Call for change in the way land is managed in PNG
As PNG's resources boom has driven the country's remarkable economic growth in recent years, the tentacles of corporate interests have gained a tightening grip on land. prompting calls for an overhaul of the way land is managed.
Calls continue to mount for an overhaul of the way land is managed in Papua New Guinea amid claims that foreign companies have been unlawfully granted rights to 12% of the country's land mass.
The Prime Minister Peter O'Neill has indicated he is about to table the long-awaited report by a Commission of Inquiry into Special Agricultural Business Leases.
The government ordered the Inquiry in 2011 to investigate the SABL system which civil society groups claim has been used for a huge 'land grab' that has seen over 5 million hectares of land swallowed up in 99-year leases, often for unsustainable logging projects.
Johnny Blades has more:
Land is of utmost importance in PNG society, but there's widespread concern that ordinary Papua New Guineans are being increasingly alienated from their land. As PNG's resources boom has driven the country's remarkable economic growth in recent years, the tentacles of corporate interests have gained a tightening grip on land. The Governor of Oro Province, Gary Juffa, says now that state land, making up 3% of PNG's land mass, or 'state land', is largely in the hands of foreign interests, the 97% of land customarily-owned is being steadily snapped up often without the approval of legitimate landowners and even provincial governments.
GARY JUFFA: Many logging companies have done that. They've exploited this situation. They've played landowner groups one against the other, and eventually they end up working with the strongest. The strongest being the most aggressive, the most vocal and those that are able to support the rest of the population. And when they go in there and rape the forest, take everything they want, they sign agreements with the national government and they just plan to build hospitals and bridges and roads, which they never do. And so they never stick to the agreement or the contract, and then national government does not make an effort to review or verify whether or not they've done that.
The Lands Ministry has invited complaints about land dealings throughout the country and is commissioning a team to investigate all land deals alleged to have been fraudulently acquired or sold. The Lands Minister, Benny Allen, says many complaints are filing in and sometimes relate to corrupt dealings within his own department.
BENNY ALLEN: There's one case where a fake title was issued by an investor who wanted to do an investment up to $300 million to $400 million. Someone decided to entertain the client by issuing a fake title. This was done by a senior officer.
Access to land is considered critical in places like the Eastern Highlands capital as it positions itself for growth while government looks to boost services in key centres. The Goroka MP Bire Kimisopa says lot of rural people are migrating to urban areas in search of opportunity..
BIRE KIMISOPA: PNG has one major handicap, and I think that is to do with mobilising land and having access to land. And the rents in PNG are so high, astronomical. We are paying a huge price for land. Agriculture cannot thrive in a country where we've got continuous land problems. We haven't sorted out exactly how we can mobilise land, so I suspect that's something we'll struggle with until we solve our domestic issues, especially, surrounding the land so we can bring back a sufficient volume of land into development, then we can create the kinds of jobs we want to create.
Meanwhile, the government has again said that the Commission of Inquiry into SABLs is sub-standard for the type of inquiry required. Coming on the eve of the report's tabling in parliament, it may be sign that the real issue at heart in the inquiry - alienation of people from land - may be some way off being addressed.
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