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APEC minister Tkatchenko is organising a huge new land grab


Justin Tkatchenko
Justin Tkatchenko

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.



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Barbara Short

I taught geography and economics and economic development for many years in schools in PNG and Australia and I know the importance of getting this land question right.

The SABL has been a curse on the rural people. This could be an even bigger curse if not handled in the right way.

I can understand why something like this may be suitable for the development of a large city , like Port Moresby. ... much to the sad loss of land for the Motu-Koitabu people who now have no land to go back to if they are unemployed and have to depend on their relatives with paid jobs.

The Chinese developers who seem to be flooding into PNG, as they are also flooding into Sydney and various parts of Australia, are the ones who have to struggle to live without traditional land. Yet they need some land to build their businesses.

Probably in PNG some scheme needs to be worked out whereby they can rent the land and to set up their businesses e.g. shops and factories, hotels, etc and that the original land owners can get their fair share as rent.

But they surely will have to rent from the Village, or Village Clan. The Village or Village Clan own the land not the individual village person. The land should only be allowed to be rented out if the whole village approves.

Then there is the problem of the length of the Lease. That needs to be discussed in the parliament. It is obvious that a 99 Year Lease is wrong. I don't know enough about Real Estate in the city these days to comment.

But for the smaller towns like Wewak there are problems at the moment. The Land Titles Office does not seem to be able to do its job well. Nobody is certain of who owns what.

The Chinese have moved in and are building very sub-standard buildings and they are often in inappropriate places e.g. right up against power lines, right next to the sea, with very poor thought to drainage and sanitation. Wewak is becoming like a wild-west town where the locals carry large bush knives and the Chinese people who run the shops walk around with large guns.

Wewak is a long way from Port Moresby and I doubt if Tkatchenko ever thinks about how his ideas on mortgaging land will affect the ordinary village person.

If a clan decides that they want to try to set up a small or medium sized business such as a cocoa fermentary and chocolate factory and they are allowed to mortgage their clan land, what happens when the small business meets bad times and the world market for chocolate collapses and they go under.

Will the whole clan then have to hand over their clan land to the bank and the clan village farmers will be landless and have to rent back their traditional land it they want to continue to farm?

I don't think so. I can see the bush knives and guns will really be out in force then and it will be targeting the bank manager who arranged it all.

Off with their head! Etc etc etc.

Chris Overland

Just recently, we have been discussing some of the unhappy events that occurred when the colonial regime extended its control over the country.

However, one tremendous legacy it left to PNG was the fact that it did not allow the alienation of more than a very small area of land. Even then, the land remained the property of the government as distinct from private individuals, who could only lease it.

The first Administrator of the then Territory of Papua, Sir William McGregor, insisted that only the government could buy land and that the policy of the colonial regime should be to restrict this to very small parcels of land.

My recollection is that he got this idea from his time in Fiji, where the policy had been put in place when it first became a Crown Colony.

McGregor (and his successors) realised that in a subsistence economy like that of Papua (and, later, New Guinea), land was a precious resource upon which people relied to live.

Its alienation could, they believed, lead to profound and very damaging socio-economic consequences as had been all too graphically demonstrated in Africa.

Anyone familiar with the history of, say, Kenya, South Africa or Rhodesia (Zimbabwe) will understand that the native peoples were ruthlessly dispossessed of their land and suffered greatly as a consequence.

Now, amazingly, a PNG government has developed a "cunning plan" which must, by its very nature, result in the loss of control over communally held land for those Papua New Guineans foolish enough to allow its use as collateral for a loan.

This is a scheme that I think would never have seen the light of day in the colonial era. It would instantly have been recognised as what it is: a licence for banks and others to progressively expropriate traditional lands in the name of "development".

Wake up PNG. Dr Clement Malau is right. This is a monstrous con job dressed up in the language of development and investment.

Please do not effectively throw away your ancestral heritage for the sake of money.

Kela Kapkora Sil Bolkin

People are not adept in managing money so in fact this is premeditated attempt to grab land from the people and give them to the multinational corporations and a few well-to-do crooks.

This "happy gardener" should quit the trap he is setting to prey on the innocent people.

Barbara Short

Dr Clement Malau just commented on the East Sepik Development Forum....

Dangerous! Only a few will benefit at the expense of the majority. The model has been set for Port Moresby and now the same model will apply for PNG.

Is this what we want? Please leaders have a serious dialogue and be innovative in developing PNG based on the ideals set in our National Constitution.

"Participation by all for the benefit of all". This I believe is based on our traditional values and practices. Let us put PNG and its citizens first.

One needs to look at global experience like that of Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwe. What can we learn from this?

Please.... Please... think twice,.. leaders and those in positions of power.

I also believe our country would have already collapsed if it was not for the ability of communities to sustain themselves in a subsistence economy.

This is the safety net that we have had that had protected us thus far, and now we want to destroy this safety net.

Can the PNG Development Forum discuss this topic? It sounds like there is a vacuum of well thought out debate and leaders nowadays seem to make decisions based on individual opinions that lack sound debate and evidence.

Are we going to continue develop policies that will make people become 100% reliant on the government or do we have the courage and ingenuity to develop policies that will make people self-reliant?

It looks like there is no more intellectual input into policies and standards for national development these days. This matter calls for sound intellectual debate and I hope the Minister has considered all the options available to him in making such a radical move.

Insightful remarks by Dr Malau - KJ

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