Stop land-grabbing in cities

The National, Wednesday July 20th, 2016

THE illegal acquisition of land in our cities and towns has been an on-going problem since independence.
Much of this problem can be attributed to urban drift or the migration of people from the rural areas to the urban centres.
Cities like Port Moresby and Lae have seen more than their fair share of squatter settlements popping up like mushrooms.
While the National Government will continue to face the social and economic issues and challenges associated with the uncontrolled movement of people to the cities and towns, urban authorities face an immediate shortage of land to accommodate the influx of people.
In fact, State land has become so scarce in Port Moresby and Lae that traditional landowners have come forward to offer their land for new settlements and business activities.
The sale of traditional land has enabled the nation’s capital to experience rapid expansion as people move away from the city centre to live in the outskirts.
Some businesses have followed suit to open up the outlying areas between the National Capital District and Central province.
Traditional landowners are entitled to sell or lease their land for housing or business purposes and many of them are now benefitting from such transactions.
Settlements in Port Moresby and Lae are likely to flourish as more rural people migrate to the cities in search of opportunities, whatever that may be.
Nonetheless, the illegal acquisition of State land continues to be a thorn in the side of the National Government and its agencies.
In the National Capital District, the NCD Physical Planning Board is empowered under the Physical Planning Act with the determination of all physical planning matters within the nation’s capital.
This includes zoning of all land and any other developments in the NCD.
However, it seems the board has been caught off guard by the illegal acquisition of pieces of land that are part of public parks and recreational areas in the city.
Residents of the Tokarara and Gerehu suburbs recently reported that some people, claiming to have received land titles from the National Department of Lands and Physical Planning, have tried to claim ownership of the recreational areas in these suburbs.
The suspect ownership of recreational areas in Tokarara is an example of dubious land-grabbing that is happening throughout the capital city.
The residents have done the right thing by alerting the National Capital District Commission about a person who purportedly had the title to this piece of land.
The NCDC was somewhat shocked to learn that the man was issued a special purposes lease last year when the commission originally had the title (special purposes) over the same piece of land since 2000.
Special purposes leases are issued by the PNG Lands Board, which falls under the ambit of the Lands and Physical Planning Department.
Seemingly, someone in the PNG Lands Board decided to transfer the lease from the NCDC to the man from Enga.
The Tokarara community must be highly commended for their action in alerting City Hall, which has resulted in Governor Powes Parkop giving instructions for appropriate remedial action to be taken to recover the piece of land.
We have been reliably informed that development had been taking place at a public park in Gerehu Stage 1 and portions of the Gerehu sports centre.
Unlike the Tokarara residents, the people of Gerehu don’t seem at all fussed about land grabbing that was happening right at their doorsteps.
Some people are getting away with illegally acquiring pieces of State land that have been provided for recreational purposes and no one in the city’s largest suburb seems to care about it.
It is imperative that the NCDC thoroughly investigates all cases of land-grabbing in the capital city and take urgent action to recover the land titles or leases that have been illegally obtained by unscrupulous people with the help of corrupt government officials.
Moreover, the political leadership must clamp down corrupt elements within the bureaucracy who are involved in the illegal acquisition of State land in our cities and towns.