Home > Corruption, Human rights, Land, Papua New Guinea > Former MP to evict thousands of Port Moresby residents for ‘K230m’ development

Former MP to evict thousands of Port Moresby residents for ‘K230m’ development

November 8, 2013 Leave a comment Go to comments

Dr Kristian Lasslett*

Some of the Art Centre community’s littler residents. Image courtesy of Philippe Schneider.

Some of the Art Centre community’s younger residents. Image courtesy of Philippe Schneider.

Here we go again! This time it’s the 3,754 residents of Port Moresby’s Arts Centre community facing eviction. In Thursday’s Post-Courier the developer claims this ‘necessary’ step will pave the way for a “major development … worth more than K230 million”, which will “directly employ scores of Papua New Guineans and boost the country’s economy” (Post Courier 7/11/2013).

Sound familiar? It is almost identical to the argument used by developers to justify the now infamous Paga Hill forced eviction in 2012.

The Arts Centre ‘development’ is spearheaded by former parliamentarian, Tom Amaiu, and his company Macata Enterprises, which holds the state lease over this prime piece of land (portion 1564). Amaiu claims his ambitious plans are being frustrated by “illegal tenants who have unlawfully trespassed on his property” (Post Courier 7/11/2013).

Its not quite that simple. Here are three reasons why.

1. K100 for 12ha of prime Moresby real estate!!

According to Lands Department records, this 12.13 hectare plot of land, right behind parliament house is being leased to Macata Enterprises for the annual sum of K100. That’s not a typo! It would be difficult to find a room in one of Moresby’s less salubrious areas for that price per week, much less annually.

The sum seems especially curious given that 99 year business leases normally attract an annual rent which is pegged at 5% of the unimproved value of the land. Could a massive plot of land in the heart of Waigani really be worth K2000? Its unlikely – add three zeroes and the figure would be getting more accurate. If the Lands Department has granted Macata a rent exemption, then their lawful authority to do so must be made clear by the Lands Secretary; the Auditor General and Public Accounts Committee take such matters very seriously.

The LAGIS record for Portion 1564, note the total rent owing!

The LAGIS record for Portion 1564, note the total rent owing!

2. Tom Amaiu’s Criminal Past

The Arts Centre community allege that Amaiu has “gone into hiding” to circumvent legal proceedings. Amaiu rejects this claim, and argues he is a legitimate businessman being tarnished by “illegal settlers” (Post Courier 4/11/2013 & 7/11/2013). He may be, but he does have a questionable past.

While MP for Kompiam, PNG’s Supreme Court claims the honourable Mr Amaiu learnt of a K10,120 timber royalty payment being made to Wagop Korowai. Amaiu then “went to the bank to gain possession of some of the monies concerned — to which apparently he had no personal entitlement. He even went to the length of bringing an elderly man and his son from a primitive village area … [He then] falsely represented the two men to the bank official as being Wagop and his son”. Amaiu spent five years in prison for this crime during the 1980s.

3. The brutal tactics used to terrorise residents

The Arts Centre settlement is a vibrant, inter-ethnic community that has been at the site since the 1980s. Many children have grown to maturity there, and know no other home. Its residents can be found in all walks of life, working in both the service industry and government. Most just want their children to get a good education so they can one day live in some of those nice apartments just over the hill.

Sadly this dream has been seriously jeopardised by the way the development has been handled. In March this year, heavily armed police and bulldozers entered the community to carry out a forced eviction. Residents claim they were ordered by police to burn their own properties. One wonders what MPs thought as plumes of smoke wafted over parliament house.

One local, Anna wept as she told me about her sister’s home. It was destroyed during the demolition, while the sister was in hospital receiving chemotherapy. Now the family is homeless. This is just one story, there are many others like it.

Anna breaks down as she recounts her story.

Anna breaks down as she recounts her story.

Alternatives to Forced Eviction

Of course, there are ways to resolve this dispute amicably.

For instance, Macata Enterprises could publish its planning documents to illuminate a) how this mega-project is going to be financed to the tune of K230 million, b) the formal approvals given by government, c) proof the K230 million development meets zoning and planning requirements, and d) how the project plans to make good use of state land, that will benefit the public. Macata also needs to organise a resettlement package for current residents that offers a dignified alternative to forced displacement.

Amaiu claims he spent a whopping K2 million to fence off the Art Centre property. If only he had instead spent this implementing a humane resettlement plan.

The fence which Tom Amaiu claims cost K2 million

The fence which Tom Amaiu claims cost K2 million

Alternatively, if the residents successfully overturn Macata’s claim – with no financial resources its an uphill battle – then the state lease could be subdivided and reissued to residents, with Office of Urbanisation assistance. At the moment the state notionally receives K100 for this property, were the settlement upgraded it could easily bring in K200,000 from residents, which could pay for schools, hospitals and infrastructure.

