15 Landowner representatives from Western, Gulf, Oro, Milne Bay, Sandaun, Central and East New Britain, gathered at the Holiday Inn for 3 hours yesterday, at a media event giving prominence to the PNG government’s issuance of 99 year Special Agricultural Business Leases over more than 5 million hectares of customary land throughout PNG.
The media event, organised by PNG Eco-Forestry Forum (PNGEFF) and Centre For Environmental Law and Community Rights (CELCOR), was purposely to bring media attention to the plight of landowners who have been caught unawares by dealings involving politicians, bureaucrats and dodgy foreign companies over their customary land.
Principle Lawyer and head of CELCOR Damien Ase highlighted the legal implications of these Business Lease, most important of which was alienation of customary rights over the area, mostly for 99 years, with no guarantee of compensation or reversion to customary hands after the expiration of the term of the lease.
Also present was Honourable Member for Anglimp South Waghi, Jamie Maxtone Graham, who emphasised that Capitalism is the driving force behind the rush for resources in this country by foreign corporations and Papua New Guineans have to now stand up and fight this “enemy” and demand Papua New Guinean ways of ensuring development benefits the people of Papua New Guinea.
In a media statement signed by landowners they made four key demands directed at the Somare-led National Alliance Government. They said:
"....The Special Purpose Agriculture and Business Leases is Structural Theft of our Land and we fear that our children are being dished out the same fate as those in Rwanda, Somalia, Sudan, Congo Delta and many other countries in Africa whose government have induced poverty rather than protect its people against foreign interventions who came into those countries just to rip the riches and leave. This is a war declared on us by foreigners with the full support of our Politicians, Bureaucrats and local front men, and while we fight to protect our women and children Papua New Guineans bestowed with power to look after us have abandoned us to count the gains for themselves brought on by these interventions.
Given all that we already know about the disregard for proper application of the laws of this country amounting to serious breaches of Basic Human Rights we demand the following;
- That relevant Government Ministers’ cause the immediate cancellation of the titles to all of our customary land that was recently converted into SABLs and all permits and approvals revoked.
- That the Minister for Agriculture directs the National Agriculture Council to review its approach towards the implementation of the National Agriculture Development Plan and focus on ways in which landowners themselves can be involved in scales within their own capacity without jeopardising their future.
- Those officers responsible for the conversions of customary land into State leases at the department of Lands and Physical Planning are dealt with accordingly.
- The Police Commissioner withdraws all police uniform from security personnel who use police uniform at logging camps to intimidate and abuse the rights legitimate landowners.
We object in the strongest possible terms this act by the government and regardless of our financial capability we will fight it till these titles are cancelled as we believe that our land has been acquired by the government through fraudulent means.
It is becoming a serious concern that the Government through its agencies is granting licenses and leases with out properly consulting us before converting titles to our customary land into state leases. To date the Government has gazetted more than 5.2 million Hectares of Customary land that was converted into state leases over 99 years.
Our message is simple we want the trespassers out of our land with immediate effect!
We are already experiencing the impacts of these bad decisions of a Government who has lost directions and is merely leading us down a track similar to Bangladesh! A country ravaged by natural disaster and extreme poverty, with a huge population of 160 people and immense pressure on the natural resources which they have not got. The people of Bangladesh 100 years ago had ownership over land, but the majority of land now is in the hands of a very few who are wealthy and filthy rich while the bulk of the population are slaving on land that was once their birth right. With the advent of climate change and natural disasters the landless are more vulnerable and are in fact staring death in the face as they their problems with living and livelihoods has no solutions.
The same trend is being taken here in PNG and so we demand a stop to this terrible theft of customary land before we find ourselves in the same mess Bangladesh and other countries have gone into.
This process of land loss from customary ownership in other countries is irreversible and in PNG and Melanesia, this will trigger civil unrest and chaos very soon...."