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Civil society denounces World Bank’s Conference on land and poverty

April 1, 2015

Every spring for the last fifteen years, the World Bank has organized the “Conference on Land and Poverty,” which brings together corporations, governments and civil society groups.
The aim is to discuss how to “improve land governance.” Whereas the 16th conference took place in Washington D.C. from March 23 to 27, hundreds of civil society organizations including the Pacific Network on Globalisation (PANG) are denouncing the World Bank’s role in global land grabs and its deceitful leadership on land issues.  
In 2013, the Oakland Institute supported by the PANG and the Bismarck Ramu Group (BRG) released a report documenting the fraudulent land grabbing that was taking place in Papua New Guinea under the pretext of making land available for productive use, through what was called the Special Agriculture Business Lease (SABL).
Despite the alarming findings by the PNG Government’s own Commission of Inquiry into the land grab, the government has not taken concrete or decisive action to cancel deceptive land deals, stop illegal logging and return land to customary land owners, many of whom are still waiting for justice today, while companies continue to operate.  
“The big question is whose interest does the World Bank really serves. While they spend considerable time and money painting themselves as champions of the poor, the Bank has a battery of practices and policies that suggest a very different truth,” said Anuradha Mittal of the Oakland Institute, adding that the World Bank and other financial institutions ongoing silence on the massive theft of land based resources in PNG challenges the perception of the Bank as champions of the poor.  
While the global Our Land Our Business campaign has been focused heavily on land grabs, the Pacific Network on Globalisation is prioritizing a much lesser known wave of grabbing that is taking place in the Pacific - ocean grabbing.  PANG is putting the World Bank and other financial institutions on notice especially around ocean governance and oceanic resources as external interest in the Pacific’s natural resources grow.  
A “Wild West” mentality has resulted as foreign corporations rush to secure access to what's considered the last frontier for resources – the Pacific's fisheries and deep sea minerals amongst others.  
“Like land grabbing, ocean grabbing has the potential for equal and devastating impact on coastal communities in the Pacific, whose food sovereignty and livelihoods are likely to be impacted. Subsistence fishing provides up to 90% of protein intake for coastal communities and sustained access to oceanic resources is a prerequisite to ensure livelihood support for the majority of Pacific communities,” says Maureen Penjueli, PANG coordinator.
The PANG along with other NGOs have been critical of the push by national governments, supported by regional technical agencies such as SOPAC and the Pacific Islands Forum that deliberately set out to undermine numerous international law norms such as the Precautionary Principle, the right to free and Prior Informed Consent and to weaken regulation requirements for Environment Impact Assessments around the governance of oceanic resources.  
Penjueli says the push to weaken regulation is in line with the Bank and other financial institutions' vision which views the ocean as a market commodity to enable corporate exploitation of natural ocean resources.   
“Through the World Bank’s Doing Business report and accompanying advisory services, the Bank uses its financial and political might to force countries to adopt business-friendly reforms, which create conditions that priorities the access of corporations to developing countries oceanic and natural resources at the expense of social, cultural, human and environmental rights,” she said.