Home > Corruption, Human rights, Land, Papua New Guinea > UK Human Rights Initiative raises concerns over Paga Hill eviction

UK Human Rights Initiative raises concerns over Paga Hill eviction

The International State Crime Initiative

The International State Crime Initiative (ISCI), a research centre based out of King’s College London, has condemned the handling of the recent eviction at Paga Hill.

The head of their Papua New Guinea section, Dr Kristian Lasslett, puts the recent eviction exercise in historical context:

“There is a complex history to Paga Hill. Many of its residents have been residing there since the 1960s, with permission from the land’s customary owners, or in the case of the National Housing Corporations residents, as legal tenants. However, during the 1970s the High Court of Australia decided the land had been legally acquired by the colonial administration. As a result Paga Hill has passed through the porous hands of two of the most corrupt institutions in PNG, the Land Board and the Department of Lands”.

Dr Lasslett has repeated ISCI’s long standing concerns over how a state lease was then acquired by the developer, the Paga Hill Development Company (PHDC).

“In 2000 the Paga Hill Development Company – a concern headed by Gudmundur Fridriksson – was granted a 99 year state lease over Paga Hill. A subsequent Public Accounts Committee report published in 2006, alleges that the lease was acquired through ‘corrupt dealings’ by a ‘foreign speculator’”, Dr Lasslett claims.

He continues, “while the Public Accounts Committee recommended the lease be forfeited, in 2009 the Land Board issued a fresh 99 year lease to PHDC, with the ground rent substantially reduced – according to the 2006 Public Accounts Committee report, PHDC were in sizable arrears. This laid the foundations for a brutal forced eviction in May 2012 where police attacked residents with machetes, and used live ammunition to disperse crowds, while bulldozers demolished homes”.

Dr Lasslett notes this 2012 eviction exercise was stopped when community leaders obtained an injunction from the National Court. Since then there has been a legal stalemate at Paga Hill.

Reflecting on the more recent eviction of National Housing Corporation residents, which has received extensive coverage in the national press, Dr Lasslett observes:

“On the 29th May this year, residents of upper Paga, an area populated by civil servants living in National Housing Corporation properties, lost their Supreme Court appeal. Two days later police arrived to ‘expedite’ the eviction process”.

The International State Crime Initiative has obtained evidence which appears to contradict a media release issued by Acting Metropolitan Superintendent N’dranou Perou who suggested the eviction was “peaceful” and “orderly”.

“I have now heard multiple accounts, and they all say the same thing. There were thugs, armed with bush knives and axes who threatened residents, along with gun toting police. Residents were not permitted to take photos, only carefully sanitised set pieces with the media were allowed”, Dr Lasslett argues.

One example of the testimony provided to the International State Crime Initiative comes from a National Housing Corporation resident who claims, “it’s a scary scenario when you are not given enough time to prepare your household stuff with policemen with their guns and the developer hired certain ethnic groups of people … [We were] just watching them carrying their bush knives, it makes you wonder, what will be the next thing to happen to your life, only God knows! Policemen would not allow us take pictures and they even confiscated our tenants chairman’s phone for taking shots”.

According to residents, homes were ransacked and personal property destroyed during the forced eviction. The International State Crime Initiative has obtained photographs that appear to verify this claim (see Appendix A). Displaced families were then moved by the developer to land at six-mile, which PHDC claims they have purchased for Paga Hill residents.

The land is in fact customarily owned, and cannot be purchased. According to recent reports on Radio New Zealand, displaced residents are now being told they must enter into a rental agreement with the traditional owners, a difficult prospect for those who have lost their source of income as a result of the recent upheavals, and who lack bargaining power now that they are homeless.

Dr Lasslett concludes:

“This has to be seen in context. The development’s mastermind, Paga Hill Development Company’s CEO Gudmundur Fridriksson, is not a blue chip executive, he is a man who came to PNG in the mid 1990s, and since then his stable of companies have been censured in no less than four Public Accounts Committee reports and two Auditor General’s Office reports”.

“Indeed, he has been accused by PNG’s auditing agencies of corruption, and benefiting to the tune of many millions of kina from a range of alleged illegal dealings. ISCI has published these reports online, we have raised the alarm, we have petitioned politicians, and the police, no one seems to care”.

The UK research centre claims they will continue to support the community at Paga Hill, and will be bringing their case to a range of international bodies, including the UN Special Rapporteur on Housing.

Contact:

Dr Kristian Lasslett
International State Crime Initiative
kak.lasslett@ulster.ac.uk

 

Appendix A – Photographs of Properties Allegedly Ransacked During the Eviction on 31 May 2014

Upper Paga Hill 2 June 2014 Photo 1 (2)

A home at upper Paga allegedly destroyed during the 31 May 2014 eviction exercise

Homes lie in ruins at upper Paga following the May 31 eviction exercise.

