Sunday, February 28, 2010

Here's the story the Post-Courier refuses to run


OBSERVERS OF the media in PNG are scratching their heads and wondering what the link is between carbon trader Kirk Roberts and the Post-Courier newspaper.

It’s not just that the Post-Courier runs stories favourable to Mr Roberts’ activities. Of real concern is the newspaper’s apparent refusal to publish stories that question his activities, even when they are backed up by the PNG Government.

PNG Attitude has been told by a reliable source that a Post-Courier editor has been quizzed on this seeming lack of fairness and balance in its coverage, but brusquely fobbed off  questions and criticism of what seems like a badly flawed editorial policy.

Earlier this week the PNG Forest Authority placed an advertisement in the Post-Courier which announced that Roberts’ ‘carbon trading’ activities were under investigation.

Just two days later the Post-Courier ran another uncritical front-page story, which one reader described as “a ridiculous and nonsensical pro-Roberts piece”.

Anyway, thanks to Sky News which did manage to pick up the story, here it is:

'Carbon cowboy' in PNG legal spat

Australia's self-proclaimed 'carbon kingpin' Kirk Roberts is being investigated by a PNG government agency for allegedly misleading villagers in deals he hopes will net millions.

Mr Roberts, a former disqualified Australian horse trainer who also ran a Philippines cock-fighting business, once said he was 'the most beneficial foreigner' for PNG and has travelled across the country promoting carbon trading.

Mr Roberts shrugs off widespread criticisms and is adamant he represents numerous landowner groups who want lucrative carbon projects developed under a voluntary system.

But PNG authorities are worried Mr Roberts is undermining existing forestry laws, possibly misleading landowners in remote areas all while exploiting PNG's lack of national carbon trade legislation and policy.

East Pangia, in PNG's rugged Southern Highlands region, is the latest focus of various conflicting opinions that have flared as Mr Roberts promises what many villagers call 'sky money' - because he appears to be selling air.

PNG's Forest Authority managing director, Kanawi Pouru, has taken out a newspaper advertisement reminding Mr Roberts and landowners that East Pangia has already been allocated for logging.

Mr Pouru told AAP the Forest Management Agreement was one of 10 agreed projects identified for development by PNG's government in 2002.

'Roberts' operation obviously raises concerns for us,' he said.

'Our lawyers believe we have grounds to proceed against any moves that prevent an already existing forest plan.

'A commercial agreement with landowners has been entered.

'They can't sign rights away then reassign them to someone else like Roberts.

'We are not against carbon trading but we are being cautious because there is still a very high risk involved and so many rules that have not been sorted out.

'We need to understand the business first.'

The East Pangia FMA still existed and the logging operation would commence as soon as the agreement was executed next month, Mr Pouru said.

'(Mr Roberts) is being investigated and will be dealt with accordingly,' he said.

Last week Mr Roberts was in East Pangia mapping out a carbon project.

He did not answer (emailed) questions regarding the landowner's sudden switch from forestry to carbon trading, or the scientific credibility of his team.

Kuson Waku, a local landowner representative, told PNG's Post Courier newspaper: 'I want to benefit from all the forest.'

The story, supporting Mr Roberts' carbon trading plan, was accompanied by a photo of two locals each holding dead bush rats and tree kangaroos, with a possible implication that wildlife was under threat from logging.

PNG's Department of Environment and Conservation, Environment Ministry, NGOs and the environmental-law community have all raised concerns about Mr Roberts.

But Mr Roberts is no stranger to controversy.

Last year he was linked to the sacking of a top official after receiving dubious 'sample' carbon credit documents. And Mr Robert's company Nupan is tied to an ongoing government investigation of PNG's embattled, mismanaged and now bankrupt Office of Climate Change.

Adelaide-based company Carbon Planet, eyeing a potential billion dollar carbon trading market, in 2008 gave Mr Roberts $1.1 million for projects in PNG but now refuses to comment on their relationship with him.

In December last year, Carbon Planet's founder and chief operating officer Dave Sag walked out of an SBS television interview when asked about Mr Roberts and their PNG deals.

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