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Ministry Builds Staff Capacity to Strengthen Legal Approach to Forestry Crime

Forests can be managed without compromising on decent jobs, long-term livelihoods and environmental sustainability, says Director Forestry Operations North Maleli Nakasava.
Mr Nakasava, who oversees forestry operations in a division known for illegal logging operations, believes it is their responsibility as foresters to ensure that society, the economy, and the environment are all sustainable, and that everyone has fair and equitable returns from forest resources future by eliminating all forms of corruption.
He was among 15 forestry staff who recently graduated from specialised training recently conducted by the Office of the Public Prosecutions (ODPP) and the Fiji Independent Commission Against Corruption (FICAC).The Government, through the Ministry of Forestry, is mandated to conserve, manage and develop Fiji’s forestry resources to ensure their long term sustainable use for the benefit of all Fijians. To ensure that this is observed at all times, the Ministry is building capacity of its staff across the country by expanding their knowledge base and introducing them to a set of skills and practices that would allow for more efficient investigation and prosecution of forestry-related offences.

Prosecution and investigation training

To strengthen the legal approach to forestry crime in the country, the Ministry, in collaboration with the ODPP and FICAC, provided training to forestry officials.  This is to improve their knowledge base and introduce them to a set of techniques that would allow for more efficient prosecution of forestry-related offences.  
The Ministry's Permanent Secretary, Pene Baleinabuli, said the Ministry strongly believes that involving the staff in training and development programmes was essential in sustaining the delivery of high quality service.   Mr Baleinabuli stated that there was an urgent need to improve monitoring, control and surveillance of illegal forestry operations, as this resulted in communities losing out on much-needed revenue from their forests. Illegal logging also affects real economic growth as measured by gross domestic product, which in turn affects our national development agenda.
"As such, this training will empower staff to be more vigilant on the ground and be in a position to investigate and prosecute forest crimes anywhere in Fiji," Mr Baleinabuli said.
On May 27, five forestry staff earned a Basic Prosecution Certificate from the ODPP in Suva following a month-long capacity-building programme for staff. They were among 38 participants from other Government ministries and organisations who participated in the training and who will proceed to the Advanced Level in the coming months.
In a statement, the ODPP said: "The Basic Prosecution Course for Statutory Regulators is part of the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions (ODPP)’s on-going pledge and commitment towards providing the public with an efficient and professional prosecution service by enabling prosecutors appointed by Permanent Secretaries to take matters to court under their own specific legislation.
"The ODPP assists the staff of these Ministries and Government Departments by providing legal advice on the range of possible charges and the evidence required in prosecuting infringements under their own specific legislation. The ODPP also provides desk officers to assist. "
On June 4, another 10 staff were awarded Certificate of Participation in Suva after a week-long Financial Investigation training by FICAC. 
According to FICAC, the six-day training was comprehensive as it focused on in-depth investigation processes and activities undertaken in order to investigate financial crimes successfully.  
The segments of the training are coherently aligned to cover the essentials of financial investigations. The Financial Investigations Training also emphasises on the basic legal framework relating to criminal offences linked to financial crimes.”  
In addition, our staff have also participated in FICAC's one-day Anti-Bribery and Ethics and Values Workshop.

Illegal logging defined 

Illegal logging is the harvest, transportation, purchase or sale of timber in contravention or violation of national laws such as the Forest Act 1992, Environmental Management Act 2005 and iTaukei Lands Trust Act. The harvesting procedure itself may be illegal, including using corrupt means to gain access to forests and planted trees, removing them without valuing and avoiding payment of forestry charges and landowner royalties and processing these illegally sourced logs in a licensed facility which prohibits processing of "stolen" logs.

Ministry of Forestry’s role
Illegal logging is a source of global concern because of its negative environmental consequences, which include the loss of forest products required by rural populations, conflict, and considerable tax revenue losses that could be used for development.
Since the Ministry is mandated to issue licences for the removal of forest products, the operation of sawmills and treatment plants, in a sustainable manner, it has to strictly monitor and ensure compliance with forest laws, regulations and guidelines. The non-compliance is actually a breach of the forest laws and regulations.
"To combat illegal logging, our staff are trained to investigate and ensure the prosecution of offenders, not only to curb crimes in forestry but to ensure that the nation does not lose out socially, economically and environmentally," the Permanent Secretary said.
Mr Nakasava and his deputy, Uraia Racule were nominated by the Permanent Secretary to attend the prosecution training. He said that, as leaders, they were required to understand the nuances of combating forestry-related crimes.
"No forestry-related offence has ever been prosecuted in Fiji. We normally investigate and we penalise contractors or individuals found in breach of the forestry laws," Mr Nakasava said.
"However, we have observed in our Forest Statutes or Acts that the contractor's payment is less than the market price of the stolen goods. As a result, the PS has given us directives to take cases to court if need be, and we thank the Ministry for nominating us for this training.
"Attending this course and guiding our team who have already received their Advanced Certificates to pursue cases is a challenge that we as leaders welcome," he added.
The training focused on capacity building of the trainees to detect, investigate and prosecute offenders.

Say no to illegal logging pledge
Taking cases to court is the last thing we want to do, Mr Nakasava said.
He has appealed to individuals, stakeholders, communities and resource owners to take ownership of protecting their forests and join the pledge against illegal logging and other forest-related offences.
The Ministry launched a "Say No to Illegal Logging" pledge on February 11 in Labasa. There have been more than 320 pledges to date from individuals, stakeholders and resource owners.
"Making that pledge is a labour of love for which you are not compensated, but it is something to consider for our future generations.
"We want zero tolerance for unlawful logging in the Northern Division. If we are taking cases to court year after year, it shows that we are not doing our duty of enforcement,” Mr Nakasava said.
"Resources that we have now were not borrowed from our grandparents, they are inherited from our children. We are currently borrowing everything that we are utilising from our children. Our children are the true owners.
"I'm asking members of the public if they can help the Ministry of Forestry by acting as our eyes and ears on the ground."
For Forestry Officer Operations/Eastern Waisake Vunisa, he said the review of forestry legislation would also help strengthen the Ministry’s resolve against illegal activities in the forestry sector.
This prosecution training, he said, would indirectly create awareness in the communities, encouraging them to learn how contractors and landowners make agreements, as well as the legal conditions that apply, so that all parties may achieve a win-win situation.
This is a critical development that the Ministry aims to address through partnerships with enforcement institutions such as the Police, ODPP and FICAC and through strengthening the ethical standards and sense of mission within the Ministry.
Additionally, partnership through a MoU with Fiji Revenue and Customs Service has resulted in the formation of a committee through which the Ministry will track tax compliance of all Forest Sector Industries. 
We will no longer be complacent but relentless in our efforts to ensure compliance of the sector to Fijian laws and standards for the benefit of all involved and that of the nation.

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