Homes lie in ruins at upper Paga following the May 31 eviction exercise.

According to witnesses homes were torched during the eviction exercise.

According to witnesses homes were torched during the eviction exercise.

National Housing Corporation residents following the 31 May 2014 eviction exercise.

National Housing Corporation residents following the 31 May 2014 eviction exercise.

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  1. Joseph Kapone
    June 12, 2014 at 2:26 pm

    Statements made by Dr Kristian Lasslett from the International State Crime Initiative in this blog needs to be commented on for a number of reasons: 1. To provide some balance; 2. To put things into perspective; 3. To encourage some practical and sensible thinking in this whole issue; and lastly to defend Papua New Guinea, our laws, our state instruments and our judicial processes and systems.

    Dr Lassett is ridiculing PNG, our people, our government, the established instruments of state such as police and the judiciary. In fact comments made by himself in this site are contemptuous in nature. It is people like Dr Lasslett and his gun-totting side-kick Joe Moses who by their relentless negative ravings have tarnished the name and credibility of Papua New Guinea.

    The last thing PNG needs is for a foreigner who is sitting smugly in his office somewhere in England sipping his tea and taking a swipe at us. This is a publicity stunt for Dr Lasslett, one that is aimed at livening up his mundane life and colouring his CV.

    What are Dr Lasslett’s motives? What solutions is he offering to PNG?

    For a so-called criminologist, Dr Lasslett seems to have a poor understanding of and appreciation of the law as well as court processes and systems in PNG. He certainly does not respect the PNG Judiciary and Courts when he has repeatedly raised “long standing concerns over how a state lease was acquired by the developer, the Paga Hill Development Company (PHDC).”

    After closely studying the Paga Hill issue I am of the opinion that the question of ownership has been laid to rest by the PNG National Court and the settlers given 45 days to vacate the land. However, they have secured a stay order and appealed to the Supreme Court.

    I see two groups of people on Paga Hill, the settlers on the lower part of the hill and the public servants living in the National Housing Corporation houses on the top of the hill. The two groups took out separate court challenges. The NHC tennants did not win their challenge and thus were moved out.

    Dr Lasslett says he has obtained evidence which appears to contradict a media release issued by Acting Metropolitan Superintendent N’dranou Perou who suggested the eviction was “peaceful” and “orderly”.

    I am sure that the police will respond themselves to Dr Lasslett’s claim. However, I have not hear of one of the 300 or so people who were moved out of Paga Hill complaining. I have a friend who lives with relatives in one of the NHC houses who told me that everyone affected, although anxious and afraid at first, were grateful with the Paga Hill Development Company and police humane approach and treatment in the whole exercise. In fact the company provided bags, manpower and vehicles to help move the families. Each of the families affected were also given K1,000.00 each to assist with their movement to Six Mile where I understand each family will be given a plot of land.

    Contrary to what Dr Lasslett has been saying, the families were given almost a week to move out. My friend and the family he was living packed all their belongings and moved out on Friday May 29. Then they were allowed over the next three to four days to dismantle the building themselves and salvage whatever building materials they could including timber and roofing iron.

    According to my friend, whilst police maintained a presence on Paga Hill they had at no time forced anyone to move out. The only axes and bush knives carried on Paga Hill were those of the Paga Hill Development Company and these were used to clear the bushes and trees on the hill. There was no need for the exercise of force either by the company or police because as my friend said this was a relocation exercise and not an eviction.

    I hope Dr Lasslett can name that National Housing Corporation resident who he has quoted in his commentary, as well as provide the list of those resident whose homes were ransacked and personal property destroyed.

    Over a one week period the tennants of the NHC on Paga Hill packed their own belongings into bags provided by Paga Hill Development Company, onto trucks provided by the Paga Hill Development Company, and moved onto land provided and developed Paga Hill Development Company. This area I am told has running water, electricity and ablution blocks.

    Just what has Dr Lasslett done and what is he offering to those affected? Dr Lasslett does not speak for the people and he must not mislead himself. I am sure the people can speak for themselves but the fact that none of them have come out and complained really speaks volumes.

    Then Dr Lasslett goes on to say that the “displaced families were then moved by the developer to land at six-mile which he claims is in fact customarily owned, and cannot be purchased. He further quotes recent reports on Radio New Zealand where “displaced residents are now being told they must enter into a rental agreement with the traditional owners, a difficult prospect for those who have lost their source of income as a result of the recent upheavals, and who lack bargaining power now that they are homeless.”

    Dr Lasslett and Radio New Zealand appears to be colluding in this whole issue and have actually mis-reported. In fact they have distorted the facts to suit their own agenda.

