NGO joins debate on land leases

National, Normal

The National, Tuesday, April 26, 2011

LANDOWNER groups and non-governmental organisations want the government to stop issuing special agriculture and business leases (SABL) and to investigate all such leases issues since 2004.
NGO worker Rosa Koian said the national government must seriously consider such a drastic step because since Jan 11, more than five million hectares of land had been deemed stolen under the pretext of the SABLs.
She said lease operators of such leases often “wrestle away land from unsuspecting and gullible Papua New Guineans”.
Koian said already 70% of land in Central, Gulf, Western and Northern in the Southern region; East and West Sepik; East and West New Britain and New Ireland and Western Highlands had been grabbed.
It was reported in The National on April 8 that three leases had been granted for 93,000ha representing 75% of New Hanover Island, which had angered Governor Sir Julius Chan, who said he would fight to reclaim those lands.
Koian said in two recent cases in Madang, two Singaporean groups went into the Yamamuk, Makudama and Inasi areas, in Josephstaal, upper Ramu district, to solicit support for land deals.
“The people there are mostly illiterate and will give anything for development,” she said.
“The key drivers for SABLs are food security, bio-fuels and attractive rates of returns on land-based investments,” she said.
The other land in question, gazetted on March 11 (gazette number G67), registered under the Urasi Landowner Association from Josephstaal in the upper Ramu district, concerned 112,400ha in the lower Ramu area which was allegedly obtained without the people’s knowledge.
A landowner and local from Dongan, the area in the SABL, Poin Kaspar said the villagers were only alerted when they saw the gazette forcing them to converge onto Bogia MP John Hickey’s office demanding an explanation.
A petition was given to him by the Dongan and Saini people of the lower Ramu area with a 14-day ultimatum issued in which Hickey is to raise the issue on the floor of parliament, investigate and report back on his findings.
A proof of service was given to him to sign.
Hickey was warned to rescind any decision he might had made in that deal.
Koian said awareness messages were reaching landowners groups in Madang and they were now rising up.