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Draconian law trashes landowner rights


LAST FRIDAY was an extraordinary day in PNG's history as the government rushed through amendments to the Environment Act.

These amendments take away landowners customary and legal rights, give the government unfettered power to approve resource projects, deny anyone the right of challenge through the courts and take away all rights to compensation for environmental damage.

This ground breaking legislation is unprecedented in the free world.

Not only does it take away constitutional rights, it removes basic democratic protection by denying the rights of the courts to review the exercise of executive power.

This legisation was passed by parliament without anybody allowed to see the bill before it was presented. Nobody was allowed to read or comment on it.

There was no scrutiny by a committee and no parliamentary debate.

Parliament was used as a rubber stamp and the citizens of PNG have been treated like fools.

If you are not convinced how bad this legislation is, you just have to read the media headlines: ‘Strong arm tactics’ (PNG Post-Courier), ‘PNG band legal challenges’ (ABC News), ‘Bill will strip rights to land’ (The National), ‘Foreign interests above the law’ (ACT NOW! blog), ‘A low act’ (PNG Post-Courier).

As Michael Malabag said on EMTV News, this law is abhorrent because “people have an inalienable right to their land and this parliament has no right to take that away from them. This country does not belong to multi-national corporations.”

It is ironic that Michael Somare, a man still revered for his role as first prime minister of an independent PNG, should be the one effectively returning our country to colonial rule and taking away our rights to challenge what foreign companies do on our land.

The people of PNG must stand up and protest this undemocratic, unconstitutional and draconian law.

If we do not protest now then there is no limit to what this government may do next.

There are already plans being developed for a National Day of Protest, so please think about how you can help organise or participate in a local march.

Together we can stop this legisation! Link here.


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Thank you Mr Parkop. Clarification was needed by those of us at a distance who have only seen headlines and short 'grabs'.

I hope your reasoning is followed up by others, allowing reversal [or at least improvement] of what is obviously abysmally poor legislation.

We've lost Bernard Narakobi, but another architect of the Constitution is still around -- John Momis. I hope to see his contribution to this debate once the Bougainville election process is complete.

Powes Parkop MP


Hon. Benny Allan MP,
Minister for Environment and Conservation,
Office of the Minister for Environment and Conservation,
Somare Foundation Building
National Capital District

Dear Honourable Minister,


As a Parliamentarian, a Lawyer by profession and as a person who has advocated for the rights of landowners and protection of our natural environment for the best part of my professional life prior to entering Parliament, I write to express my objection and deepest concerns at the passing of the above Bill last Friday, the 28th of May, 2010.

As you would have probably noticed I was not in Chamber when the vote was taken last Friday. I had left the Chamber to obtain and peruse a copy of the proposed Bill to appreciate it before I could cast my vote as I was not aware of your intention to move for the passing of the Bill that day and did not bring my copy.

While in the process of locating a copy, Parliament had voted on the bill and passed it by a majority of 73 to 10.

Having perused the proposed Bill (now law) and appreciated its content, I would have no doubt voted against the Bill had I remained in Chamber when the Vote was taken.

My objection to this law is based on the following observations:

1. The law effectively places almost absolute power in the Government to decide as to environmental permits, approvals, licenses and the standards required of permits holders while removing rights of landowners and others to challenge such decisions either under civil law, statute and even customary law. It also allows Applicants to by pass due process and obtain from the Director a Certificate that upon its granting is an absolute prove of compliance of all environmental laws, process and standards. This in effect is absolute powers vested in one person and is a big concern as the law also attempts to remove the powers of the Court to review the exercise of such powers.

2. While this power is vested by the new law in the Director, as you are aware the Director is none other than the Secretary of your Department and this therefore magnifies the concerns about objective exercise of almost absolute powers provided in the new law that cannot be challenge by anyone

3. The removal of the rights to a cause of action under new section 69B and the right to challenge the granting of a permit, approval or license etc over environmental use or discharge etc is of particular concerns given the fact that majority of our people rely heavily on the natural environment, including the sea, waterways, rivers etc for their subsistence and survival. Given the experience of Bougainville too, this is a piece of legislation that flies against our recent history that ignorance of environmental concerns can serve as a basis for major conflict.

4. The powers provided to holder or a permit under s.87B (4) and s.87C (4) also makes a total mockery of the impartially or objectivity of the whole law. These provisions provide that there can not be any review of Certificate of Necessity once granted by the Director except if the permit holder makes a request for review. How can we pass a law that takes away our rights and powers while at the same time vest powers on developers? How can we justify such a clause?

5. While the Amendments is specifically about the Ramu Nickel-Basimuk bay situation and that maybe the Governments hands were forced by the decision of the Court, it is a bad legislation in that it is not restricted to the circumstances in Ramu Nickel-Basimuk Bay Environmental issues. By this law the Government has completely changed the process, powers and granting of environmental plans, permits, licenses etc without undertaking a proper review of existing laws and the application of such laws. This law therefore is not based on any policy review but more a reaction to one specific circumstance to change the whole goal post completely for all projects past, present and into the future.

