21st June 08:14 AM
DPP sanctions charges against Freesoul Real Estate Development under the Environment Management Act 2005
By Vijay Narayan, Iva Danford and Naveel Krishant
Saturday 09/02/2019

The Director of Public Prosecutions, Christopher Pryde has sanctioned charges against Freesoul Real Estate Development (Fiji) PTE Ltd under the Environment Management Act 2005.

The charges relate to the failure to comply with a Prohibition Notice issued by the Ministry of Waterways and Environment in June last year and to the carrying out of resort development activity without an approved Environmental Impact Assessment Report.

Pryde says they have been working closely with the Ministry to finalise certain outstanding issues and are now satisfied there is sufficient evidence to put the matter before the court.

He says they have also been in contact with the police who will be monitoring the situation on Malolo Island while the matter proceeds in court.

Pryde says the offending appears to be ongoing and it is likely the foreign company and its Directors will face further charges.

Director of Public Prosecutions Christopher Pryde

Under the Environment Management Act 2005, if convicted, the company and its Directors face fines of up to $750,000 or a term of imprisonment of up to 10 years, or both.

In a press conference earlier this afternoon, the Permanent Secretary for the Ministry for Waterways and Environment, Joshua Wycliffe says they will get a confirmation later today on whether the work is still being carried out.

Wycliffe says the same company was issued with Stop Work and Prohibition Notices before.

Malolo landowners lawyer claims no one came to stop resort developer damaging the environment

The lawyer for the landowners adjoining the Freesoul development on Malolo Island Doctor Ken Chambers says Freesoul had started developing and were underway by late May 2018 and the lawyer says their extensive photographic evidence shows the sea bed reclamation and channel digging.

Doctor Chambers says the reality is that Freesoul started its development before their Environmental Impact Assessment had even been submitted in mid‑June to the Department of Environment.

He also claims that the 4 stop work orders were issued by the Department from 1st June 2018 however no one on the site stopped working.

Doctor Chambers claims that not one institution amidst all of government departments involved stopped them.

He claims that between May and September 2018, the hillside was stripped, big areas of mangrove destroyed, 2 channels were smashed through the seabed and a timber walkway built.

Freesoul Real Estate is accused of illegally dredging 5000 m2 of reef without approval [Photo: Facebook]

The lawyer says all this was done without any Environment Impact Assessment approval.

He says you have to ask how this is even probable let alone possible.

He says the Department of Environment has been consistently informed of Freesoul’s non‑compliance with the legislative requirements, yet nothing had been done to stop them.

Doctor Chambers says they had objected to the 2nd iteration of the Freesoul Environmental Impact Assessment on 28th October 2018.

He says the first response to that was an email from Director of Environment on 30th January 2019. Doctor Chambers says this was a month after the Director had already given the developer Environmental Impact Assessment approval in December 2018 and the appeal period of 21 days had expired.

He says if the government was going to prosecute Freesoul back in September 2018 for breaches of the Environment Act someone needs to tell them it is now February 2019.

Doctor Chambers says all the institutions were on notice from them from 30th August 2018 when the lawyer sent them pictures of the work. He says the officials did site inspections, but they did nothing to stop the work.

Ministry of Environment seeks to prosecute company for violating terms of development

Minister for Waterways and Environment Dr. Mahendra Reddy confirms that a resort that is under construction on Malolo Island in the Mamanuca Group has violated the terms of its development as were clearly outlined by the Department of Environment.

The Ministry is working closely with the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions to see that the company in question which is Freesoul Real Estate Development(Fiji)Ptd Ltd, is prosecuted on the offences and environmental damage they have incurred on the island of Malolo.

The case was filed for prosecution to the Office of DPP in September of 2018.

A huge channel through the reef for barge access [Photo: Facebook]

The Department's involvement with the Malolo Island project began on June 15, 2017, when the company lodged their environmental impact assessment screening application with the intent to build a new resort.

The Ministry says initially, the proposed resort was to include overwater villas, restaurants, a club and a casino, as well as beachfront units, ridge units, a kindergarten, a spa, and back‑of‑house facilities.

Meanwhile, after conducting their required environmental assessment, the number of accommodation units permitted by the Department was reduced from the initially‑planned from 351 to 102, and the decision was made not to permit a casino.

The Minister affirms that the Department of Environment, in carrying out the environmental assessment, ensured that all legislative requirements required under the Environment Management Act 2005 were followed.

Residents allege that raw sewage flow into the mangroves destroying their fishing grounds [Photo: Facebook]

The Ministry adds the assessment involved field investigations, a community presentation at the Solevu Village Community Hall in Malolo and household community surveys conducted within Solevu village.

They say after the completed environmental impact assessment report was received from the company in July 2018, the Ministry began a thorough review process which included giving the general public an opportunity to state their views on the report.

The Ministry says a public consultation meeting was held in Solevu Village to present the findings of the report back to the community, and a review committee was established to examine and analyze the report.

The Department of Environment has also been in continuous discussions with both the Fiji Hotel Tourism Association and various hoteliers in the Malolo region to gain their input to the proposed development.

They took all feedback into consideration, and consequently, a scaled‑back version of the project was approved in December 2018.

They say the approved development would strictly allow for land based‑development which is a conscious decision to minimise any environmental impact.

The Department says as a condition of the approval, the company was given a number of very stringent conditions to fulfill before works were begin on site, and all foreshore development works were not permitted, these conditions have been breached.

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