Landowner disputes only about money, says judge

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NATIONAL Court judge Justice Ambeng Kandakasi yesterday blasted Southern Highlands landowners, saying they seem to be running to court for money and nothing else.
“All landowner issues that are brought to court to seek remedies only involve money.
“People are interested in accessing funds and not other issues like damages caused to the environment,” Justice Kandakasi said.
He said this while refusing an injunction sought by a landowner group from Southern Highlands province which was seeking to stop development forums associated with the PNG LNG project from proceeding.
Justice Kandakasi referred to other similar landowner cases that were brought to court concerning memorandum of agreement (MoA) and special support grant (SSG) funds, and equity and royalty funds.
Some of these groups have threatened to stop the LNG project if they are not paid millions of kina which they say the Government owes them.
Referring to them, the judge said these people (who run to court) should be concerned about the well-being of the people and how they would be affected by the project in the years ahead, and not just their own interest.
The Lobi Hukuwa Epapalanto Landowner Association of Juha, the plaintiff in the proceedings, was seeking to restrain the defendants, ExxonMobil, the Department of Petroleum and Energy (DPE) and the State from conducting the licence-based development forums claiming that they had not complied with section 47 of the Oil and Gas Act.
Lawyer Marley Nandi argued that on Sept 25, the court granted an interim ex parte order in their favour.
But on Oct 14, Justice Bernard Sakora discharged the interim orders on the basis that the court had no jurisdiction to determine issues relating to ownership of customary land.
Mr Nandi argued that Justice Sakora had ruled that the defendants had not complied with section 47 of the Oil and Gas Act.
He added that Justice Sakora was satisfied that there were no social mapping and landowner identification carried out by the defendants as required by the Act.
The defendants’ counsel, Greg Egan, responded that the court also made orders under section 169 of the Oil and Gas Act for the plaintiffs to seek determinations from the Minister for Petroleum to consider them as landowners but that did not happen.
Mr Egan argued that there was no positive outcome on the part of the plaintiff from the meeting held with the minister and therefore, the injunction should be refused.
Justice Kandakasi said he was satisfied that the plaintiffs had not complied with section 169 of the Oil and Gas Act, and refused the injunction sought.