O’Neill has failed for two years to take any action against the corrupt bureaucrats and politicians responsible for the SABL land grab and illegal logging – and now he is expressing surprise they have done nothing to cancel the leases or stop the logging…
SABL investigation: O’Neill says bureaucracy not responding
By Serah Aupong – EM TV, Port Moresby
Prime Minister Peter O’Neill says the bureaucracy is not responding to political directions to implement the recommendations of an investigation into the Special Agriculture Business Leases (SABL).
He has tasked the Chief Secretary to ensure the recommendations are implemented.
The SABL became a national and an international issue when it was uncovered that over 5.2 million hectares of customary land were converted to agricultural business leases without the knowledge and consent of customary landowners.
This caused a nationwide protest and calls for this to be put right.
An investigation, at a cost of K15 million, was completed last year.
It was recommended that a majority of the leases be revoked because they were illegal. Of the 78 leases that were investigated, 42 came back with recommendations. Out of the 42, only four were found to have followed due process while a staggering 38 were found to be fraudulent.
Many of these leases were being used as a cover for illegal logging operations and were not genuine agriculture businesses.
Until today, nothing has been done to implement that recommendation.
Prime Minister O’Neill said the government is firm on its decision that the SABL’s must be cancelled.
A team is already in place to begin monitoring work next year. It will be headed by the Chief Secretary, Sir Manasupe Zurenuoc.
Sir Zurenuoc said the handling of the Rabaul Queen maritime disaster was swift and it was hoped that the SABL and Finance Inquiries would have been given the same attention. Unfortunately the bureaucracy is not as swift in their response in these matters.
He said the team will find out from relevant agencies what the holdup is in implementing these recommendations and where it can, the team will assist in doing so.
Over the last 10 years, concerns about illegal logging in the country have become an international embarrassment for Papua New Guinea.
While the SABL debate rages, communities in provinces such as Oro and West New Britain, are still dealing with alleged abuse of their customary land rights.
Bougainville President John Momis has been very persistent and vocal in attacking a Jubilee Australia over a report that gives a voice to the marginalized people of the Panguna area. Momis attacks have characterized Jubilee as an interfering outsider. How ironic that we can now reveal Momis’s virulent attacks were written for him by an Australian ‘advisor’ who is paid by and regularly briefs the Australian government…
In September this year the Bougainville Voices report was released giving Panguna landowners an opportunity tell their story to the rest of Bougainville and the world.
They spoke with pride about their culture but this then changed to bitterness when landowners from Panguna recounted how their heritage and land was stolen from them by Rio Tinto and their Australian colonial partners. Then when the custodians of Panguna resisted this resource theft their homes were burnt, women raped, and loved ones murdered by PNG troops armed by the Australian government and fed by Rio Tinto.
This story of dispossession and revolution exploded in the media during September and October – up until the report’s publication we had been told that the people of Panguna welcomed the return of Rio Tinto, because it was their only chance to escape ‘poverty’ and develop. Doesn’t this sound like the talk of foreign exploiters, not landowners who shed blood to evict a foreign invader?
Despite once being an outspoken critic of Rio Tinto, strangely the President launched a bitter attack both on the landowners, and the NGO/researcher organisations who helped publish the Bougainville Voices report. Over many long letters he claimed the testimony of those in the report was simply the lies of anti-mining activists in the landowning communities, who had been hand-picked by foreign troublemakers.
All of this venom sounded less like the President and more like the divisive talk of his controversial Australian adviser, Anthony Regan, who has launched attacks on the MP for central Bougainville Jimmy Miringtoro, in addition to former BRA General Sam Kaouna, because both had called him an ‘activist’ working for the Australian government and its corporate friends.
It can now be revealed that these bitter attacks on the Bougainville Voices report were authored by none other than Anthony Regan, President Momis’ so called legal advisor.
You see Rio Tinto’s faithful Public Relations spin doctor Keith Jackson, who has used his popular blog to broadcast these attacks, published one of the letters online. And analysis of that letter tells us who originally authored the document. And who should come up as the author? Not our President, but none other than Anthony Regan.
