James Lau, managing director of Rimbunan Hijau (PNG) Group, said that Saban Enterprises Limited, an RH subsidiary company, was the first forestry company in Papua New Guinea to receive certification that the legality of the timber it uses has been independently verified.
The certificate was issued by Bruce Telfer, representative of Societe Generale de Surveillance (SGS), one of the world’s leading auditing organisations.
SGS PNG has developed a Timber Legality and Traceability Verification (TLTV) standard to provide for independent verification that timber is produced in compliance with relevant PNG laws, and that a chain of custody exists to ensure the integrity of the supply chain.
“RH initiated development of this standard,” said Lau. “I would like to thank the International Tropical Timber Organisation for partly funding its development.”
Saban Enterprises Limited is a timber processing business in the PNG province of Milne Bay.
“The next step for us is to develop chain of custody procedures which could be used by a variety of forestry and timber processors in PNG. This would give the buyers credible assurance that the timber has come from a legal source” said Lau. “RH is currently working with the PNG Forest Industries Association to achieve that.”
Lau said the forest industry had been unfairly attacked by those who opposed commercial forestry in PNG.
“The claims that most forestry in PNG and most of RH’s activity are illegal are false,” he said. “RH can easily demonstrate that its logging is legal. We look forward to applying the SGS TLTV to our other forestry operations.
“Purchasers both in PNG and export markets are entitled to confirmation that timber is legal if they require it,” Lau said. “Australia and New Zealand have expressed interest in developing requirements that imported timber products be verified as legal. RH will apply these systems to its exports as they are developed.
“Forestry is an important industry for PNG.It creates jobs, taxes, royalties and exports. It is also important that PNG’s special forest biodiversity be protected and preserved. RH was committed to undertaking forestry in way which fully complied with PNG laws and policies and preserved PNG’s environmental heritage,” said Lau.
The Papua New Guinea Forest Industries Association (PNGFIA) said that the award of the first SGS certificate of independent verification of the legality of forestry to Saban Enterprises Limited put to rest claims that most forestry in Papua New Guinea was illegal.
“We can close the book on false allegations by Greenpeace and other NGOs that have run an ongoing smear campaign against the forestry industry in PNG,” said Bob Tate, executive officer of the PNGFIA.
Tate noted that introduction of third party legal verification had been pioneered by Rimbunan Hijau (PNG), the parent company of SEL. “The company has gone out of its way to initiate and complete this pilot project. It shows that RH is a transparent company with nothing to hide.
“This initiative will be followed by the application of the same system of legality verification by other PNG FIA members,” said Tate.
The PNGFIA boss also took a swipe at Western and local NGOs who had run a shallow and misleading campaign against the forest industry in PNG for a number of years.
“The shallowness of their claims was demonstrated in September this year when Greenpeace illegally seized a ship carrying legally produced timber. Greenpeace claimed the timber was illegal and belonged to Rimbunan Hijau,” said Tate.
“When it was publicly demonstrated that neither the timber nor the ship were Rimbunan Hijau’s, Greenpeace continued to claim falsely it was. After practicing piracy, it then falsely accused the company of underpaying its workers when it has always paid its workers well above the PNG minimum wage,” he said.
Tate said anti-forestry NGOs and donors from Western countries seemed to think it was reasonable to make false claims and behave badly in PNG. He also instanced a report last year by the Australian Conservation Foundation which was prepared with PNG-based NGO CELCOR.
“The report claimed the forest industry was responsible for gun running and people trafficking, yet there was no credible evidence to support the claims. In the same report, ACF and CELCOR also accused RH of bringing police to a village to harass people when the villagers in fact called the police in to apprehend a fugitive from justice who had been charged with murdering someone in Port Moresby,” Tate said.
“Further, the report claimed without any substantiation that forest company staff had sexually abused female workers and practiced child abuse without substantiation.
“Greenpeace is now claiming at the United Nations climate change conference that forestry in PNG is a leading contributor to climate change,” he said. “But even the UN itself acknowledges that implementing sustainable logging is the most cost-effective means of increasing carbon sinks in developing countries.”
Tate said it was shocking that wealthy NGOs like ACF believed it was acceptable to engage in such activity in developing countries when they would draw censure if they behaved the same way in their own countries. He said it was even more disturbing that the report had been financed by Caritas Australia, a Catholic charity, and the British Embassy.
He said Green NGOs wanted to stop commercial forestry in PNG, despite the fact that less than 20% of the country had been set aside as forest production areas and the industry employed 10,000 workers. He said that it could easily be concluded that they did not care about the welfare of Papua New Guinea’s people.