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Government able to revoke SABL leases when it suits political agenda

April 27, 2016 Leave a comment
Prime Minister happy to endorse Gordon Wesley despite his conviction for election fraud

Prime Minister happy to endorse Gordon Wesley despite his conviction for election fraud

What does it take for the government to stand by its promises and revoke an unlawfully issued agriculture lease?

An impending by-election seems to be the answer.

The people of Samarai-Murua will go to the polls next month to elect a new MP. The by-election was called after sitting member Gordon Wesley was dismissed from office for bribery (ironically he was the first to nominate for the new contest and has the backing of Prime Minister, Peter O’Neill).

Now, in a blatant piece of electioneering, the government has cancelled three SABL leases on Woodlark (Murua) island and committed to giving the title to the land back to the landowners.

Meanwhile the people living in 72 other unlawful SABL lease areas wait in vain for the Prime Minister to follow through on his numerous promises to revoke the leases over their land and give them back their titles….

As Gary Juffa has commented – CORRUPTION: WHEN PNG ruling party uses public funds to campaign for candidates in by election who had been ousted by the courts for bribery!

px-logo land grabbing

Portions of land to be given back to customary landowners

Post Courier: A LARGE portion of land on Woodlark Island, Milne Bay Province, earmarked for oil palm development has been forfeited to the State. It will be returned to the islanders, Milne Bay Governor Titus Philemon said, praising the actions by the Lands and Physical Planning Department to cause the forfeiture. “The forfeiture of the titles of the three portions of land to the State is a major victory for the people of Woodlark and the Milne Bay Provincial Government. “We have been fighting for the land to be returned to the islanders since 2000, and today we have won,” Mr Philemon said. While on a brief visit to the island on Wednesday, together with Petroleum and Energy Minister Ben Micah, the Governor also relayed the news of the forfeiture of the titles to the people, who received it with much joy. “Your claim that you are people of an island with no hope and no choice changes from today. Now you have much to hope for and to choose. Your land will be returned to you,” he told the people at Guasopa station. Vitroplant Ltd obtained the titles of the three portions of the State-owned land on the island on 99-year agricultural leases in 2007 with plans to develop an oil palm plantation. The leases cover a total 60,400 hectares, or 70 per cent of the land on the island. However, after nine years and no developments, the islanders and the Milne Bay Provincial Government had lobbied for the land to be returned to the customary owners. The State, through Lands and Physical Planning Department, decided to issue show-cause notices on Vitroplant last month. Prime Minister Peter O’Neill in response to the calls for the return of the land to the customary owners also gave directions to the Minister Benny Allen last year to make necessary arrangements for this to take place. The forfeiture notice was gazetted on April 14, effectively annulling the leases and taking the titles away from the company. The forfeiture will now be registered under the Registrar of Titles then the process of declaring the land back as customary land to the landowners will begin.

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Gross Violation of Human Rights at Rimbunan Hijau’s Logging Operation In Kamusi – Middle Fly, Western Province

April 26, 2016 3 comments
Rimbunan Hijau logging camp at Kamusi in the 'Wawoi Guavi' logging concession

Rimbunan Hijau logging camp at Kamusi in the Wawoi Guavi logging concession

PNG Facts

I am a patriotic and proud Papua New Guinean citizen and I like travelling the breath and width of our beautiful country. I have always been fascinated by the natural beauty of the Western Province and so lately, I travelled to a particular location in Western Province, I have never been to before. My destination this time was Kamusi in the Bamu Local Level Government, Middle Fly District, Western Province. Kamusi is a logging camp and head office of a huge logging operation owned and run by Ribunan Hijau (RH) Group of companies, the owners of Vision City Mall in Port Moresby.

While there, I soon found out that everything in and around the logging operation was controlled by the logging company and its hordes of Asian employees mainly of Malaysian origin. Their dominance over the helpless and mostly illiterate local workforce was something, I as an intellectual Papua New Guinean saw as gross violation of human rights of Papua New Guinean citizens (both employees and local villagers). I was therefore compelled to write something about the issues I witnessed so that someone with the power and authority can do something to help our fellow country men and women in that part of the Western Province.