This is a legal expert on the payroll of the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade who has helped write mining legislation that has allowed Rio Tinto to hold on to its colonial possessions. This is a man who returns to Australia and has closed door meetings with the Australian government, where he tells Ministers and government officials all about whats happening on Bougainville.
Australia is responsible for the deaths of many thousands of Melanesians. It is not sorry, instead it is sending its advisers to win back an island it lost through armed struggle. These efforts must be resisted with the same skill and endurance in the political realm that our boys showed in the military realm.
And don’t be surprised if the President now comes out and labels this blog racist. And don’t be surprised if he also claims that he simply dictated these letters to Anthony Regan, who must be one of the best paid secretaries in the world with a consultancy contract of approximately K300,000 which comes out of the Australian ‘aid’ budget.
It is now 536 days since Prime Minister Peter O’Neill was told that the SABL leases were unlawful and should be revoked.
It was on June 24, 2013 that he was given the reports of the SABL Commission Inquiry which detail the widespread fraud and mismanagement used by foreign logging companies to gain illegal access to over 5 million hectares of land.
O’Neill has REPEATEDLY STATED the leases will be canceled and illegal logging stopped.
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 June 2014, announcing an NEC decision cancelling the leases, O’Neill said
“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, WE ARE STILL WAITING for the leases to be cancelled and the logging stopped.
For 536 days O’Neill has failed to revoke the SABL leases and has been complicit in the illegal logging of our forests by foreign logging companies.
Prime Minister Peter O’Neill has aided and abetted the theft of logs worth hundreds of million of kina and the destruction of thousands of hectares of pristine forest.
A leaked letter has exposed how Treasury Minister Patrick Pruaitch has been actively supporting the SABL land grab and illegal logging in PNG and undermining attempts to implement the recommendations of the SABL Commission of Inquiry.
Pruaitch’s actions come as no surprise to observers of the logging industry in PNG. The Minister for Treasury and Member for Aitape-Lumi has a long history of staunchly defending the interests of foreign logging companies and supporting their illegal activities, as we documented in March this year
This is how commentator Keith Jackson described Pruaitch’s association with the logging industry on his PNG Attitude blog just after the last election:
After being appointed Forest Minister in August 2002, it was alleged Pruaitch enjoyed the generous patronage of the giant Malaysian company Rimbunan Hijau. For his part, Pruaitch defended the company at every turn, even taking out press advertisements to deny claims it had been logging without legal permits and claiming it to be “one of the most committed logging companies in PNG”.
The SABL Commission of Inquiry had this to say about Rimbunan Hijau:
With corrupt government officials from implementing agencies riding shotgun for them, opportunistic loggers masquerading as agro-forestry developers are prowling our countryside, scoping opportunities to take advantage of gullible landowners and desperate for cash clan leaders’.
A preponderance of the evidence before us indicate that logging companies are the biggest beneficiaries of the SABL scheme.
Our investigations reveal that over 50% of the so-called developers’ currently holding subleases on SABLs are connected in one way or another to Rimbunan Hijau (RH) Limited, which by far is the biggest logging operator in PNG.
In 2013 Pruaitch was exposed trying to block the SABL Commission of Inquiry from publishing its report which exposed the fraud and mismanagement involved in the SABL land grab
Pruaitch has also been referred to the public prosecutor for corruption and in May 2011 convicted criminal William Nanua Kapris named Patrick Pruaitch (along with Minister Tony Aimo and Deputy Speaker Francis Marus) as accessories to his robberies [thus repeating claims first made in 2010].
With people like Patrick Pruaitch in senior positions in government will we ever see effective action to undo the SABL land grab and stop the illegal logging?
The National Court sitting in Kimbe has ordered an extension to the ban on any forest related activities by logging giant Rimbunan Hijau in its contested SABL lease areas in the Pomio District of East New Britain.
