NOOSA – I thought this was going to be a good news story, but now I'm not too sure.
Late last week, Papua New Guinea prime minister James Marape seemed to move with lightning speed to stop a developer evicting residents and destroying homes at Port Moresby’s ATS settlement.
However, just as I was putting the story to bed last night, I got some disconcerting news. But first some background.
ATS stands for the Air Transport Squadron of the PNG Defence Force and refers to the residential compound of the PNGDF ATS which is located adjacent to the settlement.
The ATS land at 8 Mile was traditionally owned by three men from the original Koari people who, in 1995, gave their consent to settlers from Oro Province to live on the land. The leaders of the settlement once said they had documents to prove this arrangement.
The ATS settlement traditionally house people from Oro Province, but now there are many other ethnic groups there. According to various sources the population in ATS is about 10,000, many of whom are unemployed and in serious financial hardship.
According to the Department of Lands, in 2008, under suspicious circumstances, title was given to Dunlavin Limited, a Chinese company. In 2013 police attempted to execute an eviction order from Dunlavin and ordered the settlers, who had been given no notice, to leave.
The court battle over the title continued thereafter and was eventually awarded to Dunlavin, which wanted to develop the land.
Dunlavin took out a new court order to evict people living on portion 695 of the land giving notice of 120 days which ended last Thursday.
Immediately, the equipment moved in and, despite the 120 days’ notice, once again the settlers were caught unawares by bulldozers moving in, this time it seems to construct a road.
“We helped to build a house there for my wife’s family 10 years ago,” a correspondent told me. “It was a much better investment than paying bride price and I was assured the family had been given the land title by a former owner, an uncle who was a surveyor.
“Last week we had to help my wife’s family buy tools to dismantle the house before it was flattened.”
But on Friday it seemed like a court order taken out by the prime minister had brought things to a halt, with ATS residents being promised there would be legal action and the land will remain theirs.
A field agent has been gathering information in ATS and it seems that people in land portion 195 have been given an eviction notice and people living in portions 194 and 196 are also in fear and are packing because they believe the police will move in with indiscriminating force.
Late last week, local MP John Kaupa assured the people that prime minister Marape had promised to find other land and give it to the Chinese company - and that the people did not have to leave.
But that promise seems unlikely to be kept because the next day police and bulldozers moved in and demanded the people to vacate.
"It is corruption at play," my agent remarked. "Politicians, Lands Department bureaucrats and pimps are united in this saga."
So the people of ATS, all 10,000 or so of them, are at present in limbo.
Is prime minister Marape going to be a man of his word and protect their settlement, their land and their homes?
Or are these just sweet words to calm down the people and make it easier to push them aside - and with nowhere to go?
We're about to find out. Have these people been given an option to go elsewhere and rebuild? And if so where? And who will pay for it?
Dr Michelle Nayahamui Rooney has written of these acute problems of urban development in Port Moresby, saying that “at the very least, policies or proposed developments must include provisions to identify those who will be affected and options for their resettlement.”
In her study of the ATS settlement, Dr Rooney wrote that settlers have been such a prominent part of the urban landscape for so long that they not only have developed ways to sustain this lifestyle, they have developed knowledge that can inform urban land policy processes.
That, rather than bulldozers, would be a much better starting point.
But does the Marape government count the ATS people as being citizens worth listening to more than an overseas development company that probably thinks it's been hanging around too long already?
With thanks to those who provided my information. You know who you are.