New Lands Secretary must cancel SABL leases

Community advocacy group ACT NOW! has welcomed the suspension of Lands Secretary Romily Kila Pat but says his replacement, Luther Sipison, must act immediately to cancel the unlawful SABL leases.

"We are pleased to see the government finally taking action by suspending the Lands Secretary but we are still waiting for the illegal SABL leases, many of which were signed off by Kila-Pat, to be cancelled" says Effrey Dademo, ACT NOW! Program Manager.

It is now more than two-years since the reports of the Commission of Inquiry identified the SABL leases were unlawfully issued but the government has still not cancelled any of the illegal land deals which total more than 5 million hectares.

The suspension of Kila-Pat was gazetted two weeks ago.

His replacement, Sipison, is reported to have admitted the problem of corruption is chronic within the Lands Department, which he says is teaming with allegations of corrupt land deals.

"The replacement of the Lands Secretary is a positive step but we need action on the cancellation of the SABL leases. These corrupt deals affect more than half a million people. The government needs to protect their rights and livelihoods", says Ms Dademo

ACT NOW! says the government's excuse that it could be faced with legal action and claims for damages from the leaseholders is completely invalid.

The government primary responsibility has to be to protect the rights of its citizens and the companies cannot claim damages when they were involved in obtaining the fraudulent leases.

Rather than protecting the corrupt land deals ACT NOW! says the government should be suing the companies involved who have made hundreds of millions of kina in illegal profits from their logging operations - money that rightfully belongs to the landowners