Put national interest first: Judge

National, Normal


A JUDGE has told Southern Highlands province landowners that the PNG LNG project was of significant national interest, and development on the project including development forums must proceed.
Justice Les Gavara-Nanu told landowners from the Gobe project area on Wednesday they should go back home and take part in the licence-based benefits sharing agreement (LBBSA) forums.
Justice Gavara-Nanu told them that if they were not satisfied with the outcome of theLBBSA, they were at liberty to return to the court.
He declined specific orders sought by the landowners relating to outstanding memorandum of agreement funds allegedly owed by the State.
The landowners had argued that they would not participated or be party to any dealings in the LBBSA forum currently underway in the project area unless outstanding landowner issues were dealt with.
Counsel for the landowners, John Poro, told the court that his clients had refused to be party to the signing of the Kokopo umbrella benefits sharing agreement (BSA) because some of their requests for projects in their area were not considered in April.
He said his clients requested for two projects; for a road from Semberigi to Kisenepoi in Ialibu, and the upgrading of the Semberigi Health Centre, but these were not considered during the UBSA forum.
He said therefore, they would not attend the LBBSA forum until the issues were properly settled.
Mr Poro, in a letter issued by the Minister for Petroleum and Energy William Duma on Oct 29 to his clients, said the LBBSA forum would discuss these issues raised in the Kokopo BSA forum.
Mr Poro said if that was the case, then they wanted the court to issue directions for the parties to meet and come to a solution before attending the LBBSA forum.
Lawyers for DPE and ExxonMobil opposed this, saying the forum would discuss these issues.
The judge agreed, and urged the landowners to go back home.