Compulsory purchase used to seize land and replace flawed SABL lease
It seems the Department of Lands could be about to embark on a scheme to replace the now discredited and unlawful SABL leases with new land titles acquired using the compulsory acquisition powers in the Lands Act.
The SABL Commission of Inquiry has exposed how the Department of Lands fraudulently issued 99-year leases over large parcels of customary land totaling some 5.2 million hectares. The SABL leases were issued to foreign companies without following the mandated processes in the Lands Act and without the informed consent of customary landowners.
The Commission of Inquiry recommended the illegal leases be revoked but the government has failed to follow this advice. The only SABL leases that have been revoked are those that have been challenged through the courts and declared null and void by a judge. But the companies holding SABL leases remain nervous that their unlawfully acquired rights could be extinguished at some point in the future and are looking for ways to protect their positions. And its seems that once again, it could be the Department of Lands that comes to their assistance.
The Department has recently used the compulsory purchase powers in the Lands Act to acquire Portion 2467C, a block of water front customary land outside Port Moresby that was previously subject to an SABL lease. The Department has issued a new 99 year lease over 12.5 hectares, now called Portion 2703C, to a company called Firewall Logistics. The compulsory acquisition was gazetted in a notice dated 4 March, 2015 (see below).
This appears to be an attempt to override any flaws in the original SABL lease and insure the company gets a defensible title to the land.
The compulsory purchase powers in the Lands Act are specifically supposed to be used only for public purposes such as acquiring land for schools, clinics or subsistence agriculture. To use those powers to benefit a private company seems to be a breach of the Lands Act and unlawful. But acting unlawfully is something that is very much the norm in the Lands Department.
The land that has been compulsorily acquired sits alongside two other land portions also subject to SABL leases and that were investigated by the Commission of Inquiry.
The CoI found Portions 2465C and 2466C were fraudulently obtained by the Kassman family under three SABL leases. The Commission concluded:
“There was misrepresentation and fraud involved in the whole process” [Report p164], and landowner signatures were forged in “a criminal act” [p150].
“The whole process was riddled with defects and flaws” [p157] and “it was obvious that officers from DLPP [including] Romily Kila-Pat deliberately decided to ignore and by-pass the existing protocols and practices” [p153].
The CoI recommended:
“those responsible must be held accountable for their unlawful conduct and actions” [p165]
Of course nobody has been held accountable, and ironically Romilly Kila Pat (despite his numerous crimes) is still Secretary for the Department of Lands and, as the delegate of the Minister, issued the notice of Compulsory Acquisition for the new lease.