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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

Court orders extension to ban on Rimbunan Hijau logging in Pomio

December 9, 2014 1 comment

The National Court sitting in Kimbe has ordered an extension to the ban on any forest related activities by logging giant Rimbunan Hijau in its contested SABL lease areas in the Pomio District of East New Britain.

The extension was ordered at a hearing on Monday. The original orders were granted on November 16 – as reported below. The matter will return to court later this month.

Court orders halt to RH logging operations in controversial Pomio SABL areas

Photo shows landowners trying to block logging company access into their Conservation area, Pomio, West New Britain. Armed police forced the removal of the road block.

Landowners trying to block RH access into their Conservation area. Armed police forced the removal of the road block.

via ACT NOW!

The National Court has issued a restraining order stopping any forest logging operations by Rimbunan Hijau in two controversial Special Agriculture and Business Lease areas in the Pomio district of East New Britain.

The orders have been obtained by landowners from Portions 196C and 197C who claim the SABLs were obtained by fraud and forgery and without their consent and without following the proper processes under the Lands Act.

The Pomio SABLs are part of a wider land grab in PNG which has seen more than 5 million hectares of land taken from customary owners under 99 year leases. A Commission of Inquiry has condemned the leases as being fraudulent and unlawful but the government has not acted to stop logging companies operating in lease areas.

Rimbunan Hijau has already cleared at least 7,000 hectares of forest in the Pomio area alone and exported more than 500,000 cubic metres of timber with a declared value of over $50 million.

In October, the National Forest Board renewed the logging permit for the Pomio SABLs despite widespread opposition from local landowners. In September, the elected ward councillors and other community representatives from the villages of Bairaman, Mauna and Lau, wrote to the National Forest Board requesting the forest clearance permit issued in 2010 not be renewed.

When the Forest Board refused to listen to the landowners plea and elected instead to renew the logging permit the landowners turned to the courts for assistance.

The court orders stop the National Forest Authority doing anything to give effect to the new logging permit and stops RH from conducting any logging or associated activities in Portions 196C or 197C or doing anything else in reliance on the new permit.

The restraining orders were issued by Justice Batari in a court hearing in Kimbe on Friday, 14 November. The matter will return to court in December for further legal arguments.

Pomio deaths further evidence SABL is a disaster for local communities

December 4, 2014 1 comment

logging

On Friday 28 November a local Pomio man, Leo Kaukau and a child, Roland Akin, died after eating crabs cooked in water contaminated through the SABL logging and oil palm operations of Rimbunan Hijau. Four others were hospitalized.

Rimbunan Hijau is clearing forests and exporting logs from three Special Agriculture and Business lease areas in the Pomio District of East New Britain. The operations are opposed by local people who say they have not given their consent and the leases were obtained by fraud. Serious human rights abuses by mobile police squads employed by RH to intimidate local people have been documented in an independent multi-agency report.

Roland Akin had left school and run away to the log camp where he was staying with Leo and his family but ended up losing his life.

Local people say Rimbunan Hijau has totally failed in controlling the management of the waste from their logging and oil palm operations and have failed to manage the safety of local people.

Locals report that empty chemical containers can be seen everywhere around the log camp where anyone even children can collect them to use for themselves. Nearly all the households within the SABL area are using the empty containers but nobody from Rimbunan Hijau seems to care about their safety.

Local leaders say they are gravely concerned and that the SABL lease and logging operations are turning into a permanent disaster.

As well as the chemical containers, there is spilling of fertilizers and other chemicals and pesticides everywhere around the log camp. When these spills are reported to the company or local officials there is always a cover up and no action is taken.

RH worker spraying herbicides with no safety clothing. Photo: Andrew Lattas

Rimbunan Hijau worker spraying herbicides with no safety clothing (Photo: Andrew Lattas)

Rimbunan Hijau ignoring court order to stop logging operations

November 24, 2014 3 comments
A logging ship collects logs from the RH operation in Pomio

A logging ship collects logs from the RH operation in Pomio

Controversial Malaysian logging company, Rimbunan Hijau, has failed to abide by a court order to stop all logging operations in two lease areas in the Pomio district of East New Britain.

