Post Courier editorial
In the debate over the Special Agricultural and Business leases (SABLs), all the attention is focused on the Lands Department. This may have happened because the Lands Department, which is tasked to manage State and to some degree, customary land in Papua New Guinea, issues the SABLs.
But for the SABLs to be of benefit to those that hold the leases, three other government departments play crucial roles in the whole scheme of things. The Agriculture and Livestock Department, the National Forest Service (NFS) and the Environment and Conservation Department (DEC) also play a part in allowing these lease holders to exploit the resources and the land. It is the role NFS and DEC departments play in the whole process that is of great concern to a lot of people as well as us.
When a SABL is issued, the developer or lease holder then applies for an environmental permit. The DEC, one behalf of the Government, grants the Environment Permit. This department is headed by Dr Wari Iamo. Armed with the Environment Permit, the developer then applies to the National Forest Board for a Forest Clearance Authority (FCA). The FCA is issued to allow the developer to clear the land and plant oil palm or any other agriculture crops it wants to on the cleared land. The National Forest Board is headed by Dr Wari Iamo as well, as Chairman.
The Office of Climate Change and Development (OCCD) announced yesterday that it is conducting a review of all existing SABLs. We are told that the Government is “committed to making improvements where necessary” within the SPABL process and the Government, through the OCCD, will review the approval process, audit active leases and develop a sustainable alternative for the livelihood of rural communities. We are told that the OCCD made a submission to the National Executive Council for a moratorium to be placed on the issue of SPABL until the review is completed.
Through this approach, we are told, relevant departments and agencies will collectively address any deficiencies and anomalies that may exist in the current process of awarding SPABL and certificates arising from this such as the FCA. The man who announced this was Dr Wari Iamo and he is the Acting Director for the OCCD.
Dr Iamo told us that the OCCD raised this issue last year, as land under SPABL is becoming one of the largest potential sources of green house gas emissions from changes made to the use of land in PNG.
What Dr Iamo did not tell us is when exactly in 2010 did the OCCD raise this issue about protecting PNG’s forests that were being threatened by the SABLs. Another thing that puzzles us is why it took so long for Dr Iamo and his people to act, for we know that the SABLs were issued starting from the July 3, 2003 to 2011.
This has been going on for eight years and the government agencies tasked to protect the environment in this country seem to have done nothing but when the Acting PM announced the Commission of Inquiry into the SABLs, we are told there is a review process underway suddenly. We smell something fishy here. We urge the Acting Prime Minister to stand firm and allow the proposed inquiry to proceed. We know that the DEC or OCCD are just making noises to get out of the COI.
And we know that the DEC is completely under-resourced, they have no capacity to do a review of 74 SABLS, covering 5.2 million hectares of land throughout the country. How could they possibly do that when they cannot even do the work they have got right now? How could a department that is involved in the granting of the environmental permit, which paves the way for the granting of the forest clearance authority, be expected to carry out an impartial and objective review, if it ever takes place? The DEC and the OCCD are integral to the logging industry in PNG.
Read more on this issue: Is Rimbunan Hijau pulling Wari's strings again?