Crime & Court

Freesoul Real Estate Development Trial Starts

Freesoul Real Estate Development (Fiji) PTE Limited is charged with one count each of undertaking unauthorised developments and of failure to comply with a prohibition notice.
19 Nov 2020 10:46
Freesoul Real Estate Development Trial Starts
Freesoul Real Estate Development (Fiji) PTE Limited Project Officer Saula Sovanivalu (right) with lawyer David Toganivalu (left) outside the Courthouse in Suva on November 18, 2020. Photo: Ashna Kumar

It is a crime to carry out any development works without an approved Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) report, an environment officer told the Magistrates Court in Suva yesterday.

State witness, the environment officer for the Ministry of Environment, Kelera Tokalau took the stand yesterday in the trial of Freesoul Real Estate Development (Fiji) PTE Limited.

The trial started yesterday before Magistrate Seini Puamau.

The Director of Public Prosecutions is represented by Shelyn Kiran and Monisha Naidu while Freesoul is represented by David Toganivalu and Tevita Cagilaba from Toganivalu Legal.

 

Charges

Freesoul Real Estate Development (Fiji) PTE Limited is charged with one count each of undertaking unauthorised developments and of failure to comply with a prohibition notice.

For the charge of undertaking unauthorised developments, it is alleged that between June 8, 2017 and December 6, 2018, at Malolo in the Mamanuca islands, Freesoul Real Estate Development (Fiji) PTE Limited carried out development activity on the dry land at Wacia and the foreshore facing Wacia and also on the dry land at Qalilawa and the foreshore facing Qalilawa which is subject to the Environmental Impact Assessment process without an approved Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) Report.

For the charge of failure to comply with a prohibition notice, it is alleged that between June 1, 2018 and December 6, 2018, at Malolo in Nadi, Freesoul Real Estate Development (Fiji) PTE Limited failed to comply with a prohibition notice issued against the company on June 1, 2018.

 

 

Trial Day 1:

Ms Tokalau was based in the ministry’s Lautoka office during the time of the alleged incidents, before the office was moved to Nadi.

She told the court that part of her job was to assess applications and EIA reports including assisting other units at divisional level. She was also required to carry out environment awareness.

Ms Tokalau explained in court that an EIA was a tool to identify the environment and the impacts of the projects before any decision making of the project.

She said that the report also carried recommendations about the projects suitable to the area, and any environmental impact it may arise.

She also told the court that the EIA was very crucial and important because it identified the potential environmental impacts the project might have had and also recommended meditative measures.

Ms Tokalau added that the Environment Management Act had lists of projects that were required to have EIA and those projects were likely to alter the physical nature of the land. She highlighted that those projects were mining, gravel extraction, quarry operation, logging operation, soil extraction and tourism and development.

 

Processes to be followed

She also told the court that there were processes set out by the department in order to process the applications which had five stages in accordance with Section 28 of the Environment Management Act.

She added that the first bit of the process was screening which was to determine whether the EIA was required or not.

Ms Tokalau told the court that the department would assess the applications and decide whether there was a need for an EIA report or not.

The witness added that the approving authority involved the iTaukei Land Trust Board and the Department of Environment.

She highlighted that the second step was the scoping which set the parameters of the terms of reference for the EIA process.

Ms Tokalau told the court that scoping required the environment officers to do site inspections and assist in the preparation of terms of reference.

She added that the terms of reference assessed the baseline conditions of the site including the actual information on the ground of flora and fauna that were at the site before any developments were undertaken.

Ms Tokalau added that the next step was the applicant to engage an EIA registered consultant to carry out the terms of reference EIA study.

She told the court that the terms of reference were valid for 12 months and the applicant was required to carry out the EIA study within the 12 months’ time frame.

She also added that once the study was compiled, the report was to be submitted to the department for a review and decision.

She also told the court that the applicant was required to hold public consultations with the nearby villagers in relations to their project.

Ms Tokalau told the court that the applicant was required to submit five hard copies and one electronic copy of the EIA study report where then the department would put out a public notice to advise the public when they could access the report.

She added that this was so the public could make submissions to the department on the report and the project and after the review of the public submissions, a decision would be made whether the EIA had been approved with or without conditions, or whether the department required additional information or whether the EIA was not approved.

Ms Tokalau added that no development works were supposed to be undertaken until a decision was made as it was a crime to carry out any development works without the approved EIA.

She also told the court that she had screened the application made by Freesoul and the application included the agreement of lease, layout of the project proposal and company registrations.

The trial continues today.

Edited by Ranoba Baoa

 



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