In Papua New Guinea hard working public servants, many of who have devoted their life to service of country and community, are being tossed out of their homes and into the street by the National Housing Corporation (NHC) and its business arm, National Housing Estate Limited (NHEL).
Earlier this year I had the privilege of meeting residents from the NHC flats in North Waigani. In February they were chased from the place many had called home since 1997 by criminal gangs recruited by the NHC. Thirty thousand kina had been released by the government for this thuggery.
Those who resisted the eviction were bashed. People wept, loaded what they could into cars and then set off through the heavy rain that pounded down that Saturday. The National Court later declared the eviction illegal.
A professional evaluation of the North Waigani property valued it at K40 million. The government sold it for K11 million. Why the state would sell a new, purpose-built property when civil servants face a housing shortage is bizarre; why they would sell it at a massive discount is evidence, in my view, of something more malevolent.
Then last Monday it was revealed on EMTV that more civil servants are potentially facing forced evictions:
'Tenants occupying 5-mile National Housing Corporation flat, 3-mile and Saraga, gathered yesterday to raise their concerns through the media. They have been given 7-days’ notice by the commercial arm of NHC, National Housing Estate Limited, to sign a new tenancy agreement, or vacate the property'
I don’t know these particular communities, but I feel like I know them. I have sat around with numerous NHC residents facing forced evictions over the years, many are pioneers of this great country - magistrates, policy makers, frontline staff - and they have many stories to tell, inspiring stories.
And yet lifelong public servants are being preyed upon by a rotten state institution. This is how the NHC was described by the Public Accounts Committee: “National Housing Corporation is a failed, insolvent and non performing entity – and has been for at least twenty years”.
Citing a report by the Auditor-General, the Committee continued:
'[The] controls and systems for the sale of properties has been abused for personal gain collaboration with outside interested parties'
The NHC’s business arm, NHEL, has a similarly chequered record. Indeed, its executive chairman John Dege – the current acting head of the NHC – watched on as North Waigani residents were brutally evicted.
As if this was not bad enough, soon after his appointment at NHEL Dege announced: “NHEL is…a major proponent in the Paga Hill housing development project undertaken by Paga Hill Development Company (PNG) Limited”. Some may recall, Paga Hill residents also endured a brutal forced eviction at the hands of the developer.
The developer, the Paga Hill Development Company (PHDC) and its executives, have between them been censured in no less than six official reports into corruption and public mismanagement in Papua New Guinea.
For instance PHDC’s Chairman and Director ran a company, CCS Anvil. The Auditor General’s Office claims that, when working for the Public Curators Office, Anvil withheld...
'...a significant amount of monies it has received from the proceeds of the realisation of assets of deceased estates, including sale of properties, shares and investment and rent…The AGO can find no evidence that any money realised by Anvil on behalf of estates has been paid into the Estate Trust Account'
With all this information on the public record, NHEL still went into business with PHDC.
I am doing everything I can to bring the struggle of residents to light at an international level – writing, speaking with NGOs, lobbying for a visit from Special Rapporteur on Housing. But more is needed, so much more is needed.
Unless an international coalition can form to take on this important issue of housing and human rights – which affects us all – then the PNG state will continue to act with impunity.
* Dr Kristian Lasslett is a Lecturer in Criminology at the University of Ulster and sits on the International State Crime Initiative’s Executive Board. He has been researching forced evictions in PNG since 2012