SABL Slavery! Pomio land grab fails to deliver on promises

SABL Story Project*

The Pomio West Special Agriculture Business Leases have failed to bring the promised economic development and financial benefits. Instead, whole villages have been taken over as the property of the lease holder along with everything standing on the land. The people have been left trapped as slaves.

One simply cannot imagine how gloomy the future is for these communities that have a rich cultural heritage and strong spiritual connections to their land, who were happy and free to roam and live off their land.

Today, the reality is the so-called ‘developer’ of the SABL “owns” these people’s lives. It is a case of “My way or the Highway” as far as the leaseholder is concerned.

Despite the promised benefits of roads, health centres, schools and BIG cash, the reality is that the people in these communities are now slaves on their own land and will be for several generations to come, the leases being for 99 years.

Gone, along with their forests, are all the kinds of environmental services that their ancestors before them had benefited from for thousands of years. Today the people are not even allowed to plant gardens freely on their own land. Instead, they have the choice of either intensive farming on whatever plots they are allowed to keep, or becoming underpaid labourers, aka slaves, on Rimbunan Hijau’s oil palm plantations (pictured below).

If you think the wages will be enough to keep an average family, you are completely mistaken! The wages are so low that the whole family needs to work to provide their own contribution just to the family food budget. The reality is that only then will there be just enough money to buy food and nothing else.

The experience of the impacts as told by those whose land has been taken away from them are that they have nothing to turn to for survival except to work on the plantations. All of the people who the author has met on his travels have told of how services that have been promised them prior to taking their land are being used to force them into being labourers.

The police station, for instance (pictured below), is built to serve the interest of the company. If there is any expressed resentment against the company, the policemen stationed there physically deal with perpetrators. The schools only get assistance if they agree to conditions set by the company. If any health services are provided at all it is restricted to company employees.

Is this really ‘development’? Is this the future we want for our rural communities?

The Government boasts of ‘bringing development’ through public-private partnerships such as the SABL leases. They say these partnerships provide the much needed services that the government has not got the capacity to deliver. But the reality is that the companies use these partnerships to fool the innocent landowners into believing that the company will spend its own money and therefore should be allowed to do whatever it likes without scrutiny!

An example of this is the Palmalmal Aerodrome and local Sports Field re-development. Funding for these and several other public infrastructure re-developments came from the local MP’s District Support Improvement Program funds, while only the machinery used belonged to the company. But, company officials have convinced resisting landowners that the initiative and money belonged to the company and therefore they were contributing to positive change in the community!

The 'SABL Story Project' is an initiative of ACT NOW! that gives a voice to people in remote rural areas whose lives are impacted by the SABL land grab but who do not have access to the media to tell their stories.