An Open Letter to Lands Minister Benny Allen on SABL

Dear Minister Benny Allen,


Thank you for your response through the media [copied below] to the demands of affected landholders and the Prime Minister for answers on the SABL land grab. 

Unfortunately, your statements do nothing to alleviate concerns as it is clear you have no intention of reversing the SABL land grab and returning stolen land to rural communities. Instead you are endorsing and consolidating the land grab using alternative mechanisms of land alienation.

Rather than cancelling all but the four SABL leases approved by the Commission of Inquiry, as instructed by the Prime Minster and NEC, your Department is instead converting the leases using Incorporated Landowner Groups and Voluntary Customary Land Registration concepts.

This will replace the unlawfully issued SABL leases so the original leaseholders can remain in occupation of the land.

The fundamental problem with the original SABL leases was that there was no informed consent from the customary landholders. Many people were not consulted, others did not have issues explained to them clearly and fully in language they could understand and many did not give their consent to the land acquisition.

If the same people are now being coerced to form ILGs, register their land and consent to new leases being issued to the original leaseholders, exactly the same problem of a lack of free, prior informed consent will make the new leases as unlawful and invalid as the original SABLs.

What you are trying to do is simply repeating the original land theft using alternative legal mechanisms.

Trying to justify your actions by suggesting the leaseholders could demand compensation from the State if their leases are cancelled is completely false and misleading. It is like suggesting a criminal who is forced to hand back stolen property should be entitled to claim damages for what he has lost.

You also ignore the hundreds of millions of dollars some leaseholders have received from their illegal logging operations and the much larger financial compensation the O'Neill government already owes to the customary landholders, the real victims in this saga, for the unlawful loss of their land and subsequent environmental damage - a compensation bill that increases every day you refuse to cancel the leases.

The SABL land grab and the O'Neill government’s failed response undermines our Nation’s credibility as a trade and investment partner in the eyes of the international community and further reinforces the perception of Papua New Guinea as a failed state, overrun by corruption.

While urging you to reconsider your approach, we will also be petitioning the Prime Minister to take more direct action.

Yours sincerely

Effrey Dademo, Program Manager

Minister explains SABL
Advocacy groups ‘putting the cart before the horse’
MAJOR progress and inroads have been made into rectifying the controversial Special Agriculture Business Lease (SABLs) declared unlawful by the Government.
Lands Minister Benny Allan clarified this yesterday saying his department has been working full time accommodating and facilitating the National Executive Council decision nullifying SABL titles, the submission for which he was the author.
Mr Allan said his department had to tread carefully in implementing the NEC decision due to the complexity of the issue and it was not an overnight solution as literally demanded by uninformed NGOs.
Mr Allan said advocacy groups trying to dictate to the Government what to do were putting the cart before the horse.
"We are committed to this task and have made positive progress in implementing the Prime Minister and the NEC’s decision and instructions to cancel all SABLs in the country," Mr Allan said.
"And we have not merely cancelled SABLs, we have gone further to establishing a process to converting these SABLs into customary land leases through the Incorporated Landowner Group and Voluntary Customary Lands Registration concepts and there have been a number of success stories.
"We have not been inactive as some commentators and so-called advocacy groups may want to believe and preach.
"Nothing can be further from the truth, the Ministry and the department have, since the announcement by the Prime Minister on the blanket cancellation of all SABLs worked hard in pursuing and advancing the matter forward." Mr Allan said since the NEC Decision 287/2014 on the Commission of Inquiry recommendation, the Department of Lands and Physical Planning has to date not issued any new SABLs.
He said under the same approval all SABLs have been surrendered to the department for processing and conversion to integrated land groups and voluntary customary lands registration.
"This is not a straight-forward case as one may like to think. As a responsible Government we have to be mindful of the technical and legal challenges and considerations associated with the implementation of this decision," he said.
Mr Allan said the Department has already prepared a detailed statement on SABLs which he would present at the next sitting of Parliament.
"In the meantime I urge those detractors and opponents not to be hasty in their accusations without knowing and appreciating the work we’ve put in and the realities with which we are dealing with on this issue," he said.
POST COURIER, 15 March 2017