The court order (see below) was issued on November 14 after an application by landowners from Portions 196C and 197C. The landowners say the Special Agriculture and Business Leases being used by RH subsidiary, Gilford Limited, were obtained by fraud and forgery and without following the proper processes under the Lands Act.

According to reports from the landowners, RH/Gilford has not stopped logging and other forest harvesting operations. This is in direct contravention of  the court order which prevents any logging or associated activities in Portions 196C or 197C or anything else in reliance on the logging permit.

Rimbunan Hijau has already cleared at least 7,000 hectares of forest in the Pomio area and exported more than 500,000 cubic metres of timber with a declared value of over $50 million.

In October, the National Forest Board renewed the logging permit for the Pomio SABLs despite widespread opposition from local landowners.

The restraining orders against RH were issued by Justice Batari in a court hearing in Kimbe. The matter will return to court in December for further legal arguments.

Court Order OS 697 1

Court Order OS 697 of 2014 2

Court orders halt to RH logging operations in controversial Pomio SABL areas

November 19, 2014 1 comment

logging

via ACT NOW!

The National Court has issued a restraining order stopping any forest logging operations by Rimbunan Hijau in two controversial Special Agriculture and Business Lease areas in the Pomio district of East New Britain.

The orders have been obtained by landowners from Portions 196C and 197C who claim the SABLs were obtained by fraud and forgery and without their consent and without following the proper processes under the Lands Act.

The Pomio SABLs are part of a wider land grab in PNG which has seen more than 5 million hectares of land taken from customary owners under 99 year leases. A Commission of Inquiry has condemned the leases as being fraudulent and unlawful but the government has not acted to stop logging companies operating in lease areas.

Rimbunan Hijau has already cleared at least 7,000 hectares of forest in the Pomio area alone and exported more than 500,000 cubic metres of timber with a declared value of over $50 million.

In October, the National Forest Board renewed the logging permit for the Pomio SABLs despite widespread opposition from local landowners. In September, the elected ward councillors and other community representatives from the villages of Bairaman, Mauna and Lau, wrote to the National Forest Board requesting the forest clearance permit issued in 2010 not be renewed.

When the Forest Board refused to listen to the landowners plea and elected instead to renew the logging permit the landowners turned to the courts for assistance.

The court orders stop the National Forest Authority doing anything to give effect to the new logging permit and stops RH from conducting any logging or associated activities in Portions 196C or 197C or doing anything else in reliance on the new permit.

The restraining orders were issued by Justice Batari in a court hearing in Kimbe on Friday, 14 November. The matter will return to court in December for further legal arguments.

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]

Logging in Pomio: Violence, Wages, Land and the Environment

September 22, 2014 4 comments

The arrival of Malaysian logging personnel in the Pomio area has been accompanied by increased disputes over land, poor working conditions, growing insecurity and violence, the destruction of sacred sites, the confiscation of villagers’ private property, environmental damage and an exacerbation of the crisis of legitimacy involving the modern PNG state.

logging and oil palm plantings in Pomio

By Professor Andrew Lattas, University of Bergen

Local villagers complain that government no longer represents their interests. This accusation is made against government at all levels: district, provincial and national. The democratic state is seen as not functioning to incorporate and protect people’s interests, but only those of the developer. Senior government personnel in key departments are accused of having too close a relationship with the Malaysian logging company operating in Pomio. Government officials can be frequently seen socialising and eating at the mess at the logging company’s headquarters at Drina. Some officials are there almost on a daily basis and they are seen sometimes carting away goods in government and company cars. This leads to much speculation by villagers, logging company workers and other government officials. This speculation focuses on the fact that this hospitality is not extended to all government employees but to select officials working in the key departments of forestry and lands; and senior officers at the local district office at Palmalmal, such as the Special Projects Officer and the District Administrator. The latter two officials were appointed under the influence of the previous member for Pomio, Paul Tiensten, who has recently been convicted and jailed for corruption involving tens of millions of kina. Other district workers at Palmalmal told me how they struggled to make ends meet on their low government salaries, but they did not see the select officials favoured by the Malaysian company as having the same money problems. They suspected these officials of receiving what they called a “second wage”, a euphemism for hidden payments rendered for hidden services.

