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Land Defenders in Papua New Guinea Speak Out!

February 25, 2017
International Funders for Indigenous People

This testimonial was originally published in the recently released report of Oakland Institute, Taking On the Logging Pirates: Land Defenders in Papua New Guinea Speak Out!

by Oakland Institute

East New Britain Province is the location of eleven SABLs totaling almost 350,000 hectares, or about 20% of the province’s area. Several of these SABLs are controlled by subsidiaries of Rimbunan Hijau, a Malaysian group, which is the largest logging firm in the country.

Paul Pavol Palosualrea

I share here how our land was signed away for 99 years without the consent of the true landowners. The district of Pomio has five Local Level Government (LLG) areas, and is approximately 12,000 to 13,000 sq km. It holds some of the most beautiful, virgin tropical rainforests, some of the deepest, most beautiful caves, clear running rivers, white and black sandy beaches, underwater coral reefs, and creation of all kinds that need protection on land and in the sea.

This story is about me and my people, the Mengen tribe of the West Pomio.

The traditions, culture, and customs of the Mengen tribe are very unique and rich. They’ve always promoted peace and unity in the communities of West Pomio. Today, these practices are disappearing. Forests and lands are the wealth and foundation of traditional culture and customary practices, meaning we must have land and forest in order to practice our culture, a God-given birthright. The forests and the lands are God-given rights too.

Land is our life. Land is our future generations’ life. These lands provide our “wholesale,” “retail,” and “bulk” stores. God provides all of our “hardware” goods for free to sustain our living. We use hard work as our currency to buy what we want and need and preserve the rest for our future generations.

In 2007, all of West Pomio was moved again. Pomata Investment and Ralopal Ltd. engaged with Memalo Holdings Ltd., an umbrella company headed by John Parulria, who does not own land in West Pomio. The plan was to control the LLGs [Local Level Government] of Melkoi, West Pomio Mamusi, and Central Inland Pomio. This plan was not made known to the people in all of those LLGs. Truly, only a few people supported the plan because they were misinformed. A majority of the true landowners stood up against the logging plan. There was much confrontation and arguing. The true landowners had their own small-scale sawmill logging initiatives in place. We objected by writing a letter in November 2007 to the Papua New Guinea Forestry Authority and the LLGs. We did not receive a reply from anyone.

In 2008, signing took place at the district headquarters of Pomio, Palmalmal. No one thought to check whether the landowners truly gave their consent and that every document was filled out honestly. As a result, the Pomio SABL case became the most controversial deal in the country. The people of West Pomio—my people—didn’t even have the chance to know what was signed. There was no awareness, consultation, or negotiation. The delegation arrived at Palmalmal, and that very day began their business. After signing, they got on the plane back to Kokopo [the Provincial Capital]. I was present with a lot of other concerned landowners. No one was given a chance to have his or her voice heard. The delegation did not care about us, the landowners.