SABL land grab dividing families

Anna Kwembi from Elis village of Bewani in the West Sepik Province is not fond of the experiences and changes the Malaysian logging company, operating under a Special Agriculture Business Lease, has brought to her area, and its impacts on her and her family. Like many others ActNow! has come across while investigating the Bewani area, Anna is struggling to keep the logging company out of her family’s land area, but she’s struggling alone.

“We used to be strong, unbreakable as a family against whatever ill purposes, and especially when it comes to protecting our land, we were a team, a force making sure our land is well guarded. As I watched, the logging company forced its way into my brothers’ common senses, money, cargo and even ‘lip promises’, and has managed to successfully turn my brothers against me,” said Anna.

The logging company told Anna and her family, along with many others, that it has to ‘clear the vegetation’ in order to plant oil palm. It told the people that that’s the only way they can have money enough to ‘send their children to big schools overseas, be able to have better houses with electricity and water supply, and their own computers, like the white men do’.

The company told them that everyone in the towns and cities around the country are better off, because they have allowed oil palm to develop their provinces. It told them that they won’t develop unless if they let the company in.

“I don’t know what the logging company meant by this ‘Special Agriculture Business Lease’, or SABL but what I do know is that it wants to clear my forest under that tag, one I don’t understand. Our forest has everything from food to building materials, herbal plants and much more so if they want to clear our forests, they must be able to compensate us with money and services that will cater for our livelihoods long-term like our forests do”

Anna’s daughter, who like her mother is the only female among her brothers, is supportive of her mother on the issue.  According to Anna, her daughter proceeded to get a court order restraining the company from going into their family’s area from the May River to the Lumbro River, the two rivers marking their land boundary.

Despite the court order, the company has gone in and is logging huge kwila trees. No oil palm has been planted where the trees once were, all there is, is just another dirt road leading into the forests where more trees are.

“I think the reason why the company doesn’t care if we get a court order or not is because all government officers in the province are most likely bribed by the company, just the way it bribed my brothers to stand against me.” Anna says.

Anna’s children are all grown ups with children of their own, and most times whatever ill fate their families come across, they blame it on their mother.

“They say I broke the traditional custom when this issue made me argue with my brothers, their uncles and stood firm totally against their stand, hence I have brought curses onto them. My stand is plain simple, I’m protecting the land for their children, and their children’s futures and so on,” Anna says, looking away as if to hide the emotions in her eyes on the subject of family bond.

Whatever the emotions were, her abrupt change in mood brought out the fighter in her when she said with authority in her voice, “I don’t care if the company sends the police and army to stop me, this land does not belong to the police and army, it is mine to protect and I will do whatever I can to protect it”.

Now in her late sixties, Anna predicts life will turn even more sour as days go by for her family, her people and the whole of Bewani given the pace of the forests being logged on a daily basis with no benefits.

Anna is just one of the many that ActNow! has come across, with similar stories of struggles with the logging company and the government.

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!