land

Talk of the land

Weekender

By ELIZABETH VUVU
LAWYER, John Gesling, has dealt with justice over many years but the issue of land is what he is really passionate about.
Wherever he speaks to communities around the country, this lawyer cannot stress enough the importance of thinking twice before trying to part with land.
In Papua New Guinea, land is considered a person’s security, their identity that no amount of money can replace.
In the past two decades however, many landowners have naively sold their land to businesses or individuals for a mere sum of money. That money is now gone. So is their land.
They have now come to realise their mistake and some are fighting to reclaim their birth right. Land, that will one day go to their children, and their grandchildren is never to be returned.
Gesling, a former magistrate, is the principal managing director and senior lawyer of his law firm based in East New Britain.
After decades of dealing with land matters in land courts in the New Guinea Islands, Highlands, Southern and Momase, his message has always been the same. He says a block of land is an irreplaceable inheritance and once squandered and sold, is irretrievable. The seller will totally lose out.
“The ultimate is very obvious as you begin to sell land and so many people claim to have land, now they are just roaming the streets living from place to place simply because the issue of land became an issue of commodity to them and they begin to think that they can make wealth out of it but if you are not doing it right, you won’t get the lasting satisfaction from the little cash you get
from the sale.”
The increase in population, coupled with hard times has been a driving factor behind people selling their land for a measly return. Competition among families or clan members, was, and is another factor that propels people to sell their inheritance.
“I find this many times in the court of law. I ask why did you sell the land in the first place and evidence surfaces that the person wanted to sell it because he didn’t want people after him to benefit from the land.”
“I want to emphasise that land is not solely owned but rather it is a communal ownership.”
Land issues began to be popular in the 1990s when the country began to experience an economic boom. Prior to that, land was for gardening, hunting and lived on. Starting in the early 90s people began to see it as a commodity to sell and make a quick buck.
“… the State now began to move another tempo up with land becoming so vital with mining and development, oil palm etc.”
Overseas companies were also interested to establish in PNG and land was one of the first things that they looked around for.
Despite some portions of traditional land already sold out or leased out, Gesling said it is still possible for customary landowners to take back their land.
He said the first step was the registration of Incorporated Land Groups (ILGs). The second step is voluntary customary land registration to get the title.These two processes come simultaneously.
“Time will tell in how the whole process of taking back land will eventuate but it began with the registration of ILGs and getting the customary land title.”
Gesling said with regards to using the ILG certificate in court, it now has got a footing to move things with the court of law.
“Now we have a document that can be tendered in court as evidence that indicates members of a particular ILG and clan and family tree that speaks of land ownership.”
He said the second step was obtaining the customary land registration certificate.
“In a situation where land is concerned, you must know and understand that you are part and parcel of the clan or ILG that is owned communally. That is the relieving factor that matters the most in the issue of land,” Gesling said.

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