Of all human rights violations and abuse by the company and its foreign employees, there was one that really touched my heart and in a way made me really angry but sad at the same time. On my second day at the camp, I befriended a local community policeman. The local community policeman told me that he had to deal with a case a few days earlier where a 12 year old girl was raped and violated by an elderly Malaysian employee of the company.

The incident occurred on the 1st March 2016, when the perpetrator who had befriended the family of the girl lured the girl to his house where he penetrated the girl’s vagina and anus causing extensive tear and bleeding. The Asian man finally released the girl at around 7 pm. At this time the girl’s family were already out looking for her since she had been gone for a long time and it was now beginning to get dark. The girl could hardly walk but finally made it home where she told her mother about the incident.

Relatives of the girl, after hearing of the girl’s ordeal, mobilised and demanded that the Asian man be arrested by the local community police (there are no regular police at Kamusi) and charged. He was arrested that evening and locked up at the company run police station holding cell while the girl was taken to the company clinic for a medical check. The Asian man was released on the same day when the company intervened.

The father’s intention was for the Asian man to be brought to court to stand trial, however, in the morning of the next day, the company boss sent for the parents of the girl purposely to negotiate compensation payment. The father was a former company employee while the mother is still employed by the company as a casual labourer at the company’s timber mill. According to Richard the local community policeman, the company paid K12,000.00 to the girl’s father and the perpetrator is now a free man currently working as a welder at the main Kamusi camp dock.

RH boycott sticker

This is not an isolated incident but a recurring norm where Asian employees, mainly of Malaysian origin, use local girls to satisfy their appetite for sex. There are also rumours of young girls being lured with money to engage with Asian company employees in the production of pornographic materials.

Apart from the above incidents, here are further examples of Human rights Issues, abuse and violations committed by the company towards PNG citizens at Kamusi.

There is nil safety concern of any sort what so ever in the logging operations. PNG citizens have to work very long hours under very risky environment and paid a rate under the minimum wages set by the government. I witnesses and interviewed someone working as a mechanic from 5am to 9pm (15 hours) and paid at a rate of K2.29 per hour. I believe this is the previous minimum wages some years back.

police guns

The company uses intimidation techniques including flying in police from Port Moresby and threat of loss of employment to suppress any work related issues and complaints employees may want to bring to the company’s attention.

Abuse of local women/girls through pretentious marriage. There are now so many mixed races (Malaysia) in the Bamu LLG than anywhere else in PNG. Most of these mix race children’s fathers have gone back to Malaysia leaving the mother and children to fend for themselves.

Poverty is now a major problem in the area especially with the logging operation winding down and the people after being dependent on the company for over 30 years have forgotten their traditional way of life. The company is lying to its employees that timber price is currently down so they are only downsizing. But the matter of the fact in there is no more logs to harvest as the company did not replant during their 35 years of logging operation in the area.

In regards to workers compensation, there has been no confirmed report of workers being compensated for injuries sustained during official working hours. However, the local community and workforce have confirmed that there have been numerous instances of injuries and fatalities at the workplace. Workers compensation is merely non-existent and non-negotiable with company.

The company has a way of getting every toea back from its workers and so devices ways to ensure of it and keep its employees in a vicious cycle of credit and being indebted to the company. It encouraged workers to get store goods from the company store on credit and settling it by deductions from the employee’s fortnightly pay leaving most employees with virtually nothing in their pay packet and thereby compelling them to get things on credit again for the coming weeks. Even Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) like safety boots are not issued free to employees but the cost is also deducted from the employee’s pay packet.

Superannuation contributions and personal income taxes are deducted but most workers have never seen a single statement on their super contribution. Whether these deductions are genuine and are actually remitted to the relevant organisations and statutory bodies remain a mystery unless investigations are conducted into the operation of the company.

rh logging 2

Employees live in squalid and often over-crowded and poorly ventilated housing conditions while the Asian expat employees live in houses considered fit for humans. One could see from a distance the deteriorating state of housing for PNG citizen employees and envisage the appalling living condition of these employees.

The local clinic is owned by the company and provides substandard health care service. It has a Pilipino so called doctor and three (3) PNG CHWs. The facility does not conform to most of NDoH standard procedures and treatment protocols. It is more or less a smoke screen employed by the company probably to tick boxes regarding logging licence conditions and corporate responsibilities towards locals. HIV, TB and Malaria are some of the health issues not properly addresses at the company clinic since the company has failed to properly equip the facility to effectively function. There is also the possibility of Multi Drug Resistance TB (MDRTB) occurring and an increase in HIV cases which could result in a catastrophic situation some years into the future.

