LUCY KOPANA | My Land, My Country
LAE - In June last year, we got a call from distraught mother saying she and her family were being evicted from their home on Doyle Street, Eriku, in Lae.
I was assigned to the job and given a brief background that this family had been evicted before. It was the first eviction story I had been tasked to cover.
I set out with our cameraman, Raguel Kepas, not knowing what to expect. We arrived at the house, and the mother, Ellen Tigia Bis, opened the gate and motioned us to go inside.
She told us they had been served an eviction order, and the police would be there anytime to evict them. Then she gave us an interview, producing documents she had with her.
When we were about done, a car came to the gate. It was the police. They told Ellen Tigia Bis they had a court order to follow and she had to comply. Any explanation she might make was no use.
Just then a man emerged from a vehicle parked on the other side of the road. He headed straight at me shouting, “What is the media’s interest in this?” It was my first confrontation.
The next day the family was evicted. Ellen Tigia Bis, a widow, a mother and a grandmother, along with her family were forced to camp out in the rain. A canvas sheet was put out near front of the gate and their belongings were stacked up to avoid them being damaged by the rain.
This is a woman whose husband passed on a few years earlier because of the pressure he was under, fighting to get the title for the property he had been a tenant in for over 20 years.
Her husband, the late Tigia Bis was a public servant. He and his wife signed a tenancy agreement, moved into the property and raised their family there.
Soon after, the government started advertising a sell-off scheme for interested home buyers. Tigia Bis applied and was successful. In 1988, he was given a letter of offer to purchase the property.
His name was printed in the National Gazette listing him, as an “approved proprietor” on the 9th of February 1989, followed by a letter of confirmation from the state, to purchase the house.
He signed a salary deduction form, allowing a deduction of K112.50 to be deducted from his fortnightly pay over a period of 10 years.
Six years after settling the payment, he signed the contract of sale and the transfer instrument that would allow the title transfer to take place.
In 2008, another man claimed he had the title to the property. He took it to court and got the family evicted.
The Tigia Bis was under pressure, confused and shocked at how the property he had spent 10 years paying off was simply given to someone else. He fell ill and passed away in 2011, leaving his wife and children to fight for the home.
The case took 10 years and was dismissed by the judge because it had taken too long.
We were last advised by the National Housing Commission office in Lae that the title held by the man claiming ownership was deemed illegal and struck out.
Whilst the Tigia Bis family still awaited the transfer of the title to them, the ‘title holder’ has gone ahead and advertised the property for sale.
This is just one of many other cases we have covered regarding NHC properties in Lae.
In December last year two nurses and their families were also evicted from their homes. Like the Tigias, they put up tents at the front gate and camped outside for one week. Both families have children under the age of five.
Almost every eviction we’ve covered has also reported violence against the occupants, mostly women and children. Helpless women and children who cannot fight back against men with weapons. Men with bush knives, axes and other weapons appear at every eviction with NHC officers to evict tenants.
It got me wondering if this is how evictions should be conducted.
Just last week, the families of two long serving public servants were forced out of their houses when the men were at work. The wife of one of the tenants said she was sitting outside when one man came and pulled her, while another jumped over the rails of the verandah and kicked the door open. They forced their way into the house and started bringing the belongings out.
When we arrived at the scene, the men conducting the eviction, bush knives in hand, had their faces covered and were standing guard over the property and the women and children whose homes they had just ransacked.
Again the women and children were traumatised just like in the other families.
There is a question of whether the correct legal processes were followed in purchasing properties, transferring titles and evicting long time tenants.
One thing for sure is that no Papua New Guinean man, woman or child should be chased out of their homes without being given the opportunity to purchase the houses they occupy.
They should not be forced out by men armed with bush knives and axes, especially when they are paying rent. They should not be chased out by men acting on behalf of foreign owned companies, who couldn’t care less about the welfare of the average Papua New Guinean.
It’s painful to see that people with money can buy their way through the process without considering how their actions would affect the livelihoods of others, their children and grandchildren.
I wonder if they ever stop to think, “What if this was done to my family, my mother, wife or child?”.