PNG Land Inquiry Commissioner wants action on flawed leases | Pacific Beat

PNG Land Inquiry Commissioner wants action on flawed leases

PNG Land Inquiry Commissioner wants action on flawed leases

Updated 3 February 2014, 17:56 AEST

The Chairman of Papua New Guinea's land scandal Inquiry says action is needed to revoke flawed leases over millions of hectares of traditional land.

Three Commissioners took more than a year to investigate how 11 per cent of the country's land mass was leased out and if landowners had given their consent.

Many of the leases are for 99 years.

In his first interview since the Inquiry finished Chief Commissioner, John Numapo, says it is clear 66 leases should be revoked and he expresses concern at the pace of government action.

Presenter: Jemima Garrett

Speaker: Commissioner John Numapo

GARRETT: In the space of a decade more than 5 million hectares of Papua New Guinea's traditional land was leased out under what are known as Special Agricultural and Business leases or SABLs.

The leases were meant for small agricultural projects but in many cases were used by logging companies, without permission of landowners, to get control over vast tracks of forest.

When Prime Minister Peter O'Neill presented the findings of the Inquiry to parliament, in September last year, he said the Inquiry had revealed a shocking trend of corruption and mismanagement.

The commisioners investigated 75 separate leases but because one of them Alois Jerewai failed to submit his report the Prime Minister was only able to present the findings for 42 leases.

Chief Commissioner John Numapo says, in the interests of landowners, Commissioner Jerewai needs to finish his report.

NUMAPO: He should have delivered his report because whatever the stated hiccough or financial difficulties that we experienced throughout the life of the Inquiry we all have gone through that and yet Commissioner Mirou and I were able to furnish our final report because we were given a deadline and that was made known to the whole lot of us. So really there is no real excuse for Commissioner Jerewai not to deliver his report. And I think that is the only setback, in my opinion, to what has been a very successful Inquiry.

Prime Minister O'Neill told parliament 38 leases had been found to be seriously compromised.

Commissioner Numapo, says even though Commissioner Jerewai has not reported his findings, it is obvious 66 of the 75 leases investigated did not have a legally valid certificate of alienability.

Mr Numapo says that means the government must revoke them.

NUMAPO: That is the only option that is available. The law is very clear on that. SABL process and mechanisms as covered under section 11 and 102 of the Land Act and the titles have to be properly issued. And if it does not comply with the process and procedures in issuing all these leases then obviously they have been unlawfully issued and therefore the only option is left now to the government is to have them revoked as per our recommendations and our findings.

GARRETT: No action has been taken to revoke the leases and the only action the government has taken so far is to refer the recommendations to an interdepartmental task force. Is the government moving too slowly?

NUMAPO: I would have thought so because the report was given to the government in June of last year and you know, it is almost probably 7 or 8 months now and the report has been tabled in parliament. And unfortunately it was only two reports, ah, but yes when the report was tabled in parliament I understand the Prime Minister made a commitment to ensuring the recommendations of the Commission of Inquiry is implemented so we are all waiting on that to happen. Those recommendations have to be implemented because it is affecting the people and especially the customary landowners.

GARRETT: Are you concerned that the government is losing the will to act?

NUMAPO: As in everything else in PNG I think they will get to it one day but the sooner they move on it the better it will be. And I have seen recently in the local media that some landowners have got a copy of the report and are calling on the government to immediately implement the recommendations, particularly on the SABLs that have been unlawfully issued as there are findings and recommendations to have that lease revoked or surrendered, whatever the case is, and they have now called on the government to act on it and move quickly on it. So we will just wait on what the government might do in the next couple of months.

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