PNG landowners look ahead after SABL order
Frustration is building among customary landowners in PNG after the latest delay to the cancellation of controversial Special Agricultural and Business Leases.
Frustration is building among customary landowners in Papua New Guinea after the latest delay to the cancellation of the controversial Special Agricultural and Business Leases, or SABLs.
The landowners have been meeting to decide their next step in the wake of a National Court decision that halted the cancellation of the SABLs.
Last year, Prime Minister Peter O'Neill ordered the cancellation after a Commission of Inquiry found that most of the leases were obtained corruptly, mostly for the benefit of logging companies.
But the campaign coordinator for the anti-corruption group Act Now, Eddie Tanago, says progress since then has been glacial, and he's accused the government of dragging the chain.
He told Jamie Tahana this latest court order moves a resolution even further away.
EDDIE TANAGO: The East Sepik Provincial Government and Lemawo Holdings, which is the landowner company operating on the SABL area in the Turubu area in East Sepik province, has gotten a restraining order against the state for the implementation of the SABL Commission of Inquiry. So this has been a blanket approach over all the SABLs in the country. So as it is now, all the SABLs, as it is now, have been stalled because the case is subject to court and is still before the court, and at this stage we're not quite sure on the basis of the restraining order but we understand there's currently a restraining order taken up against the state by the East Sepik government and the landowning company Limawo.
JAMIE TAHANA: And so from this one particular case in East Sepik, this one particular SABL, there's a blanket thing to stop the cancellation of all leases in the entire country?
ET: Definitely. So one lease, because they've challenged the Commission of Inquiry Act and the procedures that go about the inquiry itself and it covers the entire process that was used up until the writing of the report. So it has had an impact on all the SABLs throughout the country.
JT: This restraining order prevents the government from canceling the SABLs which the Prime Minister, Peter O'Neill, promised to do. But in the meantime, the leaseholder are free to continue their logging or whatever they had their leases for, is that right?
ET: The Commission of Inquiry, the report and the recommendations that were put forward which called for the cancellation of most of these SABLs prior to this restraining order, and even the Prime Minister went ahead and said that it was a scam and that all these leases should be canceled or surrendered to the Lands Department. Until now, or even prior to the court order, there was nothing done actually to cancel those leases. So we're a little bit frustrated because as many as three to four times in the media he'd say that this is a scam and that land needs to be given back to the custom landowners. But nothing actually happened, there was no cancellation of leases and we've also learned that some of these leases that were surrendered were not physically canceled by the Lands Titles Registrar, and they sat on his table for months, and this is really frustrating because not even the forest clearance authorities were not canceled, because if you have an illegal SABL then obviously your forest clearance authority, or the licence used to clear forests is obviously an invalid one.
JT: Do we have any idea of why the cancellations have sat on peoples desks for months?
ET: I will touch on two points here. Firstly, and most importantly, most of these SABLs are politically involved and there is evidence to show that politicians are involved in these SABLs. And it is none other than corruption involved in these kinds of deals. So when these leases are found to have been fraudulently acquired and it goes back to the drawing board, but then when politicians are involved in SABLs it is highly politicised. That's where corruption comes in. And if the government is talking about facing corruption, then SABL is one of it, and we should look at it. But the government has stopped funding offices that are fighting corruption, for example the Taskforce Sweep office. So, you know, that goes to show how the government is fighting corruption. It is really frustrating for people to hear the prime minister come out and say that SABL land should be given back. If he has the confidence to go back-and-forth to the media talking about this, you know, people tend to lose their land, people tend to lose their forests and you know there's nothing for them because we depend entirely on our land for survival.
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