APEC Minister Organising Huge New Land Grab

The government has yet to cancel all the illegal SABL leases, used to defraud communities of more than 5 million hectares of land but they are already pressing ahead with plans for another land grab; this time with the commercial banks as the beneficiaries.

Last week the APEC Minister, Justin Tkatchenko, met with the CEOs from BSP, Westpac and ANZ banks and their lawyers to find a way to make customary land acceptable as security for cash loans. 

The Minister claims this is necessary to ‘free-up’ ‘idle’ customary land for ‘investment’. But it is simply not true for the Minister to claim the 80% of land in PNG under customary control is idle or unused.

Customary land supports a huge economy, conservatively estimated to be worth more than K40 billion a year, in subsistence lifestyles and small-scale agriculture. 

There are also three million farmers, many of whom are skilled agronomists, who depend on customary land for employment and an income. 

The current population explosion and climate change impacts are only going to increase these values.

The fact is, customary land is vital to the health and well being of rural communities and the government should not allow customary landowners to pledge their land with the banks to get cash loans. 

Many customary landholders could use their loans for short-term consumption and be unable to repay the money. The bank will then move in to evict communities and sell the land which was used as security for the loan.

There will also be a huge risk from corruption, with ILG Chairman able to do their own deals with the banks just as they did with logging companies in the SABL land grab..

Allowing loans and mortgages over customary land is a typical foreign agenda to benefit rich corporations at the expense of indigenous communities and rural people; shifting yet more wealth into fewer and fewer hands.

Customary land is too important and too valuable to be used as the collateral for loans.

The Minister should be concentrating on cancelling all the illegal SABL leases as the Prime Minister has repeatedly promised, rather than trying to create a new land grab.