PNG govt response to land grab system disappoints

9:13 pm on 1 March 2017

Papua New Guinea's government is pushing ahead with plans to convert controversial Special Agriculture Business Leases to another form of land tenure.

Export of round logs is the main economic activity in West Sepik, but the profits largely go abroad.

Export of round logs is the main economic activity in West Sepik, but the profits largely go abroad. Photo: RNZI / Johnny Blades

A petition was presented to the government last week calling for action on the SABLs, the majority of which were found by a commission of inquiry to have been fraudulently obained.

Ten-thousand people signed the petition, reflecting frustration at government failure to revoke the SABLs, over three years after the Inquiry concluded.

The petition was presented by landowner representatives from SABL affected areas.

Over the past decade, the SABL system has seen an effective land grab of over 5-million hectares of PNG land, alienating customary land from local communities.

A number of the fraudulent SABLs were brokered through collusion between public servants and by leading politicians.

In response to the petition, the Minister for Lands Benny Allan today said the government had reviewed the Lands Act and would convert the SABL leases into registered land using Incorporated Land Groups.

Eddie Tanago of the advocacy group Act Now said that without the leases being cancelled outright, the problem will not be solved.

"If you have those leases still existing, you still have the developer on the land; the land is still occupied by a foreigner and the people are not getting their land back," he said.

"So first of all deal with the SABLs, deal with the corrupt officials who have actually initiated this scam in the first place."

Mr Tanago said the government's conversion plan would allow a significant amount of illegal logging to continue.

Harvested logs in PNG

Harvested logs in PNG Photo: RNZI/Johnny Blades

The government plan follows a proposal by PNG's National Research Institute to convert the unlawful SABL leases to 'customary leases' using Voluntary Customary Land Registration.

However Act Now has laid out seven reasons why the leases should not be converted.

Mr Tanago said it is clear the government remained reluctant to cancel the fraudluently obtained land leases.

"What also the Lands Minister today mentioned is that they are going to get a private law firm to bring these SABL companies to court and they will justify why the leases they're holding on to will not be surrendered."

He said that this was a joke, considering a commission of inquiry had already found the leases were issued wrongly in the first place.

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