Archive

Archive for the ‘Land’ Category

UNDP head denies endorsing Paga Hill Development Company evictions

June 12, 2017 Leave a comment

Settlers moved from the foreshore at Paga Hill to the inland site of Gerehu, where they live in appalling conditions.  Photo: Aid Watch

Port Moresby settlers evicted to make way for Australian-backed development ‘abandoned’

Source: Heath Aston in Sydney Morning Herald

A majority of settlers evicted from a headland shanty town in Port Moresby to make way for a gated tourism and casino precinct backed by Australian property developers have been “simply abandoned”, with some now sleeping rough, according to human rights investigators.

Two Australian-run companies involved in moving squatters from waterfront Paga Hill and its foreshore between 2012 and 2014 dispute the numbers of people affected, but charities Aid Watch and Jubilee Australia claim 2000 of an estimated 3000 squatters were given no resettlement and in many cases no compensation, and up to 500 of those could be living on the streets of the capital.

They have also raised questions about the claimed success of resettlement programs for those relocated to make way for a gated waterfront estate that the PNG government has earmarked as a likely setting for the 2018 APEC conference of world leaders.

Australia is spending about $100 million to support the Port Moresby APEC summit, with a particular focus on security through the ongoing presence of the Australian Federal Police in PNG.

The brochure for the Paga Hill development showing the headland that has been cleared for development. Photo: Paga Hill Development Company

Former prime minister Tony Abbott said APEC would be “an important coming of age for PNG”.

Australian mining company Oil Search is building a floating reception centre to be called APEC Haus at the Paga Hill headland.

Human rights lawyer Brynn O’Brien, who is writing a report for Jubilee and Aid Watch, said Australia had a responsibility to the people of Paga Hill if it was backing the APEC meeting with public money.

“The Australian government should make a commitment not to support any event held on land associated with human rights violations until people have been resettled,” she told Fairfax Media.

Six Mile, another site were people were moved to. Photo: Aid Watch

“The majority of people were simply abandoned and a significant proportion of those, perhaps a quarter, are living under bridges, under buildings.”

The evictions, conducted with the support of armed PNG police, were raised at a recent senate estimates hearing where the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade’s first assistant secretary, Pacific division, Daniel Sloper, said it was not Australia’s responsibility.

Another humpy at Gerehu. Photo: Aid Watch

“Certainly there have been areas and villages that have moved on. I am not denying that at all,” he said.

“My only point was that was a responsibility of the PNG government rather than a responsibility of the Australian government.”

Paga Hill was once the focal point of Australia’s World War II defence of Port Moresby. The thousands of settlers who moved there in the decades after 1945 became known as “bunker people” for their use of abandoned wartime fortifications to create makeshift homes.

The Paga Hill Development Company is run by Icelandic-Australian businessman Gudmundur “Gummi” Fridriksson, a former chief executive of Noel Pearson’s Cape York Institute.

Last year Fairfax Media revealed a legal wrangle in which one PNG’s most revered former politicians, Carol Kidu, and the Paga Hill Development Company sought to block the release of an Australian documentary, The Opposition, about local resistance to the evictions.

Ms O’Brien interviewed people who were moved from the foreshore by Townsville-based civil contractors Curtain Bros, with the support of PNG’s National Capital District Commission to an area called Gerehu on the outskirts of Port Moresby.

She found at least 600 people living in homes made from “pieces of wood, sticks, fibro, sheet metal, tarpaulins” and without power or running water.

“At Gerehu lots of the adults and children are noticeably thin even by PNG standards, they appear malnourished. At Paga Hill their main source of protein was fish caught from the sea but this site is inland with no reliable public transport” she said.

Curtain Bros did not return calls.

At another resettlement site, known as Six Mile, the original facilities built by PHDC in 2014 are badly run down. The company offered resettlement of cash compensation for people living on the hill rather than those living on the foreshore and in other areas.

Of the estimated 400 people at Six Mile, according to Ms O’Brien, most remain in temporary accommodation – tents under a steel shed roof – because they can’t afford to enter into the “land use agreements” that were offered.

A Paga Hill Development Company spokesman said:

“PHDC cannot be held responsible for the relocation site almost three years after it was formally handed over in October 2014 to UN acclaim.”

The UN’s support for the project is in dispute.

Roy Trivedy, the United Nations’ resident co-ordinator in PNG, said he attended one meeting where he was impressed with written plans for the resettlement but has not been involved in anything to do with Paga Hill since.

“I’ve asked the company to stop using my name to endorse something I haven’t seen,” he said.

Legal battles over, controversial doco The Opposition finally gets home debut

May 1, 2017 1 comment

It began as a student film project but soon morphed into something much larger – including an unexpected and bruising legal battle.

Karl Quinn | Sydney Morning Herald | 29 April 2017

Dame Carol Kidu didn’t recognise the young Australian woman who said she wanted to make a film about her life in New Guinean politics in 2012, even though they’d shared breakfast a few years before that. But she has no trouble remembering Hollie Fifer now. It’s amazing how an ugly legal battle can jog the memory. 