    This is a new initiative. No-one has done this before and it will most definitely need fine tuning and adjustment. But the Paga Hill Development Company and its CEO Gudmundur Fridriksson are committed to this project.

    I agree with Dr Lasslett that Fridriksson is the mastermind of the project…and he must be commended and honoured by the Government of PNG and not relentlessly and unnecessarily criticised by the likes of Dr Lasslett.,

    Fridriksson is a remarkable and visionary man who I can only assume loves PNG given the humane way he has treated the settlers so far.

    As I commented last year in this blog Gudmundur and Paga Hill Development are offering 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 take this on board in other future developments across the country.

    So instead of being negative and destructive Dr Lasslett can really help the settlers by holding Gudmundur and Paga Hill Development Company accountable to their promises. Instead of continuing his tireless streams of criticisms Dr Lasslett can come to the table and ensure that Paga fulfills its commitment in providing land for each of the Paga Hill settlers at Six Mile. Dr Lasslett should not say it is too hard or cannot be done. Where there is a will, there is always a way…and Dr Lasslett must prove that he does have the will and the heart to help the people of Paga Hill.

    JK

  2. Kristian Lasslett
    June 12, 2014 at 9:32 pm

    The facts are pretty elementary, and I wont prolong the agony by repeating them in detail.

    1. This work supports Papua New Guineans, the only people possibly tarnished by ISCI’s findings are those involved in corruption and illegal transactions, and that nothing to do with race, or ethnicity (indeed the person mentioned is Australian).

    2. Multiple witnesses have confirmed residents were threatened. No human rights body publishes the names of its source, with good reason, it would put their life under threat.

    3. This is not the first time an eviction has been attempted using force, it occurred in May 2012, and was caught on film (police firing guns at residents). Just today we are seeing 200 homes burnt by police at Porgera with allegations of rape. There is a pattern.

    4. The land at 6-mile has not been purchased, it cant be, it is customary land.

    5. The CEO of PHDC, Gudmundur Fridriksson, has been censured in 2 x Auditor General Reports and 4 x Public Accounts Committee reports for illegal dealings and corruption. In addition to 4 x media exposes, involving a liquorice factory in China, alleged counterfeit jeans sales, the Destination PNG saga, and the ill fated Ela Beach fun park (that never was).

    6. Just so there is no misconceptions, defending a community of 3000 in Port Moresby is not a path to obtaining fame, wealth or status in the UK, to suggest it is is simply ludicrous.

    7. There are plenty of constructive solutions, and I have aired them elsewhere.

  3. Graham
    June 13, 2014 at 11:46 am

    Kristian, you persist on claiming the land was obtained illegally, but yet it has been cleared by the courts. Are you suggesting the integrity of the courts is in question, or are you going to continue to refer back to outdated AG findings and Public Accounts committee hearings chaired by none other John Hickey? Convenient, but flawed. Might I remind you that Hickey’s dealings as the PAC chair are recently being revealed as controversial and apparently corrupt.

    No-one believes for a second that the police forcibly removed the NHC tenants and hiding behind a fanciful claim of protecting their lives isn’t going to convince them otherwise. Where are the supposed photos? The only ones produced to date are of a far more serene state than you claim, with houses dismantled by the residents themselves for materials to take to Six Mile. The EMTV footage only corroborates this, showing relocating settlers that are emotional but accepting of their fate.

    You claim to have offered solutions for the relocation, but I don’t see them here. From what I see, and I can assure you that this opinion reflects that of the public in PNG, the developer has gone well beyond what was necessary and is in the process of achieving something significant and unprecedented. What of Carol Kidu – how is it that a woman of such stature and principal has bought into the idea? Are you going to claim she is a sell-out? The people see her for what she is, a woman of principle who is sticking by the community and ensuring the developer fulfills its commitments. As for you, you only appear to be crying foul on arguments that are false, or flimsy at best.

  4. Kristian Lasslett
    June 13, 2014 at 10:46 pm

    Graham thanks for your response.

    Once again a few quick thoughts:

    * Are you suggesting that the courts have conducted a judicial review into the administrative decisions by the Land Board to award the UDL and subsequent Business Leases? I am not aware of this. The cases I have sat in, and scrutinised, have related to the eviction orders. The courts have to assume the lease is valid, until they asked to investigate and adjudicate on that front by someone with legal standing. Otherwise the responsibility falls with the Lands Department to forfeit the lease; but given the current Secretary illegally reduced PHDC’s annual rent from K250,000 to K50,000 (according to the PAC), I cant imagine this will occur any time soon.

    * If you are casting doubt over the credibility of the Public Accounts Committee and its Chair I suggest you forward the evidence, PNG Exposed would publish it, thats what they do.

