Government changes endorse illegal & fraudulent land grabs
03 June 2016
THE Papua New Guinea government is seeking to use changes to the Land Act to retrospectively endorse a huge illegal land grab covering about 12% of the whole country.
Despite the government promoting its new bill as a move to clean up the administration of land and tackle corruption it will actually have the opposite effect, legitimising and compounding previous illegal acts and depriving a very large number of customary landowners of justice.
Between 2003 and 2011 the Department of Lands issued seventy-seven Special Purpose Business and Agriculture Leases covering more than 5.2 million hectares.
In 2013, a government initiated Commission of Inquiry found these leases were illegal and recommended they be cancelled and the land returned to its customary owners.
But rather than follow the Commission recommendation and declare the leases void, the Department of Lands has drafted legislation that will endorse the illegal ‘SABL’ leases and allow them to remain in effect for their full 99-year terms.
The government and Department of Lands are promoting the new bill as a move to clean up the administration of land and tackle endemic corruption.
But, while one section of the amendment bill will remove the SABL concept and prevent any new leases being issued in the future, the government is remaining very quiet about its attempt to retrospectively give its stamp of approval to the existing illegal leases.
The idea of an SABL leases was originally created as a legal mechanism to allow small agriculture plantations on customary land, but the SABLs issued from 2003 far exceeded in size what could ever be used for genuine agriculture purposes.
Worse still, most landowners were never consulted over the loss of their land and did not give their consent, despite their rights supposedly being protected in the Constitution.
A Commission of Inquiry was set up in 2011 in response to the widespread outcry from indigenous landowners, scientists and civil society at the theft of customary land.
The Commission of Inquiry uncovered a catalogue of abuses in the process of developing the SABL leases, including a complete failure to obtain the consent of customary landowners or protect their interests in the terms of the contracts.
The Commission also uncovered fraud, political interference and a total failure to follow proper processes. It was alleged many of the leases had been issued to facilitate large-scale logging operations, not genuine agriculture projects. The Commission recommended almost all the leases be cancelled and the land returned to its customary owners.
The SABL leases have also been condemned by the international community. The United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination has twice written ‘please explain’ letters to the PNG government over the human rights impacts of the leases on rural communities.
There has been similar concern expressed by the United Nations Special Rapporteurs on the Rights of Indigenous People, the Right to Food, the Right to Safe drinking Water and the Human Rights Council Working Group on transnational corporations and other business enterprises.
Although the PNG government has not even acknowledged the concerns raised by any of these international groups and has not replied to any of their correspondence, since 2013 the prime minister, Peter O’Neill, has made repeated public promises that the government will implement the Commission recommendations, cancel the leases and return the land to its customary owners.
While O’Neill has claimed the implementation of those promises have been blocked by the ‘bureaucracy’, it now appears his government is instead set on a very different path.
If approved by Parliament the proposed amendments to the Land Act will give a seal of approval to the illegal land grab and cement the unlawful alienation of customary land.
With the government controlling over 100 of 111 seats in the national Parliament, Parliament's endorsement seems inevitable.
And then this...
Posted by: Michael Dom | 06 June 2016 at 05:13 AM
And in other news...
PNG does yet another world first for the environment.
Meanwhile, were going to drain out the Sepik Basin for coal mines. http://www.nogatcoal.org/
But don't worry, NCD Governor Hon. Powes Parkop, LLB, LLM,MP was talking on Facebook about World Environment Day and the dire for PNG to make it a public holiday, so that we can really, really, really begin to appreciate how fundamentally important this one day out of 365 days (and 366 days in each leap year), is so, very, very, very, very important.
I asked our Honorable Member what he was doing in government about stopping the illegal SABL's and this is what he said.
"Thank you everyone for taking time to read and comment on my posting regarding the significant of the world environment day and our need to place more value and attention on protecting the natural environment, especially what is on and above the land as oppose to what is below the land.
Considering that both economy is important to our nation and our people our goal should be to have a balance. If we mine and log we must restore and replant and do it in a sustainable way. We must stop dumping of tailing from mining into the river system. They don't allow it in Europe and US so why should be allow it or continued. All steps need to be taken to mitigate negative impact on our natural environment especially what is above on and above the land.
Yes Marsh the stress we are facing might also be due to mismanagement of the economy especially our failure to diversify and rely only on oil, gas and minerals but the stress our economy face is a world side problem caused by slow down in Chinese economy and over supply of oil and gas in the world market. All nations are feeling the down turn in the global economic even the major oil and gas producing countries like Nigeria, Venezuela and even Saudi Arabia. United Airline of US is threatening to stop flying to Nigeria because of that countries low foreign currency stock. Likewise Air France is about to stop flying to Venezuela for same reasons and these are two major oil and gas producing countries in the world. In Botswana whose economy depends on mining there is massive redundancy due to mine closure as a result of low mineral prices. So yes mismanagement might also be cause of the economic stress we face now but there major cause is beyond our control. Even if Don Polye or Sam Basil was PM they would face same problem.
The problem at ok Tedi was caused by impact of El Niño weather pattern so maybe we did not take seriously the warning on El Niño so we can admit that's a mismanagement on our part. Considering ok Tedi contributes about 25 percent to gdp and state income. But otherwise it was beyond our control.
The global economic is one based on bubble and busy cycle like all market economies. So as fast as it has busted it will bubble again and the price of oil and gas is about to pick up again so there is sign of global recovery. After natural contraction that will result in closure of unprofitable projects the price of oil and gas will pick up again from those projects that are resilient and cost effective.
