Victims of PNG land scandal could have titles returned this week after faulty leases are cancelled

Victims of PNG land scandal could have titles returned this week after faulty leases are cancelled

Victims of PNG land scandal could have titles returned this week after faulty leases are cancelled

Updated 26 June 2014, 4:26 AEST

Hundreds of thousands of traditional landowners likely to get their land back after faulty leases are cancelled.

Hundreds of thousands of traditional landowners in Papua New Guinea are expected to get their land back this week after faulty leases are cancelled.

The move has been detailed by one of the crucial government officers involved in the process, Lands Department Secretary, Romily Kila-Pat.

He told Pacific Beat the process of cancelling 25 leases for millions of hectares of land is expected to be completed in the next few days and landowners will be formally notified.

The move comes after a Commission of Inquiry into Special Agricultural and Business Leases (SABLs) found logging companies to be the biggest beneficiaries of systemic rorting of the lease approval process.

The Inquiry found many failures and mismanagement by the government departments who were supposed to protect landowners.

Much of the land was leased out without the permission of the landowners.

The leases made no provision for rent and were to last up to 99 years.

Mr Kila-Pat says he has given instructions to revoke the leases as recommended by Chief Commissioner John Numapo and Commissioner Nicholas Mirou.

"The process effecting those revocations will have to be completed properly, formally registered, and then we will notify (landowners) that these 25 SABLs have now reverted back to the original landowners'" he said.

"We started the day before yesterday, June 23, and we should be able to complete everything by the end of the week."

It is a year since PNG’s Prime Minister Peter O’Neill received the Commission of Inquiry’s first report.

In September, Mr O’Neill’s promised action. Since then, landowners and NGOs have been worried by the delay.

Taskforce to investigate 28 more leases

Investigations are continuing into a further 28 leases examined by Commissioner Alois Jerewai, who failed to submit his report.

"There is a special taskforce set up by government to look into those that Commissioner Jerewai investigated," Mr Kila-Pat said.

The taskforce will report back to the National Executive Council (Cabinet).

"I am hoping that in the next day or so, once the taskforce is set up, they will start to investigate the remainder of those SABLs," Mr Kila-Pat said.

The Department of Lands and Physical Planning was the lead agency of five government department that were involved in approving flawed leases.

Mr Kila-Pat says he has begun investigations which could lead to disciplinary action against officers in his department.

"That is very important. I have started dealing with officers already'" he said.

"As and when those who are found to be doing something wrong, my position is very clear that we don’t need to have them in the department."

The Commission of Inquiry found that Mr Kila-Pat, as acting secretary of the Department of Lands and Physical Planning, had breached protocols and unlawfully issued SABLs.

"That is a matter for the taskforce," he said.