DEAR Minister Benny Allen - Thank you for your response through the media to the demands of affected landholders and the prime minister for answers on the SABL land grab.
Unfortunately, your statements do nothing to alleviate concerns as it is clear you have no intention of reversing the SABL land grab and returning stolen land to rural communities.
Instead you are endorsing and consolidating the land grab using alternative mechanisms of land alienation.
Rather than cancelling all but the four SABL leases approved by the Commission of Inquiry, as instructed by the prime minster and NEC, your department is instead converting the leases using Incorporated Landowner Groups and Voluntary Customary Land Registration concepts.
This will replace the unlawfully issued SABL leases so the original leaseholders can remain in occupation of the land.
The fundamental problem with the original SABL leases was that there was no informed consent from the customary landholders.
Many people were not consulted, others did not have issues explained to them clearly and fully in language they could understand and many did not give their consent to the land acquisition.
If the same people are now being coerced to form ILGs, register their land and consent to new leases being issued to the original leaseholders, exactly the same problem of a lack of free, prior informed consent will make the new leases as unlawful and invalid as the original SABLs.
What you are trying to do is simply repeating the original land theft using alternative legal mechanisms.
Trying to justify your actions by suggesting the leaseholders could demand compensation from the State if their leases are cancelled is completely false and misleading. It is like suggesting a criminal who is forced to hand back stolen property should be entitled to claim damages for what he has lost.
You also ignore the hundreds of millions of dollars some leaseholders have received from their illegal logging operations and the much larger financial compensation the O’Neill government already owes to the customary landholders, the real victims in this saga, for the unlawful loss of their land and subsequent environmental damage - a compensation bill that increases every day you refuse to cancel the leases.
The SABL land grab and the O’Neill government’s failed response undermines our nation’s credibility as a trade and investment partner in the eyes of the international community and further reinforces the perception of Papua New Guinea as a failed state, overrun by corruption.
While urging you to reconsider your approach, we will also be petitioning the prime minister to take more direct action.