Fifer, who is 28, first met Dame Carol with her mother Dimity, a former CEO of Australian Volunteers International, in 2008. By the time the then-AFTRS student pitched her film idea, PNG was in political turmoil, with Michael Somare and Peter O’Neill both claiming to be the legitimate prime minister of the country. Dame Carol broke the deadlock by stepping away from Somare’s party to become leader of a one-woman opposition. 

Hollie Fifer, director of the controversial PNG documentary The Opposition, fought a long battle to screen the film. Photo: Arsineh Houspian

To Fifer, “it seemed like a great story”, even if she also suspected “I’d arrived too late” to record it at its best.

But as they were filming an interview in Port Moresby in May 2012, Dame Carol received a phone call: a shanty settlement on Paga Hill, near the centre of town, was being bulldozed, its 3000 inhabitants were about to be scattered to the winds, and the developer responsible was Australian.

In that moment, a different film was born.

“She said, ‘Do you want to come’, and I didn’t know what to expect but I said ‘yeah’,” Fifer says. “Then this entire scene happened that completely changed everything.”

As Dame Carol strode about Paga Hill trying to convince police to stop what was going on, Fifer kept her camera rolling. Here was a real-life David v Goliath story, with the country’s only female parliamentarian as the unlikely hero of the people. Or so it seemed.

Over the course of the film’s evolution, Dame Carol’s role changed massively. She left the Parliament. She set up a consultancy, and was hired by the Paga Hill Development Corporation, on a contract of $178,000 for three months’ work. And she became determined to prevent Fifer’s footage of her from ever seeing the light of day.

Dame Carol wasn’t the main character in Fifer’s film, but she was a key player, featuring in about 20 minutes of it. In March 2016, she launched legal action in the Supreme Court of NSW demanding those scenes be redacted. She claimed she had never consented to being in such a documentary. The release she signed was merely for a student film, not for something that might be shown commercially. She claimed the film misrepresented her. 

Dame Carol Kidu argues the point with police at Paga Hill in May 2012, as seen in The Opposition. Photo: supplied

Fifer’s film was set to debut at the prestigious Hot Docs festival in Toronto in May 2016. On April 22, Dame Carol was granted a temporary injunction against the inclusion of the footage in which she appeared.

Fifer had a week and a half to recut her film. Where Dame Carol had been, the screen was now black, with a narration read by actress Sarah Snook explaining what was happening, and why. But the day before she was due to fly to Toronto, Fifer was back in court, being ordered to make more tweaks.

PNG land rights activist Joseph Moses (foreground) in a scene from the film. Photo: Supplied

“The hard drive was still warm when I took it to the airport the next morning,” she says.

“It was literally a hot doc. We hadn’t even seen it by the time we screened it. My producer, Rebecca Barry, and I were just looking at each other thinking, ‘I hope this works’.”

Dame Carol Kidu went from opposing the demolition of houses at Paga Hill to working as a consultant for the developer. Photo: Melissa Adams

It did, and in June, the court ruled against Dame Carol’s application for permanent redaction of the footage in which she appeared.

Now, finally, The Opposition is to have its full Australian premiere, on the opening night of the Human Rights Arts and Film Festival.

Fifer (centre) leaves the Sydney Law Courts on April 14, 2016. She had little to smile about a week later as Dame Carol won a temporary injunction against her film. Photo: James Alcock

It’s been a long and bruising journey for all parties. Joe Moses, the Paga Hill activist who is the real hero of Fifer’s movie, spent a couple of years in hiding but is now in the UK, studying international human rights law. Many of the former residents of Paga Hill are homeless in downtown Port Moresby; those who took the inducements to move are still living in the tents they were told would be temporary. There are 200 of them at a place called Six Mile, says Fifer, under rotting canvas, with one tap and a toilet that doesn’t work properly.

As for Fifer herself, she says after five years on this one she’s in no hurry to race into the next project.

“I don’t want to just launch into another one because I want to make a film – I want to launch into it knowing this is something that needs to exist.”

She wants to put the difficult journey of her film to good use, and is looking for ways to share what she learnt with other documentary makers, if only so they don’t have to go through the same things.

“I feel like I’ve had a bit of an experience with this film. I don’t feel it’s right for me to silo that and move on to the next film, to go, ‘Oh that’s good that I learnt all that, but it’s just for me’.”

It would be fair to say she’s in a cooling-off period, but she insists she hasn’t gone cold.

“I’m up for a good challenge,” she says, smiling wryly. “But maybe a little less of a challenge.”

The Opposition is opening night film at the Human Rights Arts and Film Festival, which runs May 4-18 in Melbourne, May 23-27 in Sydney, May 29-31 in Canberra, June 1-3 in June and June 1 in Perth and June 2 in Hobart. Details: hraff.org.au

National Housing Corporation – Another property sold off under irregular circumstances

April 22, 2017 2 comments

Late last year, residents of the Tokara NHC Hostel lost their court action against the National Housing Corporation (NHC), and Aees Real Estate Limited. Evicted residents claimed they had been wrongfully removed from the property. It was also claimed that the sale to Aees Real Estate was illegal. 

