Home > Corruption, Human rights, Land, Papua New Guinea > The state is preying on public servants who built PNG – They need our support!

The state is preying on public servants who built PNG – They need our support!

November 6, 2013 Leave a comment Go to comments

Dr Kristian Lasslett*

There is nothing worse than to meet a community, enjoy their hospitality, and then feel absolutely powerless as they are predated upon by some of the most venal and corrupt state institutions.

At the moment in Papua New Guinea hardworking public servants, many of who have devoted their life to service of country and community, are being tossed out of their homes and into the street by the National Housing Corporation (NHC) and their business arm the National Housing Estate Limited (NHEL).

Earlier this year I had the great privilege of meeting residents from the NHC flats in North Waigani. In February they were chased out of the place many had called home since 1997 by criminal gangs recruited by the NHC – K30,000 was released by the government for the thuggery. Those who resisted the eviction were bashed. So people wept and loaded what they could into cars and then set off into the heavy rain that pounded down that Saturday. The National Court later declared the eviction illegal.

This North Waigani resident was beaten by criminal gangs recruited by the government to evict residents.

This North Waigani resident was beaten by criminal gangs recruited by the government to evict residents.

A professional evaluation of the North Waigani property valued it at K40 million. The government sold it for K11 million. Why the state would sell a new, purpose built property when civil servants face a housing shortage is bizarre; why they would sell it at a massive discount is evidence in my view of something more malevolent.

Then last Monday it was revealed on EMTV that more civil servants are potentially facing forced evictions: “Tenants occupying 5-mile National Housing Corporation flat, 3-mile and Saraga, gathered yesterday to raise their concerns through the media. They have been given 7-days’ notice by the commercial arm of NHC, National Housing Estate Limited, to sign a new tenancy agreement, or vacate the property”.

I don’t know these particular communities, but I feel like I know them. I have sat around with numerous NHC residents facing forced evictions over the years, many are pioneers of this great country, its magistrates, its policy makers, its frontline staff, and they have many stories to tell – inspiring stories.

And yet lifelong public servants are being preyed upon by a rotten state institution. This is how the NHC was described by the Public Accounts Committee: “National Housing Corporation is a failed, insolvent and non performing entity – and has been for at least twenty years”. Citing Auditor General reporting, the Committee continues, the “controls and systems for the sale of properties has been abused for personal gain collaboration with outside interested parties”.

The NHC’s business arm, the NHEL, has a similarly chequered record. Indeed, its Executive Chairman John Dege – the current Acting head of the NHC –  watched on as North Waigani residents were brutally evicted.

NHC Managing Director John Dege at the North Waigani eviction.

NHC Managing Director John Dege, second from the left, at the North Waigani eviction.

As if this was not bad enough, soon after his appointment at NHEL Dege announced: “NHEL is…a major proponent in the Paga Hill housing development project undertaken by Paga Hill Development Company (PNG) Limited”. Some may recall, Paga Hill residents also endured a brutal forced eviction at the hands of the developer.

The developer, the Paga Hill Development Company (PHDC) and its executives, have between them been censured in no less than six official reports into corruption and public mismanagement in Papua New Guinea.

For instance PHDC’s Chairman and Director ran a company, CCS Anvil. The Auditor General’s Office claims when working for the Public Curators Office Anvil withheld “a significant amount of monies it has received from the proceeds of the realisation of assets of deceased estates, including sale of properties, shares and investment and rent…The AGO can find no evidence that any money realised by Anvil on behalf of estates has been paid into the Estate Trust Account”.

With all this information on the public record, NHEL still went into business with PHDC.

I am doing everything I can to bring the struggle of residents to light at an international level –  writing, speaking with NGOs, lobbying for a visit from Special Rapporteur on Housing. But more is needed, so much more is needed.

Unless an international coalition can form to take on this important issue of housing and human rights – which affects us all – then the PNG state will continue to act with impunity.

* Dr Kristian Lasslett is a Lecturer in Criminology at the University of Ulster and sits on the International State Crime Initiative’s Executive Board. He has been researching forced evictions in PNG since 2012.

