SABL: Over to you at the big Haus Tambaran

There are diverse issues that concern individual Papua New Guineans in different ways, but the one issue that will always be of great cultural and emotional significance to all of us is our land. Taking away someone’s land or their right to it, is as good as amputating all four of their limbs.

Since March 2003, the Special Agriculture and Business Leases (SPABLs) with the help of Forest Clearance Authorities (FCA) have crippled many of our tribesmen with the alienation of 5.2 million hectares of land and the fact that this crippling will continue for three generations is adding insult to the injury.

Throughout history, one voice is all that it takes to speak out against a ‘wrong’ and eventually a ‘right’ comes out of it. So far we are 6000 voices on behalf of our people that have been ‘wronged’ and it is your prerogative as our leaders to make it ‘right’. We call upon you to:

  1. Ensure that the Commission of Inquiry (CoI) into the SPABLs is completed, findings made public and acted upon.
  2.  Issue a court order to stop all FCAs until such time the CoI is completed.

 The CoI and the moratorium on all SPABLs is one-step in the right direction, but it’s a mere fly that can simply be swatted away time and again by the hand of the all-powerful and super rich logging companies. It is simply not enough.  Despite the moratorium, there is strong evidence that FCAs are still being acted upon, resulting in two million hectares of land being clear felled-so far. Companies are disguising their activity as ‘integrated agro-forestry’ projects and are continuing with their business as usual while your people are stuck in a limbo where there isn’t any improvement to their livelihood and they have limited or no access to their source of water, food and shelter.

So far, records from the National Gazette illustrate that the Southern Region has the largest area of leases granted to private companies totaling to 2.9 million hectares of the 5.2 million hectares leased. From that figure, Western Province alone accounts for 2.12million Ha. Landowners from this province signed documents believing that they were giving land acquisition consent and not SPABLs to the Independent Timber and Stevedoring Company (ITS). ITS was meant to construct the Trans Papua Highway but ITS has somehow acquired more land and amazingly enough, a company that has no agricultural background whatsoever now wants this excess land to plant cabbage, lettuce, tomatoes and Asian trees! Other landowners have stated that they thought they were signing leases for 25 years of tenure not 99 years and yet others thought that in exchange for harvesting logs, access roads were going to be constructed.

The rice industry in the Oro Province is slowly growing but with the SPABL granted to Eliana Tjandra of the Papindo group, this infant industry that has so much potential to benefit all Papua New Guineans (we wouldn’t need to import rice anymore) will have its development arrested and potentially be killed altogether. Our former Customs Commissioner’s Gary Juffa fears that his people won’t stand a chance against a company that has substantial resources, furthermore Oro people have claimed that women’s and children’s rights have been abused and police have been using undue force. 

Hong Kong based company; Pacific Plywood Holdings Limited (PPH Ltd) publicized throughout the media in Hong Kong, of its multi million Kina deal, to acquire 30% equity from another foreign company, Profit Grand Enterprises of the I-Sky Holdings Group. The PNG National Forest Authority (PNG NFA) has no records of either company according to the  now Ex-Managing Director of PNG NFA, Kanawi Pouru, therefore it comes as no surprise that PPH Ltd can’t even get the name of the area where they are supposed to be doing business in right, there is no Vabari area in the Central Province!

The Momase Region has the second largest area of land leased under the SPABLs with 909 593 hectares of land leased out of a total of 1.139million Ha. Madang province has been in the spotlight in recent years because landowners have been vocal about their discontent with several projects (Pacific Marine Industrial Zone [PMIZ], Ramu Nico and RD Tuna) that were supposed to bring development to their province and villages but instead have caused division and displacement of their people. Our people from Bongu in the Rai Coast area were granted a court order that should have stopped the logging contractor G & S Limited from logging, but this Malaysian company has continued to harvest logs, which resulted in two gunfights.  The landowners are in the process of pursuing the matter in court but it is most likely the logs have been exported already.  In the end, our people of Bongu will have had their land raped, their constitutional rights abused and no sense of justice served.

In the East Sepik, two Malaysians have rights to 117 000Ha of land starting from Turubu in the Wewak Open Electorate, through Urimo, the Sepik Plains and Sausso in the Yangoru/Sausia Electorate, astoundingly the SPABL was signed in Port Moresby without the proper representation or consent of the landowners. In Marienberg, Brilliant Investments conditions of its FCA was for it to plant cocoa where it had clear felled, but only 60% of the clear-felled forest has been cropped so the FCA was suspended in 2010, but t logging has yet to cease.

Despite what governor Leo Dion says, the East New Britain (ENB) is not fine with the SPABLs, in fact this has been one of the most controversial areas along with the Emirau Island (New Ireland Province) case. The people of Pomio are a matrilineal society, so the women are the landowners and the women of Pomio have said they want their land back primarily because they were not properly informed and consulted and in some cases their signatures were forged when leases were granted. Most recently, a Malaysian company, Takaso Resources is in the process of acquiring Kayumasi Plantation PNG Ltd, which holds rights to log 40 000Ha of forest in inland Pomio, to date there has been no mention of how landowners have been consulted or how they will benefit from this enterprise. There has been documentation of human rights abuse and police brutality in the ENB.

Emirau Island in the New Ireland Province (NIPs), many of us Papua New Guineans hadn’t heard of this place until it made headlines. Most of us may not know anyone from the island, but we can all sympathize with them, imagine someone that is not your ‘lain’ owning your land? A whole island sold and with it the souls of the 600 islanders who would have to be relocated. In other areas of NIPs people have been moved off their land before new houses have been built for them; in New Hanover police brought in from Rabaul by a logging company opened fire into a crowd injuring two people.

Our people’s rights are being abused frequently and openly by logging companies. Landowners are being deceived, bribed, threatened, thus affecting their freedom to move and in some cases, they have been physically abused. Our people’s rights must not be made to be worth less than any foreign investors are.

A lot of PNGs biodiversity is endemic to it and many biologists have commented on the significant impact that continued large-scale logging would have on our environment and yet the FCAs continue. In fact a Laureate Professor of Tropical Biology William Laurance, summed it up nicely when asked his opinion on what the environmental impact would be on PNG if the 5.2 million Ha of SPABL land was all logged, he responded, “pretty much nuking any kind of biodiversity that would be occurring in that area”. The Forest Clearance Authorities must be stopped immediately.