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Freesoul Development Trial – Day 5

The Director of Environment has claimed that there was oversight in her department by the processing officers and the review committee before Freesoul’s Environmental Impact Assessment was approved with conditions.
03 Dec 2020 09:48
Freesoul Development Trial – Day 5
Sandeep Singh Director of Environment. December 2, 2020. Photo: Ashna Kumar

The Director of Environment has claimed that there was oversight in her department by the processing officers and the review committee before Freesoul’s Environmental Impact Assessment was approved with conditions.

Director Sandeep Singh testified this while she gave evidence as the Prosecution’s third witness in the trial of the Director of Public Prosecutions against Freesoul Real Estate Development (Fiji) PTE Limited.

The trial which carried on late into the night on Wednesday is presided by Magistrate Seini Puamau at the Magistrates Court in Suva.

Trial Day 5:

Ms Singh told the court that she had issued a prohibition notice to Freesoul on June 1, 2018 because she had received an email by the assistant Director of Lands informing her that some illegal work had been carried out at Malolo and if the Department of Environment would accompany a team from the Department of Lands to inspect the site at Wacia.

She told the court that the environment officer who was part of that team had inspected the site had informed her that the situation at the site was bad and an inlet channel had been dug out.

She told the court that the officer had sent pictures of the illegally dug channel to her on viber and based on the pictures and the phone conversation with the officer, she had acted upon to issue a prohibition notice.

Ms Singh testified that the notice prohibited Freesoul from carrying out any construction at Wacia and for them to rehabilitate the foreshore to conform to the existing local environment.

She claimed in court that the notice was intended for Freesoul to stop all works at the Wacia site.

She added the EIA screening application and the terms of reference issued to Freesoul was only for the Wacia part of Malolo Island.

She testified that the screening application was only allowed for Wacia and Freesoul never amended the application to include Qalilawa.

She claimed that the whole project was to include land and foreshore activities at Wacia only and the Department only came to know about Qalilawa when they were amending the charges for Freesoul this year.

She informed the court that Freesoul had different leases and they found that Qalilawa lease was later transferred under Dickson International from Natadola Enterprise Limited and Wacia lease was registered under Freesoul.

She claimed in court that when they saw Wacia in the screening application, the Department had thought it included the entire project development and Wacia was inclusive of Qalilawa.

Ms Singh told the court that when the department received the EIA report from Freesoul’s consultant registered with the Department, the report had included Qalilawa which was not part of the initial EIA screening application by Freesoul and as per the terms of reference.

She claimed that in her opinion, the processing officers at the Department had overlooked this.

She also claimed that the review committee had been set up by the department to look through the report, however this was also not picked by the committee and was overlooked.

Ms Singh told the court that when she had visited the site, the two pieces of land were side by side with no pegs and they could not make out which land was Wacia and which was Qalilawa.

She also claimed that work at Qalilawa was unauthorized and the department relied very much on the consultants who were registered with the Department.

She added the conditional EIA had been approved by her on the basis of 55 conditions and as of January 2019, 20 out of those 55 conditions had not been complied by Freesoul.

She testified that Freesoul’s non-compliance of those 20 conditions had led to the Department cancelling the company’s EIA approval for any foreshore and land works at Malolo.

She also told the court that currently Freesoul did not have any approval from the Department.

Ms Singh also testified that she was not aware when the Qalilawa lease was issued to Freesoul as initially, when the screening application was made, the Qalilawa lease was under Natadola Enterprise Limited.

She told the court that when the department received the application, the department’s understanding was that the application was of Wacia because the lease offer that was submitted with the application was of Wacia only.

She testified that the maps which included Qalilawa were subsequently submitted with the screening application by Freesoul.

Ms Singh told the court that although Freesoul provided the maps in their screening application, there were no attempts made by them to amend and add Qalilawa in the Terms of Reference.

She added that Qalilawa was included in the EIA report made by the consultant which were not in the Terms of Reference issued to Freesoul.

Magistrate Puamau then said that she was figuring out that someone did not do their job properly and everyone was confused.

Ms Singh testified that the department had overlooked certain things.

She told the court that the map provided had Natadola Enterprise Limited as the lease owner of Qalilawa.

She added that her processing officers and the review committee read the application and the report thoroughly and advised her accordingly.

Ms Singh added that she had relied upon her team and on their submissions of recommendation.

She also testified that when the conditional approval was granted to Freesoul on December 24, 2018, it did not have any effect on the prohibition notice.

Ms Singh added that the prohibition notice was not uplifted and clarified that the notice was issued on June 1, 2018, for the development works that happened without the approval of EIA.

She told the court that on June 4, 2018, after the notice was issued, director of Freesoul Dick Peng wrote back to her apologising for all that had happened and understood the content of the notice.

She added that Mr Peng had promised to abide by all the instructions from the department.

Following that, Ms Singh told the court that a meeting was held with the Freesoul representatives regarding the notice and what transpired.

She added that Freesoul had promised to comply with the rules and regulations, remove the blocks and timber from the foreshore and stop all development works.

Ms Singh testified that after the meeting in June, an environment officer went for inspection again at the site in July as the department continued to receive complaints of the developments being carried out.

She added that the officer had advised that the channel was dug more.

Ms Singh testified that when she travelled to the site with the PS and the team for site inspection on August 11, 2018, she saw the channel, access road and building constructed.

She also added that she had seen workers at the site and that she walked through the project site but at that time, she could not tell where Wacia ended and Qalilawa started.

She also testified that there was a discussion between the PS and Mr Peng.  Mr Peng requested for the workers to stay on the island and continue to work at Solevu Village.

She added that PS had approved the workers to stay at the site and later wrote a letter to Freesoul clearly stating they should not carry out any construction works at the site because Mr Peng had requested for the fence to be built.

Ms Singh testified that she had not agreed with the decision of the PS allowing the workers to stay at the site.

In cross examination, Ms Singh testified that she had officers who were responsible for processing the EIA applications and reports and made recommendations to her and agreed to the fact that the department may have overlooked things.

She also added that not all developments in Fiji required an EIA approval.

Ms Singh told the court that the prohibition notice was issued on June 1, 2018, and an officer had conducted a site inspection on July 26, 2018, and found the channel digging had continued.

She also told the court that on that basis, it was very clear to the department that the notice was not complied with and despite making promises, Freesoul disregarded the notice and continued to dig the channel.

Ms Singh testified that the department did not approve for any construction work.

The trial continues today.

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What the trial is about and who are involved:

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

Freesoul Real Estate Development (Fiji) PTE Limited is charged by the DPP 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 Nadi, 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

Feedback: asha.kumar@fijisun.com.fj



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