    * The findings of the PAC with respect to Paga Hill are part of a pattern with respect to the developer’s CEO, Gudmundur Fridriksson, one that stretches back to 1990. The CEO and/or his companies have been censured in 2 x Auditor General’s Report and 4 x Public Accounts Committee reports. We have released relevant excerpts from the PAC + AGO investigation into the Public Curator’s Office, the allegations there are of the most serious nature. http://statecrime.org/online_article/the-demolition-of-paga-hill-a-report-by-the-international-state-crime-initiative/

    * In addition to the above, the CEO’s business dealings have been brought under question in many investigative reports aired in the media, examples include the Icelandic press and its reports on a liquorice factory in China and alleged counterfeit jeans sales. Hong reports on significant unpaid bills at the Mandarin Occidental Hotel + Fairview Apartments. The Destination PNG scandal that was broken by Sean Dorney and followed by Mary Louise O’Callaghan in The Australian. The Ela Beach fun park, that never was.

    * Graham, I cant think of a single foreign business identity working in PNG documented so frequently and voluminously in public accounting reports and media investigations. So it would seem reasonable to say everything we observe at Paga Hill must be seen as part of a pattern, rather than in abstraction from it.

    * I can’t comment on Dame Carol Kidu’s decision to take a paid consultancy/contract assisting PHDC with the ‘relocation exercise’ and of course many in the community at Paga Hill were saddened by her choice. But that is her business and decision. Yet back in 2012 Dame Kidu was very clear when she talked to the Post-Courier about Paga Hill and the Paga Hill Development Company:

    “The media have continually portrayed me as an emotional woman, protecting settlers, and anti-development. Yes I am emotional about the blatant corruption, greed and land theft in ‘modern’ PNG and I am emotional when I personally witness gross abuse of human rights”.

    Her comments can also be read here: http://asopa.typepad.com/files/statement-by-dame-carol-kidu-on-the-paga-hill-scandal.pdf

    People can make their own minds up about Dame Kidu’s decision, I do not want to editorialise here.

    * As I mentioned with respect to the eviction, no one at Paga Hill were allowed to take photos of the eviction exercise. A phone camera was evidently confiscated. This is also part of the pattern. The police tried to prevent photographs of the demolition exercise in 2012. Indeed, when an independent observer attempted to take images they were assaulted and their camera broken. Fortunately a plucky documentary filmmaker managed to sneak some film, so the brutality and violence was undeniable.

    * Its ironic you mention EMTV, yes and I have criticised them for engaging in a carefully staged PR exercise, and they also put out a story on community leader Joe Moses, repeating the police allegations, which I have warmed are likely designed to intimidate Joe and prevent him from defending the community in court. Now EMTV journalists themselves are being harassed and beaten by police. I am saddened they have learnt the hard way that currently some in the RPGNC are a law unto themselves (http://www.emtv.com.pg/news-app/item/em-tv-news-crew-assault-law-and-social-media-react), which sadly is diminishing the standing of honest, hardworking officers. I wish EMTV had exercised the same outrage with respect to Paga, that they have expressed when their own journalists are threatened by police.

  5. Betty
    June 14, 2014 at 1:41 am

    LOL! These are Fridriksson or Fridriksson mates, not a single Papua New Guinean writing on this thread.

    Joseph too funny, you are just this regular bloke, a proud Papua New Guinea (and certainly not a foreigner under a pen name), an independent observer, who happens to know all the intimate details of this case. A bloke who just happens to have a friend who lives at NHC, who just happens to tell you how great everything. LOL. Do you think Papua New Guineans are stupid? Ok, don’t answer that we do let Fridriksson get away with it, over and over again.

    And I love this comment, you don’t know this foreigner Fridriksson, but as a regular bloke, a proud Papua New Guinean, and an independent observer you just happen to reckon

    ‘Fridriksson is a remarkable and visionary man who I can only assume loves PNG given the humane way he has treated the settlers so far’.

    LOL, keep laying it on thick ‘Joseph’, whoever you are. Have not had such a good belly laugh in years.

  6. Justice Mark Sevua Rtd., CBE MStJ
    July 28, 2014 at 10:53 pm

    Thank you Betty for your wisdom. Joseph does not live at Paga, I do and I know some of these affected PNG Citizens personally. I see them every day, greet them in the morning and evening and I know their needs. For a person like Joseph who only hears from his friend, it is ludicrous really and hearsay. You need to understand and appreciate these people’s needs then you will begin to see all these injustices and inhuman treatment. Please let us understand the fundamental issues involved here before we start criticising others otherwise pointing fingers at others serves no useful purpose but only creates antagonism. Lets be civilised about these issues and view them from different perspectives before we offer comments that may offend others. Lets be reasonable and offer constructive comments to find a common ground in assisting these disadvantaged people.
    Mark

  1. June 17, 2014 at 5:32 pm

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