POMIO - The people of West Pomio in East New Britain Province lost most of their land and forest under the controversial, government-backed, Special Agriculture Business Lease (SABL) scheme.
Today, eight years after a Commission of Inquiry condemned the SABL program, there are still a number of active schemes in the West Pomio area with Malaysian logging conglomerate Rimbunan Hijau the major player in logging and promised oil palm.
It is only now that the people of West Pomio are feeling the real consequences of the wrong decisions made 10 years ago and of what problems they invited into their communities.
People enjoyed the first three years of logging from 2010-13, when they were receiving payments from export royalties.
In those days, I mostly stood alone and was shamed for fighting the corrupt land dealings.
Meanwhile, around me newly-monied people were drinking alcohol into the night, something never seen before.
Now everyone is back to much less than square one.
The Asians have distanced themselves, married local girls and live a high standard of life.
The local resource owners have been abandoned.
The promises of water, electricity and other developments have not been fulfilled.
The government-funded road from Palmalmal to Mu and Pomai villages is not maintained and has not been upgraded as promised.
All the talk of assisting with building classrooms at our schools never came to anything.
Environmental issues have now become a grave concern for the local people.
Our pristine forests have been destroyed and now we are left with an oil palm plantation which is destroying our ecosystem and the river we once enjoyed.
The waste coming from the oil palm factory is killing the mangroves on the Lodi River and the lagoon and has left a permanent scar.
Most water sources we drink from daily are contaminated with chemicals and fertilisers from the oil palm plantations.
Social issues have also escalated to levels never seen before. Drug and substance abuse is on the rise and there is now a cultivation and trade in drugs in the oil palm camps.
Consumption of home brew is also on the rise, increasing the negative influences in the villages around the oil palm plantation.
People are forced to rely heavily on store foods resulting in serious issues when money is not available as promised land rental payments are not made.
Other issues include non-payment of compensation to injured workers.
After the Commission of Inquiry found the SABL leases were illegal, the government promised to cancel them and restore stolen land to the customary landowners.
Those were empty promises, just like the promises of the logging and oil palm companies.
In West Pomio we are suffering the consequences of the Papua New Guinea government’s ongoing collusion with foreign companies.
Paul Pavol is a land rights advocate and fought to reclaim his and his peoples land appropriated by the government-backed and court-condemned Special Agriculture Business Lease. In 2016, Paul was awarded the Alexander Soros Foundation Award for Environmental and Human Rights Activism for fighting to protect and reclaim his community’s land