6. The passing of the amendments flies in the face of the Governments claims to be serious about protecting out natural environment, especially at the global level. While the Government can claim that it will use the powers sparingly or objectively, there is no guarantee that it will use such powers in such manner. In any event, in the future such powers can be used and misused, if not now.

7. The use of “national interest” to pass the law is a poor or lame excuse because national interest also includes protecting our national environment as pronounced in the National Goals and Directive Principles and protecting the way of life of our people, many of whom rely on the natural environment for their survival. This is of critical concerns given that the global systems are experiencing many crisis such as financial crisis, food crisis, energy crisis, environmental crisis/climatic changes. The global situation warrants that we protect our traditional means of survival more instead of putting our people’s survival at risk by adopting such regimes that can allow the Government of the day to by pass due process, scrutiny of the public and the courts to decide such critical issues.

8. I do not accept the argument that since developed countries such as Canada, USA and those in Europe had done the same, we should follow suit or not be morally disturb by such laws. In most of these countries now, they have put in place strict environmental regime to protect their natural environment due to the mistakes they made in the past. In almost all of these countries now it is illegal to longer dump mining waste and tailings into river and water systems and in the sea. We should be learning from and seeking to avoid their mistakes instead of merely following their mistakes.

9. In any case Honourable Minister, you are aware that the Report by the Scottish Association of Marine Scientist has confirmed that there continues to be environmental impact being faces by the marine life and villages in Misima five years after closure of the mine there. You are also aware that CSIRO have release two reports which confirms that the disposal of waste and sediments into the sea in Lihir by Lihir Gold Mine is also affecting deep sea fish and marine life and the coral sea in the Lihir area so people in Basimuk bay have legitimate reasons to be concern about disposal of waste or tailings into their bay.

10. The amendments is a poor piece of legislation too because while it seeks to removes powers of the Court to review any decisions made or reached under the new law, you should note that under Section 155 of the Constitution, the National and Supreme Court have inherent powers to review any exercise of judicial, quasi-judicial and administrative powers such as that now vested with the Director under the new law. Such powers can never be removed by Parliament because it is bestowed on the National and Supreme Courts by the Constitution. As seen in the case of the Organic Law on National and Provincial Election where the Supreme Courts still allows review of National Court decisions to take place even through the said Organic Law states that the National Court decision in cases of election petitions is final and not subject to appeal or review. Far from solving the matter once and for all as you or the Government intended, this legislation will only allow more litigation in challenging the legality and constitutionality of the said law. It could also see the National and Supreme Court using its inherent powers under s.155 of the Constitution even more over decisions made by the Director. So instead of the new law settling all litigations, it could invite more litigation.

11. Far from resolving the issues in respect of Ramu Nickel and Basimuk Bay, this legislation will probably prolong the dispute and put in jeopardy the future of the mine because litigation would now probably move to the Supreme Court to challenge the legality of this law while the original issues before the parties remains unresolved and the mine will remain closed or in suspense. Instead of saving the Ramu Nickel Project, this legislation will probably kill the project

Given the above therefore I proposed that you delay the implementation of the law with a view to repeal it or amending it so that the powers of the Director are not as absolute as in the present form. You can recommit the Bill to Parliament under s.130 of the Constitution to make alterations or amendments so that a fair law is passed rather than the current one. Alternatively, that you can have the current law repealed and pass a law specific to Ramu Nickel-Basimuk Bay situation and not changing the laws entirely as you have done by this law.

In respect of the issue over Ramu Nickel-Basimuk Bay situation, while I am not very familiar with the legal proceedings to date, I believe the State and the developer Company has been let down by its Lawyers. Knowing the laws on granting and maintenance of injunction and stay orders, I cannot understand how a injunction or stay order could be granted and maintained over a project that involves million of kina in investment and that the continuation of an injunction or stay orders would incurred huge cost and loss for the State and the developer company.

I am also advised that the Judge who presided over the case, wanted the trial of the substantive case heard in the beginning of May and had the trial proceeded, the issues would have been resolved. It is my professional and learned opinion that the lawyers for the developers of Ramu Nickel Mine and the State have been let down their clients and have resorted to using Parliament to cover up their incompetency thereby subjecting all of us to ridicule. In any case, I believe the Government should pursue a different approach to resolving that dispute than resorting to such tactics as completely changing the goals posts and rules for all. There are many ways in which tailings could be disposed of or stored so that they are safe and not harmful to the environment than dumping them in the sea.

I look forward to your response and further dialogue on the same. I advised however that due to the public interest in this matter, I will be releasing copies of this letter to the media.

Thank you,


Thanks to Charles Roche, Executive Director of the Mineral Policy Institute for providing PNG Attitude with this copy of Governor Parkop's letter - KJ

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