PETER O'Neill's handling of the illegal SABL land grab shows he is impotent in the face of Malaysian logging company control of Papua New Guinean politicians and officials.
A cartoon from 2003 depicting Rimbunan Hijau (RH) control over PNG politicians including the current Minister for Forests
Twenty-five years ago the Barnett Commission of Inquiry blew the whistle on widespread corruption and fraud in the forest industry in Papua New Guinea. Today, our politicians still remain under the control of foreign, mainly Malaysian, logging companies.
The 1989 Inquiry, headed by Australian judge Justice Barnett, famously described the logging companies as acting like robber barons:
It would be fair to say… they are now roaming the countryside with the self-assurance of robber barons; bribing politicians and leaders, creating social disharmony and ignoring laws in order to gain access to, rip out and export the last remnants of the province’s valuable timber.
Almost twenty-five years later, the recent 2013 SABL Commission of Inquiry into fraudulent agriculture leases has found nothing has changed:
With corrupt government officials from implementing agencies riding shotgun for them, opportunistic loggers masquerading as agro-forestry developers are prowling our countryside, scoping opportunities to take advantage of gullible landowners and desperate for cash clan leaders… Our investigations reveal that over 50% of the so-called developers’ currently holding subleases on SABLs are connected in one way or another to Rimbunan Hijau Limited, which by far is the biggest logging operator in PNG.
The Special Agriculture and Business Leases are the latest mechanism used by the loggers to get access to valuable timber resources. They have been used to take control of over 5 million hectares of forest - more than 10% of Papua New Guinea's total landmass.
The SABL Commission of Inquiry recommended 66 of 72 leases be revoked as they are illegal. But six months after receiving the Commissions reports the government of Peter O'Neill has done nothing to implement those recommendations.
As a result, millions of dollars-worth of illegally felled logs are leaving the country every week, mostly destined for China.
Swiss company SGS, which says it assiduously monitors log exports, says the value of the raw logs exported from the SABL lease areas was K172 million in 2012. Once sawn into rough timber in China the value of the logs multiplies by a factor of four or five. It is used in the manufacture of furniture, decking and other products for markets in Europe and the USA.
The only thing blocking the implementation of the SABL Commission of Inquiry recommendation that the leases be revoked is the Malaysian logging companies who are reaping rich rewards from the illegally felled timber and the politicians and bureaucrats who are in their pay.
Clearly the Prime Minister, Peter O'Neill, if not a direct beneficiary himself of the loggers bribes, is too impotent or incompetent to break their control over our politicians and bureaucrats.
A boycott of Rimbunan Hijau shops and businesses is as relevant today as it has ever been.