Living at ground level, Part 1 – Stan's 'PNG factor'
Who stuffed up PNG, Australians or Papua New Guineans?

Despite promises, govt continues to condone illegal land grabs

Eddie Tanago


PORT MORESBY - It is one of the world’s biggest illegal land grabs, yet more than five years after the government promised to cancel the SABL (special agriculture and business) leases and return the land to its customary owners, the people of Papua New Guinea are still waiting to hear which, if any, leases have been cancelled.

Last month the United Nations wrote to the government for a third-time, accusing ministers of racial discrimination against their own people for not implementing the recommendations of the 2013 Commission of Inquiry and cancelling the leases.

Previous letters from the UN have been ignored by the government and PNG needs to be much more transparent.

We have heard so many excuses and seen so much misinformation from the government for so many years that people have rightly lost all trust in our politicians.

Act Now! is demanding the government immediately publish a full list of SABLs showing the current status of each lease, including which have been surrendered, which have been cancelled and which still remain.

Minister Tkatchenko says he is serious about tackling corruption and wants his department to be honest and transparent. The best way to start is by publishing up-to-date information on all the SABLs.

The government also says it wants to attract foreign investment and has spent billions on APEC, but legitimate investors are not going to come to PNG while issues of corruption like the SABL land grab remain unresolved.

Although over 50,000 square kilometres of land was stolen using illegal SABL leases between 2003 and 2011, since the Commission of Inquiry reported in 2013 the only leases confirmed as cancelled have been on the orders of the court.

In January 2018, Tkatchenko promised all SABL leases would be reviewed by a joint committee but there have been no updates on progress.

In many areas foreign logging and oil palm companies are still illegally occupying land with tacit approval from Tkatchenko and the government.


Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

Arthur Williams

Oh Eddie! The loggers are so entrenched with the spivs of government that the SABL saga will never end well for the ordinary PNG villagers.

The late Sam Gallaher wrote a letter home in 2002 and printed here in PNG Attitude: ‘On the day they (RH) got access to this country’s timber they signed a deal with UMW Komatsu tractors and purchased 700 major items of second hand plant from UMW, owned by a Malaysian company. The then prime minister of this country picked up a consideration of K60 million.’

In 2017 I was in Kavieng in late October when I was handed a copy of the Government Gazette G161 Oct 16 2007. This described the gazettal of almost 80% of my wife’s island of Lavongai for 99 years, free of any land tax.

It was one of three SABL (Special Agriculture and Business) Leases that had been foisted onto the semi illiterate rural people as a clever con or trick to get around the tighter legal requirements of a normal logging permit.

SABLs weakened Forestry Dept input into the granting of leases because the intent was alleged to be agriculturally motivated.

This gave the developers the wonderful opportunity not to log according to normal forestry rules but clear fell for a monoculture of cocoa, rubber or most likely oil palm with all the inherent environmental dangers a single crop can experience in the event of a virulent plant pest etc.

The prophecy has come true over the years as coffee and cocoa borers spread worldwide, rhinoceros beetles pest in Indonesian palm oil spreading into South Pacific plantations, now banana Black Sigatoka. It’s in ‘The Book’ but that has never slowed down the rapaciousness of loggers.

I had arrived home to our place on south coast Lavongai in March and not one of my extended family were aware of there having been initial activities in their various villages of any ground work preparing for a SABL lease to be granted.

On the day I first saw that gazette emotions were running high among Lavongai wantoks even threats of harming the elite spivs of their tribe who had obviously sold out to the loggers.

Nothing eventuated after the histrionics and all too soon the daily toils of just eking out an existence as a subsistence farmer or fishing family overtook the almost unbelievable larger threat to their very roots.

After all the 20,000 people of the island knew their future, just like their past was bound by thousands of years tradition to their land: their childlike belief told them nobody could take that away from them.

Sadly for them and just as Chris Overland wrote about the Independence struggle in West Papua the only practical way of stopping the exploitative caterpillars, bulldozers and jinkers is a concerted uprising against their wantok elite puppetlike spivs and their foreign handlers.

Sadly from the PM downwards to more lowly MPs there is no support for their plight merely empty hollow promises of, “We will stop the rot!” The loggers know how to pull the strings of many of the police in provinces where they are clear felling these SABLs.

There have been reports of ill treatment of anyone trying to disturb the melodies of the chainsaws. Police being illegally maintained in a logging area with food, shelter even transport being provided by the loggers.

In 1972 I was on patrol to oversee the construction of a classroom complete with a new water catchment system into a ‘modern’ fibreglass tank in the Min river area of Lavongai.

I was there for a week and took my wife and two kids to enjoy a break from muddy Taskul. We all enjoyed the experience in our little camp alongside the clear waters of the river.

In 2017 I felt like crying when Global Witness prepared a small booklet about PNG’s SABL destruction and particularly as it showed graphic pictures both aerial and at ground level of what the logger has done to that area of beautiful Lavongai.

It is on line at

Rimbunan Hijau refuted the claims made by Global Witness as: “However, in this case, all allegations raised by Global Witness are again without foundation.”

To refute this suggestion from ‘The Caterpillar’ of the PNG’s jungles the report writers replied Rimbunan Hijau was - “simply incorrect as scientists have used images taken by the Landsat satellite to keep tabs on logging activity in Southeast Asia and the Amazon for more than a decade, and they’ve published their analyses in peer-reviewed scientific journals. We can see the illegal activities in question directly on the imagery,”

Yet still daily the SABL log ships leave PNG shores for the factories of Asia. The corrupt leaders of PNG forget the 5th Goal of The Constitution of PNG: ‘Traditional villages and communities to remain as viable units of PNG society and for active steps to be taken to improve their cultural, social, economic and ethical quality.’

Having lost your traditional control over your land for the next three generations does nothing to harness that 5th Goal.

Nigel Kaua

There has reports that SABL leases were to cater for REDD+ in PNG, as reported by a PNG blog,

Verify your Comment

Previewing your Comment

This is only a preview. Your comment has not yet been posted.

Your comment could not be posted. Error type:
Your comment has been saved. Comments are moderated and will not appear until approved by the author. Post another comment

The letters and numbers you entered did not match the image. Please try again.

As a final step before posting your comment, enter the letters and numbers you see in the image below. This prevents automated programs from posting comments.

Having trouble reading this image? View an alternate.


Post a comment

Comments are moderated, and will not appear until the author has approved them.

Your Information

(Name and email address are required. Email address will not be displayed with the comment.)