Given that the district administrator, his deputy, the special projects officer, and the officers belonging to forestry and land socialise regularly with Chinese Malaysian management, it is no surprise that villagers see government as compromised. Villagers do not regard state officials as impartial and many believe there is no point in taking to them any complaint over land boundaries, the price of store goods, wages and conditions, safety, environment, or the destruction of private gardens and cash crops. This is why some villagers have resorted to road blocks in defence of their property but this only invokes a response by the riot squad and the private security employed by the logging company.

The Company Store: Low Wages, Credit Purchases and High Prices

I received many complaints from workers over their low wages. Workers complained that they did not receive any itemised pay sheets that might indicate how their pay has been calculated for that fortnight, e.g. how many hours they were booked as working and how much they were paid for each hour. Many workers just receive an envelope with money in it and without any accompanying calculations.

In particular, many workers complain that they never receive any itemised list of what they have supposedly purchased on credit from the logging company’s store and how this corresponds to the amount deducted from their fortnightly wage. Many workers claim that they have not purchased the quantity of goods that has been deducted and others tell of how during some fortnights when they have deliberately sought to avoid making purchases, they still incurred deductions from their pay. Workers have no way of getting redress for they do not receive any itemised record of their purchases that they could dispute or corroborate.

Some workers complain that they are urged by their Malaysian supervisors to purchase goods on credit from the company store when they are trying not to do so, for they need to save and spend their wages elsewhere, e.g. on school fees.

The price of subsistence goods (especially rice, tinned fish, oil, flour and biscuits) at the company store is much higher (about 25%) than the price of goods in local village stores. This is despite the fact that village trade-stores do not have the same easy access to urban wholesale stores in Kokopo, Lae and Port Moresby. This means that workers for the Malaysian logging company find it hard to survive on their low wages and many are forced to steal local garden produce so as to supplement their diet, both in terms of variety and calorie intake. Many Pomio villagers speak of increased thefts of food from their gardens by logging workers, who do not have local kin to provide vegetables.

The price of boat fuel is another source of complaint, whilst it is possible to buy fuel in villages for 18-22 kina, at the Malaysian camp it is sold for 25 kina.

Destruction of Private Cash Crops and Subsistence Gardens

Logging, road construction and the planting of oil palms has destroyed many private gardens and cash crops belonging to villagers who never agreed to have logging in their area and most certainly do not want to give up their land for an oil palm plantation. Until very recently, in coastal areas, the government has been encouraging copra and cocoa as cash crops, but these are now deemed superfluous even though villagers spent many decades clearing bush and then planting and harvesting these trees. The trees have been bulldozed to make way for roads and oil palms without the owners being compensated for their lost trees, land, expenses, income and work.

Ironically, the Malaysian logging company has used traditional concepts of clan ownership to seize and destroy private cash crops and gardens. The company has sought to gazump the rights of individual owners by using the supposed higher power of clan signatures collected by government officials. The fact that these government officers never went to the actual villages to collect these clan signatures and many of the signatures are fraudulent does not stop the riot squad and the lands and forestry officials from supporting this destruction and confiscation of people’s private land, gardens and cash crops using those same problematic signatures.

It is not just the customary rights of people which have been fundamentally compromised, but also their modern property rights. Once cash crops are planted on customary clan land, then the land and the trees becomes the private property of individuals that can be passed on to their children. It does not revert back to becoming customary clan land as is the case with slash and burn gardens. It is these modern property interests which are not being respected by this new form of development that uses forged clan signatures to trump and appropriate private property rights.

Land Registration as Land Theft

This dreadful experience with government attempts to collect clan signatures supporting logging is why there is currently widespread opposition by Pomio villagers to the land registration process. Many regard land registration as a vehicle by which RH and the land department can empower certain select individuals at the expense of others so as to provide developers with access and control over the land and its resources. Lip service is paid to the protection of traditional land rights through a bureaucratic process that in effect transfers clan rights to select individuals who are not clan leaders but are supported by the developer who has too close a connection with forestry and land officials.