Justice Hartshorn, a judge known for being unsympathetic to the ‘little’ people, dismissed the proceedings with costs. He argued residents had failed to pursue the case through correct legal procedure.

The short judgement does not disclose the sale price of the NHC property to Aees Real Estate Limited.

However, this sale needs urgent review.

It can be revealed Aees Real Estate Limited’s largest shareholder and Director is Anthony Waira.

Up until the 2007, Waira was the principal legal officer at the National Housing Corporation.

Given that the Public Accounts Committee has found that many NHC properties are being sold off, under value, to private developers, with the proceeds being laundered and stolen – there is a need for vigilance with all NHC transactions.

This is especially the case when the purchaser is the former legal counsel for the NHC.

O’Neill’s illegal logging: after 1386 days is it finally over?

April 10, 2017 1 comment

Has Prime Minister Peter O’Neill finally acted on his promises and ended the SABL land grab and stopped the illegal logging?

It is now 1,386 days since the reports of the SABL Commission Inquiry which detailed the widespread fraud and mismanagement that allowed foreign logging companies to gain illegal access to over 50 thousand square kilometres of land.

Over that time the Prime Minister has made repeated promises to cancel the leases and stop the logging but, for almost four years, nothing has happened, while the logging companies continued to chop down and export logs worth hundreds of millions of dollars.

But, in recent statements, both the Prime Minister and the Minister for Lands have claimed the government has finally acted and CANCELLED all the SABL leases.

Minister Benny Allen has been quoted saying:

“The Government has taken a blanket cancellation of all special agriculture business leases in the country and as we speak, they are all illegal”.

“I have given directions to acting secretary to write letters to all special agriculture business lease holders, informing them that the leases that they are holding are illegal and no longer in force now. It’s another useless document of no legal value and effect”.

There is, of course, a sting in the tail; the Prime Minister and Minister Allen also say the government will now assist ‘genuine’ investors to acquire a new title to the land they have illegally occupied, using incorporated land groups and land registration. It is not clear which SABL areas this applies to, although the PM has singled out Rimbunan Hijau’s operations in Pomio for praise, despite the strong community opposition to the logging and oil palm operations there.

Silent though has been Logging Minister, Douglas Tomuriesa. Has the Forest Authority stopped all logging in SABL areas and are all the Forest Clearance Authorities being cancelled or withdrawn?

Without any word from the Minister or PNG Forest Authority, the public will be wise to remain skeptical.

Peter O'Neill: Theft of forest resources: Guilty

O’Neill sells out to RH over SABL land grab on eve of election

April 5, 2017 1 comment

Prime Minister Peter O’Neill has signalled he is backtracking on four-years of promises to cancel the unlawful SABL leases and return land to its customary owners.

Just three weeks ago, the Prime Minister berated the Department of Lands for not carrying out orders to cancel the leases and said the foreigners involved “should be put on a plane and sent back home”.

But, on Friday, the PM endorsed what he now says is the Lands Department’s ‘balanced approach’ and he specifically endorsed Rimbunan Hijau’s logging and oil palm operations in the Pomio District, which he said must be allowed to continue.

Over the past six years RH has exported over 1.2 million cubic metres of logs and netted more than K300 million in income from logging operations on land stolen through three Pomio SABL leases.

The SABL leases were obtained using fraud and forgery and the forests have been logged without the lawful consent of local people. The villagers have been consistently beaten and intimidated by police employed by RH to suppress any dissent.

The plight of the communities has been highlighted in various international reports and on video but RH is now pressing ahead to get access into two further SABL areas.

With more than 6.6 million cubic metres of logs worth over K2 billion stolen from SABL areas across the country, it seems the loggers money is proving irresistible to our political leaders as the election approaches.

Peter O'Neill: Theft of forest resources: Guilty

O’Neill’s illegal land grab: 1379 days and counting…

April 3, 2017 2 comments

Peter O'Neill: Theft of forest resources: Guilty

APEC is a criminal waste of money

March 30, 2017 4 comments

K800 million is being spent to enrich the Port Moresby club of politicians, construction companies and hoteliers. And all under the guise of playing host to APEC – an international organisation that promotes the same colonial economic policies that have failed Papua New Guinea for the past 30 years.

APEC is a business club that wants to continue to exploit PNG’s rich natural resources for its own benefit; that wants to continue to boost our false export economy at the expense of the real mainstream economy that is based on rural enterprise, local markets and honest endeavour by village people living on and working their own land.

Development does not come from outside, as APEC and its supporters claim and it does not trickle down from large-scale resource extraction; real development has to come from within – by supporting small local businesses and rural agriculture, not building flashy infrastructure in Port Moresby for the elites to enjoy.

Imagine what could be achieved if all the effort from politicians and bureaucrats that is going into organising the APEC summit was being put in to improving our health and education services or agricultural extension work? All those hours of effort by public servants, all that coordination and all that support from overseas?

Imagine what K800 million, spent wisely could do for rural infrastructure and transport?

Seeing it all wasted on opening up PNG to more foreign exploitation is not just sad, it is a crime!