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Posts Tagged ‘Human rights’

Papua New Guinea land activist vows to battle for his people from Britain

August 9, 2017 2 comments

Leader of the Paga Hill seafront community Joe Moses, pictured in London, July 11, 2017. Thomson Reuters Foundation/Nicky Milne

Ruairi Casey for the Thomson Reuters Foundation

A land activist from Papua New Guinea at loggerheads with the police and developers in his home country has vowed to continue the fight for his community from Britain.

Joe Moses has accused PNG authorities of treating people unfairly in demolishing the Paga Hill seafront settlement in the capital Port Moresby to make way for a luxury hotel and apartments development and a ring road.

The government granted a lease to the Paga Hill Development Company (PHDC), a joint venture between local and international investors, to build on Paga Hill.

A Supreme Court ruling said the reclaimed seafront area was not included in the original lease but Moses said, unknown to the community, this land was leased by the state to developers during legal proceedings.

Moses, who features in a newly released documentary “The Opposition: Paga Hill“, said the settlement, dating back about 70 years, was home to about 2,000 people who had customary rights to the land and should have been allowed to stay.

“The whole community was a vibrant community,” Moses told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in London where he is seeking asylum while his wife and children remain in Port Moresby.

“I just miss home every day, every minute of the day when I’m here.”

POLICE DENY INTIMIDATION

Moses, a former university worker, said his clash with authorities dated back to May 2012 when he led a fight in the courts to stop development.

In October that year, he said a policeman arrived at his home seeking his arrest without charge and shortly afterwards he went into hiding in an army barracks with his family.

He stayed in Port Moresby but his concerns for his safety grew in 2014 when armed police forced out the remaining residents from the Paga Hill settlement and their homes were bulldozed.

“I realized they were still after me,” said Moses. “I was not free to go to public places, public gatherings; all my communications were tapped.”

The police, however, accused Moses of discharging a gun, resisting arrest and causing civil unrest.

In a statement to the Thomson Reuters Foundation, a police spokesman denied allegations of intimidation and accused Moses of seeking fame from an international audience.

“There is no threat whatsoever on Joe Moses. He can come home anytime he wants to. There has been and will be no intimidation,” the spokesman said in an email.

Moses said with the assistance of international NGOs he was able to secure a flight from Papua New Guinea to Panama in November 2016 and then onto Britain.

“The most important thing is I need to get my family out … we need to be safe somewhere while waiting for the situation to change,” he said.

Moses said he hoped he will be able to return to Papua New Guinea someday to continue his fight to get fair compensation for his community, many of whom are still living in tents on a relocation site without suitable water and sewerage facilities.

A PHDC statement said the company was “proud of having achieved the first privately-funded squatter settlement relocation in PNG” with the site handed over in 2014.

“The fact that the relocation site was officially handed over almost three years ago, as well as that many settlers have since on-sold and moved on, PHDC can in no way be reasonably held accountable for the current state of the relocation site, or for those that PHDC relocated,” PHDC’s statement said.

Moses, however, vowed to press on with his campaign.

“I know that I will face consequences, but someone has to do something … If it means life and death I will have to do this – because someone has to do something to help the people,” he said.

Why these PNG elections are taking us towards dictatorship

July 4, 2017 1 comment

Oro Governor Gary Juffa speaking at a campaign gathering … explaining the qualities to look for in national leadership.

Source: Gary Juffa | Pacific Media Centre

I suspect that these Papua New Guinea elections have been so deliberately set to fail, leaving much room for fraud and confusion, that we will be distracted from what is really going on – the establishment of a dictatorship.

Already Prime Minister Peter O’Neill has his own special police unit that flies around Papua New Guinea escorting him in his private airlines, he has a special army unit of 40 exclusively for his callout, he controls the media and Public Service.

And, it seems, the Police and Defence commands — and perhaps the judiciary … the signs and red flags are blinking bright red now…

Yet many people do not see it at all. We are inching closer towards dictatorship and the ensuing bloodshed and violence that must come from the hostility towards it. But like lemmings and sheep, we are led to that reality with little resistance at all. Is this the Papua New Guinea we all believed in once upon a time?

Last Wednesday in Oro province provided a demonstration of how much the PNG government is not for PNG. It was also a demonstration of how democracy should not work.

For instance, the majority — between a third and a half — of Popondetta Urban voting age citizens have not voted because the current common roll does not have their names. Many citizens claim they had made the effort to update their details and were still turned away.

Preliminary roll ‘okay’
Meanwhile, Electoral Commissioner Patilias Gamato has advised that the preliminary roll can be used. This means he indirectly agrees that the EC failed to effectively update the 2017 roll. This instruction was obviously not made known to Electoral Commission officials managing the polling at the Independence Oval on Wednesday.

Many people who had taken time out and had travelled to vote were turned away angry and anxious. This election was certainly costing them. They will have to come back for the last day, but the slowness will probably ensure that a large group will not have been processed by the end of the polling at 4pm.

This will mean that democracy certainly did not prevail in this instance. In fact, many will probably agree that come the end of these elections, democracy was hardly a reality everywhere in Papua New Guinea.

This should hardly be a surprise given that we have actually endured a covert dictatorship and hardly realised it.

Own effort
Meanwhile, not a few of the learned are saying that everyone should have made their own effort to ensure they were registered.

