AS THE city of Port Moresby expands, settlements in and around the city are expanding rapidly and coming under increasing pressure.
Some settlements have been demolished and settlers evicted and there is now a critical need for the government to develop a clear strategy to address urban settlements throughout Papua New Guinea.
Just a week ago, several thousand families living in Morata, one of Port Moresby’s oldest settlements, were forcefully evicted and their homes bulldozed. Many of these people are now homeless and get by each day sheltering in makeshifts tents.
This has created anxiety among city residents, especially those living in settlements. So far UN Habitat and the National Capital District Commission (NCDC) have collaborated in developing a national strategy on settlement upgrading.
Not much progress has taken place of late with NCDC citing its inability to issue land titles as a major drawback to its urban development planning.
Lack of alienable land for development has been one of PNG’s greatest development challenges.
A large proportion of land - estimated to be in the vicinity of 85–90% - is said to be in the hands of Papua New Guineans. But the State claims ownership of the vast riches that lie hidden deep in some of the world’s most rugged and majestic rainforests.
However, issues such as special leases (SABLs) which have given rise to illegal logging and huge mining and petroleum projects that have irreversibly damaged the environment have demonstrated how gullible the PNG government can be when it is afforded exclusive rights under the law.
This is where landowners’ rights are susceptible to wanton government action that ends up creating lost opportunities for citizens. The result: the rich get richer while the poor stay the same.
A drastic change is needed; one that will give more recognition to landowners and restrain the government from exercising absolute control over negotiating the terms of agreements with developers.
On another front, the government’s blatant ignorance of the alienable rights of local landowners when it comes to development leaves a lot to be desired.
For instance, along the sprawling Port Moresby coastline villages such as Hanuabada, Napa Napa and Baruni are now more exposed to land grabs than ever before.
As their population outstrips the availability of alienable land in the city there is a high likelihood that local landowners will have to fight to defend their territory and this is also the case in Lae, PNG’s second largest city and the industrial hub of the country.
Already pockets of conflict have arisen and these are expected to escalate in coming years if nothing serious is done to remedy the situation. This is no joke when you consider how corrupt the Department of Lands and Physical Planning is in its dealings with land issues.
Given the magnitude of this problem, the last thing the people of this country need is bureaucratic red tape that suppresses their desire to empower themselves and marginalises them in their own country.
In fact our corrupt land tenure system is the reason why indigenous landowners don’t want to offer their land for development. The Taurama Valley, once earmarked for a pilot project under the urbanisation program, is now teeming with development orchestrated by landowners who want quick cash.
They are ably assisted in their short-sighted rush to riches by residents seeking salvation from the city’s unending housing crisis. We are left with unanswerable questions. How can a project sanctioned by the government end up being a complete failure? How can there be a comeback from a mess of this proportion?
The bad news is that the problem shows no sign of receding with the city now home to almost one million people; most of whom are scraping for a space in rapidly growing settlements.
The government is caught in an awkward situation where people squat on undeveloped land. Authorities resort to the old method of eviction where little notice is given and bulldozers are sent in to gobble up all that stands in their way.
There is no justification for the loss of money, livelihood and security incurred by the unfortunate settlers, most of whom live below the poverty line. Often these events make you sit up and ask if the government is run by foreigners or aliens.
I mean, if they were land owning Papua New Guineans, would they not by now have put together an ingenious plan to protect the inalienable rights of their countrymen? It would be an endeavour of mutual benefit because they would be also protecting themselves and their families.
No one can run away from the fact that this is our home and we are indebted to our forefathers to ensure we leave a better future for our children.
Our elected leaders should make sure that they use the opportunity given to them to set the right precedent. We need such wise leadership, for the road ahead is riddled with conflict.