BY ILYA GRIDNEFF
AAP – PNG’s TOP legal bureaucrat has blasted the country’s Lands Department as “entirely corrupt” for allocating millions of hectares of land for special agricultural leases.
Secretary of the Department of Justice and Attorney General, Dr Lawrence Kalinoe, was responding to reports that the Lands Department recently gave away more than one million hectares of pristine forest in the Western Province for agricultural leases.
“The department is entirely corrupt,” Dr Kalinoe said.
“Officers and certain rogue landowners are colluding and conniving with each other to sell off customary land for their own benefit and interest while the majority of landowners are left out.
“I am disappointed and angry that things are not the way they should be there,” he said.
Western Province has half of PNG’s allocated 4.3 million hectares of “Special Purpose Agricultural and Business Leases”.
The Lands Department usually grants the leases to foreign companies to develop plantations and other agricultural projects, but in the past unscrupulous players have used the leases to bypass laws to cut down forests, export the logs and then vanish overnight.
The special leases have prompted green groups, NGOs and government officials to raise concerns that forests were under threat from “logging by stealth”.
Lands Secretary Pepi Kimas welcomed an investigation into his department.
“I cannot deny that there are corrupt officers in the Lands Department and for that matter in any department.
“The dilemma is identifying them and removing them,” he said.