However, all this demands political leadership. Like Dame Carol Kidu did for Paga Hill, the MP for Moresby North-East, Labi Amaiu, should be protecting his constituents’ rights to dignified and fair treatment. The only public utterance we have heard from the community’s MP was to deny involvement in his father’s business.

Oh did I forget to mention, Tom is Labi’s father.

No one is suggesting that the MP for North-East stands to gain directly from this deal, nonetheless his failure to act is lamentable. While the MP for Moresby South stood in front of guns and bulldozers at Paga Hill, Arts Centre residents allege the member for Moresby North-East did nothing as their homes were destroyed to pave the way for Amaiu Snr’s business deal.

Like so many other land disputes in PNG’s capital city this looks like it will be another bloody mess. Today (Friday) the National Court will hand down its decision on the resident’s appeal. If it fails, bulldozers and a violent rabble of police officers will descend on the community. It won’t be pretty.

Schooling at the Arts Centre community has been seriously disrupted by the dispute. Image courtesy of Philippe Schneider.

Schooling at the Arts Centre community has been seriously disrupted by the dispute. Image courtesy of Philippe Schneider.

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* 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. Joseph Kapone
    November 8, 2013 at 4:12 pm

    I have read Dr Lasslett’s article. Impressive. Thought provoking. But as always Dr Lasslett has always taken sides with the illegal settlers. Dr Lasslett has always challenged the legitimate owners of the land, the most obvious one being Paga Hill. No doubt, he has made himself famous speaking out for the illegal settlers. But I have not heard him offer a single solution or alternative to the issues at hand. The problem is not the Paga Hill Development Company or Tom Amaiu. The problem is the lack of governments, both present and past, to provide a solution to the ever-growing urban population and to ensure that our people are adequately sheltered. Because of the “silence” of government to this ever-growing challenge, evictions will continue to be carried out, whether humanely or ruthlessly….and who is to be blamed? The illegal settlers knew in the first place that they had not legal right to be on the land in the first place. So should it be Tom Amaiu’s problem? I had a relative and her 12-year old daughter living there. She bought a small house there for K2,000 but she always knew that one day she will move out because she had no title. So when the eviction began she took her daughter and all her belongings and moved to Erima, where she is staying with other relatives.

    The point to all this that due to the government’s inability to offer alternatives we will continue to have this problem. You cannot blame people like Tom Amaiu or Paga Hill for wanting to move in and develop their land. It is the government who must cope the blame squarely for not providing our people with affordable housing.

    On the issue of eviction, the illegal squatters must not cry about what they lost. They first of all blatantly disregarded the ownership of the land and illegally squatted on the land free of rent for so long. Would they have allowed other people to squat on their land without paying rent? Sometimes we must put ourselves in the shoes of other people and see it from their perspective as well. Let us not be blind for our own convenience.

    Thank you.

    JK

    • Kristian Lasslett
      November 8, 2013 at 8:57 pm

      Joseph thanks for the feedback, I appreciate it.

      First of all, let me assure you, nobody gets ‘famous’ from writing about forced evictions in PNG. I wish this important human rights issue was something that generated world attention; maybe that would prompt the sort of government action you and I yearn for.

      I would disagree with you in one important respect. The equation is not as simple as you suggest – forewarned settler and legitimate titleholder. Indeed, I have done in depth studies of 10 different forced evictions in 8 of the cases the titleholder was corrupt to the eyeballs and had acquired the land through illegal means.

      Should we seriously be encouraging this rogue behaviour by allowing illegitimate titleholders to flip land to foreign investors for ill-gotten gain?

      “You cannot blame people like Tom Amaiu or Paga Hill for wanting to move in and develop their land.”

      I do blame. Paga Hill’s executives have been censured in 6 anti-corruption reports, two in particular claim they illegally acquired millions from deceased estates they were suppose to put into trust accounts. Then the Public Accounts Committee slammed how the developer obtained the Paga Hill title saying it was gained illegally through corrupt means.

      In one sense I suppose you are right, you can understand why these types of organisations would take advantage of corrupt and rotten state edifice, but it does not make their actions any less blameworthy, or the humanity of its occupants any less compelling.

      And the malevolence you impute onto settlers is wrong also. I have met young people who have grown up in settlements, their grand parents or great grandparents moved there. Are they somehow guilty of squatting?

      I make no apology about defending communities made up of families and working people, who have done nothing wrong, but have been bashed by police or gangs, and their homes destroyed by developers with records of illicit activities, who acquire the land illegally. As a criminologist I stand up for all victims, whether they are preyed upon by the powerful or street thugs.

      But I agree with you in an important respect. The government is ultimately responsible for generating this criminogenic environment. You are absolutely, 100% right.

      I did hint at a solution here, but this piece was simply designed to raise awareness of an encroaching eviction.

