Government should not shift the blame on SABL Land Grab

It has been 655 days since Prime Minister Peter O’Neill was informed the SABLs were unlawful and should be cancelled. But instead of taking action to reverse the illegal land grab the government is now blaming landowners for creating the problem and claiming it has to defend the interests of foreign logging companies.

Speaking on a national radio, the Secretary for the Department of Justice has responded directly to ACT NOW’s call for the SABLs to be cancelled and land returned to customary landowners, by saying the landowners were at fault for entering the leases. This directly contradicts the findings of the Commission of Inquiry and previous promises from the Prime Minister.

The Commission of Inquiry into the SABL land grab uncovered serious irregularities and unlawful actions by public servants in issuing the leases, however to- date nothing has been done to cancel the illegal leases or stop the logging. Instead, all we have had is sweet-talking.

In September 2013, O’Neill told Parliament:

“We will no longer watch on as foreign owned companies come in and con our landowners, chop down our forests and then take the proceeds offshore”

In May 2014, O’Neill referred to the SABL’s as a ‘scam’ and in June 2014 he announced an NEC decision cancelling the leases, saying:

“We are taking these steps to reclaim our customary land illegally lost to foreigners with the help of corrupt public servants and leaders”

“As a responsible government we want to ensure that all citizens have access to the lands of their ancestors. We will not allow our land to be lost to unscrupulous people out to con our people” 

But on Thursday’s (9th April) PNGFM Mauswara Program on logging and SABL the government position seemed to have changed. ACT NOW! publicly urged the Prime Minister and the government to fast track the process to cancel the leases and give back the 5.2 million hectares of customary land acquired under the SABL scam.

In response, the Secretary for Department of Justice and Attorney General, Dr. Lawrence Kalinoe called in and blamed the landowners for entering into the SABL deals. Further, he said, “canceling SABL leases is not something easy as claimed by ACT NOW! The State has already incurred liabilities totaling K8 billion”.

Who facilitated the incurring of these State liabilities and who are they owed to? What has the Government done about those corrupt officials still on Government payroll?

The Commission of Inquiry identified all the abuses in the Department of Lands and the officers responsible for the fraudulent and unlawful leases but the Government it seems now prefers to blame the landowners rather than try and protect their interests. If the SABL deals were illegal as uncovered in the CoI report and in various court cases, then there should be no case against the State as claimed by Kalinoe.