The Papua New Guinea activist group ACT NOW speaks out about Australian banks involved in land dealings

Source: Radio Australia

The comments come in the wake of the release, earlier this week, of a report by Oxfam which found all of Australia's big four banks are involved in financing relationships with companies with links to unethical practices over land in developing countries.

Presenter: Jemima Garrett

Speaker: Effrey Dademo, ACT NOW Program Manager

DADEMO: ACT NOW! thinks that the report is very timely, it's also well researched as usual. The thing that is made clear in this report is the Australian angle to the whole Papua New Guinea land grab issue, which has not been really clear in the past, although we've only been highlighting the Australian companies that were implicated. The facilitation of all these land grabs is being done by banks and this report does make that very clear and that's why we really like the report and we support it. It's very timely.

GARRETT: Oxfam wants the banks to put pressure on the companies that they invest in to compensate communities that have suffered losses from illegal or unethical activity. Is that the way to go? What would that mean?

DADEMO: Of course, they have to and they have to stop facilitating this company and make their policies and environmental regulations. Actually some of them do have this, but they're just on paper and it's not strictly enforced and so these banks have to really pull up their socks. Epecially in PNG, because a lot of what these banks do in PNG really is off the radar, because in PNG, the public is really not concerned about what these banks are doing. There's only very few people following it, so there's really no one holding these banks accountable here, so they operate largely without any form of accountability. So I think that that recommendation is good and that the banks should compensate these communities, because this issue has actually ripped off a lot of local people of their land.

GARRETT: ACT NOW has repeatedly called for the revocation of flawed special agricultural and business leases, SABLs. Papua New Guinea's Prime Minister has now come out and said that SABLs were abused by the logging industry, will be cancelled. What's your reaction to that?

DADEMO: The catch there is 'will be' cancelled. They have not been cancelled yet and the Prime Minister has been saying that like since he received that report from the Commissioners back in late 2013, and we're still waiting for the government to actually go ahead and cancel it and there has got to be an NEC decision, there has got to be actual cancellation action taken and not just lip service and we're going to have to hold the Prime Minister to his word. He needs to follow through on those comments he made and actually go and cancel those, not just cancel the leases, but also act on the recommendations of the Commission of Inquiry.

GARRETT: On a separate land issue, you've also been critical of a study by the National Research Institute in Papua New Guinea, that suggesting the introduction of reforms that would make it possible for 99 year leases on small parcels of customary land to be used as collateral for bank loans. What's your objection to that?

DADEMO: It's a dangerous call, and it's a call that is being made at the wrong time. We need to really look through. The government has to cancel leases that are already found to be fraudulently issued. Cancel leases that already found to be illegally issued, and to put everything back to where it was before and then let's talk about how to make use of money making opportunities for landowners. But one of the things that we have to really careful about is that we're talking about customary land, so what happens when these landowners default on these loans. Of course, they want to use it as collateral, that's what these banks and semi-government institutions like NRI are advocating, but what everyone's quiet on is what happens when landowners default in payment of those loans, who gets the land? We all know that the banks will get that land. They most probably and definitely going to sell it off and landowners will be dispossessed forever. So this is an issue that is crucial and with the kind of corrupt government agencies and officials that we have. I mean PNG really should shut up on this issue about using customary land as collateral for lands, until we clean up the Department of Land and every other department that has been implicated in the whole illegal process of dispossessing communities of their customary land.