I will comment on SABL later but there has been an inquiry with made very good recommendations. The government has promised to implement the recommendations so we should hold the Govt especially the responsible Depts to account.
Top Sunday everyone."
Posted by: Michael Dom | 06 June 2016 at 05:06 AM
Paul the sad facts of the Lavongai rip off is that that is not the end of the forest scams in the Province.
The three SABL on Lavongai Island were blessed by a letter dated 24 February 2014 from the then Forest Minister Patrick Pruaitch who wrote:
“I am pleased to advice [sic] that FCA’s portion 887 C Central New Hanover, Portion 886 C Umbukul and Portion 885 C Tabut were all in order and wish to congratulate the Leaders, the Landowner and the Developer, Tutuman Development Limited… these projects will have the fullest of support from my Ministry and the National Forest Authority”
This is in direct contradiction of the Commission’s detailed findings of fraud, intimidation and a complete failure to follow proper process in issuing the SABLs and FCAs to Malaysian owned logging company, Tutuman.
Two months after the letter was written, Pruaitch was elevated by the Prime Minister to his new position as Treasury Minister.
For several years Konoagil Agri Development Limited (KADL), a landowner company in New Ireland wants to develop a K400 million 35000 hectare clear felling for oil palm in the remote southern forest of the NIP which was once destined to be a reserve.
The company has developed strong alliances and partnerships with Tutumang Agriculture Plantation Limited - PEDI ANIS' LOGGING COMANY with those reported shady dealings in 3 SABLs on Lavongai and atleast 1 in New Ireland Province.
Locally-based landowner company Konoagil Agri Development Ltd and its foreign development partner, Million Plus Corporation Ltd, will oversee the initial project operation
Treasurer Patrick Pruaitch launched the project witnessed by all sorts of bigmen who mostly had flown in to two separate launchings of the project which they say provide wonderful benefits for the area and jobs for 4000 persons after the beautiful diverse eco-structure of the area has been clear felled to be replaced with a monoculture of oil palm. Treasurer Pruaitch even told us how logging would increase the sale of fish.[sic]
One of its main supporters, the local businessman and failed candidate at the last general election, Walter Schnaubelt said it would change live as the initial 35000 hectares cleared were expanded to 50000 hectares.
Cabinet Ministers Malakai Tabar and Douglas Tomuriesa followed their cabinet colleague with glowing phrases of praise for the planned logging and oil palm project.
However I noted that in the press release there were several glaring important absentees from the circuses. No mention of Sir Julius Chan, the governor coming to support the project nor his son the area's current MP Byron Chan, who in 2014 declared the project illegal and then apparently has done nothing about that claim.
But far more of interest than manoeuvring for next years election was the notable absence of any mention of the CEO or other officers of the project's overseas management company Million Plus Corporation.
I tried searching the web for info on this mob but was unable to find any webpages whatsoever referring to it. I wonder why? Anyone know who they are?
I am not alone; in April last year a local landowner was reported in the Post Courier as warning his Kamrai clan to be very wary about the project and asked if the Governor and his New Ireland administration were in favour of it. Pointedly he also asked for information about the proposed foreign company involved.
New Ireland Governor is aware of the concerns of the people of Konoagil and Matalai Local Level Governments in the Namatanai district, over the proposed oil palm project in their area.
Governor Sir Julius Chan noted recently that everywhere he travelled in the two LLGs the people were concerned about the huge proposed oil palm project that has been announced for the area. He said the people are afraid that the project is just an excuse to cut down trees, sell them to foreigners and then abandon the people without ever actually implementing an oil palm project.
Governor Sir Julius highlighted that the people are afraid that this will do irreparable harm to the rivers and streams and natural resources in their villages, wards and LLGs. “I promised them this would not happen on my watch,” he said.
The provinces' Biggest Gun but unable to stop it happening.
1 Behind the deal must be a huge timber company with clout as Paul says. Who are they?
2 Still unable to find out anything about Million Plus Corporation – who are they? Who is their owner(s)
Posted by: Arthur Williams | 06 June 2016 at 03:49 AM
Aw Arthur, you can't possibly be suggesting that the honourable ministers aren't involved in any personal gain about this situation are you? Surely there couldn't be a conflict of interest here?
Why people like even Susan Merrell reckon there's so much good news about PNG and her current PM and government that any possible graft and corruption couldn't be happening err... could it?
Posted by: Paul Oates | 04 June 2016 at 10:04 AM
In pages 278 to 358 of the June 2013 report by The Commission of Inquiry you can read about the three SABLs for the island of Lavongai in New Ireland Province..
They had suddenly been sprung on us in mid-2007 by Government Gazette #161. The illegal land grabs covered almost 80% of the island and were for 99 years and would have to pay no fee to Land Department during the long leases.
None of my family or friends was aware in any way that such a projected use of their customary land was being hijacked for their lifetimes and that of their children and even grandchildren.
The Commissioner found many irregularities in the acquiring of the SABLs and all three were recommended to be cancelled. Some principals involved were even referred to the police for criminal investigation.
Now crazy ministers of state say that cannot cancel the SABLs because of the cost of compensation to the companies controlling them. In law if you acquire something but especially land through illegal means then you have no claim whatsoever for compensation for any expenses you may have occurred in your criminal acts.
SABLs are a disgusting episode in the history of PNG where illegal acquisition of land from its citizens is being promoted and supported against the people of not only Lavongai island but indeed wherever SABLs are happening.
Posted by: Arthur Williams | 04 June 2016 at 09:17 AM