More logging industry abuses exposed, this time in New Ireland

UPDATE, 11 April 2022.   Immigration officials have detained a further twenty-two foreign nationals for immigration offences following a raid on a logging camp in West Sepik. It is reported that two logging companies were found to be illegally operating in the Hawain area. The detained workers have been flown to Port Moresby for deportation.

News that a state investigation team has recently charged thirty people with immigration violations and collected K1 million in fines in the space of three days, following visits to three logging camps in New Ireland Province should not come as a surprise.

Every time immigration, labour and police team up to visit logging camps the result seem to be the same, wherever the logging operations are located.

In August 2020 it was Oro Province. In an operation by immigration and police officers thirty foreigners were reportedly found with fraudulent work permits and visas at one logging camp while at another, sixteen foreign workers were allegedly flown out by helicopter before government officers arrived.  At both sites the investigation teams found unregistered and unlicensed vehicles and machinery.

In April 2019 it was in West Sepik where thirty-two illegal workers were reportedly found at a remote logging camp in Edwaki. It was estimated the fines that would be levied for breaches of work permits and entry visa would exceed K400,000.

What should be much more surprising and concerning is that nothing ever seems to change in terms of logging company behaviour, nor is there evidenced any lasting disruption to their illegal operations.

This is because the PNG Forest Authority appears content to continue handing out new timber permits and export licences to the same logging companies that perpetually breach PNG laws.

After the latest series of raids by officers from immigration, labour and the police, thirty workers from logging camps at Kumin, Muliama and Karu were reportedly fined for breaches of their entry visas and work permits.

The workers were employed with three logging companies, named as Millionplus, its sister company Islands Forest, and Viva Success.

According to acting Provincial Administrator, Moses Taram, foreigners are regularly entering New Ireland illegally via foreign shipping vessels while those who do enter legally are allegedly doing jobs that do not match their work permits. It is also reported that vehicles used in the logging operations are being imported illegally with no customs clearance and are unlicensed.

Millionplus Corporation Limited has been logging in the Konoagil area of New Ireland as part of an agricultural project since 2016. The stated intention is to establish an oil palm estate with two palm oil processing mills. To date the company has exported more than 450,000 cubic metres of logs worth more than US$45 million, but no palm oil.

Annual log exports from the Konoagil Agro-forestry project more than tripled between 2017 and 2020, from 40,000 cubic metres to almost 140,000 cubic metres.

The Konoagil Agro-Forestry project was initiated by the local MP William Schnaubelt as part of his election campaign for the Natamanai Open Seat which he won in June 2017. He then served as Forest Minister from December 2020 to January 2022. He is now Minister for Civil Aviation.

Perhaps surprisingly, given it is an agriculture project and not a long-term forest management operation, in 2021 Konoagil exported the largest quantity of  unprocessed logs of any logging operation in the whole of Papua New Guinea.

Mr Schnaubelt was approached by PNGi for comment regarding the huge logging operation in his electorate that he openly advocated for, and which has been implicated in serious breaches of PNG laws. He did not respond to our questions.

Millionplus is part of the Malaysian Joinland group of companies founded by the Malaysian businessmen Tiing Siu Hah (or Dato’ Sri Thomas Hah Tiing Siu as he is also known).  Companies in the Joinland group have dominated the logging industry in New Ireland over the last decade, often using agriculture as a pretext for large-scale logging.

Most infamous is the Central New Hanover rubber project.

Global Witness has documented how three agriculture leases were issued in 2007, covering almost 80% of the island of New Hanover. Logging was contracted to Joinland (PNG) Ltd, a company jointly owned by  Tiing Siu Hah and Kie Yii Ling. Between 2012 and 2018 the company exported over 650,000 cubic metres of logs worth more than US$65 million from the island,  but no rubber has ever been exported.

According to officials, the rubber trees that were planted were of the wrong species, and according to local John Aini, the whole project was “chaos”.

“No one really cared if the rubber trees would grow; it was the logs they wanted.”

Instead of long-term incomes from agriculture local people have been left with a destroyed natural environment.

“Our river system can no longer support livelihoods – undrinkable, no fish life – it’s difficult to catch fish and our people, especially children, continue to develop ulcers and other illnesses due to the devastated river.”

Joinland (PNG) Limited also variously logged at four other sites in New Ireland between 2012 and 2018.

Joinland (PNG) Limited has operated six different logging concessions in PNG.

Joinland’s sister company,  Joinland Management (PNG) Limited, has been logging at Lak in southern New Ireland since 2020 under a Timber Rights Purchase contract abandoned by Rimbunan Hijau in 1999.

Another company in the Joinland group, Islands Forest Limited was responsible for logging operations at Patpatar in New Ireland from 2016-19 under another supposed agriculture FCA. Multiplus Corporation, also part of the group, logged in Danfu, New Ireland, under a FCA from 2014-16.

In total, logging companies in the Joinland group, owned by Tiing Siu Hah and Kie Yii Ling, have been responsible for 35% of logging on New Ireland since 2012. In that time they have exported more than 1 million cubic metres of logs valued at over US$100 million.

Joinland’s logging operations are not just limited to New Ireland though. Another company in the group, Maxland (PNG) Limited, is currently logging at Pohowa on Manus Island under a Forest Clearance Authority. It is another project that has been investigated by Global Witness:

“By all appearances, there is no serious intention to develop a rubber plantation, and the project is designed to abscond with timber worth millions while leaving local communities to cope with the environmental and social fallout”.

Ling and Hah are also part-owners of Amanab 56 Timber Investments Ltd, which has been logging at Amanab in West Sepik since 2008.

The third logging company recently raided by government officials on New Ireland, Viva Success Limited, has been operating in the Central New Ireland area since 2012 under a Timber Rights Purchase agreement.

Over the past ten-years Viva Success has exported more than 860,000 cubic metres of logs worth more than US$86 million from New Ireland.

Viva Success Limited has been operating in New Ireland since 2012.

From 2012-18 Viva also operated the Yema Gaepa logging operation in Oro Province. From there it exported 329,619 cubic metres of logs.

Viva Success is owned by Malaysian businessman Lucas Sii Ming Ling.

New Ireland acting Provincial Administrator Mr Taram has also accused the companies Millionplus, Island Forests and Viva Success of operating without consent from local landowners and provoking bitter disputes.

He is calling for State authorities to fully investigate the forest industry and take corrective measures against those in the logging industry that flout laws and abuse the citizens of Papua New Guinea.

It seems unlikely that anyone in the PNG Forest Authority will hear Mr Taram’s plea.