14 Oct 2013

Transparency doubts PNG Government will pull SABL leases

7:03 pm on 14 October 2013

Transparency International in Papua New Guinea fears inquiries into the controversial Special Agricultural Business Leases will lead nowhere.

There has been wide criticism of the abuses of the SABL system and last month in parliament prime minister Peter O'Neill tabled a report from a commission of inquiry which detailed widespread corruption and mismanagement.

The report found the vast majority of the leases failed to secure consent of landowners.

There are calls for the government to end all the leases but Transparency International PNG's executive director, Lawrence Stephens, told Don Wiseman that he fears because a number of MPs have benefited from what amount to rorts no action will be taken.

LAWRENCE STEPHENS: Our view from the start was that the system had not been properly thought through and had most definitely not been administered properly. And it became very clear to everybody that the main interest behind these leases were people involved in the timber industry. The general idea of a special-purpose versus agriculture lease is good. Most of our land is traditionally owned and opportunities to develop major tracts of plantations of rice or pineapples or sugar are limited because most of the land belongs to the traditional owners. So a special-purpose business and agriculture lease allows an opportunity for a developer to work with the community and have a reasonable amount of land associated with that development. But instead of that they turned it into an incredible land grab over immense areas of Papua New Guinea that have no apparent agriculture potential, but certainly have large forestry potential. It became what appears to be one of the most disgusting rorts you can imagine where timber interests have used the title to simply grab as much land from the traditional owners as possible.

DON WISEMAN: Have the trees been harvested?

LAWRENCE STEPHENS: Many trees, we believe, have. Certain individuals have become extremely wealthy as a result of the harvesting of trees under this arrangement. Some of these individuals sit in parliament, on both sides of parliament, in fact. And the problem is that although we were promised an enquiry and we've had an enquiry the results of that enquiry have not been finalised. The final report has not been presented to parliament. The debate is on the public record thanks to the assistance of certain groups who put it out on the internet. But over all there's no action being taken. And our fear is that the discussion that's taking place in parliament at the moment will, again, lead to a commission of enquiry, which itself leads nowhere. In the meantime timber interests are helping themselves to the forests.