Pomio landowners take stand against Rimbunan Hijau

By John Pangkakatana

Jacob Samo of Bairaman Village is one of those prominent landowners taking a strong stand against foreign logging company Gilford Investment destroying their land in the hard-hit remote West Pomio, East New Britain Province, reports the Post Courier.

Samo is fighting an uphill battle against all odds to reverse the decision that saw their land being signed away to the State through the SABL 99 year lease lease back program. Samo who is also a plaintif representing the Ralopal concession regarding coastal villages from Mauna, Lau Polo and Bairaman Malai, said he is concerned for his peoples livelihoods in the years to come. 

Samo made a few points that he belives contributes to the problem areas his people are suffering from: 

  • There has been no proper consultation to the landowners for leasing their land to the State without their concern
  • There has been no proper awareness carried out to the landowners to explain further details on any legal documents regarding the Special Purpose Agriculture and Business Leases (SPABLs)
  • There has been no proper land investigation being carried out in our areas. There is no mediation indicating clans are coming together to identify their land boundaries to create a proper integrated landowner group (ILG)
  • Ralopal concession does not have a proper ILG, but yet it is already a signatory for SABL
  • The people who signed the lease agreement are from inland Mamusi where they have no right to sell this land without proper consent. 

Since 1996, we the three communities under the Ralopal concession especially Mauna, Lau, Bairaman, already have a small scale production, Samo added. He said that they already have their small scale production eco-forestry project that has helped to contribute towards improving services like building classrooms,building aid-posts and local houses to name a few.

The project is creating a rift between the inland and coastal people, he said. “I can forsee more destruction, corruption, more problems and conflict,” he said.

He said the logging company is getting their way because it is using money for alleged bribery. Samo alleged that the logging company bribes government officers, landowners and other public servants to gain support for their corrupt dealings. He said money is used to shut landowners mouths so that they don’t feel obliged to stand up for their rights. Samo said this also leads to signing of forms without understanding what they are signing away.

“Those that are on the pay-roll also stand up to fight against their own brothers sometimes that oppose the logging operations,” Samo added. “We have the right to stand up for our land and should not be spectators on our land,” he added. We the indigenious landowners want to address the Peter O’Niell government to get rid off the lease back SABL system.

“This is corruption in our back-yard and everybody seem’s to be turning a blind-eye to the destruction hapenning on our land,” he added.