Bio-fuel project stalled

National, Normal

The National, Friday 06th January 2012

CHANGHAE Tapioka (PNG) Ltd, the developers of the tapioca (cassava) bio-fuel project in Rigo, Central, have ceased operations because of confusion over land ownership.
Chief executive officer Ambupad Thakur told the SABL inquiry, chaired by Chief Commissioner John Numapo, yesterday it was due to reports that the state land which was granted for the project had been reverted to the landowners as customary land.
He said no official notice from the Lands Department had been given to them to indicate the legitimate owners.
Thakur was summoned to appear before the inquiry to give evidence on land matters in Rigo involved in the cassava project on land portions 444C, 446C, 517C, 518C, 519C, 520C and 521C.
The inquiry heard that Changhae Ltd was granted seven leases for 40 years to cover 20,000 ha.
Five of the leases (517C, 518C, 519C, 520C and 521C) were granted by customary landowners in an agreement signed in 2005 by the then Minister for Lands Dr Puka Temu.
The two portions in question are 444C and 446C, also signed and released to Changhae in 2005 by Sir Puka, were direct grant leases of suitable state land for the project.
Thakur said the two portions were causing the confusion between the company and the landowners.
“This is affecting us badly because nothing is cleared and our staff numbers have been down-scaled, also affecting families whose livelihoods depended on this project.
“Uncertainty is a worst situation for any investor and our investors are anxious that this gets cleared up quickly,” he said.
The company is part of South Korean Changhae Group of Companies who have invested US$26 million (K55.6 million) in the development of cassava or tapioca which would be processed into bio-fuel like ethanol and other by-products.
Thakur told the inquiry that his staff were informed by Lands Department officers that the portions 444C and 446C were now customary land.