PORT MORESBY – Two thousand people from Portion 695 of the ATS settlement are seeing their homes and gardens destroyed even as lawyers seek to determine whether further legal action may be possible.
It is not clear if the Papua New Guinea courts will allow an inquiry into how the ATS settlement titles were obtained in the first place.
Under the Torrens System that PNG inherited from England, when it comes to land acquisition a person who shows title has a right to the land which it is impossible to annul and is covered to the exclusion of others.
That is the law that the courts will uphold.
Those people who are affected by this and who believe they have a right to ownership of the title must show that the title was obtained by fraud if they are to retain the land.
Only then will the courts order an inquiry and if possible make a ruling that the title was obtained fraudulently.
Disputing parties should seek an inquiry into the process used to acquiring the title.
This involves a process of examining how the issue of the title was documented by meetings and gazettal notices.
It may be difficult but it is due process.
If the people had moved on to the land before the title was issued, there should be inquiry into whether the prescribed process was done properly.
Lawyers who represented the settlers in the ATS saga had just approached the courts over the human rights issues and had not sought court assistance to determine how the title was obtained.
It is a terrible dilemma and Department of Lands officials need to scrutinize how they deal with land issues.
The other issue is that there are plenty of vacant land that has development time frames.
Some of the land has been owned forever with no development and should be forfeited when the time lapses.
This is true for all the bare hills surrounding Port Moresby.
Someone has title but is not going to develop. They will keep the title and try to sell the land to some enterprising foreigner.
The Torrens system does not apply to traditional land but there is a process for acquiring thisto bring it under the Torrens system.
So if the ATS settlement land is traditional Koiari land, then there ought to be an acquisition first before title can be issued.
There is some argument in all this that is not squaring.