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Malaysian company destroying cocoa blocks and evicting landholders in East New Britain

March 16, 2016 Leave a comment
From left: Tan, Malaysia High Commissioner to Papua New Guinea Jilid Kuminding, C.B Lim, ENBP co- chairman Datuk Lim Soon Foo, Papua New Guinea Deputy Prime Minister Leo Deon, East New Britain governor Ereman Tobaining Jr and company officials and guests at the opening of the group’s first mill in East New Britain.

Papua New Guinea Deputy Prime Minister Leo Dion and Tzen company officials

A Malaysian owned group of companies is destroying a large number of smallholder cocoa blocks and forcibly evicting families using armed police on the Gazelle peninsula in East New Britain, says a local observer.

Tzen Niugini, Tzen Plantations and East New Britain Palm Oil are a group of companies controlled by Chinese Malaysians Ronnie Hai Liang Lim and Lea Ping Ong. The companies are all involved in the Kairak Oil Palm project.

The oil palm area covers customary land, State land, previously part of the Keravat forest area, and Land Settlement Scheme blocks. Although some customary landowners are said to support the new project it is believed at least two of five local groups have not given their informed consent.

Many of the cocoa block holders who have been forcibly evicted, have been receiving grants from the World Bank under its $50 million Productive Partnerships in Agriculture Project (PPAP) which was designed to revive the cocoa industry.

It is alleged the Malaysian companies have no land titles and no environmental permit, but authorities are ignoring their actions.

Ping and Liang are also the owners of the Malaysian registered company Tzen Plantations Sdn. Bhd.

According to the SABL Commission of Inquiry there is a 23,073 ha lease over Portions 908C and 909C issued by the Department of Lands to ‘Kairak Development Corporation’ for an oil palm plantation.

Big profits for Rimbunan Hijau in illegal SABL logging

December 8, 2015 1 comment

logging

Malaysian logging company Rimbunan Hijau is making big profits from its illegal SABL logging in East New Britain.

Between 2012 and 2014 RH shipped 661,171 cubic metres of logs from the Sigite Mukus area in the Pomio District, earning over K151 million in the process. And the true figure could be much higher as it is widely believed logging companies in PNG under-declare the real value of the logs they export.

The ongoing logging operation is being carried out across three Special Business Agriculture Lease areas, Portions 196C, 197C and 198C, under a Forest Clearance Authority granted by the PNG Forest Authority.

Rimbunan Hijau puppets cartoon, 2003In 2012 the SABL Commission of Inquiry heard extensive evidence from Pomio landowners that the SABL leases had been granted without their informed consent and in breach of the Lands Act.

The CoI concluded

‘With corrupt government officials from implementing agencies riding shotgun for them, opportunistic loggers masquerading as agro-forestry developers are prowling our countryside, scoping opportunities to take advantage of gullible landowners and desperate for cash clan leaders… Our investigations reveal that over 50% of the so-called developers’ currently holding subleases on SABLs are connected in one way or another to Rimbunan Hijau (RH) Limited, which by far is the biggest logging operator in PNG’.

Since 2013 the Prime Minister has been promising to cancel the SABL leases and stop the illegal logging. He even told Parliament

“We will no longer watch on as foreign owned companies come in and con our landowners, chop down our forests and then take the proceeds offshore”

But O’Neill has spectacularly failed to follow through with his promises and we are left to wonder how much of the K151 million has ended up in his pocket of those of key ministers.

Local activists in East New Britain estimate that over 165,000 trees have been felled by RH in Sigite Mukus and many more destroyed in the logging process, which targets the biggest and most valuable trees.

But it is not only the forests that are suffering.

Last year we exclusively revealed a multi-agency report detailing how RH uses police officers to brutalize the communities in West Pomio and prevent legitimate protect against the illegal logging activities.

RH is the owner of the National newspaper and has numerous other business and property interests in PNG.

RH boycott sticker

Multi-agency report confirms police working for Rimbunan Hijau brutalize communities in SABL areas

November 6, 2014 8 comments

police report cover

An Independent Fact Finding Mission undertaken by a joint team of government officials and civil society organisations, has confirmed allegations of ‘continuous brutality and human rights violations’ by police personnel operating on behalf of Rimbunan Hijau inside two Special Agriculture and Business Lease areas in the East New Britain Province of Papua New Guinea.

Instances of violence by the police include brutal assaults with tree branches, rendering the victims unconscious, locking villagers in shipping containers for days on end, attacks by police on unarmed villagers with fan belts, rifle butts and toe-capped boots, forcing villagers to spend the night lying in the rain on felled logs and forcing them to drink polluted water.

The police were also found to have forced various groups of youths and landowners to sign agreements pledging not to resist logging operations on their land even though the people had not consented to the logging and it was being done in breach of their constitutional rights. The police also forced various people to make compensation payments in cash to the logging company.

