The National, Monday, May 9, 2011
By ISAAC NICHOLAS
ACTING Prime Minister Sam Abal has announced that the government will set up a commission of inquiry into the issue of special purpose agriculture and business leases (SABLS).
The commission will investigate the grant of special purpose leases covering some 5.2 million hectares of customary land to ensure all legal requirements have been followed and that the leases are for the purposes intended.
Abal said the government was concerned about the issue and wanted to ensure that the rights and interests of customary landowners were being protected.
He also said there would be an immediate moratorium on the issuing of any further SABLS until the commission of inquiry had been completed and parliament had debated over its recommendations.
“Further, all forest clearance authority granted under the existing leases are to be suspended until the commission of inquiry process has been completed.
“This is to ensure that forest areas are not cleared where there may be no guarantee that genuine agricultural projects will follow.”
The national government decided to take this drastic move because it was concerned that more than 10% of Papua New Guinea’s land mass is now being leased.
Government officials advising Abal stated that in some areas, nearly 800,000ha would be leased under the 99-year arrangements.
Officials said, for example, Kumula-Doso in Western had an estimated 790,000ha that would be leased under the special purpose leases.
Officials stated that Kumula-Doso is one of the most important areas on planet as it had some of the oldest and unique forest which may be in danger of being wiped out under the SABLS.
“There are some unique species under lease and Papua New Guinea stands to lose a lot if they are destroyed,” an official said.
“The government is also concerned that special land leases are being given out to private companies without being bound by the Forestry Act and leased for 99 years.”
The official said time leases for oil palm and logging was 30-35 years.
The policy under the Land Act was for land lease below 600,000ha to 800,000ha.
“A total of 5.2 million hectares have already been given away and this clearly indicates there is a clear abuse of process,” the official said.