PORT MORESBY - Today is the first anniversary of the presentation of a 10,000 signature petition to the Department of Lands demanding the cancellation of the SABL (special agriculture and business) leases.
2018 also marks five-years since the SABL Commission of Inquiry exposed the full extent of the illegal land grab, which affects more than 10% of the whole country.
But, despite repeated promises from the O’Neill government to cancel the leases, stretching back to 2013, almost nothing has been done.
The government’s response to the illegal SABL land grab is the greatest scandal this country has ever seen.
Even the brave landowners who have struggled through the courts to have leases declared illegal, without any help or support from the government, or have stood up and defied the logging companies despite attacks from the police, still have foreign companies occupying their soil.
A list released two weeks ago by the Lands Department revealed that of 75 SABL leases examined in the Commission of Inquiry, only 10 have been cancelled, five of those were at the direction of the courts and four voluntarily surrendered.
Meanwhile, as the government delays get ever longer, most of the SABL files have disappeared from the Department of Lands.
Fifty thousand square kilometres of land, more than 10% of the entire nation given away illegally yet the government does almost nothing to undo the wrong and indeed is still allowing logging companies to plunder the forests.
With APEC leaders now preparing to visit PNG, the SABL land grab is a huge embarrassment for the nation.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights slammed the PNG government over its failure to protect its own citizens during his visit two-weeks ago, saying “many communities have been forcibly evicted from their homes, often reportedly violently, with impunity and allegedly sometimes with the complicity of local police”.
It seems the whole world knows about and has condemned the land grab but the government is either unwilling or unable to cancel the majority of the leases.
If the government wants to show we are still a sovereign nation, they must immediately give the land back to local people, evict the foreign companies and pay compensation to the communities for the losses and damage they have suffered.