Villager awaits payment

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Nairai villager Rusiate Cegunaivalu. Picture: WATA SHAW

Concerns have been raised on the overdue payment of sandalwood by a villager on the island of Nairai.

Speaking to this newspaper, Nairai villager Rusiate Cegunaivalu said he sold sandalwood (yasi), kau dina and vara to the Ministry of Forestry but had yet to be paid.

Mr Cegunaivalu said he began selling the native trees to the ministry in 2019 in support of the national tree planting program to plant 300 million seedlings.

He claims the ministry is yet to pay him more than $40,000.

He said his family was a registered vendor with the ministry and had been supplying seedlings under the program.

In a letter dated August 29, 2023, from the Ministry of Forestry Mr Cegunaivalu said he had planted a total of 4000 seedlings on Nairai.

He said their landowning unit (mataqali Vusatuivutuna) was contracted for five years under the Reforestation of Degraded Forest Program.

“I had gone in November of last year to their office in Nausori to ask about this, I used almost $100 in boat fare and still nothing,” he said.

Mr Cegunaivalu said he was told to open an account for payments to be directed to it.

“They asked us to open our bank accounts.

“We’ve done that, now we are waiting for our payment.

“The question is what else is left to do for us to get our payments?”

Mr Cegunaivalu said a team from the ministry had visited the island recently where he had raised his concerns, however nothing had been done.

He claimed a few other villages on the island have not received their payments as well, apart from a one-off payment of $400.

Mr Cegunaivalu plans to buy a fibreglass boat with the money he is expecting to receive.

Ministry of Forestry permanent secretary Rovereto Nayacalevu said his ministry would look into the complaint and provide a formal response by the end of this week.


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