In conclusion, government services and mere presence in the area are minimal to none. Employees and local villagers are powerless to raise their voices and report unfair treatment and violations impeding on their rights as citizens of this country. Employees and locals feel that their whole lively hood depend entirely on the company and any action seen to impede on the company’s operation would be met with severe repercussions including loss of employment and intimidation and physical abuse by hired police from Port Moresby and other centres.

I hope someone out there would be able to assist our people in Kamusi, Western Province.

GOD Help and Bless PNG.
True PNG Patriot
Western Province

Tkatchenko happy to snuggle up with tax dodging logging company

April 26, 2016 Leave a comment

Rimbunan Hijau may be heavily embroiled in illegal logging, tax dodging and financial misreporting, the SABL land grab and human rights abuses, but none of that bothers Justin Tkatchenko (who of course has his own long history of fraud allegations)…

tkatchenko rh

Rimbunan Hijau opens newest hotel, suite

BY MIRIAM ZARRIGA in THE NATIONAL (also owned by tax dodging RH)

THE newest hotel and suite in the city is to be opened in September of this year. Stanley Hotel and suite is a massive investment by the Rimbunan Hijau Company which will see 95 per cent employment of nationals in the hotel and tourism industry. In an inspection on Friday afternoon, Minister responsible for National Events and APEC, Justin Tkatchenko visited the hotel to see for himself what has been done so far. The 18-level hotel contains 433 rooms and serviced apartment complexes, including the presidential suite. The hotel’s executive assistant manager Robert Schlenther said that the running of the hotel depends on the flexibility of its operations, in allowing visitors to be able to receive service without too much of a hassle. Mr Tkatchenko was equally impressed and said that the challenge was to maintain the hotel’s quality service and rooms for years to come. He added that the inspection reinforced the wow factor awaiting the delegates of the APEC summit and other delegates attending the FIFA World Cup this year and the World Cup next year. The standard and deluxe rooms offer all the amenities expected in a first class hotel, with the executive rooms accessible to the exclusive club lounge. The one or two bedroom apartments are the ideal place to call home with fully equipped kitchens. The hotel offers a restaurant, lounge, café, gym, pool, and spa with its ballroom able to seat from 10 to 1000 people.

Rimbunan Hijau puppets cartoon, 2003

O’Neill’s illegal logging: 1036 days and counting…

April 25, 2016 1 comment

count

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Peter O'Neill: Theft of forest resources: Guilty

sabl cartoon

Media Intimidation, No Freedom

April 25, 2016 1 comment

Media-Intimidation
By Scott Waide – EMTV News

Another low point came yesterday when another Papua New Guinean journalist was threatened by senior members of the Royal Papua New Guinea Constabulary for maintaining contact with the suspended head of the Police Fraud Squad, Matthew Damaru.

The seasoned journalist working for a daily newspaper was threatened with arrest simply for doing his job and doing what is a fundamental part of his job – maintaining contact with an important source.

It is infuriating that we, as a country have allowed arms of government to stoop low to threaten those whose job it is to speak out for those who are unable.

It should be noted that over the last decade, there have been several attacks on journalists in PNG. Violent physical attacks affecting their families as well an legal intimidation by people who hold positions of power.

While the arrest did not eventuate, the fact that a threat was issued has struck at the heart of constitutional rights of freedom of the media and freedom of speech.

A free media able to challenge a government and those in positions of power and to hold them to account is vital for a vibrant democracy to thrive and to ride out political and economic turbulence a country many be going through.

A people cannot be silenced. The act to silence the masses by silencing the media is – as history has shown – always unsustainable and always short lived.

While Papua New Guineans have not protested violently, it does not mean a dissenting voice cannot be heard.

Silencing a journalist is so old school and reeks of 70s and 80s Latin American military dictatorships.

It is what is done by 21st century, Asian regimes that attempt to stifle and control public opinion in the age social media. It simply does not work.

Supreme Court quashes Maladina conviction! But your Honor, Jimmy confessed. 

