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24 Sep 2017 23:23
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  •   Home > News > Politics

    Illegal logging leases in Papua New Guinea to be shut down

    Illegal logging leases that have enriched foreign companies and dispossessed traditional landowners in Papua New Guinea will finally be shut down, according to the Government.


    The Papua New Guinea Government has promised to finally shut down illegal logging leases that have enriched foreign companies and dispossessed traditional landowners.

    The country's new Lands Minister, Justin Tkatchenko, has formed a committee to review 175 controversial Special Agricultural Business Lease (SABL).

    "Our customary landowners have had a tough time with this situation, and we must ensure that their rights are upheld and they get true justice for getting their land back for the right purpose," he said.

    SABLs allow companies to clear land for agricultural development.

    They have been widely exploited, primarily by Asian logging companies who sell the valuable timber while making token investments in agriculture.

    A Commission of Inquiry into the practice found many of the leases were illegal and recommended they be shut down.

    The Government previously formed other committees to examine the leases and respond to the committee's findings.

    But their findings were not followed and logging continues today, even where PNG's courts have ruled it to be illegal.

    Mr Tkatchenko said he would personally guarantee that action would be taken, hopefully by the end of the year.

    "There's some legitimate SABLs, there's some that have worked very well, but there are a lot that have not," he said.

    "So we're going to get to the bottom of it once and for all."

    Part of the problem in the past has been the strong political influence of the logging companies, some of which are big investors in PNG.

    'We've heard this before'

    Earlier this year, the PNG Government deported a Catholic missionary who tried to help landowners in their legal fight against the biggest logging company, Malaysian giant Rimbunan Hijau.

    Anti-corruption activist Eddie Tanago, who has been campaigning against the SABLs for years, said the Government announcement sounded just like previous empty promises.

    "I am very much in doubt with the promise the Minister is making," he said.

    "We just don't want any more talking, we want action only.

    "Cancel the leases, give the land back to the people and let the people decide themselves what to do on their land rather than the Government telling the people what to do on their land."

    The minister's announcement suggests some SABLs will be allowed to continue, because the Government does not want to discourage investment.

    Mr Tanago said the Government needed to show to them that people were more important than foreign companies.

    "The Government must prove me wrong and prove me wrong by implementing and actually cancelling these SABLs, and do it once and for all for the good of our people," he said.


    ABC




    © 2017 ABC Australian Broadcasting Corporation. All rights reserved


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