A Crisis of State Legitimacy

The riot squad which has been brought in by the Malaysian company does not seek to correct these grievances by putting a stop to the seizure of private land and the destruction of property. Instead, the riot squad police support the Malaysian logging company by using their guns and the threat of arrest to intimidate villagers who set up road-blocks to prevent bulldozers, trucks and chainsaws from entering their land. The district office and the local council also refuse to help protect people’s property. All of this is producing a crisis of legitimacy for the modern state whose officials are seen as compromised and partisan. State officials are not seen as abiding by the logic of a democratic state where state officials should impartially assess and serve the interests of the people. Instead, these officials are accused of just working to protect the profits, private property, rights and reputation of the Malaysian logging company whilst that of Melanesian villagers is confiscated, destroyed and severely curtailed.

Divide and Rule

Many of those who have signed the documents to allow logging in coastal areas do not reside there. Instead they reside further in the interior, in bush villages that have an interest in logging and roads. It is true that these bush villagers do have relatives living along the coast and have customary rights to access coastal lands and their resources, but this is not the same as those bush villagers being the major clan leaders of those more coastal terrains. The interior villages see logging as a practical way of providing roads into the mountainous interior given that the government has been unable to fund and build those roads. Bush villagers are not affected by the oil palm plantations that are being established in the flatter, fertile and gently sloping hills close to the coast. Ironically, many of these interior villagers who support logging do not want oil palm plantations and certainly not in their home terrains. Nevertheless these same bush villages have at times raided and assaulted coastal villagers who seek to stop logging operations. In doing so, these bush villagers have been led by the directors of the local landowner company, which is largely funded by the Malaysian logging Company. Some of these directors live in the interior villagers and like the other landowner company directors they receive money from the Malaysian logging company, which allows them to visit town. There they stay in expensive hotels, eat and drink at restaurants and bars, and hire local prostitutes.

Private Security, Violence and Terror

The logging company also pays for the travel expenses of riot squad police. Indeed the Malaysian company houses, feeds and gives a monetary bonus to these police for their time in the logging camps in Pomio. Supplementing the violence and intimidation provided by the riot squad, the logging company has also recruited a large army of private security staff from villages in the interior who support logging. Ostensibly hired to protect company machinery at night from sabotage, this security staff is used in the daytime to protect the bulldozers, trucks, drivers and chain saw operators as these are pushed into new logging areas that are disputed and that coastal villagers do not want clear-felled and planted with oil palms.

The Mamusi bush villagers who have been hired as security guards have a reputation for traditional warfare and they very much cultivate the respect and fear this renown brings. This reputation was recently confirmed when some bush villagers raided the homes of coastal villagers and physically assaulted those who had opposed logging. These individuals were selected and were warned of further violence and even death unless they stopped their public opposition to logging. One major violent attack by bush Mamusi villagers happened at the logging camp at Drina where the riot police are based.

Corporatising Sorcery

The use of violence to intimidate logging opponents also extends to death threats involving sorcery. Whilst western educated individuals might not believe in sorcery, for Pomio villagers it is real. It is seen as evidenced in the unexplained deaths of friends, children, spouses and other relatives. One major form of sorcery used by bush Mamusi villagers to intimidate coastal villages involves the use of an invisible spear. A real spear will supposedly be dipped into a magical mixture and then it will be held, pointed and thrown in the direction of the intended victim. The real spear never leaves the sorcerer’s hand but an invisible spear travels to strike down the victim. When coastal villagers were physically assaulted by villagers in the interior, they were warned that the real spear had already been dipped in its magical solution and they should await the travel of the invisible spear. On many occasions, logging opponents have been threatened by the directors of the local landowner company and other supporters of logging with the gesture of them throwing an invisible spear at logging opponents. Indeed, logging opponents are openly told to eat their last pig and chicken, for they will soon be dead.

The expansion of logging into new areas has required not just the presence and violence of the riot squad and a private army of security personnel. It has also required a redeployment of the intimidating powers of sorcery; these have been corporatised.

Sexual Harassment, Pornography, and Marriages of Convenience

Women who come to the camps from villages to purchase goods and/or to see relatives are sometimes sexually accosted by Malaysian Chinese employees who will touch the breasts of these visiting women and proposition them by offering money for sex. The women in the logging camps who suffer the most sexual harassment are local women employed to work in less public and visible spaces that require the preparation of food and the cleaning of private rooms.

