Police and army accused of serving SABL loggers

Peter Tai is the Chief of Aimbai village, one of 26 villages in Bewani, West Sepik Province. Just like the other people Act Now! met in Bewani, Chief Peter had no knowledge that Malaysian logging companies would be taking over their land, until they arrived.

“I am the Chief of Aimbai village. This means that anyone from the village, and especially outsiders who decide to do anything here, have to go through me. I will then call the community together and a decision will be reached, based on majority votes from my people. None of that happened in the case of this Special Agriculture Business Lease,” the Chief pointed out.

Confirming stories from all other Aimbai people ActNow! reached, Chief Peter said none of the actual landholders had anything to do with any agreements that were signed, for the companies to start operating using the Special Agriculture Business Lease or SABL, a 99-year lease.

“The company made its way around with the help of the then Vanimo Green MP Belden Namah, who made sure ILGs (Incorporated Land Groups) were formed and then got all the ILG chairmen to sign the agreements on behalf of all of our people without our consent,” Chief Peter said.

Before the ILGs were formed, there was no proper awareness done to clarify what a Special Agriculture Business Lease is, the people also had no idea that their rights were being signed over behind their backs to the company for 99 years, which is about 3 generations.

Eventually the logging companies started flocking into areas of Bewani, and into Aimbai. The confused people tried to stop the companies and get explanations, but found themselves threatened, beaten and turned away by the police and army, the very ones who should be protecting them.

“When the company uses the police and army, they twist the law and beat us up very badly, to the point where we are afraid to attempt stopping the company again,” the Chief said.

The police and army used in Bewani are said to be armed and in full uniforms, most times alongside the loggers, making sure the people dare not disturb and if they do, they make sure they don’t next time.

“The soldiers are part of the government, the government which should be protecting me like a father would to his family, but the government has instead sided with the company and left me confused and unprotected. It’s going to kill me, its started killing me already,” the Chief said with a sense of loosing hope in his voice.

When the people learnt that the company was logging trees in areas where there would be no planting of oil palms, and jobs on the oil palm plantations paid poorly, it was already far too late to do anything, especially with agreements signed and their MP on the company’s side with the uniformed police and army armed and on site with the loggers full time.

“Our trees are not just any trees, they’re kwila trees strong enough to last a century. If they’re taking something like kwila trees from us, then they ought to repay us with something of quality in return. I as the Chief of Aimbai demand that the company build permanent houses, sealed roads, permanent school classrooms with permanent teachers’ houses and a permanent aid post building with permanent houses for the health workers, as compensation for logging so many huge kwila trees in my village,” Chief Peter’s frustrating tone emerges.

The Chief told of how the company built a school with only 5 classrooms for Aimbai village. The cost of doing that was taken out of the landholders’ royalty payments with an 100% interest, only for the landholders to find the company building the classrooms out of waste timber, and the teachers’ houses from raw bush materials.

“The company is happy when it takes my kwila trees and leaves, because it knows it will become a millionaire, but what about me? What will I do? Nothing. I will be left here alone to fend for my losses. Without the government, we are loosing hope, but with you (Act Now!) here, we are grateful that we will be heard by people around the world,” said the Chief.

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!