JUHA landowners have successfully taken out a court order preventing the Licenced Based Benefits Sharing Agreement (LBBSA) forum from going ahead.
The LBBSA is a follow-up of the Benefits Sharing Agreement signed in Kokopo in May, and is crucial to the PNG LNG project going ahead.
The Juha landowners, whose land annexes Southern Highlands and Western provinces, are angry that Department of Petroleum and Energy have failed to carry out a proper landowner identification study required under the law.
They accused the DPE officials of holding “discreet meetings” in hotels and car parks at odd hours to get “selected” individuals to identify their villages on the maps so they can “identify” them as proper landowners.
Petroleum and Energy Minister William Duma last week announced that the LBBSA would start today and the LNG project was on schedule for the Final Investment Decision by Dec 8, but the court actions by landowners might affect this time-table.
Last Friday, Lobi Hukuwa Epapalanto Association of Juha successfully took out restraining orders preventing the holding of the forums in the nine LNG project areas.
Justice Pomat Paliau restrained Rendle Rimua, secretary for Department of Petroleum and Energy, Mr Duma, ExxonMobil subsidiary Esso Highlands Ltd, and the State from carrying out the forums.
The development forums are required under sections 48 and 50 of the Oil and Gas Act 1998.
While the terms of the order are general, part of it specifically prevents the defendants from conducting any meetings with any party or groups of people claiming to represent the interests of landowners from the project area known as Juha, which is covered by Petroleum Development Licence 2 (PDL 2).
The group from Olsobip district of North Fly electorate in Western province resorted to this action through their lawyer, Marley Nandi of Nandi and Company Lawyers, because the pace and manner of the whole process has been too fast and completely out side of the dictates of the Oil and Gas Act and they felt the way things were going they would miss out on benefits.
The association represents over 5,000 people from 53 ILGs from the villages of Lobi, Hukuwa and Wauo.
They are the customary landowners of Juha well heads 1,2,3,4 and 5 in PDL2.
Chairman of the Lobi Hukuwa Epapalanto Association Inc Watex Kayanda in his affidavit to the court pointed out that despite numerous letters and a paid advertisement to bring their plight to the attention of the relevant authorities, they had been completely ignored.
Mr Watex further submitted to the court that after ignoring them, the first defendant, Mr Rimua, had arranged secret meetings with people who claim to be Juha landowners.
“In fact, from Aug 22 to 29, a meeting was conducted by DPE at Bluff Inn to identify landowner groups. The attendees were asked to point out the location of their land in the project area on a map,” he submitted.
He further submitted that another secret meeting was also conducted at Loloata Island Resort from Sept 10 to 13 to again identify landowners of the Juha project area.
He told reporters yesterday these meetings clearly showed DPE failed to carry out social mapping and landowner identification studies at the site, and was trying to substitute that with hotel meetings.