THE ACTING PRESIDENT of the Western Province Chamber of Commerce, Warren Dutton OBE, has said PNG’s Secretary for Lands may have been negligent when he issued leases over 1.25 million hectares of customary land in the North Fly District.
And in an exclusive statement to PNG Attitude Mr Dutton has said a company search by his lawyer has revealed no record of incorporation of Tosigiba Investment Limited, which says it represents the customary landowners of much of the land included within the lease boundaries.
“It appears that the Secretary for Lands has issued a lease for 99 years over 632,000 ha to a company that does not exist,” Mr Dutton said.
A landowners meeting in Kiunga last week was told there is prime facie evidence that the Lands Secretary or his officers had acted negligently and possibly corruptly when he issued three leases.
A lease over 632,538 hectares in the Nomad District was issued by the Secretary in the name of Tosigiba Investment Ltd. The Chairman of the separate Tosigiba Timber Group Ltd told the meeting he had no knowledge of or connection with Tosigiba Investment Ltd, in whose name the lease over his people’s land had been issued.
People from the Nomad area told the meeting they had negotiated with the proposed developer to give them timber rights over a corridor five kilometers either side of the road alignment, which the developer agreed to construct in consideration of those rights.
Instead the Secretary for Lands had issued a Special Purpose Agricultural and Business Lease for 99 years over all the land owned by the members of all 79 Incorporated Land Groups as well as over the land of all the other villages in the Nomad District.
“Not one village house, nor one sago tree is excluded from this lease. The lease is also issued over the top of long existing leases for Mission Purposes,” said a media statement from the Western Province Chamber of Commerce.
“How can the Secretary of Lands be so credulous as to believe that any Papua New Guinean villager would or could be prepared to cede absolutely all of his land to the State for 99 years,” the statement said.
“Surely he, or his responsible officers, should have referred back to the Kiunga and Nomad District Lands Officers for confirmation that all the villagers really did agree to give away absolutely all of their land.
“By not doing so, surely he has acted, at least, negligently in the performance of his statutory duties.”
At the landowner meeting in Kiunga last week, hundreds of disgruntled villagers said their land had been given away without consent. Western Province has half of PNG's allocated 4.3 million hectares of what are termed "Special Purpose Agricultural and Business Leases”.
"They are giving away the land but we don't know what the future use is or the implications," Western Province MP, Boka Kondra, said.
Western Province Land and Resource Owner Federation chairman, Paul Katut, said landowners had been duped. "Its unprecedented the government gives one million hectares," he said. "We have members of the companies here that all say they didn't agree to the deal."