A true statement we all would like to agree with. I was tempted to think this way too. Then I thought of my people in rural PNG. My uncles and aunts who do not read or write and are at once the greatest selfless humans I know and, despite whatever people think, are equal shareholders of this great nation, Papua New Guinea.

They too deserve to vote. They too deserve to be informed. They too have the right to be given the opportunity to decide whether they want to update their details on the common role or not.

May I just say to all my learned friends making such statements as “it’s your fault if you are not on the roll; stop whinging”, that this would be true if the awareness programme had been been carried out sufficiently and it would be true in a society which is totally literate and where means of communication are available to all, a society that, say, had more then just 40 years or so as an independent nation of 1000 tribes with their own language groupings and cultural peculiarities.

Such statements are also spiteful about our people. Many of our people who live in rural PNG do not have access to the benefits of technology and modern services and goods that you may have had and may have now.

Our people, remember them? Well some of these are the people who will adore you and feed you and love you selflessly when or should you ever go home for a visit from time to time.

It would also be a safe statement to make if Papua New Guinea were governed by a government which allowed information access for all. A government that made funding available for provincial governments and relevant information dissemination entities like the National Broadcasting Corporation (NBC).

Government by the people
Of course, that would have to be a government of the people, by the people, for the people …which this government clearly is not, if any of its decisions made in the last five years are anything to go by.

It is clear that the Electoral Commission failed. But the commission is not entirely to be blamed because, the buck stops at the top, and that’s the People’s National Congress (PNC) government of Peter O’Neill.

They have totally failed in the last five years to ensure that everyone was on the roll.

The awareness programme was an abysmal failure. Rural Papua New Guinea especially had virtually no knowledge of this. That’s 85 percent of PNG.

Adequately informed
Were our people adequately informed? They were not.

The Electoral Commission had five years to do this. It failed.

Just as it did with the K200 million national identity (NID) project. Deliberately too, it appears.

This government failed. Peter O’Neill failed

The 2017 Elections are looking very much like a failure.

A planned failure, perhaps … it has to be.

Sipping champagne
From the PNC government’s perspective, maybe they are chuckling and sipping champagne and congratulating each other on a job well done. Chaos provides opportunities for those who plan it to. Who knows?

Meanwhile in stark contrast, preparations for APEC seem to be going on very well. Surprise, surprise. Funding is abundantly available and preparatory meetings, plans, strategies and training and capacity testing efforts are well in progress. Not a few MPs whose companies will be involved in various services needed have already picked up hefty contracts.

So obviously the government can do a great job. If it suits them.

Ask yourself, is APEC more important then the democratic rights of a people to elect their leaders to represent their interests in Parliament?

This just shows how much the PNC government cares for its people. How much? In my measure, it was so weak and poor an effort, so pathetic, it was “zilch”.

Gary Juffa’s commentaries are frequently published by Asia Pacific Report with permission. This commentary is a combination of two of his latest pieces.

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!

O’Neill’s illegal land grab: 1372 days and counting…

March 27, 2017 3 comments

There is still NO ACTION to reverse the huge SABL land grab. NO ACTION to return the land to customary landholders and NO ACTION to stop the illegal logging in SABL areas.

This is despite repeated statements from the Prime Minister that the leases are illegal and will be cancelled.

It is now 1,372 days since the reports of the SABL Commission Inquiry which detail the widespread fraud and mismanagement that has allowed foreign logging companies to gain illegal access to over 50 thousand square kilometres of land.

But for almost four years ago, all we have heard from Prime Minister O’Neill are EMPTY PROMISES that the leases will be canceled and illegal logging stopped.

The latest statement from O’Neill was just two weeks ago. On 14 March, O’Neill said all the SABL licenses are illegal in this country” and will be cancelled.

This echoed repeated statements he has made over the past three years. In September 2013, O’Neill said in 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”

In June 2014, announcing an NEC decision supposedly cancelling the leases, O’Neill said

“We are taking these steps to reclaim our customary land illegally lost to foreigners with the help of corrupt public servants and leaders”

“As a responsible government we want to ensure that all citizens have access to the lands of their ancestors. We will not allow our land to be lost to unscrupulous people out to con our people” 

In 2015 the Chief Secretary stated:

“It is widely known that vast amounts of pristine forest have been logged to enrich a corrupt few people, while landowners have unknowingly lost their most valuable asset – their land”.

On November 4, 2016, O’Neill told Parliament and the Nation:

“I am pleased to say that all the SABL leases to be cancelled, instruction has now gone to the Lands Dept and as of today I can assure you that leases are now being cancelled and where there are projects now existing, we’ve encouraged the landowners to renegotiate many of those leases arrangements that they have made with the developers.

“These leases were given without much thought in the past. As a result, a lot of the landowners stood to lose all their years of generations of ownership over the land that they have had for many years.

“We do not want the rightful landowners lose their rights to land.

“That is why we have instructed the department of Lands and Forestry to cancel all the SABL.”

But, despite all the promises, no action has been taken to cancel the leases, landowners are receiving no support from the government in their battles against the land grabbing and WE ARE STILL WAITING for the logging to be stopped.

For 1,372 days O’Neill has failed to ensure the SABL leases are revoked and has been complicit in the illegal logging of our forests by foreign logging companies.

Prime Minister Peter O’Neill has aided and abetted the theft of logs worth hundreds of million of Kina and the destruction of thousands of hectares of pristine forest.

Peter O'Neill: Theft of forest resources: Guilty