Last week, Lands Department Secretary, Romily Kila-Pat, said hundreds of thousands of affected landowners could expect to have their land back this week. His comments came after PNG's cabinet, known as the National Executive Council, ordered the cancellation of 25 Special Agricultural and Business Leases as recommended by a Commission of Inquiry.
Presenter: Jemima Garrett
Benjamin Samson, Papua New Guinea's Land Titles Registrar
SAMSON: The cancellation of any titles follow process under the Lands Titles Act 1981. As such the prerequisite of a title to be cancelled requires a summons to be issued to the respective title-holders. I am now processing the summons for the 25 SABLS (Special Agricultural and Business Leases) recommended by the NEC, as per the Commission of Inquiry findings.
GARRETT: So have any leases been cancelled yet?
SAMSON: Not as yet, not as yet! By law we have to give them 14 working days for them to deliver up the title, the owner's copy that is in the hands of the leaseholders. This is because we do not want the titles to be with them - the owner's copies - to be with the leaseholders. We want them to be delivered up to the registrar of titles for cancellation. The law is designed as such that before cancellation is to be done a notice, which is called a summons has to be issued to the respective leaseholders.
GARRETT: Do you expect any problems in cancelling the leases?
SAMSON: Not too much but some leaseholders might want to challenge the decision that we would undertake but I mean, as the agent of state, we are here to comply with the decision of the government of the day so that is another matter for the leaseholders to pursue.
GARRETT: So how long do you expect it to take for all 25 leases to be cancelled?
SAMSON: Well, maybe by the middle of next month. By then the 14 working days could expire by then.
GARRETT: Many of the problems with these leases stemmed from unrepresentative landowner companies claiming to speak for the people. Will control of the land be back in the hands of these companies or does it go to the whole community?
SAMSON: Well, Jemima, my job under the Land Registration Act is basically to register the items and if there are found to be anomalies involved in the issuance of the titles, of course cancellation is the other function under the Land Registration Act. Once cancelled the ownership basically reverts back to the traditional or original landowners. Whether the title or the ownership will go to another entity is a matter that is determined under the voluntary customary land registration or the Land Act, which I am not able to comment on.
GARRETT: How will landowners know when Special Agricultural and business leases for their land have actually been cancelled?
SAMSON: After the cancellation, I will have to discuss that with Mr Kila-Pat, the Secretary (of the Departments of Lands and Physical Planning) whether we will have to go on the media to advise the public whether those leases have been cancelled. It is a call that will have to be made by the Secretary.
GARRETT: When do you expect the first leases to be cancelled?
SAMSON: As I said earlier, I think the middle of July. that is when the period of 14 days will expire.
GARRETT: How drawn out could this process become if title-holders decide to go to court and challenge your cancellation?
SAMSON: Well, if they do obtain an injunction of if the matter goes before the court, then of course we will have to await the outcome of the court decision before the cancellation can be fully-effected.
GARRETT: Do you expect many title-holders to challenge the cancellation in court?
SAMSON: I think a number of leaseholders, especially those lease-holders or those companies, who on the ground have expended a lot of money, they might want to pursue it in court but I am not sure. We will wait and see if we are served those court documents or not.
GARRETT: If a lease is cancelled does that mean any logging on the land needs to stop?
SAMSON: I don't know, I am not in a better position because the FCA, the Forest Clearance Authority, is issued by the forest authority so I am not sure whether that will have any effect on any logging that is now currently undertaken on those land.