Not so fast, Donigi

Editorial, Normal

The National, Tuesday, May 24, 2011

IT is rather unfortunate that pre-eminent lawyer and former diplomat Peter Donigi, too, will support leaving the decomposing body of a landowner leader without proper burial rites until certain matters of interest to him and others have been attended to.
Has PNG arrived at a stage where the dead would be used as a tool to beat and banter a reluctant government into submission for something the living wanted?
The decision to leave the body of Himuni Homogo of the Tuguba tribe in Port Moresby until the government gives in to certain demands of the landowners is nothing short of blackmail. Such attitudes should have no room in PNG society.
It is utter disrespect in the ancient traditions of our society as it is in our modern state.
When the body first arrived in Port Moresby, it was taken in a convoy past government offices in a great show of force by landowners.
Himuni’s fellow Tuguba clan elders and relatives wanted certain outstanding commitments by the state to be paid before his body is buried.
Donigi has added to the landowners’ demands his own condition for parliament to pass the Boka Kondra bill to amend the Oil and Gas Act and the Mining Act.
This is all wrong.
Changing the laws is the constitutional duty of parliament and, as inept as it has been of late, such a duty carries with it duties and responsibilities for oversight and for careful scrutiny and debate of all bills before it. Parliament must never be held to ransom and forced in the manner it has been at the expense of the wasting body of a dead man to pass laws.
Donigi is a constitutional lawyer and has had extensive domestic and international exposure and experience, both, as a lawyer and a diplomat. We would put it to him that the last thing he would want to see is further erosion of the law making functions of parliament.
He will, within less than 15 months, either be supporting a group of candidates or himself be leading the group under his new political party going into the 2012 general election. When he has won elections, that is when he can contribute to law making in the country, then he can change to his heart’s content the laws that seem archaic or repugnant to our ways. Until then, it would be best if he does not try to force the issue from outside of parliament by supporting means that are themselves disrespectful and repugnant to custom.
Much of Donigi’s arguments on the Kondra bill, as well as those of others such as Sir Julius Chan, have much merit. Yet, we would caution against wholesale change without a careful look at PNG’s entire land ownership and land tenure structure.
To vest ownership of mineral, hydrocarbon and all other wealth above or below the ground in a certain tribal group which membership does not have individual titles over that land would seem to us to be
akin to throwing a prize cut into a pack of hungry dogs.
With continual intermarriages, the composition of our tribal societies are changing. How do we cater for children of such relationships? Are there hard and fast rules for these
situations that can be applied uniformly throughout the country? The population is growing at a tremendous rate but the land will not grow.
The tribal and clan structure is coming apart. What will hold PNG’s tribes or its customs and traditions together including respect for the principle of joint tribal ownership of land?
Customary land tenure worked for a small, mobile community such as PNG had once upon a time. It will not work for a growing population of cash conscious, individually oriented and conditioned individuals of today.
What seems abundantly clear to us is that ownership of land must be settled first before discussions can be entered into on ownership of what lies on or under the land.
That would seem to us to be of far greater importance than transfer of ownership of
mineral and other wealth from the state to customary landowners.
We, including the proponents of the Kondra bill, can talk to the state as an entity today but who will talk to the many tens of thousands of landowners when ownership of mineral, hydrocarbon and all wealth is passed onto them? Who will talk about uniform development of those wealth or whether they ought to be developed at all? Who will police the rules and regulations?
Landowner problems today are fast becoming unmanageable and a besieged government is giving in at every turn.The Kondra bill,when passed into law, will multiply that thousands of time over.