Earlier this week, APAMO- the Association of Protected Areas Management Organization, revealed that precious logs were being stolen in southern Belize. This was after APAMO uncovered a major logging operation in the Mayflower Bocawina National Park and the Sittee Forest Reserve. Earlier in September, Park Rangers came across a group of men stealing forty illegal logs that were confiscated in mid-May. Despites recommendations by APAMO, the logs were never removed and remained at the barquedier (bar-keh-deer). On Thursday, Minister of Sustainable Development, Orlando Habet spoke on this latest case.
Orlando Habet, Minister of Sustainable Development, Climate Change & Disaster Risk: “My understanding is that I didn’t find out until months later myself and it didn’t come to dawn on me until lately with the information that was brought out I think from APAMO that the result of what happened. Many times those logs would not move to a central station because the department would have to make a decision on whether or not they’d dispose of it in the area where it was confiscated or bring it to a central location where sometimes I think they’re auctioned or put out to bid and then somebody bids for it and then they are sold. If it were longer then sometimes the department would be able to use it to do some furniture or whatever it is for the ministry. So I don’t have a clear reason why they didn’t bring it in but from my understanding was the truck was not available for some time and so they could not bring in that lumber into a central location. Subsequently I think as you know the logs stayed there and my understanding is no that these other persons were caught.”
Six persons were originally arrested; however, only three persons were criminally charged and that’s because only three of them decided to take the rap. A Police corporal and a former employee of the forest department were also arrested but remain free of the charge. We are told that those men have the resources to continue with the illegal logging.
Orlando Habet, Minister of Sustainable Development, Climate Change and Disaster Risk: “I’m not certain what the reason was. I can only imagine that they felt that if they got three of them and they pleaded that they were the culpable ones then at least they would have gotten those three to court and if they felt that the others were just assisting or were taken there, I’m not certain exactly what happened. Also I don’t know if I would put all the blame on the department. I think that the police if they were there and found six persons I also think that the police should have taken the statements and also done their part. But I think it’s a flaw in the entire system and what the Ministry is doing right now is that we do not want to depend only on the staff of the department so what we are trying to do right now is we are in conversation already with the Attorney General’s Office and they have directed me to the DPP’s office and trying to get to put into staff especially for the Forestry Department our own prosecutors so that when we get cases like these we already know that we can have somebody that can take it to court instead of having the officers who are maybe not that versed with the law to do so. We are aware though that certainly not only this case at least in the past few months that we’re in office that there has been a lot of illegal activities. We’re trying to put in place a system where we can have a compliance unit that is going to be out there. We’re not there completely yet but we’re already working on that. I know it doesn’t sound well but I think that you are right once you have all this evidence especially then it should be taken to court and then it should be followed up. I can’t speak to the details because I’m not privy to all the details. I wasn’t privy to it but in terms of what we do now and what we do from now on I think that we are putting a system in place and I think getting our own prosecutor, having our compliance unit in place will assist us in curbing this problem because indeed we are told sometimes the Forestry Officers might go there and sometimes it’s late they got in and by the time they go to the certain location the logs are already gone. We have had reports where we have had our people go in looking for a truck that is bringing logs and low and behold we find no trucks bringing logs and later on we are told guess what the logs came in in flitches in a closed container. So the illegal loggers are organized and so information we get is that they would send out people with motorbikes and a radio or something and a telephone one goes north and one goes south or east or west to see if there is a checkpoint and they call in their people and when everything is clear they come out. So other people have seen how they operate but we can’t have the forestry officers out there all day all night so we have to have a compliance unit that will be able to do that kind of job.”