In all the mission team interviewed more than 30 victims of police abuse and concluded:

‘the force used by the policemen in dealing with ordinary villagers, as alleged was grossly excessive, unwarranted and amounts to a criminal intent to do grievous bodily harm’. It was also in breach of constitutional rights and was ‘inhuman and amounts to a breach of their human rights’.

The fact finding mission say the police were operating at the instigation of Malaysian logging company Rimbunan Hijau, the largest logging company operating in PNG and a serial offender when it comes to using police to abuse local communities.

The Independent Mission found the ‘policemen were flown into the area and were being deployed in the hire and care of the logging company, Gilford Ltd and were accommodated at the Drina Logging Camp’.

The Independent Mission report was completed in February 2013 but has not been publicly released.

The multi-agency mission was initiated by Assistant Police Commission, Anthony Billie and comprised officers from the Royal PNG Police Constabulary (Internal Affairs and Provincial Police Commanders Office), the Ombudsman Commission, National Forest Service, PNG Port Services East New Britain Provincial government, West Pomio District Administrator and the PNG Eco-Forestry Forum

The Mission was set up to investigate allegations of continuous police brutality and human rights abuses by police operating in the Ralopal and Pomat SABL lease areas where landowners are contesting the legality of the leases and Rimbunan Hijau’s logging operations.

The Mission found the police were hired by Rimbunan Hijau subsidiary Gilford Limited with the intention of preventing the landowners from protesting against the operations of the company.

The police intimidated, harassed and physically assaulted local landowners who were trying to execs their constitutional rights to peacefully protest and protect their land.

A recent Commission of Inquiry into SABL leases in Papua New Guinea has labelled the leases, which cover more than 5 million hectares of land in total, unlawful. The Commission found widespread abuses in the development of the leases, a failure to follow the process and requirements in the Lands Act and a failure to secure the informed consent of local people.

The Commission findings have been accepted by the Prime Minister and endorsed by the National Executive Council which has ordered many of the leases be revoked. As yet that executive order has not been implemented.

Download the full report: Investigation of Police Brutality – West Pomio  [1.5 MB]

RH has become the government of PNG

July 7, 2014 1 comment

Professor Andrew Lattas*

I have just arrived back from Pomio, where the clear felling of the bush and subsequent oil palm planting are in full swing despite the fact that the vast majority of villagers oppose both. ..

Caption

The area clear felled is huge and stretches from Mauna, Lau, Bairaman Mu to Puapal where proposed oil palm plantings cross the Unung River and continue to Malakur. This huge area of land is being given away to Malaysian companies, indeed is being stolen from villagers with the active participation of the state and government officials

Villagers are powerless to stop these activities, which continue even though SABLs have recently supposedly been revoked. This looks likely to have the same status as the police Commissioner’s public order (Dec 2011) that police be pulled out of logging camp sites. The police never were removed. Indeed, it is only their continued presence, violence and intimidation that prevents villagers from setting up road blocks to protect their land, gardens and environment.

What is clear to me is that for most local villagers in Pomio the state has shifted away from them and is largely in the pockets of large Malaysian logging companies.

These companies control important governments departments and officials in crucial departments such as Lands, Forestry and the police force. The same applies to other officials in the District administration, Local Level Government, Provincial Administration and national government departments. Nearly all sectors of the state have been co-opted into coercive pro-development policies that seek to privatise land and resources without villagers consent.

Local workers  accommodation is matchbox size single rooms for families that are separated only by thin ply wood walls

Local workers accommodation is matchbox size single rooms for families that are separated only by thin ply wood walls

These logging companies were supported and gave support to the local national member for Pomio who is now in jail for corruption charges. The large funds of money these foreign companies provide at election time has transformed voting into a patron client relationship that props up local, provincial and national government politicians who support the Lease-Lease back schemes (SABLs).

Police and company directors often tell complaining villagers that the land is no longer theirs but belongs to the state which has leased it from them so as to lease it again to the Malaysian companies. The state has become the crucial intermediary in the forced process through which villagers lose control of their resources and especially their land. Much of this depends upon the production of dubious reports by the Lands Department, which collects and produces lists of signatures that are highly selective in that they are not the signatures of major clan leaders and of those who represent the majority of villagers.

The accommodation of Chinese management is at the top of the hill and luxurious by comparison

The accommodation of Chinese management is at the top of the hill and luxurious by comparison

Through the SABLs and the Private, Public Partnerships, the Somare government created two interlocking policies that have institutionalised corruption in PNG to a point where villagers find it almost impossible to achieve forms of justice concerning the fraudulent nature of state processes that have effectively dispossessed them of huge areas of land.

