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Lae families savagely evicted from their homes

Concerns_on_lae_evictionsLUCY 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?”.

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AG Satori

I read with concern that many people do not know the National Court of Papua New Guinea has a process in place where ordinary Papua New Guineans can come to court over issues that has a human rights problem associated with it. They can do this without a lawyer.

Families who face this situation should look up the National Court Registries and the National Court and a Registry are resident in 17 of the 22 provinces in PNG.

There was a lot of awareness of this product by the courts through its Court’s User Forums (CUF) and associated law and Justice Sector agencies but it is obvious that many more do not know of its availability.

The media should familiarise themselves with this process and in their reporting ask if the aggrieved have sought out this avenue for redress. The act of depriving a person or family of their property falls under sections 36 and s53 of the national constitution.

The National Courts have what is called a track where the courts classify each processes that comes before it. One of these tracks houses the Human Rights track. Justice David Cannings currently is the judge administrator for this track.

The National Courts Rules have been amended to include processes for bringing Human Rights applications before the courts.

1. The National Courts in Papua New Guinea allows litigants in persons and without a lawyer and with a human rights problem to come to the National Court and register these issues for a National Court judges to sit and deliberate on.

2. Litigants will have to fill in forms (templates) provided in the Human Rights Rules (and not necessary the Originating Processes that lawyers make out and file at the court registries).

3. The forms are part of the rules and are called Forms 124 – Form 129.

4. Litigants do not have to have a lawyer. If the court finds that it will be a complicated matter, it will issue directions from the court bench for the Public Solicitors office to provide legal assistance and representation.

5. Any court clerk at any of the countries National Court Registries will render assistance to fill in the forms. The lists of contacts is appended at the end of the rules but any senior National Court registry staff at any National Court registry and sub registry should be able to give out the forms free of charge and can also provide free assistance to fill in the forms ( template).

The Are family in Mt Hagen may have missed out on this but I think the Bis family in Lae should try this out. There are many out there who might need to consider this option.

A copy of the booklet (which is now Order 23 of the National Court Rules) is provided to PNG Attitude who may want make it available on the site.

Dominica Are

In a dream I sometimes have, I am always going back to my childhood home back in Mt Hagen.

My family suffered a similar fate in the late 2000. It’s just cruel and inhumane to do something like that to another human being.

I hate the fact that the victims are honest hardworking citizens of this nation. On 4 January 1985, my late dad (Dr Peter Are) started work with the health department as the provincial dental officer in Mt Hagen, Western Highlands Province.

My dad is from Gumine, Simbu Province, but he served the people of Western Highlands and the highlands region with distinction until his death on 3 November 2008. He was one of the best dentists and surely the most loved.

He was given the opportunity to purchase the house. However, the wicked made their way through and got it. How could they treat him like that? I hated the threats. He was truly a harmless soul.

On the day the final court decision was made, I accompanied my dad to court. The court went in favour of these cruel men. My heart sank and I cried.

We came out of the court room and my dad did something I’ll never forget. He walked over to them and shook their hands and congratulated them.

Yes, they were shocked indeed. I asked why he did that and he smiled and said ‘Its OK, I forgive them. Let God deal with them’.

No longer home

Birds have nests to sleep in
Lions have dens to sleep in
What about us? Tonight we have nowhere to go
All we have is each other to hold onto
With tears pouring
we started packing
With quivering voices
We said our last goodbyes
With sadness
We walked into the darkness
Leaving behind us , Our sanctuary
All these will be history
Where mum and dad first settled
Where we were all born and bred
Suddenly taken away by cruel humans
Through dubious, evil means
We wandered afar with reminiscences
Only God knows our grievances
To those cruel humans, we forgive you
May God deal with you

Will Self

I cannot understand how these thefts have not been addressed by the courts. The various sell-off schemes from the giveaway to the Morgan scheme saw an unbelievable 11,000 houses sold off.

The Public Accounts Committee and the Auditor-General found thousands of people had been paid off but the National Housing Corporation refused to issue title.

Imagine the effect 11,000 properties would have on the economy. If you have a house you can borrow, move up, start a business and employ people because you have security.

The likely damages against the state are astronomical.

The Public Accounts Committee concluded that "thousands of public servants and other citizens worked for years to fulfil their obligations under their purchase contracts only to find that the State failed to honour its obligations."

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