PNG landowners call for action on flawed land leases | Pacific Beat

PNG landowners call for action on flawed land leases

PNG landowners call for action on flawed land leases

Updated 13 February 2014, 10:04 AEST

One of the whistleblowers who gave evidence at the Commission of Inquiry into Papua New Guinea's land scandal is urging the government to act on calls for companies named in the final report to be investigated.

A company called Independent Timbers and Stevedoring stands accused of manipulating the supposedly independent lease approval process.

Landowners who thought they had only given approval for leases for a road project, found all their land had been leased out.

Dina Gabo's land was part of more than two million hectares included in four Special Agricultural and Business leases, in PNG's Western province, which the Commission's found to be flawed.

At the time, Mr Gabo was Chairman of the landowner company Tosigiba Timber Group.

Presenter: Jemima Garrett

Speaker: Dina Gabo, former Chairman of the landowner company Tosigiba Timber Group

GABO: All of the land has been leased out for 99 years and it is a great concern to me. That is why I need to see that the company, IT&S, should be properly investigated. Were the things that they are doing according to the law, or not?

GARRETT: The commission of Inquiry recommended that the lease over your land be revoked. What action would you like to see now?

GABO: That was one of my recommendations, also, when I presented my evidence during the Commission of Inquiry's investigation, here, in Kiunga. I recommended that the lease be revoked completely.

GARRETT: The Prime Minister has said that he will revoke leases. What is your reaction to that?

GABO: Well, I will be grateful, I will be more than happy if the Prime Minister go ahead and revoke all the lease including mine, my land and my people.

GARRETT: It is seven months since the government received the commission of Inquiry report. Does it concern you that there has been no action yet from the government?

GABO: Yes, I was very concerned about that because the years has gone past and nothing has come out from the government over the Commission of Inquiry's report.

GARRETT: Despite the findings of the Commission of Inquiry it seems Independent Timbers and Stevedoring is still keen to pursue the project. The company says it "remains committed". What is your reaction to that?

GABO: I don't think they should come in. I don't think IT&S should come in because they stole the land without consulting the landowners, not following the government laws, the requirements, so I think the government should cancel the 99-year lease over that land and restart again if they want the project to kick off.

GARRETT: IT&S says its project will bring access to medical resources, clean water, schools, community centres and significant other benefits like job opportunities and royalties. What is your reaction?

GABO: Well, we need those services. We need those services but it has to be done in a way that people's land will not be affected for 99 years. Those services, yes we need it, but the project, the arrangement that they did was not right. And the way I see it, in the future is there will be destruction taking place in that area.

GARRETT: Some people are still in favour of giving Independent Timbers and Stevedoring a go if it is prepared to just build a road. Others are against it. Is this a company, because of its history, that is likely to bring conflict into the community?

GABO: There are only a few people who are doing that. There are only a few people I can say that. It is not the majority. They have not really understand what is going to happen and acquiring of whole of that land, belonging to Nomad people, all the people were not educated. And these are only a few people who are only thinking of themselves, not for the whole community.

GARRETT: What will it mean for your people if the lease isn't revoked?

GABO: Well, it would be bad. It would be very bad to us because, you know, we will be losing our land, our resources, oil and gas, copper gold, whatever we name it. In that land, we will lose it because whoever is holding the title over that land will become the owner of these resources.

GARRETT: What is your message to foreign companies wanting to come in and do projects in your area?

GABO: We need to sign up a better agreement. People need to understand, and companies, and government, to sit down together and sign up a better agreement that would benefit the company, the developers, the government and the people at the same time.

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