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  1. Robert Frost
    November 6, 2013 at 9:27 am

    Are you saying the second photo is an eviction? This photo is the Gateway Hotel

  2. Michael
    November 6, 2013 at 12:12 pm

    Kristian, I am sadden by your words and observations as a fellow Papua New Guinean and a public servant. I hope to share the same with other fellow PNGians on other forums…

    • Kristian Lasslett
      November 7, 2013 at 5:42 am

      Thanks! The more the word circulates, the greater the chances of change.

  3. Paruru Nielsen
    November 6, 2013 at 3:52 pm

    Dr Lasslett, thank you for the work you are doing in PNG. My family were also the victims of NHC corruption a few years ago. It got to the stage where policemen were actually sent to our home to forcefully evict us. The house belongs to my father, a lifelong public servant, who acquired the property legally.Thankfully we were able to furnish the original titles and other legal documents to prove our ownership.
    I wish you well in your efforts to bring this distressing state of affairs to an international level.

    • Kristian Lasslett
      November 7, 2013 at 5:45 am

      My pleasure. It is good to hear you were able to save your home from being illegally seized. The small victories are important!

  4. JUDY
    November 6, 2013 at 11:24 pm

    Kristian,if you have time email me,please ask Emmanuel and he will allow you to access my email…I hope this can be done.

  5. Don't Hide Reality
    November 7, 2013 at 6:16 am

    The ‘average’ public servant I see in Waigani isn’t at their desk (despite the fact that there’s no money for taking any travel excursions), often outside the office chewing betelnut, and otherwise wasting my tax money. Until which time as the hard working, dedicated public servants start ratting out the corrupt and lazy ones, they all rightfully deserve to be painted with the same brush. The resulting painting is not one that would create public sympathy for our public servants! Thus the onus is on you public servants. Either be happy with your combined reputation as being lazy bums or start doing whatever needs to be done to get rid of the lazy and corrupt members in your ranks.

  6. pkay
    November 7, 2013 at 3:30 pm

    Many of the public servants that we must feel sad and have pity for and whose claim to rights to dwellings are being threatened with eviction are the same public servants, their off-spring and relatives that have abused and circumvented the system to remain where they are for yonks. No, let us not hide this reality!

    We live in cities, away from villages, in a country where possession may be seen as nine-tenths of the law. In fact in reality this is a place where possession or temporary occupation is ten-tenths of the law. Small wonder it is difficult to dislodge illegal tenants.

    Kristian’s ranting only supports one side of the story. This is a problem that is the creation of the public service, riddled with corruption by corrupt public servants almost to obnoxious and nonredeemable levels that even the Courts, let alone NHC and its new business arm do not quite know how to handle the menace.

    Everyone from successive heads of the public service and NHC bosses, to successive governments have known about the corruption that has thrived in Housing. But as we know, when there is money to be made, paid or squandered those that are in charge will always turn a blind eye, play deaf and mute – and the cumulative result of all this is where we are now. We are not talking about small money. A lot of the culprits are still entrenched in the public service and state/ statutory institutions.

    Kristian’s is a real from the heart, passionate and human account of a very sad case of how the meek and weak are always likely to be trodden upon. It’s a universal problem but in PNG it is a very sad indictment of a society where we have prided in sharing in a socially egalitarian society before civilization and urban drift took its toll.

    All we are going to be involved in, in this blog is keep pointing and apportion blame to someone else. In reality the people who continue to create and procreate the problem are public officials that have failed to take responsibility in their paid roles to address the problem properly and in a dignified way.

    Criminal gangs are opportunists that are trying to survive in a society that is becoming unfair, unequal and where corruption is hard to prosecute.

    Having been a civil servant that benefited from a much more disciplined pre-independence public service and for some time after independence, I share and feel for those that are being hardly done by and we can all associate ourselves with the sentiments of Governor Juffa and to some extent Kristian.

    WHAT is the solution? Who is going to take responsibility to fix it? Sure, we can talk about it may be till Balbi or Lamington or Krakatoa burst their rims to to regrow and replenish their lives – but that’s going to be a wait in eternity.

