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The disgrace of the ATS settler eviction

ATS destruction
The destruction of ATS Portion 695 (@nayahamui)


NOOSA – A stark report has revealed a humanitarian crisis developing at the ATS settlement in Port Moresby as long-standing residents are evicted.

A Twitter string from from Nayahamui Supowes (@nayahamui) estimates that 2,000 people have been displaced from Portion 695 of the settlement.

It is located on traditional Koiari land near Jacksons International Airport that was given to settlers from many parts of Papua New Guinea and has long been home to 10,000 people.

As more property is being bulldozed each day, it is estimated that hundreds of families have already lost their homes, gardens and other assets.

Residents on other portions of land at ATS also face the threat of eviction and are living in a state of great anxiety.

ATS eviction mapMost people from Portion 695 (see map) have moved temporarily to other portions or have been dispersed elsewhere. Some remain in makeshift shelters while they decide where to go.

Nayahamui Supowes writes that this is a serious public policy issue in the middle of a Covid-19 pandemic and that Port Moresby’s leaders need to reach out to the people.

“I hope a resettlement solution can be found. The National Capital District governor has shown this is possible in the previous resettlement of people from Paga to Saraga.

“I have been following urban land issues in PNG for many years. ATS is a landmark situation.

“Each of these portions of state land is registered to separate title holders, who are recognised legal entities under the law. Each will serve its own interests. There are many Goliaths and many Davids.

“The law leans towards the registered title holder while affording limited ‘equitable rights’ to occupants of state land - mainly giving them a ‘just’ period to vacate.”

“PNG law privileges State title in urban contexts, but citizens are entitled to government support.

“Ironically, given the evictions, the PNG Constitution legally recognises customary and PNG ways of living. So the law needs to be further explored.

“For around 11 years, the Portion 695 community and lawyers have been like a legal gatekeeper for the broader ATS settlement community.

“With their eviction there are fears that the floodgates are going to open a torrent of backhoes and bulldozers through the other portions.”

Nayahamui Supowes senses that it would take that someone of standing with a legal interest to take this bigger picture issue of evictions to court.

“Such persons of standing would be folk like the NCD Governor and the MP for Port Moresby North East. A question is whether they have the political will to pursue such action.

“The big question is whether legal and policy actors can find ways to address the overall human impacts? It is a policy and legal puzzle.

“To get idea of the scale, this week we interviewed five women whose families live in clusters of kin groups were among those evicted. Among these five women’s families, a total of 54 people were displaced.

“Many sought refuge with kin on adjacent land or dispersed to other areas.”

As Nayahamui Supowes writes, “like many ‘development’ projects, power and money means fear and worry for the vulnerable.”

In his forthcoming novel, The Old Man’s Dilemma, author Daniel Kumbon writes of the fictional Old Dairy Farm settlement which faced a similar crisis as the ATS Portion 695 people.

The Old Man raised his hands for calm. “We must continue to own our land. We must build on our land and grow on our land. We can allow foreign companies to rent. But we must never sell land to foreigners. We must stand on our own soil and build this country with our own two hands.

“We must not allow corruption to break apart our country. We must respect the founding fathers that made us one nation and the forefathers preceding them who stood united to bring peace and prosperity to PNG.

“I am happy we became independent with our natural resources intact –gold, oil, gas, copper, fish, timber, coffee and the rest. These things make us a rich country and they belong to us all. We have so much. We could be so much more.

“But some of our leaders have been foolish. They have been greedy. The overseas companies have bought them. Our politicians must not be bought. They must not allow our people to be exploited. They must not allow our country to be sucked dry.”

“The truth is our leaders are not managing this country on behalf of its people. Too many are managing it on behalf of themselves. I am not an elected leader. I do not want to be an elected leader. But I am happy to work with our leaders, especially those like the Governor, to bring about the changes I know you want, the changes I know you need, the changes I know you deserve.

“I believe the politicians will listen to us. Your anger has shaken them. I thank you for listening to us and resting your arms. And I thank members of the security forces for doing your duty to protect lives and property.”

That is fiction but surely a government of Papua New Guinea that is faithful to the people would be working to make it the reality.


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John K Kamasua

Evictions of settlements tend to be heavy handed, with the use of police and guns. It is swift and there are no plans or considerations to resettle people or repatriate them to their provinces of origin.

In the absence of a policy on urbanisation, or even on urban settlement, once a title has been issued to a business or a person of standing, the eviction is carried out.

No consideration is paid to livelihood, rights, security of income, education or health.

Governments have been failing the people of PNG on this area for many years, going back to pre-independence.

Philip Kai Morre

settlements is integral part of urban growth and they are there to contribute manual labor and promote informal sector economy where there is cash flow. Settlements feed the working class through various means including supplying of fresh produce. They are also producers of human resources where most of the children from settlements are highly educated and hold top positions. We have to think twice before we remove settlements.

Bernard Corden

“The further a society drifts from the truth, the more it will hate those that speak it.” - George Orwell

Arthur Williams

I would suggest that the disgrace of eviction is merely the symptom of a PNG 'disease'. Namely over the last one hundred years hundreds of businesses have fastened onto the money making teat which a capital city always engenders.

The happy band of entrepreneurs, mostly, were unconcerned where or how their labourers of hand and brain eked out an existence of family life.

Just as happened in South Africa even during apartheid era when white supremacists were happy for a black woman to be a nanny for their little babies while they banned her own family from living nearby and cared little about the conditions of homes the nannies came from; just as long as she was clean and reasonably dressed to wipe little Han's bum after he finished on his potty.