      I am and will write about solutions. PNG’s Office of Urbanisation has made one very feasible suggestion. Upgrade settlements. Subdivide the property, and lease it to the community. Residents want a lease, and they will happily pay a rent – which could then be employed to develop infrastructure. The problem is senior government officials profit from this black economy in state land, so they have no intention of implementing an effective urban policy, or supporting the agencies with the capacity to do so.

  2. November 9, 2013 at 10:54 am

    Port Moresby is developing and expansion is inevitable. Settlers who are living on state land must bear in mind that evictions will come at any time at the places that they live. To avoid inconvenience, settlers should comply with to all eviction notices given by the developer or the state. The evictions notices must be given 3 months prior to the actual evictions.

  3. Bonip Panuta
    November 11, 2013 at 1:03 pm

    Exactly, settlers should not be talking about compensation from the landowners. They should simply pack up and move on. They have in the first instance squatted illegally and free of charge on someone else’s land. I agree that in the name of humanity they should be given ample time to move…3 months is sufficient. But we have seen time and again that the illegal settlers tend to become too smart for their own good and ask for all kinds of compensation before they move out…as if they did not benefit from the land all these years. They take out court orders (on what basis baffles me) and make all kinds of demands. This frustrates the landowners who are trying to develop their land. Believe me I know as I am a victim of such unreasonable, greedy people.

    So I would agree with with Joseph Kapone that the National Government needs to start taking an interest and coming up with solutions instead of allowing such a situation to continue and thus the constant fights between landowners and illegal settlers…and in the end the illegal settlers will loose out because they have no legal basis whatsoever.

    Thank you.

    BP

  4. November 11, 2013 at 10:22 pm

    Settlements are the breeding ground of crime in the city. It is time the government make wises decisions and send back those who are roaming the city doing nothing. We are moving in the modern age and we need to expand the city.

    • December 22, 2013 at 6:24 pm

      Oh my goodness. Settlements may well indeed be a breeding ground for crime and indeed we are living in the modern age. I would have hoped that a modern age view would find a solution other than pushing an issue away and attacking the real root of a problem. Sending people back may make them disappear but a solution that respects their livlihoods needs to be found.

  5. pkay
    November 12, 2013 at 1:21 pm

    May be Kristian has a neo-Marxist solution to solve squatting, public housing and crime problems he is not telling us and his criminologist colleagues might want to hear about. He should pinch himself from time to time check if he is still in the real world, even in PNG.

    • Joseph Kapone
      November 12, 2013 at 3:26 pm

      Could not agree with you more Pkay. Give us solutions. If you can’t then shut up. Don’t legitimise the illegal squatters illegal hold onto something that is not theirs. How Paga Hill or Tom Amaiu got the land is not the issue here so let us not get confused. The issue is how groups of people can simply drop in and grow roots on someone else’s land and then complain and ask for compensation when the owner wants to develop the land. Let’s see how Dr Kristian Lasslett will react if someone came in and squatted on his front or back lawn. Dr Lasslett for the pursuit of his own agenda is ignoring one wrong and picking on another without offering alternatives. This is a national issue which requires a solution from the national government. We have to find ways to cut down on the rise of illegal squatters but at the same time offer affordable housing for our people,not rhetorics, ideals and philosophies.

  6. Kristian Lasslett
    November 12, 2013 at 9:17 pm

    I apologise if in one blog post I do not outline a solution to such ‘small’ matters as public housing, urban planning and the settler issue. Interesting though, and perhaps ironic, that Pkay a serial pest, when do you ever offer anything more than insults and insinuation from your comfy armchair. Another keyboard warrior full of criticism and nothing else.

    Of course for those who read articles to the completion, rather than the headline and then start shooting off preconceived ideas, they would know that I do in fact signpost solutions:

    “For instance, Macata Enterprises could publish its planning documents to illuminate a) how this mega-project is going to be financed to the tune of K230 million, b) the formal approvals given by government, c) proof the K230 million development meets zoning and planning requirements, and d) how the project plans to make good use of state land, that will benefit the public. Macata also needs to organise a resettlement package for current residents that offers a dignified alternative to forced displacement.

    Alternatively, if the residents successfully overturn Macata’s claim – with no financial resources its an uphill battle – then the state lease could be subdivided and reissued to residents, with Office of Urbanisation assistance. At the moment the state notionally receives K100 for this property, were the settlement upgraded it could easily bring in K200,000 from residents, which could pay for schools, hospitals and infrastructure.”

    And it is you who criticise that show such a simplistic understanding of the issue, I wonder what world it is you exist in. Certainly not planet earth, and certainly not PNG.

