Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Let's keep the playground

Editorial in The National, Papua New Guinea’s leading daily newspaper


DEPUTY Prime Minister and Lands Minister Sir Puka Temu cannot just remove from the public a prime piece of land which has been zoned reserve land for recreational purposes.

We understand that the said land has never had its “special purposes lease for recreation” revoked. This piece of land, for those familiar with Port Moresby, is that large tract of land which lies opposite the SP Brewery and extends to the Gordon police station.

Just rezoning the land for “commercial purposes” does not make it right or legal as the particular tract of land in Port Moresby’s Gordon suburb has been subject of dispute going as far back as 1985.

We refer Sir Puka to the Parliamentary Public Accounts Committee report into this portion of land which was originally described as section 122 Hohola.

The PAC reported the Lands Board has “granted and the department (of Lands) has issued State leases over land that was, and still is, zoned as Reserved Open Space Land for the benefit of the public”.

The PAC report reads in part: “Consideration of the facts shows a clear pattern of conscious illegality in the Lands Board and (at best) cooperation by the Department of Lands and Physical Planning.

“The dealings also well demonstrate the paralysis of action that attends the Department of Lands, even when the illegalities of lease issue are known to the department and have been publicly acknowledged by it.

“The history of this parcel is complex ... but the grants and issues of private title over all of section 122 Hohola are unlawful and require immediate action from the National Government to rectify the defects and/or reinstate this valuable public asset – if indeed it is not too late to do so.”

The PAC report containing the above comments and recommendations was presented to Parliament long before Sir Puka made his decision.

Apparently, the National Government took no action to rectify the defects or reinstate this valuable public asset and it is already far too late.

The land was zoned as “Reserved Land” as far back as 1985 and for a time, the entire lot was used as public recreational land.

It acquired the name Unagi Oval after the late former lord mayor of Port Moresby and Moresby Northeast MP, David Unagi.

That land has been subdivided into many lots and according to the PAC, has been “unlawfully granted to private ownership”.

The entire tract of land was declared in 1969 as section 122, Hohola. The first subdivisions were made in 1982 and the land was divided into lots 1-7.

On Nov 28, 1985, allotment 1 section 122 was “reserved from lease” for the purposes of “public recreation”, published in the National Gazette and a trusteeship was vested in the NCD Interim Commission.

In 1990, further subdivisions were done and others subsumed under the new lots. A 15m wide road was then carved out from part of the land. After yet another subdivision and merging action in 1997, lots 1 to 5 and 11 of section 122, Hohola were cancelled. They ceased to exist.

Although these sections ceased to exist subsequent dealings were conducted with allotments 1, 2, 12 and 13 by the Lands Board and the Department of Lands and Physical Planning.

This is the confusing state of affairs surrounding this piece of land which the minister has now decided to pass off as commercial land.

While it is his prerogative to do so, we are alarmed and disturbed that the minister has chosen to do so when the capital city is deprived of recreational land.

The PAC concluded, following its examination of the relevant details that “the State has been deprived unlawfully, of a large and valuable tract of land for no or no adequate recompense, that the State has been exposed to liability by departmental actions and failures and that the public have been deprived, quite illegally, of prime recreational land”.

The PAC report refers to certain illegal deals and transfers of titles between certain private companies, various Lands Board chairmen and the Department of Lands but we will not go into that.

Suffice it to say that the NCDC and the public had lost zoned Reserved Land, the State had received no recompense and there are questions about the legality of the entire process.

More worrying is the failure of the department to protect this asset in the first place.

The whole saga is very complicated and should be the subject of a deeper inquiry not to be bundled off and forgotten by a rezoning decision. It just will not do, Mr Minister.


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