California think-tank condemns PNG PM's failure to act on land grabs | Pacific Beat

California think-tank condemns PNG PM's failure to act on land grabs

California think-tank condemns PNG PM's failure to act on land grabs

Updated 20 November 2013, 9:57 AEDT

The California-based Oakland Institute has criticised Papua New Guinea's Prime Minister for failing to act on the findings of his Commission of Inquiry into controversial land leases.

Three Commissioners took more than a year to investigate the leasing of more than five million hectares of land, often to foreign interests, without the permission of landowners.

Last night, the Oakland Institute launched the report 'On our land - Modern land grabs reversing independence' and showed a film of the same name to a sell-out crowd.

Presenter: Jemima Garrett

Speakers: Frederic Mousseau, Policy director, Oakland Institute, USA

Claire Kourous, Act Now, PNG

Gabriel Mollock, Turubu Ecoforestry Forum PNG

Martin Shukei, Landowner, Turubu, East Sepik Province PNG

GARRETT: The film opens with the peaceful sounds of PNG's magnificent forests but, with more than 11 per cent of the land mass of the country let out under controversial Special Agricultural and Business leases or SABLs, often without the permission of landowners, that peace is short-lived.

Oakland Institute, Policy Director Frederic Mousseau, produced eight reports on land grabs in Africa before turning his attention to Papua New Guinea.

MOUSEAU: It is really shocking to see at the moment what is happening in Papua New Guinea. I have co-ordinated all the studies of land acquisition in Africa and I am afraid I have seen in Papua New Guinea some of the most shocking examples of land grabbing and extraction of resources for foreign interests in a developing country.

GARRETT: In the film, Claire Kourous, from the PNG NGO Act Now explains what went wrong.

KOUROUS: The processes that were supposed to have been followed obviously weren't followed so we had major forestry and logging companies just come in and take advantage of the SABLs instead of going through the normal procedures to get proper forest management authorities.

GARRETT: In Turubu, in East Sepik province, ancient forests were clear-felled without permission of landowners.

Gabriel Mollock from the Turubu Ecoforestry Forum is not happy.

MOLLOCK: It is not a development, development is about people, people having to have some kind of improvement, improving their standard of living, quality of life, improving infrastructure development, those are development but looking at what is happening right now it is like ripping of our resources, tangible resources, it is more or less like you rob it. We must scrutinise these laws to ensure that people must give their free, prior, informed consent.

GARRETT: Turubu Landowner, Martin Shukei, feels let down.

SHUKEI: What the governments, they said this SABL is good for the customary landowners, for that reason we take this step to get our customary land into this SABL lease. From there we found out our land has been grabbed and has been taken away by foreigners and other smart ones.

GARRETT: Special Agricultural and Business Leases were intended to make land available for agriculture not for logging.

Frederick Mouseau says the Oakland Institute's research found the leases are not suitable for agriculture either.

MOUSEAU: The key problem we find is a policy which is led by the government, which is about freeing up land for developments, which is taking away customary land from landowners and giving it to foreign interests.

GARRETT: The Oakland Institute recommends policies that look at how to support local farmers to develop agriculture rather than how to lease out their land.

In September, Prime Minster Peter O'Neill presented the first part of a Commission of Inquiry report into the land scandal to Parliament.


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