Sham marriages are often undertaken by Malaysian Chinese management personnel as a cover for permanent sexual relations with local women. These marriages do not involve a church minister and they do not involve a civil registration of the marriage. Instead, the customary notion of marriage through gifts to kin is used to legitimise a temporary union that does not involve any permanent obligation by the Malaysian Chinese to the children of that “marriage”. When these Malaysian Chinese employees leave PNG or are transferred to other logging camps, they do not take responsibility for the upkeep of these children by helping to pay for school fees, clothing, housing or food. Instead, all of these expenses are shifted and borne by local kin.

The sale of pornographic photos and videos especially for use on mobile phones has become another cause of concern at the logging camps. Local village leaders complain that these are being sold to workers and villagers by Chinese Malaysian staff.

Housing and Racial Hierarchy

Interactions in the camp are organised around a racial hierarchy and this is reflected and reinforced by the spatial layout of the camps. The Chinese management live in more luxurious quarters at the top of the hill. This compound is fenced off with high wire; it has painted buildings that are air conditioned and have satellite-TV reception. The housing of the Iban workers from Sarawak is situated closer to the coast and the loading wharves, where there is more noise and more mosquitoes. Their accommodation consists of partitioned rooms in long houses that are unpainted and unfenced. The buildings are made of timber planks and are slightly better in quality than the mostly thin plywood housing of Melanesian workers. The latter’s long houses have uninsulated corrugated iron roofs which make the buildings very hot in the day time. The thin plywood that separates the small rooms and living quarters of individuals and families offers no privacy, especially for married couples. The washing and cooking facilities are basic and inadequate.

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

Destruction of Sacred Sites

The rapid expansion of logging along the coast has destroyed many sacred ancestral sites, which have been bulldozed to make way for roads, logging and oil palms. The public relations officers employed by the logging company and the directors of the landowner company, though they are local villagers, are seen as too close to the logging company to act as impartial mediators. These individuals eat in the company mess and like local government officials they are regarded as compromised by the wages and gifts they received from Chinese Malaysian management. This perception is supported when directors and public relations officers spend all their time seeking to placate angry villagers, and refuse to intervene to help villagers to protect well-known sacred sites by diverting roads, logging and oil palm. These sacred sites in Pomio are regarded as where the world began and also where it will end, so many are worried by the destruction of these sites.

Safety and the Environment

Villagers in the area where the bush has been clear felled are worried by the chemicals used to spray around young oil palm trees to prevent the growth of weeds. When it rains those chemicals flow into the run off that flows into the nearby streams and rivers from which people collect water for drinking and cooking, and where they bathe.

Workers who spray the chemicals do so without any protective clothing. They are not provided with boots, overalls, gloves and a mask. Instead the men work wearing shorts and a shirt, and the women wear a laplap and meri-blouse. Both men and women work either barefoot or wearing just rubber thongs on their feet. The workers speak of how the wind will suddenly change and the chemical spray will then be blown onto their clothing, skin and hair, into their faces, and they will inhale the chemicals. In the morning the wet chemicals sprayed onto the tall grass coats workers’ legs, arms and clothing. When they go home, these workers do not shower or change their clothes. They speak of their fears as their young children come into close contact with their chemically soaked bodies and of wives who prepare and cook food after working with these chemical sprays.

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, 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

In the past, the villagers along the coast who live around Mauna, Lau, Bairaman and Mu have been strong supporters of development. They have their own walk-about saw mills and extensive cash crops, initially copra but now cocoa. Over the last few decades, many have developed their own land use plans with the lands department, but these development plans are now said by the lands department to be irrelevant. The opponents to clear-felling and oil palm are not backward cargo cult villagers as is often claimed by the riot squad and local landowner directors, who like to perpetuate this false caricature in the mass media of regressive, irrational villagers seeking to block progress. This is a very prejudiced portrayal of the Pomio Kivung movement, which operates as a local Melanesian church that established moral order in villages and calls for the proper development of resources rather than their theft. However, today, the strong opponents to clear-felling and oil palm (those who set up the road blocks and are arrested) are increasingly the more prosperous and developed coastal villagers. These more educated villagers oppose the transfers their land to a foreign developer for 99 years and virtually for free (only a token payment). They oppose the transformation of villagers into landless labourers; and they oppose the destruction of their moral communities and the movement of villagers into compounds where drunkenness and violence are common problems. Villagers would much rather work for themselves with their own walk-about saw mills, selective forms of logging, and cash crops rather than become low paid workers living on an inadequate diet, with poor housing and dangerous safety conditions that poison the environment. Villager’s own self-built houses are of much better quality than the skimpy housing, cooking and washing facilities offered by the foreign company. This new development is opposed because it is not improving local people’s living standards but is impoverishing them, stealing away their valuable asset – land and a productive healthy environment.

