PNG Catholic mission urges dialogue to settle landowner claim
The Catholic Archbishop of Mt Hagen finds much-needed education and services which his diocese helps run in Jiwaka have become a bargaining chip in a compensation claim by landowners.
A group of landowners in Papua New Guinea's Jiwaka Province has issued a seven-day ultimatum to the government, demanding compensation for use of their land.
They're claiming five million US dollars in compensation for land acquired by the state more than 50 years ago and now occupied by a Catholic mission which helps run various schools, a seminary, a facility for the disabled, as well as a health clinic and a church.
The North Waghi landowners have set up a blockade on access to these services and are threatening to continue this if the government doesn't pay up.
The Catholic Archbishop of Mt Hagen, Douglas Young, told Johnny Blades that it's difficult being the bargaining chip in this dispute but the landowners' claim dates back almost fifteen years.
DOUGLAS YOUNG: I've had several meetings with them over time, sometimes with the Lands office, other times public meetings, and I have assured them that if there's anything I can do that helps them address their claim within the law, and also with the Lands Department, any information they might need from me, I'm always happy to provide. I'm just not very happy when it gets to this point where services that we would like to provide under the covenant we have with the traditional landowners is abused in this way.
JOHNNY BLADES: And what's been the response from the government or the local MP?
DY: This is the second time they (the landowners) have used these tactics. The first time, the Governor promised to solve the problem within two weeks which was really rather rash. My people down there are trying to stay out of it for the time being to see whether the other landowners and the other interested parties in the surrounding community, whether they are able to resolve this by dialogue.
JB: We know that in the Highlands, there are often these instances where disgruntled groups will disrupt services to drive these compensation demands and it seems heavy-handed but sometimes, as you know, they are just fed up with waiting. Where would your feeling be on this, that the government needs to do more?
DY: I wish the Lands Department would be honest with them (the landowners). I have a feeling that people in the Lands Department lead them on, week after week, month after month, year after year, sort of giving them some kind of hope that may be a false hope. I don't fully understand the law on this but we've had other cases where they were eventually told that if they had not made their claim prior to independence then they couldn't make it afterwards, so it was futile but they spend a fortune running up and down to Port Moresby - Air Niugini makes a lot of money out of them too - they spend time in Port Moresby, they have to stay with relatives and the people in the department are leading them on saying we'll have a meeting next week or if you write this letter or do this or do that then you'll get your money. And this drags on for year after year, so it's understandable that they get quite frustrated. So if something like that could be fast-tracked and they could get a very clear answer, yes or no, very early in the piece, that would have been better for everyone.
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