SABL Inquiry Commissioner alegedly intimidated | Pacific Beat

SABL Inquiry Commissioner alegedly intimidated

SABL Inquiry Commissioner alegedly intimidated

Updated 16 February 2012, 10:41 AEDT

A Commission of Inquiry into disputed land leases in Papua New Guinea has referred executives of land holding company to the police after an incident of alleged intimidation against Commissioner, Nicholas Mirou.

The incident took place earlier this week, when Commissioner Mirou made a site visit to a lease held by Limoa Holdings Ltd. at Turubu, in East Sepik province.

The Commission of Inquiry is looking into the letting of 11 per cent of PNG's landmass under Special Agricultural and Business leases.

Landowners have claimed that many of the leases were made without their permission and that the land is being used for logging rather than business ventures.

PNG blogger and former medical student, Martin Namorong, is the East Sepik town of Wewak, attending the Commission's hearings and he was at the site visit when the incident took place.

Presenter: Jemima Garrett

Speaker: Martin Namorong, PNG blogger and eyewitness

NAMORONG: I arrived with the team from the Commission of inquiry into the SABLs (Special Agricultural and Business leases) and we arrived at the nursery site in Turubu. That is where the project area is in the East Sepik province of Papua New Guinea. And, what happened is that the Commissioners vehicle was set apon by executives of the local landowning company, Limoa Holdings. They were pretty angry with the fact that the commissioner had chosen to take an independent route around the project site and had not followed the executives to the nursery site.

GARRETT: So what did the executives do exactly? What happened?

NAMORONG: Basically, there was a lot of shouting and they were actually saying the commissioner was being biased. And the company secretary actually went up to the vehicle, the Commissioner's (inaudible) land cruiser, and was trying to smash the windscreen. Thankfully, the situation was calmed down by the police who was escorting the Commissioner and the three counsels that were assisting the Commissioner, were acting to cool down the situation. But the commissioner was pretty upset by the whole event at the nursery site.

GARRETT: Commissioner Nicholas Mirou, has formally referred them to the police now. What did he have to say as he did that?

NAMORONG: Commissioner Mirou has indicated that this kind of what he refers to as interference with the commission of Inquiry, will not be tolerated. He has referred the situation to the police who will do an independent investigation into the matter.

GARRETT: The landowners in this case are also upset. They've been protesting about their situation outside the commission hearings. Have they been peaceful and what are they saying?

NAMORONG: The landowners have been very peaceful. They've been doing silent protesting outside the Commission with their banners and stuff. They have presented to the commission of Inquiry a petition which they have signed basically asking the commission of inquiry to revoke the granting of the leases to the company that has taken over their customary land.

GARRETT: and is that actually an option?

NAMORONG: Commissioner Mirou has stated during the Inquiry that the sections of the Lands Act that allow for acquisition of customary land under Special Agricultural and Business leases do not provide for the revocation of such leases and so it's a grey areas, so we think.

GARRETT: One of the issues that the commissioner has been looking into is whether the land was obtained with the permission of the landowners and just how carefully the lands department officers did their job. What have you heard on that?

NAMORONG: From evidence provided by the provincial lands …the customary lands officer there is very little, in fact nothing being done to do proper, what is referred to as a land investigation report - where they go down to villages, they talk to customary landowners and get the informed consent to free up their land under these agricultural leases. That process has not been done consistently for all the project areas in the province.

GARRETT: Another issue is whether companies are using these Special agricultural and business leases as a backdoor method for logging rather than the agricultural projects for which they were intended. What did the commission see out on the Turubu land on that?

NAMORONG: the companies were given the leases about 4 years ago. What we saw down there were very new plants and a lot more logging than agricultural activity.

GARRETT: So, in fact, the plants could have been planted after the commission of inquiry was announced?

NAMORONG: well, exactly! And that indeed was the impression of the agriculture specialists engaged by the Commission on Inquiry, that the plants seem to have been planted very recently and not 4 years ago or 5 years depending on when the leases were granted.

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