Officials in departments like forestry write reports that are not just wrong but are intentionally designed to conceal and legitimise the forced appropriation of land. For example, one “explanatory” letter by the local forestry official in Pomio concerns the late night visit of the armed riot squad to the village of Mu in 2012 where villagers were forced by police to sign English documents that they could not read. This was said to be not at all violent intimidation, but was simply the police correcting an administrative oversight. The riot squad had just gone to collect the names of villagers who had attended a recent meeting over logging, where record keeping had been poorly implemented. None of this explains the swearing and violent demeanour of the armed police and that the signatures were collected forcibly and from many who never went to the meeting. The state is not just incompetent but has become the crucial instrument for foreign large scale capital, it is state officials who seek to manage and placate opposition to the loss of vast areas of customary local land. They produce the dodgy reports that seek to sanitise and obscure what is actually happening on the ground.

Worker spraying herbicide in shorts and thongs, no boots, gloves, mask or overalls is provided. The wind blows the chemical spray onto the worker's body and clothing, endangering also his children and family when he returns to the village

Worker spraying herbicide in shorts and thongs, no boots, gloves, mask or overalls is provided. The wind blows the chemical spray onto the worker’s body and clothing, endangering also his children and family when he returns to the village

Recently RH [Rimbunan Hijau} has shifted tactics and there has been a movement away from using the violence of the riot squad to intimidate opponents. Instead there is a greater use of courts and restraining orders to prevent the organisation of protests. The cost of legal action has become another form of intimidation that is meant to penalise protesters and their leaders. The judiciary has now become co-opted into this realising a coercive development agenda that has little respect for people’s customary property rights.

__________

* Professor Andrew Lattas
Dept of Social Anthropology
University of Bergen Fosswinckelsgt. 6
5007 Bergen,
Norway
ph: + 47 55589261
e-mail: andrew.lattas@sosantr.uib.no<mailto:andrew.lattas@sosantr.uib.no>
http://www.uib.no/persons/Andrew.Lattas#publikasjoner
 
My new book Dreams, Madness, and Fairy Tales in New Britain is being published by Carolina Academic Press http://www.cap-press.com/isbn/9781594607271
http://www.amazon.com/Madness-Britain-Carolina-Academic-Monograph/dp/1594607273/ref=sr_1_2?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1288341022&sr=1-2
 <http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/images/0299158047/ref=dp_image_0?ie=UTF8&n=283155&s=books>[Dreams, Madness, and Fairy Tales in New Britain book jacket]
 http://www.amazon.com/Cultures-Secrecy-Reinventing-Directions-Writing/dp/0299158047
 
Recent writings:
Lattas, Andrew and Knut Rio. 2011. Securing modernity. Towards an ethnography of power in contemporary Melanesia. Oceania, 81 (1) 
Logging, landowner companies, military policing and the great resource rip off in PNG
Lattas, A. 2011. Logging, violence and pleasure. Neoliberalism, civil society and corporate governance in West New Britain. Oceania 81(1): 88-107.
http://asopa.typepad.com/asopa_people/2012/04/pomio-logging-lawlessness-a-crisis-in-legitimacy.html
http://www.actnowpng.org/content/australian-academic-accused-playing-race-card-defend-malaysian-loggers
http://asopa.typepad.com/asopa_people/2012/04/landowner-companies-a-money-siphoning-scam.html
Australian anthropology and the NT Intervention Lattas, A. 2012. Consultancy, Neo-Liberal Conservatism and the Politics of Anti-Politics, Oceania, 82 (1): 113-118 Lattas, A. and B. Morris. “Embedded Anthropology and the Intervention: cultural determinism and neo-liberal forms of racial governance,” Arena, Sept 2010. http://www.arena.org.au/2010/09/embedded-anthropology-and-the-intervention/

Police attack landowners for protesting against SABL land grab

October 8, 2011 1 comment

Reports are emerging that young men in Rovang village, Pomio, East New Britain, have been beaten by police with fan belts and tree branches for opposing logging under a Special Purpose Business and Agriculture Lease that covers Pomata and Ralopal.

Police are said to have been moving systematically village by village threatening land owners who oppose the project.

On October 6, police raided Tontongpal a day after the Commission of Inquiry in SABLs raised issues regarding the Pomata and Ralopal SABL and agreed to include trips to the area in the CoI. The landowner company representatives who were present at the hearing were not happy about the issues raised by the CoI.

Reports are that the police and landowner company representatives planned to travel on to Mu and Kaiton villages looking for the two plantiffs in a legal case against the company.

Provincial Police apparently know nothing of the raids and will look into where these police have come from.

It is also alleged Tropic Air aircraft, operated by notorious Malaysian logging company Rimbunan Hijau, flew the police into Palmalmal yesterday from Kokopo. Yet Kokopo police are not aware of this.

Rimbunan Hijau has been operating logging projects in East New Britain for over 15 years.