In occupied Palestine daily Arab woman are victims of the same sort of regime. Some even at predawn illegally entering Jewish zone to wipe Joseph's bum.

The disease that is evident in PNG I suggest is that capitalism cares little for the basic human dignity of labour. There have been some notable exceptions over the recent few hundred years such as the Quaker Rowntree family of York, England who in the latter part of the 19th century were decades ahead of improving the lives of its workers in an era when children as young as ten were employed. Mine disasters' casualty lists reflect the very young ages of some of the victims.

These wage slaves slowly saw improvement in the now unbelievable working conditions especially for women and children.

1833 Factory Act banned children from working in textile factories under the age of nine. From nine to thirteen they were limited to 9 hours a day and 48 hours a week.

1847 The Ten Hour Act cut the hours of women and the under-eighteens to 10 per day and 58 per week.

Ironically in the crazy Victorian era the life of a child was obviously considered worth less than an animal. Hence The RSPCA or Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals was begun in 1824. That was 67 years before the The SPCC -Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children was started in 1891.

By 1943 the average working week for a UK manual worker was still 53 hours, and it wasn’t until 1993 that the EU Working Time Directive limited the amount of hours employees could be made to work in a week. Yet almost 100 years earlier in 1896, the five-day, eight-hour working week had already been introduced for Rowntree employees.

Managing a company in Kavieng in late 1970s I was disgusted with the accommodation that the previous owners had provided for their workers who toiled from dawn to dusk.

The barrack style rooms were merely a single bed in a room 3 metres by 2 metres. The family would cook in that room too if rain stopped them from cooking outside.

Politically and jealously motivated about six weeks after the local company took over the business we were inspected by a Labour official. Who demanded immediate better provision of the two seat toilet that catered for the six families living on site and removal of the rusting remain of an old six-ton truck. No mention of the size of the rooms was mentioned by the official perhaps living in a slightly better low-covenant home in the town.

I asked where he had been for the last 20 years when the Asian family had been owners of the store.

About the same time I had heard the National Housing Corporation was opening some new blocks around the town for housing. I arranged for an interview with the manager and told him of the problem I faced in providing decent homes for my workers and wanted six blocks for key employees. I hit the buffers with that. “Mr Williams we can only allocate one to you!” I tried to explain that as the then 3rd largest store in the town I needed good homes for those vital staff. Further explaining they would become permanent company homes for any of my workers' families while they continued to be employed by the firm.

Thus if any were dismissed for some malpractice in their employment or indeed decided to return to their village homes back on Lavongai I would have a home to attract a replacement family. I lost the debate with bureaucracy.

Housing is one of the most basic human rights and Seebohm Rowntree once said, ““If the workers are to co-operate in producing a high output of goods, which will compete successfully in the world market, they rightly demand, in their working lives, conditions which will enable and encourage them to give of their best.”

In this article Nayahamui Supowes senses that it would take that someone of standing with a legal interest to take this bigger picture issue of evictions to court. “Such persons of standing would be folk like the NCD Governor and the MP for Port Moresby North East.'

I suggest it is these elites ie so called 'People of Standing' and their predecessors who have failed the current victims over very many years by their idleness in catering for the needs of the capital's citizens without whom Moresby could not function.

The lack of powerful Unions for the labour sector of the economy allows the capital sector free-will to not provide adequate basic lives for employees. A general strike for even a week would show how the lowliest paid are as essential to an economy as the dwellers on Touaguba Hill. Imagine the riot squads would attempt to stop the legal free right of association and/or marching to obtain better conditions.

Daniel Kumbon has written that above quoted paragraphs from his book 'The Old Man’s Dilemma'.

I would also suggest additional reading of 'The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists' by Robert Tressel (actually Robert Noonan) first published in 1914 by Grant Richards.
(Wikipedia claims Richards removed much of the socialist ideology from the first edition. However an unabridged edition with Noonan's original ending was published in 1955, edited by F. C. Ball)

AG Satori

It is not clear if the courts will allow for an inquiry into how the titles were obtained in the first place. Under the Torrens System that we got from England and on land acquisition, a person who shows title has an indefeasible right to the land covered by the title to the exclusion of others. That is the law that the courts will uphold.

Those who are affected by the ownership of the title must show that the title was obtained by fraud only then will the courts do an inquiry and if possible make a ruling that the title was obtained fraudulently.

It may be difficult but the process for issuing the title is documented by meetings and gazettal notices. Disputing parties should seek an inquiry into the process used to acquiring the title.

If the people had moved in before the title was issued, there should be inquiry into if the process therein prescribed were done properly and that the people on the land were given notice that such sittings were occurring.

Lawyers who represented the settlers in the ATS saga were just approaching the courts over the human rights issues and were not seeking out court assistance to see how the title were obtained.

It is a terrible dilemma and Department of lands officials need to scrutinize how they deal with land issues. The other issue is there are plenty of vacant land that has development time frames in them. Some of the land are owned forever with no development and should be forfeited when the time lapsed. This is true for all the bare hills surrounding Port Moresby.

Someone has a title to it but is not going to develop it. They will keep the title and try to sell off to some enterprising foreigner.

The Torrens system does not apply to traditional land but there is a process for acquiring traditional land to bring it under the Torrens system so if ATS land is traditional Koiari land then there ought to be an acquisition first before title can be issued. That is some argument that is not squaring.

Philip Fitzpatrick

Fiction is a place where truth can be expressed unfettered by all the malign forces that threaten it.

Truth expressed in fiction often has a bigger impact than when expressed in dry non-fiction.

Who could deny the truth expressed in the excerpt from Daniel's novel?

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