TRADITIONAL landowner Joseph Lende Kubusiri, aged 63 years old from Kisimunoso village who represented seven major clans of Upper Asaro in Eastern Highlands was relieved after the Supreme Court ruled in their favour and granted them leave to review a court ruling last December.
They had pursued a lengthy court battle for 17 years to reclaim the Sihereni Coffee Plantation that was established on 328 hectares of traditional land. The land was alienated from them under a 99-year agricultural lease agreement between the Government and their forefathers. In 1989 the plantation was sold to them for K20,000 by the previous owner-operators Angco Coffee Ltd and released back to them at the expiry of the lease period.
Plaintiff Joseph Lende Kubusiri and the traditional landowners mobilised in 1990 and started to rehabilitate the plantation, harvesting and selling coffee beans to a company called Six Mile Coffee for three years.
Then in 2003 the landowners signed a deal with Yondu Coffee Ltd to process parchment coffee into green bean and used that company’s license to export the Double AA green bean coffee Starbucks in USA and Singapore In the best of years the plantation produced 690 tonnes of Double AA Grade green bean coffee per annum fetching a high price and earned USD$12.9 million (K45.5 million) in foreign exchange earnings for PNG and paid USD$1.29 million (K4.5 million) as direct government tax. This was the kind of contribution the Sihereni plantation had made to the PNG economy according to past operational records.
Today the coffee plantation has the potential to contribute to the economic independence of the locals and also help to achieve the Government’s Medium Term Development Plan through coffee production to increase exports and contribute to GDP per capita income.
The plantation also serves about 21,000 local people who had benefited directly and indirectly from it through dividends payments, job opportunities, a ready market for local smallholder coffee growers and an injection of cash into the economy, especially small to medium enterprises. However, the plantation was allegedly mismanaged and its ownership was usurped through fraudulent means, according to Kubisiri and his tribesmen. The aggrieved landowners then instituted court proceedings in the Goroka National Court (WS No. 1436 of 2009) disputing the ownership and the mismanagement of the plantation.
“The plaintiff had filed 107 copies of hard evidence of deceitfulness and seven affidavits from key witnesses to testify in court on the change of ownership in the IPA files and the acquiring of the plantation from the landowners,” Kuburisi said in a press statement.
The National Court in Goroka had dismissed the entire proceedings so the plaintiff and his clan members pursued the case further and filed a Supreme Court review in 2017 in Waigani.
Kubusiri said he was relieved that finally the Supreme Court ruled in their favour in granting a review of the previous court ruling.
The plaintiff, on behalf of other clan members, thanked their counsel from Paul Othas Lawyers for representing them in the Supreme Court that has successfully granted the review.
Last week in Port Moresby Kubusiri promised to return to his people and start all over again with the rehabilitation of the plantation and resume production to increase the volume of coffee exports to overseas market and bring in more revenue to boost the economy.
“The plantation was neglected for 17 years due to the lengthy court battle and we need assistance from the Government through the Department of Agriculture and Livestock (DAL) and Coffee Industry Corporation Ltd (CIC) to fast track the rehabilitation process in order boost coffee production.”
Kubusiri further stated that he would build a coffee nursery and also introduce varieties of hybrid coffee trees to replace the ageing trees in the plantation and supply them to the local communities to improve coffee production.
Joseph Lende Kumbusiri at The National Office Lat Week