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.
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.