April 22, 2016 Leave a comment
Either Prime Minister Peter O'Neill is deliberately lying or he has been misled by his advisors...

Was Jimmy’s appeal more about the Prime Minister than Maladina himself?

In most countries when a powerful national figure confesses to their crimes, expresses remorse, and offers to pay back the stolen money, it is often considered a fairly clear sign they are guilty.

Not in our country. 

PNG Exposed reported yesterday that Jimmy Maladina’s conviction for misappropriation was recently quashed by the Supreme Court.

Yet it has gone unnoted in the media coverage, that Maladina actually confessed to the crime during the earlier National Court trial. 

This was confirmed when the National Court passed sentence: 

“The accused admitted freely that he had committed the offence. He stated that he is sorry for what he did. He further apologises and is remorseful especially to the contributors of NPF for what he had done that deprived them of their benefits which was to be enjoyed with their families and to his family for the sufferings, shame that he has brought on them for the last 17 years. He is making arrangements and is willing to repay the money owed back to the state”.

It was also noted in yesterday’s blog that Maladina had never been successfully prosecuted for his role in separate fraud involving Iori Veraga. In that instance Veraga was sentenced to six years hard labour, while the alleged mastermind behind the operation Jimmy Maladina escaped the charges. 

Clearly Jimmy is a lucky fellow.

But the question remains why would Maladina confess to a crime, and then petition a higher court to quash the conviction? 

A possible answer is provided by the Australian commentator Susan Merrell, who is a close ally of the PM’s clique. She remarked in the aftermath of the Supreme Court decision: So, if Jimmy Maladina is innocent of misappropriation and the accusation against the Prime Minister is that he received monies from Maladina that Maladina had misappropriated in this matter, (NPF) then it stands to reason that this exonerates the Prime Minister of any accusations of impropriety’.

So, perhaps this appeal was less about Jimmy Maladina and more about Prime Minister O’Neill. 

Those familiar with elite business circles know Jimmy Maladina and Peter O’Neill were for a significant period married at the hip in their affairs. As a result, when those involved in Maladina’s schemes were successfully convicted in two separate criminal prosecutions, a certain bad smell clung to the PM, especially given that O’Neill featured heavily in the NPF inquiry findings (but don’t expect to find a copy of the NPF inquiry report anywhere, conveniently it was never made public!). 

Indeed, when Jimmy Maladina fled to Australia in 1999/2000, he informed the Australian courts that he ‘was fearful of violence at the hands of persons who suspected that he might be in a position to make serious allegations against them’. It was never specified who these ‘persons’ were.  

Read 85 extracts from the NPF inquiry report

This Supreme Court decision it would seem is just as beneficial for the PM as it is for Maladina, at least if we follow the perverted logic of the PM’s cheer squad.

Sadly, all of this comes as public confidence in the integrity of the judiciary is dropping. 

It is increasingly apparent that the judiciary is not immune to the disease of corruption – in fact there is a growing body of evidence and inside information that some judges are accepting bribes, to return favorable judgements. Of course, no one has suggested, despite the strange occurrences noted above, that either Mr Maladina or Mr O’Neill bribed/pressured the judiciary. 

Yet the growing inconsistent and at times illogical decisions being delivered by the courts, will fuel speculation and concern. 

Breaking the Grip of Rimbunan Hijau over Papua New Guinea

April 21, 2016 2 comments

RH boycott sticker

By Frederic Mousseau*, IPS news

James Sze Yuan Lau and Ivan Su Chiu Lu must be extremely busy men. Together, they are listed as directors of some 30 companies involved in various activities and services related to logging or agribusiness in Papua New Guinea (PNG). The former is the managing director of Rimbunan Hijau (RH) PNG and son-in-law of RH’s founder Tiong Hiew King; the latter is executive director of RH PNG Ltd.. All but two of these 30 companies have the same registered address at 479 Kennedy Road, in the national capital, Port Moresby–the headquarter of the RH group in the country.

Frederic Mousseau

Frederic Mousseau

How the group – the largest logging operator in PNG – manages to operate at a loss for so many years, and yet still remains in business? If it were unprofitable to log and export timber from PNG, why would these companies continue their operations? These are some of the critical questions raised in a report released in February 2016, The Great Timber Heist: The Logging Industry in Papua New Guinea, by the Oakland Institute. The report exposed massive tax evasion and financial misreporting by foreign logging companies, allegedly resulting in non-payment of hundreds of millions of dollars in taxes.

