By MALUM NALU
Secretary for Lands and Physical Planning Pepi Kimas may have told lies about his department’s involvement in giving away land to foreign businesses under special purpose business agriculture leases (SPABLs).
Kimas claims his department has not been selling land to foreigners, instead shifting the blame to landowner companies, however, government gazettal notices provided to media yesterday (Tuesday) show that he has been granting SPABLs amounting to 5.2 million hectares since March 2003.
National Land Development Advisory Group (NLDAG) chairman Thomas Webster, also director of the National Research Institute (NRI), made the revelation yesterday as affected landowners gathered at the Holiday Inn in Port Moresby last night to talked about “structural theft” of their land at a meeting organised by the Centre for Environmental Law and Community Rights (CELCOR).
A detailed listing of gazettal notices including dates, gazette number, grantee’s name, term of lease, land area, land portion, milinch, fourmil, and provinces was also provided by Webster.
“According to records available from government gazettal notices, the granting of SPABLs, culminating in the current total of 5.2 million ha, has been executed by the secretary for lands and physical planningas a delegate of the minister for land and physical Planning since March 2003,” he said.
“The concerns raised by non-government organisations and academics have been ongoing, and because there has never been any response by the government despite this being brought to the attention of the National Land Development Programme Management Committee, the NGOs had taken the matter up with the United Nations, claiming that the process is flawed.
“NGOs alleged that the ultimate result is disempowerment rather than empowering customary landowners.
“Granting 99-year SPABL leases effectively removes all customary land user rights over the land for three generations whereas the normal lease-lease-back (LLB) arrangements are usually 25 to 40 years.
“NGOs are therefore calling for the immediate suspension of the granting of SPABL.”
Webster said the NRI had also been concerned that some SPABLs were being issued to individuals and business entities when the National Land Development Programme (NLDP) had advocated for customary Land to be registered into incorporated land groups (ILGs), recognising communal land ownership and user right systems, practised by PNG societies.
The ILGs can then lease the land to a developer.
“Two new laws, the Land Registration (Customary) (Amendment) Act and the Land
Group Incorporation (Amendment) Act was passed by Parliament in 2009, but the latter is yet to be gazetted and come into operation,” Webster said.
“The amended Land Group Incorporation Act is better, bringing more accountability to the management of the ILG and the revenues generated from land leases.
“It also prevents the sale of land registered to an ILG – only the land lease can be sold or traded for a specified period of time.
“The continuous granting of SPABL is regrettable in that it contradicts the goals and objectives of the NLDP.
“In other words the government is sending out mixed signals; whereas NLDP places considerable emphasis on developing and empowering customary landowners, the continuous granting of SPABL by DLPP on the other hand is facilitating for their disempowerment.
“Understandably to the common villagers, this is very confusing indeed.
“The Department of Lands and Physical Planning argues that it is freeing up land for development; it maintains that it is the leaders of customary landowning groups themselves who are directly deceiving their own clansmen by signing off their user rights through SPABL.
“This line of argument needs to be placed in the perspective of growing dissent.”
Webster said in June 2009, the court upheld an appeal by Musa Valley Management Company Ltd and revoked Kimas’ decision to issue LLB title to Musida Holdings Limited for a large area of land in Northern province.
“Furthermore, unless the secretary for DLPP can prove in no uncertain terms that more than 95% of SPBAL granted to date are genuine and/or there are no existing dissent/flaws among parties/landowners, it would make more sense to revoke all land leases issued so far, consistent and similar to that done for Musa Valley Management Company Ltd in Northern province.
“It has come to our notice that due process has not been followed and the Lands Department had not insisted as required before issuance of most of the SABLs now being questioned.
“These processes allow and require consultations among all landowners as well as consent by all of them before their land is registered to one person, persons or entity.
“Since these leases are being granted by delegated authority, it would be in order for the Minister to withdraw leases issued by delegation until such time as when the new laws approved by Parliament come into effect.”