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Concerns as PNG Prepares to Return Land to Traditional Owners

July 1, 2014
Australia Network News

Community groups have welcomed the Papua New Guinea Government's announcement it will abolish special agricultural business leases.

The leases paved the way for millions of hectares of customarily-owned land to be taken over by large corporations for so-called agricultural projects.

The Oakland Institute, an independent policy think tank in the United States, has welcomed the decision with caution.

Oakland Institute policy director Frederique Mousseau says there's concern that many leases already issued aren't being revoked.

"We have to be very watchful and careful about too much optimism because... there are many questions to be asked," he told Radio Australia's Pacific Beat.

"What happens to the land that has been logged, what happens to infrastructure that has been built, what happens to the contracts."

The government is abolishing provisions of the Land Act that allowed the leases to be granted after a commision of inquiry found most leases were illegal and fraught with corruption.

But Mr Mousseau fears the government may be looking for other ways to have the land developed.

"We really need to monitor what's going to happen when the government is trying to make legal something has been shown and proven to be illegal," he said.

"The world is watching because what is happening there is one of the most egregious instances of land grabbing in the world today.

"What needs to happen for a complete stop to all this is really complete rethinking of this policy."

Land titles registrar Benjamin Samson, who is overseeing the cancellation of leases, says none have been revoked yet and that the process will take some time.

He says there is also the likelihood of court challenges.

"I think a number of lease holders, especially those lease holders or those companies who have spent a lot of money on the ground, they might want to pursue it in court," Mr Samson said.

Mr Mousseau says the government needs to act swiftly.

"These two past years have already been a very generous present made to logging companies. And the more we wait the less that will be left for communities on this land."