The National, Wednesday 27th March, 2013
THE government yesterday slammed the commission of inquiry into the special agriculture business leases (SABL) as disappointing and not in the interest of the nation.
Presenting a statement on the state of the inquiry, Prime Minister Peter O’Neill said nearly K15 million and one-and-half years later, the three-men commission had produced only an interim report covering just three of the 16 terms of reference.
He said that was most disappointing.
The government of then acting prime minister Sam Abal established the inquiry on July 21, 2011 to investigate the acquisition of large tracts of customary land by private interests without much benefit to customary landowners.
O’Neill said 5.2 million hectares of customary land had been acquired for commercial use throughout the 1990s, reducing the amount of customary land from 97% to 86%.
The prime minister said most of these land had been logged and no other economic or agricultural development had occurred.
O’Neill said as public criticisms mounted, the government established a commission of Inquiry to determine the legal authority and procedures for issuing SABLs.
The commission, headed by former chief magistrate John Numapo and commissioners Alois Jerewai and Nicholas Mirou, was allocated K15 million and although it had taken more than 18 months, it had failed to deliver.
Attorney-General Kerenga Kua, NCD Governor Powes Parkop and Northern Governor Gary Juffa expressed disappointment at the delay and performance by the commissioners.
O’Neill said: “On March 14, 2013, more than one-and-half years later, the commission has provided me with an interim report.
“Like all members of parliament, I am deeply concerned about the misuse of SABLs and the rampant destruction of our rainforest. The purpose of the inquiry was to inquire into each SABL issued and make recommendations. The terms of reference were very precise and lengthy, but the interim report deals with only three of the 16 terms of references.
“The report provides only a summary of the existing legal and administrative process for issuing a SABL. This is disappointing,” he said.
O’Neill said the inquiry was given three months and substantial extensions were made on the understanding that the final report would be provided only to be presented an interim report.
“The government considers that these delays are unacceptable and I have communicated this to the commission. The commission is well staffed and funded, assisted with experienced secretariat staff who have travelled throughout PNG to each lease sites,” he said.
The prime minister said the inquiry cost the state close to K15 million.
He said the current moratorium on all SABLs would continue until the final report was received.
However, O’Neill said the government was already hard at work with the ministers for lands and physical planning and agriculture to develop new procedures and policies for issuing SABLs.
He said some of the problems to SABLs were not new and the government would soon announce a new policy on SABL.