  7. District Manager
    November 7, 2013 at 6:46 pm

    In other countries one of the depossessed or evicted might well go to a public place, poor petrol all over themselves, and light themselves on fire. Their death would be front page headlines and succeessful to bring the issue before the nation. The nation would respond, the government might fall, people might take to the streets and at the end, justice would be served and the problem would be solved. Don’t expect any such heroics in PNG we’re not committed enough to any damn issue. We don’t care enough to really say enough is enough about anything and our leaders have learnt that. Don’t expect anything to change as long as we the people remain so laid back about everything.It is not enough to write a complaint story.

  8. mike
    November 10, 2013 at 4:48 pm

    Dr Kristian Lasslett, your research is one sided. Your articles are written to keep PNGeans in settlements and squatters. PNG needs to reorganise the eye sore that have developed over the years. Its a bit of pain for the long term gain. Better living conditions, better health, better environment etc. We can not remain the same for ever. Our children need to live a better life. NGOs and people like Dr Kristian Lasslett are the developed worlds tools to keep undeveloped places like PNG in the primitive uncivilized world while they continue to progress.

    • Kristian Lasslett
      November 13, 2013 at 5:05 am

      I am at a loss Mike! I have been working with communities all around PNG to find solutions to the settlement/squatter issue, to upgrade settlements, to improve housing and access to infrastructure.

      But unlike you, I am afraid I dont see the answer in the likes of Tom Amaiu or Gudmundur Fridriksson.

      We are seeing land grab after land grab in PNG, the locals get displaced and left with nothing, while foreign entities make $$$$$. So if you think I am the cause of PNG’s problem, boy you need to get out more.

      The solution lies with communities, working with them – not against them – to find solutions to a range of challenges.

      Your approach – a bit of pain for long term gain – leads to grandiose developments that never eventuate, illegal land deals, forced displacement and the further corruption of Lands Department and RPNGC.

  9. Joseph Kapone
    November 19, 2013 at 1:29 pm

    Whilst I don’t really support Mike’s comment which is a rather naive way of looking at Kristian Lasslett’s efforts, I do have a problem with Lasslett’s fixation on Tom Amaiu and Gudmundur Friedrickson. How they got their land I cannot comment. How they want to develop their land I cannot comment also. In his development plans Tom Amaiu has got no plans for the illegal settlers on his land. That is alright. That is within his rights as landlord and is his prerogative. Gudmundur and Paga Hill Development on the other hand have offered an alternative for the squatters on Paga – a piece of land with their own title to the land. Paga Hill development is taking on what is primarily a state responsibility. This has never been done before. It is a first for PNG and a model which other developments must take on board. The Government can learn from this experience and somehow take this on board in other future developments across the country.

    Come on Lasslett, cut them some slack. Paga Hill Development Company owns Paga. Get over it. Instead of continuing this tireless streams of criticisms we all have to ensure that Paga fulfills its commitment in providing land for the Paga Hill settlers who have been displaced. Let us hold Paga Hill Company accountable. The more we criticise the more we delay this development from taking place. What is Paga Hill Company changes its mind not to provide alternate land for the settlers? What happens then? Hundreds of families will be affected. We cannot reverse what has happened. We cannot hold back progress and development. We cannot stop Papua New Guineans who have been “floating around” to finally own a piece of land in Port Moresby.

    JK

  10. Will Self
    June 6, 2014 at 7:01 pm

    I don’t know why anyone would profess surprise. The six Government home purchase and give away schemes have been the biggest organized crime scam in PNGs history. An unbelievable 11.000 houses were sold or given away at cost over 40 years. These were purchased by public servants who struggle3d to pay their mortgage. Thousands did so, only to find that the NHC and Lands Department refused to honour their contractual commitment and refused to transfer titles. The PAC found that only about 700 properties had been transferred. there are no records, accounts, payment receipts or any other records in the NHC or Lands. Hundreds of owners have died and the properties disappeared through fraudulent titles and illegal evictions of families from their own property. This disgusting evil theft was uncovered and reported by the PAC years ago and again in 2013. the PM was approached directly to address the problem as were the Ministers for Finance, Housing and Lands. None did or intend to do anything.
    Incidentally Paga Hill Co does not own the land. It never did. The fraudulent title was given at no cost. read the PAC analysis of the scam.

  11. Dianne
    January 11, 2017 at 10:43 am

    Dr Lasslett, would like to interview you on this particular subject. How can I get in touch with you.

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