The extension was ordered at a hearing on Monday. The original orders were granted on November 16 – as reported below. The matter will return to court later this month.
Court orders halt to RH logging operations in controversial Pomio SABL areas
via ACT NOW!
The National Court has issued a restraining order stopping any forest logging operations by Rimbunan Hijau in two controversial Special Agriculture and Business Lease areas in the Pomio district of East New Britain.
The orders have been obtained by landowners from Portions 196C and 197C who claim the SABLs were obtained by fraud and forgery and without their consent and without following the proper processes under the Lands Act.
The Pomio SABLs are part of a wider land grab in PNG which has seen more than 5 million hectares of land taken from customary owners under 99 year leases. A Commission of Inquiry has condemned the leases as being fraudulent and unlawful but the government has not acted to stop logging companies operating in lease areas.
Rimbunan Hijau has already cleared at least 7,000 hectares of forest in the Pomio area alone and exported more than 500,000 cubic metres of timber with a declared value of over $50 million.
In October, the National Forest Board renewed the logging permit for the Pomio SABLs despite widespread opposition from local landowners. In September, the elected ward councillors and other community representatives from the villages of Bairaman, Mauna and Lau, wrote to the National Forest Board requesting the forest clearance permit issued in 2010 not be renewed.
When the Forest Board refused to listen to the landowners plea and elected instead to renew the logging permit the landowners turned to the courts for assistance.
The court orders stop the National Forest Authority doing anything to give effect to the new logging permit and stops RH from conducting any logging or associated activities in Portions 196C or 197C or doing anything else in reliance on the new permit.
The restraining orders were issued by Justice Batari in a court hearing in Kimbe on Friday, 14 November. The matter will return to court in December for further legal arguments.
Bougainville’s President John Momis has engaged the ABG in a joint-venture with Filipino executives allegedly involved in land-grabbing, violence against landowners, illegal labour practices, and environment breaches...
Bougainville’s social media has recently been full of speculation after questions were raised about the company, Bougainville POGE Development Ltd.
The company is a joint-venture between the Autonomous Bougainville Government and POGE Development Corporation. Apparently the relationship was facilitated by the ABG’s development adviser, Global Seagate, a Hong Kong based hedge fund and private equity firm.
The venture was launched by President Momis at the end of 2013 in the Philippines, where he asked ‘educated, technically qualified’ Filipinos to ‘come and help us’ Bougainvilleans who lack ‘expertise and capital’.
Incorporated several months later as Bougainville POGE Development Ltd, the ABG owns 30% of the company, while POGE Development Corporation has a 70% stake.
The majority owner of the joint-venture, POGE Development Corporation, is a Filipino company. Its senior management team are all shareholder-directors of Bougainville POGE Development Ltd, as is John Momis, Michael Oni and Albert Punghau (see Table 2 below). More worryingly POGE Development Corporation’s Chairman, Executive Vice President and Senior Vice President are also senior figures in the hugely controversial A Brown Company, a business group with significant interests in mining, oil palm and real estate.
A Brown Company stands accused of land-gabbing, terrorising landowners, and attacking environmental defenders in the Philippines.
In a 2012 report [21MB pdf file] by the Asia Indigenous Peoples Pact, it was observed, ‘the A Brown Company, Inc. (ABCI) is a large corporation owned by the Filipino-American businesspeople Walter W. Brown and Annabelle Brown’ (Walter W Brown is a shareholder-director in Bougainville POGE, he is also Chairman of POGE Development Corporation, the majority owner of Bougainville POGE Development). Through its subsidiaries, A Brown Company has set up large oil palm operations in the Philippines.
According to the report, rural land was accessed by A Brown Company’s subsidiary ABERDI through promises of development:
‘The company promised the community a hospital, educational scholarships and other social services. A. Brown also promised not to force those who did not want to relinquish their lands to do so. In the long run, the company did not keep any of its promises. A. Brown instead committed various human rights violations’.
