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Do Malaysian loggers now run the government of PNG?

Lattas - Clear felled hills planted with oil palmsANDREW LATTAS

I have just returned home from Pomio, where the clear felling of the bush and subsequent oil palm planting are in full swing despite the vast majority of villagers opposing both.

Villagers are powerless to stop these activities, which continue even though the special agriculture and business leases (SABLs) have recently supposedly been revoked.

This looks likely to have the same status as the Police Commissioner’s public order of December 2011 that police be pulled out of logging camp sites. The police were never removed.

Indeed, it is only their continued presence, violence and intimidation that prevents villagers from setting up road blocks to protect their land, gardens and environment.

What is clear to me is that, for most local villagers in Pomio, the PNG government has shifted away from them and is largely in the pockets of large Malaysian logging companies.

These companies control officials in crucial government departments such as Lands, Forestry and the Police. The same applies to other officials in District Administration, Local Level Government, Provincial Administration and national government departments.

Nearly all sectors of the state have been co-opted into coercive pro-development policies that seek to privatise land and resources without villagers’ consent.

These logging companies were supported by, and gave support to, the local national member for Pomio who is now in jail on corruption charges.

The substantial funds these foreign companies provide at election time has transformed voting into a patron-client relationship that props up local, provincial and national government politicians who support the SABLs.

Police and company directors often tell complaining villagers that the land is no longer theirs but belongs to the state which has leased it from them so as to lease it to the Malaysian companies.

The state has become the crucial intermediary in the forced process through which villagers lose control of their resources and especially their land.

Much of this depends upon the production of dubious reports by the Lands Department, which collects and produces lists of signatures which are highly selective in that they are not the signatures of major clan leaders and of those people who represent the majority of villagers.

Lattas - Worker spraying herbicide - no safety clothingThrough the SABLs and private-public partnerships, the Somare government created two interlocking policies.

These have institutionalised corruption in PNG to a point where villagers find it almost impossible to achieve justice concerning the fraudulent nature of state processes that have effectively dispossessed them of huge areas of land.

Officials in departments like Forestry write reports that are not just wrong but are intentionally designed to conceal and legitimise the forced appropriation of land.

For example, one “explanatory” letter by a local forestry official in Pomio concerned the late night visit of the armed riot squad to the village of Mu in 2012 when villagers were forced by police to sign English documents that they could not read.

This was said to be not violent intimidation, but simply the police correcting an administrative oversight. The riot squad had just gone to collect the names of villagers who had attended a recent meeting over logging, where record keeping had been poorly implemented.

None of this explains the swearing and violent demeanour of the armed police and the forcible collection of signatures from many people who did not attend the meeting.

The state is not just incompetent but has become the crucial instrument for foreign large scale capital. It is state officials who seek to manage and placate opposition to the loss of vast areas of customary local land.

Then they produce the dodgy reports that seek to sanitise and obscure what is actually happening on the ground.

Recently the Malaysian logging company Rimbunan Hijau has shifted tactics and there has been a movement away from using the violence of the riot squad to intimidate opponents. Instead there is a greater use of courts and restraining orders to prevent the organisation of protests.

The cost of legal action has become another form of intimidation that is meant to penalise protesters and their leaders.

The judiciary has now become co-opted into this realisation of a coercive development agenda that has little respect for people’s customary property rights.

Lattas - Logging truck amidst oil palm plantingsProfessor Andrew Lattas is from the Department of Social Anthropology at the University of Bergen in Norway. His new book Dreams, Madness, and Fairy Tales in New Britain is published by Carolina Academic Press http://www.cap-press.com/isbn/9781594607271


(top) The huge area of clear-felled land stretches from Mauna, Lau, Bairaman Mu to Puapal where it proposed that the oil palm plantings cross the Unung River and continue to Malakur . This massive tract of land is being given away to Malaysian companies, effectively stolen from villagers with the active participation of the state and government officials.

(middle) Worker in shorts and thongs spraying herbicide. No boots, gloves, mask or overalls are provided and the worker is covered by the chemical spray endangering himself and other family members when he returns to the village.

(lower) A logging truck makes its way through oil palm plantings.


