Reports on land leases reveal corruption: PM O’Neill

Source: Post Courier

Papua New Guinea's Commission of Inquiry (COI) report into the special agriculture business leases has revealed a shocking trend of mismanagement and corruption in all stages of the process.

Prime Minister Peter O’Neill, who presented the report to Parliament  this week, said it was very disappointing that the COI was asked to examine 75 Special Agricultural Business Leases (SABLs) but the final report examined only 42.

“Out of the 42 leases reported on, only in four leases were there bona fides landowner consent and a commercially viable agricultural project being undertaken,” O’Neill said.

He said the remaining leases were seriously compromised and the success rate appalling.

“The only conclusion that I can draw is that the policy on SABL’s has failed miserably. However, despite these findings the Commission has recommended that SABL’s be continued,” he said.

“The Commission has instead made a number of recommendations in an effort to improve the integrity of the process. This is not acceptable. Something drastic needs to be done.”

O’Neill also expressed disappointment at the COI, claiming it was established by then acting Prime Minister Sam Abal on July 21, 2011 and provided an interim report outlining the legal authority and processes of issuing SABLs and an assessment of the legal authority.

“In the May session of Parliament I made a statement to Parliament highlighting my dissatisfaction for its failure to produce a final report and gave them a deadline of June 24, 2013 to produce the final report, ” he said.

On June 24, he received the final report that comprised the COI into SABLs and business leases final report prepared by Commissioner John Numapo and another document of inquiry into SABL by Commissioner Nicholas Mirou.

He said the commission examined 42 of the 75 due to the fact that Commissioner Alois Jerewai failed to contribute any material to the final report.

“It would appear that the commissioners failed to work together as a team and their own personal differences have had a direct impact on the quality of the report produced,” O’Neill said.

He said although recommendations by the COI to continue SABLs, it cannot continue in the current form and the government is going to start protecting landowners and the environment.

“We will no longer watch on as foreign owned companies come in and con our landowners, chop down our forests and then take the proceeds offshore,” he said.

He said the Minister for Lands and Physical Planning will be appointing a task force to identify a new legislative framework to provide for the conversion of customary land into lease hold land for the benefit of landowners, protect the interest of landowners and ensure sustainable land use.

“For too long landowners have been taken advantage of and had their land stolen from under them,”  O’Neill said.

He said the task force will be consulting widely.

“The use of customary land is sensitive and this government is committed to getting it right,” he said.