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Environment Director, Consultant And Defence Witnesses Testify

Freesoul Real Estate Development (Fiji) PTE Limited is charged by the DPP with two counts of undertaking unauthorised developments and one count of failure to comply with a prohibition notice.
05 Dec 2020 11:13
Environment Director, Consultant And Defence Witnesses Testify
Freesoul real-estate lawyer David Toganivalu on his way to their court hearing in Suva on the December 3, 2020. Photo: Leon Lord

The Director of Environment has told the court that she was never influenced by the Prime Minister, Minister for Environment or any other person to make her decision to cancel the Environmental Impact Assessment for Freesoul.

Sandeep Singh revealed this during her cross-examination in the Freesoul Real Estate Development (PTE) Limited.

The trial is presided by Magistrate Seini Puamau at the Magistrates Court in Suva.

The Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) was represented by counsels Shelyn Kiran and Monisha Naidu from the Office of the DPP while Freesoul was represented by counsels David Toganivalu and Tevita Cagilaba from Toganivalu Legal.

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

 

Charges

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.

 

Trial Day 6:

Ms Singh told the court that the EIA approval for Freesoul was cancelled on April 4, 2019.

Mr Toganivalu had questioned Ms Singh if she knew that a group of journalists from New Zealand who were invited for tea with Prime Minister Voreqe Bainimarama and the Environment Minister, after they had been arrested and detained by the Police for trying to enter the Freesoul office in Suva on April 3, 2019.

Ms Singh told the court that she was not aware of this, but got to know this through the media.

When questioned whether her decision had been influenced by the journalists’ visit to the PM and the minister, Ms Singh denied such and told the court that she had never received instructions from anyone to cancel Freesoul’s EIA approval.

Ms Singh testified that her decision was solely based on her own judgment, reports from the environment officers and from what was in front of her in the paperwork filed by Freesoul.

She told the court that Freesoul’s cancellation process had already begun after the compliance inspection by the department on January 31, 2019.

She added the department’s intention to cancel the EIA was sent to Freesoul on February 8, last year.

Ms Singh also added that one of the reasons why the EIA approval was cancelled was because 20 out of 55 conditions, which were issued with the EIA were not complied with.

She added that she was not aware that the Minister for Environment and the Prime Minister had met the New Zealand journalists for tea until she read it in the media.

 

Marine Ecology consultant testifies

Prosecution’s fourth witness, independent Marine Ecology consultant, Helen Sykes, in her evidence, claimed that in her report she had made suggestions to Freesoul to include more sustainable plans.

Ms Sykes testified that Freesoul had started to cut the land-based trees behind the mangrove forests at the site to make way for a road from the beach site to the east part of the forest.

She added that during her visit to the site from December 3 to December 4, 2018, she had seen a channel which was dug from the outside of the reef slope to all the way up to the beach.

She claimed that large areas of mangroves had been cut away in the middle of the forest.

Ms Sykes told the court that sea grass had also been removed at the site and all these had been detailed in a damage assessment report dated December 6, 2018.

She added that she had recommended to Freesoul that mangroves should be replanted in the beach walk straight away and not to allow any further clearances.

She also told the court that she had recommended that Freesoul should limit traffic on the seagrass bed and that the developers were showing willingness to modify their designs.

Following the conclusion of State’s case, Mr Toganivalu told the court that the defence expected that they had a case to answer as evidence touched up all the elements in the trial.

Magistrate Paumau also confirmed that Freesoul had a case to answer on all three counts.

 

Defence calls four witnesses

The defence called four out of their seven witnesses, and their first witness was Amani Sorokoverata who was the representative of the landowners and mataqali of Wacia.

Mr Sorokoverata told the court that he could not recall when the inlet channel had been dug out by Freesoul at Wacia, however, he added that Freesoul had asked him to ask the Turaga-Tui-Lawa, Ratu Sevenaia Lalabalavu, if a channel could be dug out.

He testified that he asked the Turaga-Tui-Lawa this because it was he who had approved the qoliqoli for Wacia to Freesoul.

Mr Sorokoverata told the court that the Turaga-Tui-Lawa gave approval for the channel because he had seen the proposed development plans of the Freesoul hotel and Freesoul indicated in these plans also to have a marina built at the site.

He told the court he never knew about the EIA process by the department and the only approval needed in his view was from the Turaga-Tui-Lawa.

He also claimed that all of the mataqali were not aware of the EIA process and they only became aware when the public consultations were held at the site.

Mr Sorokoverata told the court that they had seen other channels had been dug up before for other hotel developments in the area, however, no public consultations were held for those developments.

He also testified that he had asked the Turaga-Tui-Lawa for the channel to be dug so the boat could take the materials to Solevu Village.

When questioned by Ms Paumau if he had anything else to say, Mr Sorokoverata thanked Freesoul for everything they had done for the people of his mataqali and claimed that the work done by Freesoul was a huge progress for their land and compared to other hotels around the area.

Defence’s second witness, retired Police officer Verani Nakauyaca told the court that he had accompanied the officials to the site after the stop order on the construction work was issued for Freesoul for their meeting on August 11, 2018.

He told the court that he heard the Permanent Secretary had told the workers to remain on the island and told them to continue their work at Solevu Village.

He testified that he had not received any report of construction work at the site.

Defence’s third witness, Police officer Etonia Vulia, testified that he had monitored items taken to Solevu Village for the works carried out at the village.

Magistrate Puamau questioned the witness whether he made friends with the Freesoul staff while he was on the island and Mr Sorokoverata responded that they used to stay together.

Magistrate Puamau also questioned him on what was important for him whether to safeguard the Freesoul equipment or ensure no construction works was done, Mr Sorokoverata told the court that he was there to ensure that no work was carried out.

Defence’s fourth witness, a retired civil servant who was then the Commissioner of the Western Division, told the court that he heard the Permanent Secretary say that the works would remain on the island to work at Solevu Village.

Joji Satakala testified that he had accompanied the officials to the August 11, 2018, meeting and heard that there was a discussion between the Permanent Secretary and the Divisional Police Commander West to deploy Police officers.

He told the court that this was to ensure that no works were carried out by Freesoul on Wacia.

The trial continues on December 21. Edited by Jonathan Bryce

Feedbackashna.kumar@fijisun.com.fj

 

 



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