‘EFL not required by law to obtain consent’

Hasmukh Patel - FEA CEO. Picture: FT File

ENERGY Fiji Ltd (EFL) is not required by law to obtain the consent of landowners for the cutting of trees, says EFL chief executive officer Hasmukh Patel.

Under the Electricity Act Cap 180 Section 37, Mr Patel said, the EFL was permitted to cut and remove from any land “any tree or any branch, bough or other part of a tree growing on such land within 30 metres of any main or sub-main used for conducting energy and which may in any way affect or interfere with the works”.

Mr Patel said the cutting of trees along the proposed powerline route to Tabarua Village was a government-funded rural electrification project; the EFL, with the Energy Ministry, was mandated to provide electricity to people in rural areas.

The Nareba Nakorowaiwai clan of the Sayeke tribe of Dranikula Village in Galoa are claiming compensation of $2.5 million for the loss and damages to trees, a majority of which were mahogany.

Mr Patel said Section 38 of the Fiji Electricity Act Cap 180 requires EFL to pay a “fair market value at the date of the acquisition of lands” for installation purposes.

“Under Section 37(2), the EFL is obligated to pay ‘reasonable compensation as may be agreed or in the case of difference to be determined by arbitration’.

“The practice is that we base our compensation on rates provided by the Ministry of Agriculture and Ministry of Forests for damaged crops and felled trees respectively.”

Mr Patel said EFL had several meetings with individual tree owners as well as representatives of the three clans, mataqali Vusu, Marou and Nakorowaiwai, in the villages and at the EFL head office in Suva.

“The Serua provincial office was involved in attempts to have the issues resolved and accordingly, consent letters from mataqali representatives as well and individual owners have been received.”

He said EFL also responded to queries that came through by letters.

“The nine individuals and two mataqali have accepted EFL’s compensation and payment which is according to the assessment made by the Department of Forestry.

“The mataqali Nakorowaiwai’s tree/crop compensation was also assessed by the Department of Forestry which is around $23,000 based on the same assessment methodology which the other two mataqali and nine individuals have accepted.

However, they are not accepting EFL’s compensation methodology.

“This group is also claiming that EFL did not carry out proper consultations and neither obtained consents from the landowners for the cutting of their trees. They are claiming that we should obtain the majority consent of 60 per cent plus from the landowners.

“We have made it clear to them at the meeting that we are not obligated by law to give them the 60 per cent plus consents as this only applies to the leasing/acquiring of land and not the cutting of trees.

“And as far as EFL is concerned, we have followed the due process and obtained the necessary consents endorsed by the respective landowners. We have documents to substantiate this. This was properly communicated to the landowners’ representative last Friday.

“Finally, EFL maintains the position and is prepared to pay them their compensation provided that this is in accordance with the assessment carried out by the Department of Forestry which is on the same basis accepted by the other two other mataqali and the nine individuals.”

Mr Patel said EFL did not agree to the million dollar compensation claim by the mataqali of Nakorowaiwai.

He said the claim was baseless and not in accordance with the relevant compensation policy/guideline regulated by the Department of Forestry.

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