The report continues:
‘Among the violations against the indigenous peoples rights included destruction of crops, burning of houses, arrests, imprisonment, shootings, death threats and the desecration of sacred sites. These transgressions were committed by A Brown after it began its operations’.
‘furthermore, adverse health and environmental effects [from the palm oil plantation] were reported. These were due to pesticide use in the palm oil plantation. In Opol, residents have observed the outbreak of diseases including cough, colds and skin disorders that they attribute to A. Brown’s chemical use. The plantation workers have either insufficient or no protective equipment at all. They are also uninformed about the effects of pesticide application’.
Of particular concern is the fate of those who are exposing the impacts of A Brown’s palm oil operations. According to the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, environment defender Gilbert Paborada was shot in the head after a prolonged campaign against A Brown on behalf of his Higaonon tribe. Shortly before his execution Paborada allegedly received death threats from A Brown Company representatives. A Brown Company denies any involvement in the killing.
Yet rather than repudiate the firm which stands accused of serious, repeat human rights abuses, President John Momis has courted and celebrated their achievements. Following a visit to A Brown Company’s facilities earlier this year, Bougainville’s President made the following remark:
‘Bougainville can have a set up like the one at ABERDIN [A Brown’s subsidiary implicated in numerous human rights violations] … We have a lot of arable land that we can use for extensive [oil palm] agricultural development’.
Further information on A Brown Company’s human rights abuses can be viewed through these links:
- Detailed overview of A Brown’s Filipino operations and associated abuses: http://www.panap.net/sites/default/files/OPOL_Oil_Palm_Primer.pdf [1.2MB pdf]
- Violence against communities: http://www.panap.net/en/fs/post/food-sovereignty-resistance-land-grabbing/1069
- Use of toxic chemicals: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GWejbzOkOxA
- Executing environment defenders: https://www.fidh.org/International-Federation-for-Human-Rights/asia/philippines/The-Philippines-assassination-of-12287
Not for the first time President Momis has invited a fox into the hen house. Except this time it is not ‘the devil we know’, as he likes to put it, but a brand new ‘devil’.
|Bougainville POGE||POGE Dev Corp Management||Other|
|John Momis||Director/ Shareholder||No||ABG President|
|Michael Oni||Director/ Shareholder||No||ABG Minister for Natural Resources|
|Albert Punghau||Director/ Shareholder||No||ABG Finance Minister|
|Director/Shareholder||Chairman||Chairman of A Brown Company, Inc., Palm Thermal Consolidated Holdings Corporation, Palm Concepcion Power Corporation and A Brown Energy & Resources Dev’t. Inc., President and CEO of Apex Mining Inc. and Director of ISM Communications Corporation, Forum Energy Plc and Monte Oro Resources and Energy, Inc.|
|Roel Castro||Director/ Shareholder||Executive Vice President||Vice President of Business Development at A Brown Company, Inc. since May 2010. Mr. Castro serves as Vice President of Business Development and Administration at Atok-Big Wedge Co. Inc. He serves as the Chief Executive Officer and President at Palm Concepcion Power Corporation.|
|Luis David||Director/ Shareholder||Senior Vice President||Mr. David serves as Consultant of A. Brown Co, Inc|
|Rufino Tiango||Director/S hareholder||Board Director||Chairman of the Board of Marala Vitas Central Terminal & Shipyards Corp.; President of Trufsons Holdings Corporation; President of Ruvict Holdings Corporation; Director of F & J Prince Holdings Corporation; Director of Magellan Capital Holdings Corporation; President of Vructi Holdings Corporation; and Chairman & CEO of R.A.V. Fishing Corporation.|
|Dominador Tupaz||Director/Shareholder||President||Economic Adviser, Autonomous Bougainville Government. President of Seagate Global Commodities Services.|
|William Lawton||Director/Shareholder||No||Chairman and CEO of hedge fund and private equity firm Global Seagate. Seagate also acts as an economic adviser to the Bougainville Government.|
Table 2: Director-shareholders at Bougainville POGE Development Ltd