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Westpac finances company accused of land grabs, says Oxfam

Greedy banks graphic by independentaustralia.netSAM CLARK | Australia Network News | Extracts

LEADING Australian banks are financing companies accused of land grabbing, child labour and illegal logging, according to an Oxfam report released today.

The report, Banking on Shaky Ground, identifies four cases in Cambodia, Papua New Guinea, Indonesia and Brazil where Australia's biggest banks have funded - directly or indirectly - companies accused of improperly or illegally acquiring land from local people.

Oxfam's chief executive Helen Szoke said the big four - National Australia Bank (NAB), Commonwealth (CBA), Westpac and ANZ - are not living up to their image as global leaders in sustainable banking.

"There is a gap between what the big four banks say they do and what they actually do," she said.

"We think there is a real problem around due diligence - around them actually focusing on their investment practices and making sure they put their money where their mouth is, in terms of ethical and sustainable investment practices in these agricultural businesses overseas."

The report links Westpac's Papua New Guinea operations to the Malaysian logging giant WTK Group, which has been accused of illegal logging in PNG.

Corporate records reveal that Westpac's PNG subsidiary has had a 19-year relationship with the company.

Oxfam alleges that WTK Realty in PNG has an interest in a number of controversial special agricultural and business leases (SABLs) across the country.

In 2013, a commission of inquiry established to investigate the leases found that the vast majority had been improperly obtained and should be revoked.

Oxfam says WTK Realty is the sole shareholder in Vanimo Forest Products Ltd, which the commission of inquiry "observed to be engaging in selective logging operations" at the 139,909 hectare Bewani Oil Palm Development Project Bewani in West Sepik province.

The commission found that landowners had not given informed consent for the development and recommended the lease be revoked.

The chief commissioner of the land scandal inquiry, John Numapo, said the SABL scheme was being used by Malaysian logging companies to access parts of the country's pristine forest that would otherwise be off-limits and that the operations were coming at the cost of local landowners.

"We found the majority of SABLs were being used basically as a guise to go into full-scale logging operation which it's not intended for," he said.

"There have been a lot of abuses as we discovered through our inquiries. We found that basically the whole process had been hijacked."

Commissioner Numapo urged Westpac to reconsider its relationship with WTK if their link to SABLs was confirmed.

"If Westpac has taken a position that it's going to support retaining the rainforest, then obviously if they are funding a company that is cutting down trees and causing damage to the environment generally then they should rethink providing funding to companies like that," he said.

Westpac declined to confirm or deny their link to WTK, but the bank's head of sustainability, Siobhan Toohil, said it had exited funding arrangements in the past where clients had not lived up to the bank's environmental and social standards.

"In circumstances where we do not believe that customers are adhering to appropriate standards and do not believe they are prepared to address this responsibly, we will continue to exit those relationships," she said.

WTK's lawyer in Port Moresby rejected the accusations that the company is linked to any of the agricultural leases.

"If WTK Realty was involved in SABLs it would have been summonsed to give evidence in the commission of inquiry," said lawyer Robert Bradshaw.


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Hossie Indavoudi

Unfortunately it happens here in Australia as well, when they get you to finance low doc, knowing very well that your venture will fail because of your health issues and, going by the figures provided, after a brain stroke.

They secure your assets and help the business to fail by refusing to fix the interest rate on the way up and then, grab everything you worked hard for.

Mrs Barbara Short

An article has just appeared on the Sepik blog which may explain how Belden Namah got his millions.

It alleges that he obtained land in the West Sepik under a SABL totalling 139,909 hectares, which he sold outright to his Malaysian friend Jimmy Tse. It was titled as Portion 160C and was granted in July 2008.

Now it is alleged that Richard Maru, the member for Yangoru-Saussia and Minister for Trade and Industry, has used his position of authority to take over one of the SABLs in the East Sepik Province applying physical force on the Malaysian occupants and their local land owner groups who are partners in the Sepik Oil Palm Project through a new company registered as Sepik Agro Industries Ltd.

This, it has been reported, has himself as the sole shareholder with the listing of two department heads as directors of the company in partnership with Wilma International.

So evidently, according to these allegations, government ministers feel it is OK to acquire SABLs and try to profit from them in some way. They have learnt that land is "gold".

Mrs Barbara Short

Thanks Phil. These comments have been placed on the Sepik Region Development Discussion Forum on Facebook. There was also a good article by Max Rai. I have posted the PNG Attitude articles on this topic on the site.

There has been a good response. But the educated Sepiks are all over the place - studying in Wellington and Canberra, teaching at Unitech, a lawyer in Moresby, brave Simon Nakaiban on the ground in the East Sepik trying to get the views of the land owners, others all over PNG wanting to be involved.

Maru and his briefcase men are not listening to the educated Sepiks. Here is what one distressed educated Sepik had to say -

"Despite efforts to get the best deal for our people, the minister has gone ahead with several small meetings with my uneducated directors in Wewak and has already brain washed them about the development that this project will bring hence compromising the real issue of what is any real benefit that the landowners will reap from this project. As it is, none!

