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Land Lost in Papua New Guinea Highlighted by NGOs

December 4, 2013
Radio New Zealand International

There are claims Papua New Guinea has lost a third of its territory to foreign companies, which the think tank the Oakland Institute calls one of the swiftest and largest land grabs in recent history.

The Institute, along with the Pacific Network on Globalisation, or PANG, has produced a film called, On Our Land, which documents the loss of land under the Special Agriculture and Business Leases.

One of the researchers for PANG was Serah Aupong who says the land loss goes back many years but through the SABLs there has been a dramatic escalation, with over 5 million hectares illegally acquired in a very short period of time.

She told Don Wiseman the foreign companies are mostly loggers who gain access by promising to establish oil palm plantations.

SERA AUPONG: We’ve seen SABL is being used to gain access these fora by cutting out the process through which they can gain the forest clearance authority. And if they were to go through that process it was going to take a really long time for them. And then they’re going to spend a lot of money in order to access the timber. But SABL provided a loophole where they could gain easy access to this timber, and there’s just no agricultural development being done on the place.

DON WISEMAN: Have local people benefited at all from this?

SA: Certainly individuals have benefited. The majority of the people haven’t benefited at all. They’re still waiting to see what it is that they’re supposed to get, but people that we’ve met in Wewak, one of them said they’d signed consent forms without knowing what they were. And they’re still waiting to find out what happened.

DW: So with the research you did around the country you must have seen some remarkable scenes of devastation.

SA: We’ve seen areas that are just clear-felled and we’ve seen areas where the SABL or the lease doesn’t even cover. They’ve gone outside the boundaries this is supposed to cover and they’ve harvested trees on those lands. And people are blocked from entering that land which is their traditional land. They don’t have access to that land anymore.

DW: Are the people angry?

SA: Very angry. Very, very angry.

DW: The government, they’ve had an enquiry, they’ve got a report. But there have been suggestions from the likes of Transparency International that so many of the people within the government are implicated or have benefited from these SABLs that probably things are not going to happen.

SA: That’s the biggest fear that we have. The recommendation from the SABL was 90% of those lands that were taken are fraudulent and they should be given back to the landowners, or the bill should be struck out and SABL should be shelved. That was the recommendation that was given, but after that was tabled in parliament the prime minister said that there is going to be another review committee put together to review the findings again. And our fear is the review committee is going to be made up of those departments that are implicated in the SABL report and this Commission of Enquiry. So, yes, we do agree with the likes of Transparency International because those very people that are implicated and should be correcting this are again looking into this.

DW: As it stands at the moment, are there still leases being signed under the SABL system?

SA:They are being signed. Currently they’re not supposed to be happening, but they are happening.