Bewani ILG Chairmen 'assaulted and forced to sign SABL agreements'

“Our houses were torn down, and we were beaten and threatened to cooperate with the company’s demands. Our MP Beldan Namah initiated the project, and so was leading in all that.”

That’s from Jack Luke, an Incorporated Land Group (ILG) Chairman from the Bewani Oil Palm Plantation in the West Sepik (Sandaun) Province.

Jack claims he was among 125 other ILG chairmen, who were physically assaulted and forced to sign the Special Agriculture Business Lease agreements, for the Malaysian logging companies on behalf of everyone in their villages.

“Men came in groups to get us to go sign the agreements and for those of us who disagreed, they tore our houses down, beat us up and threatened us. They approached each of us at a time so we couldn’t go against a group of men, especially with the local MP is on their side.”

Jack and the other ILG chairmen were told, that they would be denying their people their rights to basic services like aid posts, schools and good houses if they do not sign. The ILG chairmen were then made to gather at one of the company’s transit logging camps to sign the agreements.

“We signed all papers of the 14 page agreements, agreements that we didn’t read and so didn’t understand what we were signing, but we knew it was bad because after all, we were forced to sign,” Jack stated.

Jack said after they signed, they were told that the agreements meant, that their land was now given to the Malaysian loggers, total foreigners under the Special Agriculture Business Lease, for a period of 99 years.

They were then given K20, 000 each in cold hard cash to divide among the clans in each of the ILGs, and promised that they would be given another K30, 000 later.

“K20,000 isn’t enough for everyone to get an equal fair share. The land and forests are owned by the community as a whole, each owning a part here and there. The unequal distribution led to disagreements and members of the community going against each other, I was even suspected of getting most of the money for myself. Moreover, the promised K30,000 was never delivered,” Jack said.

According to Jack, no change has taken place in the villages since the signing of the agreements. Nothing of the sort that was promised to the ILG chairmen and their people has eventuated. To him, the situation has worsened from before the companies came.

“Look at the houses of the government officers living at the Bewani Station, they are all run down to a stage where the pigs can now run and walk through any time of the day as they please,” Jack pointed out.

In total, 50, 000 square kilometers of customary land has been stolen from indigenous communities across Papua New Guinea, using the fraudulent Special Agriculture Business Leases (SABL). Despite the government declaring SABLs illegal and void, the illegal logging has still continued in a number of areas, including in Bewani.

Land theft under SABL and illegal logging are nationwide issues with their roots in the corruption that pervades across the country. You may be the next victim, so please sign the petition demanding the government set up an Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC). Act Now!