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Barbara Short

Thanks for this article, Keith. I have placed it on the Sepik Region Development Discussion Forum site on Facebook. The people of Yangoru-Saussia are faced with something similar if they allow Wilmar to take over 100 000 hectares and create the biggest oil palm plantation in the world.

At the moment their MP, William Maru, is "doing the right thing" and is involved in improving roads, health services and education in this area.

We have to face up to it, it is a form of "development", and if it is what they really want then we can't stop them. But they have been warned of the consequences.

Philip Fitzpatrick

Deep down I think that Robin may be an "extreme right-wing Tea Partyist".

But then again, some things, like SABLs, designed to help rural landholders, get subverted by the unscrupulous and greedy too.

Peter Kranz

Agenda 21 is one of the favourite bêtes noires of the extreme right-wing Tea Partyists. It's one-world government! It's eroding property rights! It's the new world order!

Get a grip friends. It's actually about protecting local rights in developing countries, protecting indigenous culture, and trying to prevent exploitation.


Philip Fitzpatrick

Heaven forbid but I'm starting to buy into your conspiracy theories about the UN Robin.

That said, I'm still a big fan of the motives of the neo-cons theory as outlined by Klein.

I'm also alarmed by Albert Schram's comment on another post today:

"Apart from vague definition of the landowner in PNG, there is another fundamental issue with communal landownership.

"In absence of private landownership, a regular banking sector can not develop.

"In capitalist economies land is used as a collateral for bank loans, which in part provide finance for productive capital.

"Capitalism without capital is not a realistic expectation."

I'm hoping that he is not suggesting that the state in PNG privatize all land.

I worked on a Commission of Enquiry into Land Matters chaired by Sinaka Goava in 1972, which was responsible for the current land laws.

Back then they were also struggling with how to develop PNG while retaining communal land use. The Bougainville situation was very much in their minds, as was the situation on the Gazelle Peninsula.

The suggestions that they came up with were not perfect but they showed a path forward. The law based on their findings has since been modified to address the issue of fake landholders.

So in theory it should all work.

The factors not taken into account were the endemic corruption that developed and the rapacious nature of modern developers.

Like most things in PNG, if those factors can be brought under control, the laws can be allowed to work for everyone's benefit.

The events of the past month don't give much hope of that happening I'm afraid.

Peter Kranz

Some background to the palm oil bandwagon can be found here -


As well as destroying old-growth forests, substituting a monoculture of no benefit to local landowners, enriching multi-national corporations who care little about traditional land-ownership, it is also destroying the habitats of endangered species.

"In South-East Asia, alone, the likely equivalent of 300 football fields are deforested every hour, resulting in the deaths of more than 1,000 orang-utans each year. Some 90% of orang-utan habitat has been lost and at the current rate of deforestation, orang-utans could be extinct in the wild in less than 10 years."

Robin Lillicrapp

Somebody, somewhere in the PNG bureaucracy knows and follows the recipe for the control measures so lamented by the victims of "sustainable development."

UN Agenda 21/Sustainable Development is the action plan implemented worldwide to inventory and control all land, all water, all minerals, all plants, all animals, all construction, all means of production, all energy, all education, all information, and all human beings in the world.

INVENTORY AND CONTROL.----Rosa Koire - See more at: http://www.democratsagainstunagenda21.com/#sthash.5b0BVFuH.dpuf

Considering its policies are woven into all the General Plans of the cities and counties, it's important for people to know where these policies are coming from. While many people support the United Nations for its 'peacemaking' efforts, hardly anyone knows that they have very specific land use policies that they would like to see implemented in every city, county, state and nation. The specific plan is called United Nations Agenda 21 Sustainable Development, which has its basis in Communitarianism. By now, most Americans have heard of sustainable development but are largely unaware of Agenda 21.

In a nutshell, the plan calls for governments to take control of all land use and not leave any of the decision making in the hands of private property owners. It is assumed that people are not good stewards of their land and the government will do a better job if they are in control. Individual rights in general are to give way to the needs of communities as determined by the governing body. Moreover, people should be rounded up off the land and packed into human settlements, or islands of human habitation, close to employment centers and transportation. Another program, called the Wildlands Project spells out how most of the land is to be set aside for non-humans.

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