Leaders use their disgust of misuse of funds and corruption to empower change in their communities

More than eighty members from the local group Tropical Gem in Madang attended a ‘story session’ capacitating the depth of Papua New Guinea’s (PNG) Development History Model dating back 50, 000 years ago.

Tropical Gem is a networking group (as seen in the picture on the right) that has decided to use this knowledge openly shared to them to pave a positive outcome. They have pledged to utilize all this knowledge to educate and inform their communities. It is never too late to make a change. Everything evolved from an idea and as Tropical Gem credits a positive mindset is one that can achieve anything moreover overcome any stormy weather.

This story session covered significant dates and events of PNG to present. The evolution of PNG (and to some extent, Melanesian) development and change – both good and bad was discussed in this session(s).

The story sessions shared ideas about land issues which included land grab, urban rural drifting and settlement and the ‘in-famous’ Special Agriculture Business Leases (SABL). Many participants spoke out that their communities were facing these problems of logging and mining but because they were ill-informed, a majority of them misinterpreted these businesses for good deeds; conned with money, alcohol and other goods and had gone ahead to register their land under the SABL schemes. In one instance a youth stated that it was of their belief that land registration was the governments way of assisting them to keep their land even if they were not using it – it would mean that the land could stay barren and un-used. He later discovered that land registration was one way of freeing customary land for development and indirectly land would fall under the Land Act meaning it is State land, owned and used over a (long-term) period of time for an intended purpose as per the terms of the lease. The land would be administered under the Land Act and not their customary laws as they presumed.

Picture: Tropical Gem members making a statement; 'K780 million stolen, Prosecute those implicated, Recover the money!'

More frustratingly, everyone in the room said they were aware that Papua New Guinea was battling a case of white colar corruption but were astounded to hear that K780 million in public money had been misused and stolen over a six year period of time by more than 50 people including lawyers, senior bureaucrats and businessmen as was uncovered in the 2009 Finance Department Commission of Inquiry. It is now 5 years and no one has been criminally sentenced to scout this injustice.

Here is what one woman (a single mother) had this to say;

As lo me mama me bat ok olsem, mipla planti ol mama nau mipla stap, planti mipla ol problem mama, man lusim mipla. Displa moni nau em lus long em, displa moni em inap lo elpim ol pikinini lo buyim ol schoolfee blo ol pikinini blo mipla. Displa moni inap lo helpim ol youths na sponsorim ol lo go overseas na school na come bek gen na wok insait lo kantri bilong mipla.

Displa moni ino hatwok blo ol memba ol wok na kisim displa moni, displa money (K780million) em tuhat blo mipla ol grassroot pipol nau mipla stap yah. Mipla ol mama mipla sa pilim pen lo sidaun lo market, seven days a week, mipla market lo painim moni lo buyim rice. Taim mipla go buyim rice ol rausim tax lo disla moni, na displa moni ol rausim tax yah, mipla ting ol ba usim lo bringim development come insait lo country blo mipla lo bringim service I come equally lo mipla tasol nogat, displa moni ol wok lo rausim yah, ol woklo steal na rausim displa moni stap.

So osem lo tingting blo me….husait ol I involve lo stealim displa moni, displa fiftypla man husait I take part lo stealim displa moni, mi laikim olsem gavman mas makim sampla samting lo ol, na salim ol igo lo court. Ol mas kisim penalty blo ol because displa moni we ol I stealim long em. Yumi noken passim maus na stap olsem na ol ba ting olsem wanem ol makim em right na ol ba continue lo makim because em hatwok blo mipla, mipla tuhat na makim ol liklik bisnis lo helpim ol pikinini blo mipla yah, ol kisim tax na inap lo bringim service ikam lo mipla ol ken tanim na steal lo mipla na kaikai stap. So displa moni ino moni blo gavman. Me laikim olsem displa K780 million gavman mas refundim come bek gen na husait ol involve mas go lo kalabus!”

Different people shared their stories about the mining and logging and fishing projects that have surfaced in their communities and also talked about proposed projects that companies and ‘middle-men’ have come and have discussed with community and land owner groups in the Sepik and Madang Provinces. They shared the social and economic struggles that a majority of them face at present and how the system and this model of development has shaped their lives. The sharing allowed other leaders (members) to encourage and empower their networks to create awareness to identify and stop the illegal logging in their areas.

Leaders explained how we should revert to our PNG ways of doing things, our PNG lifestyles and our PNG customs and traditions. Why are we centering our livelihoods around money when we have an abundance of land that is free, and guarantees a sustainable and less expensive lifestyle? Why do we choose to buy from the foreign owned shops that come and take up our business space and markets and we are left scavenging and begging on our own soil? Soil that we can toil and nourish our lives with. What’s the difference between fishing and cooking on a fire compared to fish that is packed in a tin? Where is the abundance in that? We are Melanesians and we live in a society that depends on each other, that look after each other and that protect our people and our land. We must start to change the choices we make and revert to our Melanesian way of living that orbits around our land and not one that aims to profit an individual. Issues such as the Experimental Seabed mining, the Special Agricultural Business Lease, Land grabbing and illegal activities such as logging and mining are issues that all Papua New Guinean’s should be aware off because it affects our land, it is taking our land and source of livelihood, our identity and our roots away from us. Why should we beg on our own soil and pay for toil that grew from our sweat and blood?