By Luana Paniu
A K3 million agriculture and business project in Drekirkir, East Sepik Province has not been recognized by the Government as a Special Agriculture and Business Lease (SABL) despite functioning as one.
Under an agreement signed between a Malaysian Logging Company (named) and a prominent Leader, a least 56,000 hectares of land was leased in 1998 under lease-lease back arrangement for the planting of Oil Palm.
Clearance of trees to begin planting of OilPalm seedlings were to take place in the Kawanga area between Wasora and Ambunti/Drekirkir Local Level Government. Like an SABL, the project was to bring much needed development and economic benefit for the 3,000 people of the surrounding villages in Kawanga; Nungwaya, Masalaga and Ambuken.
When asked whether this was an SABL, the Landowners were puzzled and said they did not know what an SABL meant although they did state that a proper land agreement had not been signed.
“Mi ino save, mipela imas filim aut wanpela ILG fom na Landowner Agreement, tasol mipela ino save wanem samting em SABL, dispel projek ibin kamap nating,” said a local magistrate and landowner.
Revisiting the list before the Commission of Inquiry showed that there were only four SABL’s in East Sepik Province and Drekirkir was not one of them.
Under the Lands Act 1996, any agriculture and business project must apply the lease-lease back arrangement under the SABL or else it is illegally operated and it is believed that this was just a number of SABL’s that have been popping up over the 5 months the inquiry has been conducting investigations.
This raises the question of Landowner Consent and the obvious exclusion of involvement of the four key government agencies, Department of Lands and Physical Planning, Department of Environment and Conservation, National Forest Authority and the Department of Agriculture and Livestock.
It would also question how land title was issued since and who held it and also shows that since the departments were not involved, no proper awareness was conducted concering land boundaries, explanations about SABL’s, genealogy studies, environmental impact and many other field investigations captured in a Land Investigation Report (LIR) were ever concluded.
According to Information Officer, Nicholas Krause, at least 39 kilometres of ancestoral trees have been cleared from the project site at Nanaha Junction spanning a width of 10 to 20 metres. “Planting (of Oil Palm) has only begun,” he said.
But under the SABL, it is a requirement from the National Forest Services that planting must resume while forest is cleared.
He also alleged that senior management of the Malaysian logging company was not able to communicate with the people since they did not know English or Tok Pisin.
He said this was why they had to employ the local supervisor to oversee labour at the project site in which labourers were hired from the surrounding villages, but landowners have been disgruntled over working conditions and have demanded improvement.
“They are not happy with the wages they are given after back breaking work.” He concluded.
The prominent leader could not be reached for comment despite numerous attempts..