MEDIA RELEASE | Act Now!
PORT MORESBY - The Papua New Guinea government has tried to bury and forget the SABL land grab scandal in which more than five million hectares of land has been stolen from rural communities.
The government is using a well-tested formula that is employed almost every time a new corruption scandal is exposed.
First, there is a long-drawn out official inquiry that is then delayed by funding and other logistical problems.
There is subsequently a further deferral before the inquiry findings are tabled in parliament.
Next, a public promise of action is made and it is announced that a committee will be established to implement the inquiry findings.
And then nothing. No resignations, no prosecutions, no corrective action, no compensation. Stone cold silence.
In the case of the SABL land grab, the official commission of inquiry took more than two-years to complete its investigations (March 2011 - June 2013) and, due to political interference and funding problems, reported on only 42 of the75 leases investigated.
The prime minister then instituted a further three months delay before presenting the 42 commission reports to parliament in September 2013.
Since then, a number of different committees have been announced to supposedly implement the findings, which included recommendations for criminal prosecution of public servants involved in the most egregious and fraudulent leases.
In November 2013, the prime minister announced a ministerial committee comprising forestry, lands and agriculture personnel to review the findings. Nothing was ever heard from this committee.
In May 2015, the chief secretary announced an ‘independent Task Force’ to speed the implementation of the recommendations and hasten the cancellation of the leases. Nothing was ever heard from that task force.
Then, in August 2017, new lands minister Justin Tkatchenko announced a further committee to review all SABL leases and cancel those found to be unlawful.
That committee was supposed to meet weekly to ensure all leases were reviewed before the end of 2017. The goal was never met.
So it is now more than seven years since the commission of inquiry was announced and, during all that time, a derisory four leases have been voluntarily surrendered, one has been cancelled by the government and five revoked by the courts.
Most landowners affected by the SABL land grab still wait for their land to be returned while the forest authority is still issuing logging licences in affected areas.
No public servants have been disciplined or dismissed and the companies involved have not been sanctioned.
The government has done its very best to bury and forget the SABL scandal.
Its procrastination has largely succeeded. But the people whose land has been effectively stolen have never forgotten.