BARNABAS ORERE PONDROS
SMALLHOLDERS are the backbone of the oil palm industry but surprisingly they were not represented on the Oil Palm Industry Corporation (OPIC) board.
West New Britain Governor Peter Humphreys told Parliament last week that the board had not been functioning since 2005 despite an appeal by Prime Minister Sir Michael Somare to revive it.
Parliament heard in March 2007 that the cabinet appointed three smallholder representatives but OPIC challenged this in court which ruled the appointments null and void.
Following the court ruling, a fresh list was submitted in September last year by the smallholders.
But it was said “these names were not communicated to the public service commission until last March for merit based assessments”.
“When is the minister going to fast-track this process and assure these appointments will be made?” Mr Humpreys asked.
The concern was that the absence of smallholder representation on the board would impact donor funded projects being undertaken to improve the industry.
“The lack of the board jeopardises the World Bank-funded smallholder agriculture development project worth in access of US$30 million,” Mr Humphreys said.
“This industry contributes huge earnings to PNG”.
Mr Humphreys said there should be no political interference in relation to the appointment of board members.
Agriculture Minister John Hickey agreed that the oil palm industry was an important industry and that he would ensure these matters were dealt with accordingly.
“The public service commissioner had assured me that these things will be dealt with, but to my knowledge, no communication had been issued,” Mr Hickey said.
He also confirmed that political interference was rife and had prompted the delay.
The industry contributed more than K200 million in export earnings to the national coffers last year and was a huge employer and supports growers and communities in oil palm producing provinces.