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Summit offers new hope for traditional landowners

National Land Summit (Kinjap)
Section of the audience at last week's National Land Summit workshop (Peter Kinjap)

PETER S KINJAP

PORT MORESBY - In gearing up for a national land summit in May, the Lands and Physical Planning Department in association with National Research Institute is hosting two-day workshop in each of Papua New Guinea’s four regions.

The southern region workshop was held late last week at the International convention Centre in Port Moresby.

At the meeting, landowners from Oro, Central, Western and Milne Bay had the opportunity to contribute views and shared their experiences on customary land issues.

Opening the workshop, Lands Minister Justin Tkatchenko announced that the government has taken steps to produce secure land titles. He said a consultant from Australia had been engaged to work on this.

The watermarked, ‘bullet proof’ land titles will be accepted by banks as legitimate evidence of title. As part of this project, all documents in the Lands Department are being scanned and will be digitised.

Land documents will be available online. “You type in the section and allotment numbers to search for the original owners and it should display the records,” Tkatchenko said.

His announcement is something many Papua New Guineans have wanted to hear for a very long time. It’s long overdue.

Meanwhile, deputy prime minister Charles Abel told 500 participants that everyone in PNG is a landowner and it takes time and is not easy but the process for registering Incorporated Land Groups must be followed.

Abel admitted the PNG LNG project clan vetting had failed. “This should have been done before the project started,” he said.

Abel said that “foreigners find it difficult to understand how it is like to own a land.

“In PNG, we own it mutually or communally for the community and we are customary custodians for the clan.

“There is a Melanesian way of ownership – the communal ownership. Get a title and give developers and banks to deal with them,” he said.

Another key speaker, Sir Moi Avei, was applauded when he said, “Those involved in trying to steal land from customary landowners should be prosecuted and penalised to the maximum.

“I speak Motu and that does not mean I am in authority for the Motuan speaking community to make a decision for them,” Avei said.

“Customary land has been inherited from our forefathers and remains for our future. They are not gonna be taken away from us.

“No one person or entity will take away the right of our land placed in each indigenous citizen by the creator. The wisdom to administer the customary land lies in the village and the government should make funds available.”

The summit participants revealed that about five million hectares of customary land have been taken away under the controversial SABL scheme, which has been associated with illegal land grabs.

Question were asked about wgat will happen to this land now?

The book of Deuteronomy in the Bible says “do not move your neighbour’s property boundary, established long ago in the land that the Lord your God is giving you.”

The core issue with SABL is that the Lands Minister gave licenses to developers which were illegal and cancelled by a competent court. But little has been done to remedy the situation.

Under the new process the government will help customary landowners register their land and obtain a title that is mortgageble and bankable so they can start to negotiate with developers to enter into agreements for development or to trade the land.

It’s a move to empower the landowners – and the government claims it will not empower developers. The government role is to ensure compliance and fair dealing.

A concerned participant said corruption must be addressed in PNG. Corrupt public servants should be terminated, imprisoned and blacklisted.

It was also suggested the government record family trees, tribal lineages and genealogies as a basis for national identity cards, birth certificates and the legitimacy of incorporated land groups. There should be a new government agency to administer this, the Indigenous Affairs Department.

Ther e can be no doubt that the government’s approach to landowners in the past has created land disputes and corruption. Customary landowners live an organised life around land ownership and use. The problem has been created by government authorities not respecting indigenous land rights.

The government should accept communal ownership, not encourage individual ownership. 

The regional summit for Momase will be held in Madang on 7-8 March; for the Island region in Kokopo from 14-15 March; and in the Highlands at Mt Hagen from 21-22 March.

Peter Kinjap is a freelance writer and blogger, email pekinjap@gmail.com

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