Court throws out Juha land case

National, Normal


TWO interim orders that restrained the Juha landowners of Southern Highlands province from carrying out meetings and development base forum since last month was discharged by the Waigani National Court last Thursday.
The court found that it had no jurisdiction to further deal with the matter and advised the plaintiffs, Lobi 1 Hukuwa Epalanto Association, to seek other alternatives to resolve the landowner identification issue.
The matter first went before the court early last month when the plaintiffs took the Department of Petroleum and Energy (DPE) and the State to court over failure to carry out proper landowner identification and social mapping in the Juha project areas.
They also sought restraining orders and successfully restrained groups purporting to be Juha landowners from carrying out meetings and participating in development forums.
The plaintiffs based their arguments on section 47 and 48 of the oil and gas act, questioning DPE and the State on whether the procedures stipulated under the act had been complied with or not.
The plaintiffs argued that section 47 which talks about procedures of social mapping and landowner identifications had not been complied by DPE and the State.
They also sought for declaratory orders for the court to identify them as legitimate customary landowners of Juha.
But DPE argued in court that the department had undergone land identification studies by assigning an anthropologist to carry out the job in the Juha project areas.
DPE further argued that the plaintiffs had gone to court prematurely without following proper legal procedures.
However, the court found that the plaintiffs had also raised serious issues concerning landowner identification and social mapping on the project area.
Presiding judge, Justice Bernard Sakora found that the DPE did not provide sufficient evidence in court to prove that social mapping and landowner identification had been carried out in Juha although it argued that the studies were undergone. 
Justice Sakora said DPE did not name the anthropologist who carried out the studies and only described the person as an expert during the proceedings.
The judge said he was satisfied that there was no evidence before the court to prove that social mapping and landowners identifications were carried out by DPE, adding that there was still a serious issue needed to be dealt with.
He said, however, the National Court did not have any jurisdiction to further deal with the issue and therefore, he ordered that the restraining orders be discharged and advised the plaintiffs to seek other alternatives such as the local land court to pursue the matter.