Papua New Guinea set to decide on RH logging renewal

August 27, 2014 Leave a comment

By ABC PNG correspondent Liam Cochrane 

PHOTO: A man walks past land cleared for oil palm plantations at Bairaman, near Pomio on PNG's East New Britain province.(Global Witness)

PHOTO: A man walks past land cleared for oil palm plantations at Bairaman, near Pomio on PNG’s East New Britain province.(Global Witness)

Papua New Guinea’s National Forest Board will consider a Malaysian company’s bid to continue to logging virgin rainforest in order to plant palm oil.

The clear-felling around Pomio on the island of East New Britain has been hotly contested by some locals, as well as international groups like Greenpeace and Global Witness.

Malaysian company Rimbunan Hijau (RH) says it is bringing jobs, infrastructure and long-term investment to the area.

RH says it has the support of the local people, but some locals object to their land being cleared for plantations.

The land is being used under PNG’s controversial Special Agriculture and Business Leases (SABLs).

Last year a Commission of Inquiry into SABLs recommended almost all leases be revoked, but there was no recommendation for Pomio because one of the three commissioners simply never handed in his report.

Pristine and profitable

Global Witness researcher Rick Jacobsen visited Pomio this month, and said it is one of the most beautiful places he has ever been.

“[The Nakanai] mountain range is covered in virgin rainforest, extensive cave and underground river systems, rivers that are clear and pristine like you will not find anywhere else in the world,” said Mr Jacobsen, campaign leader for international forest policy at Global Witness.

Four years ago, RH subsidiary company Gilford Ltd obtained a licence to clear the forests around Pomio and plant oil palms.

“It is one of the most important agriculture projects in Papua New Guinea. It has received huge support from the local populous in the area,” said Axel Wilhelm, RH’s corporate policy manager.

Mr Wilhelm said cutting down trees is part of RH’s plan for a long-term investment for plantations and a mill to produce the palm oil that goes into so much of the world’s food.

He said 7,000 hectares has been cleared so far and palms have been planted on 6,300 hectares of that land.

“This project is not a logging project. The only forestry component is simply to prepare the area for oil palm planting,” he said.

“If there is any timber of value in it, of course the timber will be commercially utilised. The landowners and the national government of course will receive their levies and their royalties.”

British-based organisation Global Witness estimates 500,000 cubic meters of timber have been cut from around Pomio and sent to China to make plywood, flooring and furniture.

Global Witness estimates the value of that timber to be around $50 million and believes some of these products are being exported to the US and Europe.

Villagers work and play on the beach at Bairaman

PHOTO: Villagers work and play on the beach at Bairaman near Pomio on PNG’s East New Britain province. (Global Witness)

Communities divided

While RH says the project has community support, not all locals want their land turned into palm oil plantations.

Paul Povol is a community leader in the village of Mu and said clear-felling has turned the land around him into “a desert”.

But he said the environmental damage goes beyond logging.

“To make oil palm grow in my area, they like to use a lot of fertiliser,” he said.

“The fertiliser sinks into the soil, ends up in the underwater rivers and gets washed out into the sea… so definitely it’s a permanent disaster.”

Mr Povol said his village is opposed to the development, which he said brings with it social problems.

“Most children don’t turn up to school these days because they go to work in the oil palm, they fill up nursery bags [for palm seedlings],” he said.

“Traditions, customs, culture … we’re beginning to lose all those things.”

Mr Jacobsen said many locals are not benefiting and have spoken out against the clear-felling of their forests.

“That [local opposition] led in 2011 to a police crackdown, that led the police commissioner to announce police would no longer be stationed in logging camps,” he said.

“That hasn’t been followed through on and there are still police stationed in the camps, and the communities cite that as one of the reasons why they don’t feel like they can protect their land.”

The land was originally leased to Gilford Ltd by a landowner company and some community leaders around Pomio have expressed their support for the oil palm project.