Their ability to magically fit into a relatively small office space on Kennedy Road is not the only puzzling fact about the subsidiaries of the Malaysian group, Rimbunan Hijau. Out of the 30 above mentioned companies, 16 subsidiaries that are directly involved in logging or agribusiness have one other thing in common. According to their financial records , they don’t make a profit. Most of them have been working at a loss for over a decade. During the 12 years for which financial records were available to the Oakland Institute’s researchers, all together, the subsidiaries declared an average loss of about US$ 9 million every year.

Recovering tax revenue would be certainly welcomed by PNG given the acute budget crisis the country has been facing in recent months. Yet, it is unclear whether the government of PNG will decide to take action following these revelations. After all, despite the promises made by the Prime Minister, still no action has been taken two and a half years after the damning report on recent land leases, produced by the Commission of Inquiry (CoI), which identified all sorts of malpractices and irregularities and concluded that most leases were illegal.

A first step for any government would be to start monitoring the declared sale prices of exported timber. PNG prices are much lower than those of other exporters of tropical timber (nearly 50% cheaper in 2014), which suggests that logging companies undervalue their exports and therefore their profits. But the recent statements by the Forest Minister in denial of the findings of the report, and given the well-documented deficiencies of the PNG Forest Authority, there is little hope of decisive action by this agency.

Another level of action is the enforcement of tax compliance by the Internal Revenue Commission (IRC), the government agency in charge of tax collection. However, although many RH companies are conveniently located at the same address, it may prove difficult for tax auditors to ascertain the extent of their wrongdoings. The Group has been built as a complex and opaque financial structure: almost all RH holding companies–the parent companies of those operating in PNG–are located in tax havens, primarily the British Virgin Islands, known for facilitating illicit financial flows.

Moreover, the use of multiple subsidiaries in logging operations makes auditing even more complex to conduct. For instance, in one single project in West Pomio, Gilford Ltd.’s records indicate financial transactions with 16 other RH subsidiary companies. This interrelation facilitates transfer pricing as companies of the same group can charge each other an artificially high price for goods, equipment, and services, thereby increasing the sister company’s operational expenses, and artificially reducing their profits. This interrelation would require investigators to not just focus on individual logging companies but to extend their audits to the larger RH Group. But who would they go after?

RH is controlled by Tiong Hiew King, one of Malaysia’s richest men. Although logging is the core business of the group – ‘Rimbunan Hijau’ ironically means ‘forever green’ in Malay, his empire covers a multitude of sectors, and all continents from fisheries in New Zealand, timber in Siberia, to Chinese speaking newspapers in California. RH’s grip over PNG goes far beyond the forests, as it is present across all sectors of the economy. The company’s most recent investment in the capital Port Moresby is a project known as Vision City, which contains the largest shopping mall in the Pacific Islands region and is expected to be expanded to include an office tower block, service apartments, a hotel and convention centre. It also owns the National, the largest of the two daily newspapers in PNG, an airline, Tropicair, as well as shipping and logistics companies.

Whereas the group appears as PNG’s superpower, citizens are left powerless. As documented in 2013 Oakland Institute’s report and film, logging in PNG hides a multilayered tragedy of daylight robbery, whereby local communities are being deprived of their resources and their rights, with the complicity of their own government. RH has often been accused in the past of connections within the political elite in the country and of involvement in corruption and violence in relation to its logging operations. In a number of occasions, local police forces have been used to intimidate and arrest local landowners opposed to logging and land grabbing by RH subsidiaries.

A single corporate group, RH, thus materializes the betrayal of the unique constitutional protections that PNG citizens are supposed to enjoy. The 1975 Constitution guaranteed people’s land rights and upheld national sovereignty, self-reliance, and the preservation of natural resources as key principles for the country. It called on the State “to control major enterprises engaged in the exploitation of natural resources.” Ironically, today a major enterprise has turned the statement around and appears to be controlling the state and the country’s natural resources. Will Papua New Guineans eventually decide to put the things back in place?

*Frederic Mousseau, Policy Director of the Oakland Institute, coordinated the research for the Institute’s agroeocology project.