    Some very elementary facts:

    * The Lands Department is rotten to the core, so are the Lands Board – these are the organisations that issue and administer land.
    * NHC and NHEL are rotten to the core, and they are responsible for public housing.
    * The one organisation responsible for solutions, the Office of Urbanisation has no independent budget, and 10 professional staff. They are punching with one arm behind their back.
    * The National Urbanisation Plan has been thrown in the bin.

    So the solutions:

    * Investigate every case of constructive fraud involving land referred to by the National and Supreme court including those ones involving Ministers.
    * Follow up Public Account Committee and Auditor recommendations on the NHC and Lands Department, including referring cases to the Fraud Squad.
    * Get the banks to stop facilitating the frauds by lending against dodgy leases.
    * Follow SABL inquiry recommendations.
    * Make clear that anyone involved in land frauds will be prosecuted to the full extent of the law.
    * Fully resource the Office of Urbanisation to implement the national urbanization plan.
    * Implement a system of settlement upgrades, as proposed by the Office.
    * Implement UN principles on forced eviction.
    * Implement rigorous and transparent planning and development processes.

    And thats just to start.

    Not sure how Neo-Marxist these solutions – sorry to spoil your comfortable little pre-assumed world Pkay – but that is a brief shopping list of whats needed, mild solutions to a radical problem.

    For those of us in the real world – we know you cant keep ignoring the black economy in land.

    And what of the charge settlement people are criminals. Predictable and wrong.

    Of course people in the settlements dont have computers, and internet via which to defend themselves against the keyboard warriors. Besides, they are busy guarding your houses, cleaning your offices and selling you food. But if you keep displacing and brutalising 50% of Port Moresby, you betcha the real world will catch up with you.

    • Frank Akuani
      November 13, 2013 at 4:07 pm

      Dr. Lasslet your response to “Pkay” was outstanding. You didn’t miss a beat. I wish I could add something, but you covered perfectly from beginning to end. Good on you. Love it when “keyboard warriors” get exposed for what they are and who they represent.

    • claire
      September 22, 2015 at 12:16 pm

      Perfect response to Pkay.

  7. Kanex Kanarepa
    November 13, 2013 at 2:25 pm

    Fellows, I have and live in a block at wildlife (POM) along with other fellow PNGians. The land is a state land so I decided not to build a persmanent house meaning if I were to be evicted tomorrow, I could simply take it apart and move somewhere for I know that in a court of law you are required to produce a certified title for any redress. Other of my fellow settlers have built permanent houses and tucker shops on this state land as if they have legal title to it. One day for I know this same thing will happen like the settlers at the back of the cultureal centre.

    One thing I want to emphasis here is that how the State through the Lands Department and the lands board approve and allocate huge chucks of land on which its citizens are already settling on to foreigners and Polical cronies a-like is really unbelieveable in this country. I know huge pieces of land around the Waigani, Gordons, 7 mile, Town and Kilakila areas are on 99 years lease to Politicians, Senior public servants and other top shorts of the state through dubious fly by night companies. Having said that this stupid people make the State responsible for their own greedy actions which in turn is a double tragedy for the ordinary people.

    Lets just hope that Prime Minister O’neil and his government can clean up the lands department of all the Evil before they move over to their new and permanent office next door in a weeks time. Let us hope that the old wicked ghosts are not transfered to the new office.

    I have also experienced the Melanesian peoples mentality of compensation. I have a piece of land with an old NHC house at Morata which I bought off in the housing give-a-way scheme in 1993 when Wingti was in government and I was one of the first 300 people choosen in the scheme. 4 years later, my employer provided me accommodation out of Morata after I was held up at Morata 2 junction. I took my young family with me and left my cousing (Mothers brothers son) and Sister (fathers brothers daughter) behind to look after the house and reside as they had no-way to go.

    Anywhere, as early as 2005, I ash they to move as I wanted to develop the land and build a house for my family; the two demanded me to compensate them for looking after the house rent free. (Now these is my blood family members). After giving them eviction notice after notice, I finally ended by issueing a writ of summons in 2007 in which the court gave them 7 days to move. When I went over to evict after the 7 days, the had made unauthorized improvements and made threats to the extend of killing me over my own piece of land. I have to go back to court again for a warrant for police to execute eviction over my own property!! You know how much I have spend so far on lawyers fees and police allowances and youths to watch over for my own security!!!

    Stupid Melanesian compensation Mentality; isn’t it! If only Makata won the the title to the land in question in a proper way while paying the correct rental than Amau deserves credit and those asking compensation should bow their heads in shame and walk away! In saying that; land deals in PNG has always being messy in controversy after controversy.

    By the way, I pay about K300.00 a year rent on my Morata land (0.0547 ha) but why should Macata pay only K100.00 land rent for a huge chunk of land?

  8. Bledsoe
    November 17, 2013 at 5:49 am

    Actually considering PNG prices I wouldn’t be at all surprised if that fence did cost K2 million! Anyone who thinks it would cost less must be a foreigner!

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