Mr Povol alleges that some landowner documents were forged and even bore the signatures of children not yet born at the time of the signing.

Last year, the RH subsidiary Gilford Ltd sought a restraining order against Mr Povol and other community leaders.

Special agriculture and business leases

In 2005, Mr Povol’s community was running a small-scale sustainable logging operation around their village.

Nearby communities had achieved certification from the internationally-recognised Forest Stewardship Council and Mr Povol’s village was working towards the FSC accreditation.

But in 2010, the forests they were selectively logging were included in four 99-year SABLs awarded for clearing and oil palm plantations.

The adjoining SABLs cover an area of 55,000 hectares and a Forestry Clearance Authority gives the company logging access to 42,000 hectares.

The process of granting SABLs in Papua New Guinea has been widely discredited for using agri-business as a cover for logging.

A Commission of Inquiry spent millions of dollars investigating and last year two commissioners tabled reports recommending almost every lease be revoked.

The third commissioner, Alois Jerewai, has never made his report public and it is that report that includes Pomio.

This loophole means the SABLs around Pomio have not been cancelled and it is why this week the National Forest Board will sit down to consider whether to renew the license to log within that leased land.

The nine-member board includes representatives from the government, the forestry industry, women, landowners and environmentalists.

Chairman of the National Forest Board Thomas Paka said trying to make sense of often-conflicting information is “complicated” but both sides will get a fair hearing.

“There’s always this argument that we brought in investment [but] that investment must also be supported by compliance issues and the board will look at those issues very closely,” he said.

“And the communities – why is it that half of you wanted it and half of you didn’t want it? Is there evidence of bribery?”

RH insists all necessary approvals have been obtained and relevant laws followed in Pomio, so is confident the logging license will be renewed.

“We cannot see any reason why the government should cancel, would cancel such an important project, important for the economy of Papua New Guinea,” Mr Wilhem said.

‘Like David against Goliath’

Mr Jacobsen from Global Witness said the board decision is a test of PNG prime minister Peter O’Neill’s pledge in June to cancel any SABLs acquired illegally.

“This decision is really an opportunity for the Govt to follow through on its recent commitments to address the SABL situation,” he said.

Mr Poval is determined to fight on but he is well aware that his little village is taking on a giant.

“It’s like David fighting against Goliath. But somehow David won,” he said.

“In our case it’s very hard because we are very small people – once we see an issue it takes time to get money, travel out and share the information with people who can help us.”

The National Forest Board will meet on August 28 to consider the renewal of the Forestry Clearance Authority for Pomio, which expires on October 7.

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/

Rimbunan Hijau bringing us so low

October 31, 2011 4 comments

By The Critic

What is  most disgusting about the Pomio episode is that Papua New Guineans are  allowing the Tiongs, perched on their high chairs to throw scraps at us and watch with great amusement as we maul each other to shreds.

Police beatings, attempted assassinations, sexual abuse, discrimination, threats of lawsuits – all part of Rimbunan Hijau’s modus operandi – are perpetuated  by Papua New Guineans against their own brothers and sisters.  Even the scribes like Malum Nalu who received  a few extra change are willing to offer their bodies to be crucified for the Tiongs.  How low can we get?

In the Western and Gulf provinces, landowners tell  of how members of the Police Southern Region taskforce (all Papua New Guineans, of course) would put the barrels of M16s near RH opponents and fire off a few shots just so they “got the message”.  In hushed whispers, their neighbors say: “He got what we deserved. He talked too much.”

Any smart landowner who is brave enough to make a statement in the media is isolated and harassed. Even his family is harassed in their own village.  Anyone who stands  up to RH is marked like a lamb for slaughter and those who once stood with him are there no longer.  We turn our backs on our own and under the cloak of impotence we say:  “RH has brought  us “development” so let us  be thankful.”

From out of Pomio,  company  pawns in this chess game  mouth off  Malaysian style propaganda and in the same breath call on the Papua New Guinea Media council to “take action” against ethical breaches by  the Post Courier.  Others stand proudly with placards declaring their undying love for  Rimbunan Hijau as the company uses government instrumentalities to destroy their lives.

How can we allow ourselves to be poked and prodded into an arena where a bunch of Malaysians throw bones on the ground and watch us fight over it?