My directors have been compromised under the guise of development. So what you have all discussed is imminent, Urimo landowners will be labourers in their own land.

Some misleading points have also been made to create disharmony so divide and rule can take its place.

Given this situation, our one other village which I come from and which owns about 80% of Urimo state land will file a review and we are ready to do that next before Friday.

An application for a stay of the signing of the project agreement will be stayed and pending the determination of the issue of whether .....i (should not release my ammunition).

Up to this day, we have not been made aware of any social impact study report, environmental impact study report. so whose interest if the minister pursimg?

All I can say if that our minister looks more like a businessman than an elected member for the people.

There is now a split of Urimo to fight this issue because of the long long directors there who cannot see my leadership.

God Bless Urimo People."

These few comments give you an idea of the chaos!

Philip Fitzpatrick

Those two comments go straight to the nub Barbara.

Simple and straightforward.

Mrs Barbara Short

All Papua New Guinea people, from Maru and O'Neill to the poorest village person, need to understand that in the world today there is this big battle going on between MONEY and PEOPLE (and other animals).

Wilmar represents the MONEY. Organisations like Oxfam and World Vision represent PEOPLE. All Wilmar worries about is its PROFIT.

At the moment it is busy trying to buy up failing Australian food companies. It bought CSR sugar and now it is trying to buy Goodman Fielder who produce a lot of our bread, flour, margerine etc.

It is a very tough food market in Australia because at the retail level we have had Coles and Woolworths running most of the food shops and they are very competitive and have thought up lots of ways of cutting their costs.

They have made life very difficult for our farmers. Companies like Wilmar, who are big time farmers, will have to keep their costs down and they have made their millions as they have been producing all this palm oil in poor developing countries where they can get away with paying very low wages.

If the people complain about the low wages they will try to replace them with machinery as you don't have to pay wages to machinery.

Once you start mixing with these sort of people, the MONEY people, don't expect them to CARE about people. They don't. Their focus is on the amount of profit they can make for their shareholders.

So, as an economics teacher I can see how the ordinary people of PNG are no match for companies like Wilmar. They will win in any fight!

Organisations like Oxfam and World Vision are there to help you and guide you. You put pressure on your politicians to make money. You all like money.

If you keep it up you can see they have to turn to companies like Wilmar. But is it worth it? Wilmar will happily turn you all into landless peasants who will drift to the towns to become starving squatters. They want the land!

If you allow Wilmar to have your land you have allowed foreigners to come in and steal your land without a war! The more of you who put PEOPLE first the better chance PNG has of winning this battle between PEOPLE and MONEY.

My advice is to keep away from companies like Wilmar and do appropriate village development that cares about the PNG people and their lives.

Mrs Barbara Short

I'm afraid the educated Sepiks are willing to let the Yangoru-Saussia land-grab by Wilmar go ahead.

For that part of PNG, we won't be able to say, "you can go back to your village and provide for yourself". There won't be any villages anymore.

The people will live in Wilmar owned Kampongs where they will be made to work long hours on the oil plantation for very low wages.

They will then have to buy their food at Wilmar owned stores. They will be very poor. But the Wilmar owners will be really rich men.

Also the educated Sepiks who get involved in it all at the management level will become rich. They will have lovely houses somewhere else and nice cars and trips to Malaysia etc.

If the poor people of Yangoru-Saussia complain about anything the government will send in the police to intimidate them.

BUT, if the banks who lend money to Wilmar can be shamed into understanding what their actions have caused, then maybe things will turn out better.

What is really more important when it comes to development, making money, OR looking after people?

Michael Dom

Kapul save silip isi tru long diwai, na traim yu long rausim han na tail bilong em long han bilong diwai em isave holim diwai strong moa yet.

Katim diwai ikam daun na kapul bai silip nating long lip-diwai i pundaun long graun.

Salim ol dok paitim em na yu ken putim han long nek bilong em.

Taim yu putim kapul insait long banis, em bai kaikai wanem kain kgutpela lip yu yet igivim long maus bilong em. Nogat, em bai indai, na bai yu ken kukim long paia na kaikai gris bilong em.

Wanpela tok bokis, eh laka.

Mrs Barbara Short

A very good article in the Sydney Morning Herald this morning. Monday 28th April 2014.

The world is slowly waking up to what has been going on in PNG. It has been going on in many parts of SE Asia. It is plainly taking the land away from the traditional owners so it can be used by big powerful, rich, companies to make huge profits for themselves and the banks who provide the capital.

The politicians/governments that allow it, get their cut, but the original landowners become landless peasants who have to rely on the low wages on offer for working for these big companies, i.e. they get exploited.

The Sepik people need to start investigating Wilma. It gets a mention in the SMH. The National Australia bank have lent them $200 million. They are the ones developing the Yangoru-Saussia oil palm plantation on traditional village garden land!

When the land owners protested recently they got thrown into prison by the PNG police. Maru and O'Neill are not letting the people have their say!

Heaven help Yangoru-Saussia. Wake up Sepiks! It is your land we are talking about!

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