the Fiji Pine, one from Tailevu and one from Nadroga, did their presentations. They had come to entice the landowners to give permission for pine on their land to be cut.

After the question and answer sessions, one of the Fiji Pine men dangled a carrot and tried to brainwash the minds of the simple village folk. They said Fiji Pine would increase dividends for landowners by "200 per cent" and I thought this must be big money. At last, Lekutu would have electricity, the road would be tarsealed and life for the landowners and families would receive a lift.

I told someone to ask how much was the new dividend and they said it would be increased from $3 to $7. I saw a rip-off straight away even though I was not educated on pine matters.

The Fiji Pine man sensed something and kept looking at me as if trying to remember my face.

One of my bro, a lawyer, drilled them with questions and the Fiji Pine men did not know what hit them.

Their mission failed.

Some time later, I heard that Fiji Pine had folded and Tropik Woods had taken over but the pine forests of Bua still stand.

There are 13,000 hectares of pine forests in Bua. Of that, the district of Lekutu has 8000 hectares. If converted to its monetary value, the total pine in Lekutu alone would bring between $400million and $500million. The other tikina in Bua "put in" for the remaining 5000 hectares of pine.

The question here is why has the pine not been logged?

The answer was told me last week by the man working for the Bua Landowners Association to clear some matters with the Native Land Trust Board.

He said landowners who had pine on their land had agreed to stop the logging of the forests until they were compensated. The main item of grievance is the overplanted areas. Apparently, when Fiji Pine led the pine-planting schemes in villages 25 years ago, some of the pine were planted on mataqali land without the consent and knowledge of the landowners. What those mataqali members wanted is to cut the pine which had "encroached on to their land" for themselves but Fiji Pine brought in the police and things were at a standstill.

The landowners approached the NLTB which said it had given permission for the land to revert to the mataqali and all things on the land.

It had been enacted and was law and that was the base the mataqali members were working from.

I understand that the promise made to the landowners 25 years ago was that Fiji Pine would plant the trees on their land but they would be paid when the trees were logged. The deal made to the villagers was that they would be paid 7 per cent of the net, for stumpage. Now, the catch here is that if there is a break even or no profit, the landowner will receive nothing.

This is one of the rip-offs Fiji Pine did to the landowners in Bua that time.

The impasse or deadlock at the moment is made complicated by the reluctance of the NLTB to press payment from Fiji Pine or its successor Tropic Wood for compensation due to landowners of Bua who have pine.

"It is a matter between the NLTB and Tropic Wood. We are out of it but they cannot do anything because of the state of things in the government," said Tevita Raiova of the Bua Landowners Associ-ation. We stand prepared to pay off the Fiji Pine debt of about $60-million if the government gives us a good deal and work for the pine forests to be logged and exported to a market which will bring benefits to the landowners," he said.

The NLTB issued a paper titled 'Bua's Green Gold' and listed the problems and how they could be solved but they are just that on paper.

Raiova has had meetings with the NLTB and the interim Prime Minister Commodore Voreqe Bainimarama who received a detailed bio data on pine which he said, he "had never heard from someone before", according to Raiova.

The way things are going, it will be a slow haul because of what has happened, from Fiji Pine's demise to the formation of its successor, Tropik Wood, and compensation for Bua landowners left in a lurch.

Really, it is a matter for the NLTB and Fiji Pine or Tropik Wood but now the landowners of Bua are being held to ransom, so to speak.

The deal was made, rather inconspicuously, in the last millennium when the people were not that educated and a lot of false promises made.

Now, when the sons of Bua have grown educated and wiser to the ways of the world, they realise how wronged their fathers and grandfathers had been by exploiters.

It is like a chapter from the pages of Fiji's history and if you happen to be affected as I am, then it is hard not to feel angry and want justice done.

I read last week how people were sacking the forests in Papua New Guinea in an illegal logging trade and selling shiploads of logs to overseas buyers.

If logs can go for sale on the blackmarket, it would be easy for Bua to sell its green gold to the highest bidder.

But such is the legacy of the Ulumatua, it is not a pressing worry.

But you know, if you are a kai Bua, you would feel cheated by the deal made 25 years ago. Why can't they simply give to Caesar what is Caesar's? It is called fair play and would conform to the ideals and practices of transparency being preached about by the interim regime. I tell you, if things work out right for the people of Bua, a lot of things will fall in line.

If you took history in school, you would read and learn about the sandalwood trade which flourished at one time in Fiji's history. The trade was in done Bua because the yasi is native to Bua but what did the people of Bua get out of it nothing and the yasi tree are not trees anymore in Bua now. Then there was a boom in beche-de-mer but what happened divers died.

This is the last chance for Bua to make something out of something they can call their own a gift, as Raiova says. "If we miss this, dravusa kece ga," he said.

But it should not be that way.

The province of the Ulumatua has endured being raped of its material wealth all these decades that at one stage in the cycle of life, the wrongs of the past must be put right. This is the time for it and the onus is on the powers that be to see things right. It goes beyond imagination and logic for people to do wrong to his fellowman.


nzm said...

Off-topic, Wendy, but I had to come here to tell you that I met Makalesi today when we were both passengers on the 112 tram down Clarendon Street!

I went up to her and asked if she was Makalesi and you should have seen the surprise on her face! She said that she is known as Lisa at work, so she was confused at first as to how I would know her real name.

We had a lovely conversation as we waited for the #109, and I gave her the address to your blog as she wants to see the photos that you put on it of her birthday celebrations.

It was wonderful to meet her!

Peceli and Wendy's Blog said...

That's beaut. A couple of teenage boys live in her household and they have a computer etc. so it would be easy for them to find the pics.
There are a few thousand Fiji people in Melbourne and the time to meet most of them is Fiji Day in October or when there is a lovo party or festival of some kind.