EDDIE TANAGO | Act Now!
PORT MORESBY - APEC Minister Justin Tkatchenko’s plan to allow commercial banks to take customary land as security for loans is another huge land grab.
The government has yet to cancel all the illegal SABL leases, used to defraud communities of more than five million hectares of land. Instead, they are pushing ahead with plans for another land grab.
Last week Minister Tkatchenko met with the CEOs of Bank South Pacific, Westpac and ANZ and their lawyers to find a way to make customary land acceptable as security for cash loans. The minister claims this is necessary to “free-up idle” customary land for “investment”.
It is simply untrue for the minister to claim the 80% of land in PNG under customary control is idle and unused.
Customary land supports a huge economy, conservatively estimated to be worth more than K40 billion a year in subsistence lifestyles and small-scale agriculture.
There are three million farmers, many of whom are skilled agronomists, who depend on customary land for employment and an income. The current population explosion and climate change impacts are only going to intensify this issue.
Customary land is vital to the health and well-being of rural communities and the government should not allow customary landowners to pledge their land with the banks to get cash loans.
Act Now! is concerned that many customary landowners could use their loans for short-term consumption and be unable to repay the money. The bank will then evict communities and sell the land which was used as security for the loan.
There will also be a huge risk of corruption, with land group chairmen able to do their own deals with the banks just as they did with logging companies in the SABL land grab.
Allowing loans and mortgages over customary land is a typical APEC agenda to benefit rich corporations at the expense of indigenous communities and rural people; shifting yet more wealth into fewer and fewer hands.
Customary land is too important and too valuable to be used as the collateral for loans.
Minister Tkatchenko should concentrate on cancelling all the illegal SABL leases as the prime minister has repeatedly promised, rather than trying to create a new land grab and impress his APEC friends.