Lands Minister Benny Allen is blocking the implementation of government decisions to end the SABL land grab and return stolen land to its customary owners.
Since 2013, Prime Minister Peter O’Neill has repeatedly promised the unlawful SABL leases will be cancelled, and in June 2014 the National Executive Council endorsed the recommendation from the Commission of Inquiry that the leases be revoked.
But Minister Benny Allen and the Department of Lands are still stalling on any action and have failed to cancel any leases.
Last week Allen appeared on talkback radio to try and explain his inaction. This was in response to renewed pressure from landholders, who had presented a 10,000 signature petition to the Lands Department a few days earlier, calling for the implementation of the Prime Minister’s promises.
Allen sounded confused and uncertain throughout his radio appearance, which was very short as he arrived over 40 minutes late, claiming he went to the wrong radio station.
While Allen acknowledged the SABL land has been stolen from customary landholders, he constantly referred to ‘the genuine leases’ and the need to work with the leaseholders, people the Prime Minister has described as ‘unscrupulous’ and ‘out to con our people’. Allen seemed unaware the Commission of Inquiry found only four of seventy-five leases were genuine and the National and Supreme courts have already ruled on five individual leases, cancelling them all.
Allen also said the SABL leases are owned by the people, which is complete nonsense, and once the leases expire the land returns to the State and becomes state property!
In a further sign of his confusion, the Minister says his Department will convert the SABL leases using Incorporated Land Groups, but this makes no legal or logical sense as ILGs are not a form of land tenure and something that is illegal can’t be lawfully converted only cancelled.
Trying to convert the leases will also not solve the problem of the land being in foreign hands and the customary landholders being deprived of their birthrights.
The Minister says his Department will take court action against leaseholders who do not surrender their leases, but is waiting for SABL affected communities ‘to come forward’ (as if people in remote rural communities can just pop over to Port Moresby at the drop of a hat) and for NEC to approve the engagement of private lawyers - meaning nothing will happen!
Crucially the Minister couldn’t explain why nothing has been done for four years or why the leases are not simply being declared void as they were never issued in accordance with the law and therefore don’t really exist.
The fact is the SABL leases were unlawfully issued by the Department of Lands in the first place and now the same corrupt and dysfunctional Department is blocking any action to reverse the land grab, while Allen fumbles around trying to make excuses and the Prime Minister and his government look weak and dishonest.