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Dame Carol Kidu and the Paga Hill documentary

April 4, 2016 4 comments

Last week numerous articles appeared in the Australian and PNG press on Carol Kidu’s legal action against filmmaker, Hollie Fifer.

We are informed Kidu is furious at Fifer for a feature length documentary – The Opposition – which she made on the brutal series of demolitions at Paga Hill and the illegal land transactions underpinning this human rights abuse.

Kidu has also made serious accusations against the central protagonist in this film, Port Moresby human rights advocate Joe Moses.

Working with local communities, the national museum and other stakeholders, for the past five years Moses has tried to save Port Moresby’s historic Paga Hill from the developer’s knife through the Paga Heritage Foundation.

For his efforts Moses has suffered police harassment, character assassinations and anonymous death threats.

It is unclear who is behind this campaign of intimidation. However, the movement led by Moses has annoyed a number of powerful figures in Port Moresby’s expatriate elite, and their political allies in government.

At the heart of this struggle is Icelandic-Australian businessman Gudmundur Fridriksson. Based out of his sizable home in Cairns, Fridriksson has been at the centre of numerous corruption scandals uncovered by the Auditor General, Public Accounts Committee and the Commission of Inquiry into the Department of Finance.

gummi mansion

Fridriksson’ Queensland mansion.

Fridriksson is also the CEO of the Paga Hill Development Company (PHDC), which has been working with Chinese investors to erect a luxury development at Paga Hill. Despite the efforts of Joe Moses and other conservationists, residents’ homes, a school, a church, and historic relics were destroyed in a series of demolition exercises between 2012-2014. PHDC has only acknowledged involvement in the first demolition.

Gudmundur Fridriksson, PHDC’s Chinese investors and NCDC Governor Powes Parkop

Gudmundur Fridriksson, PHDC’s Chinese investors and NCDC Governor Powes Parkop

When this issue originally erupted on the national stage four years ago it was Carol Kidu who became the figurehead of the struggle to save Paga Hill from PHDC. She was appalled that an area once reserved as a national park would be entrusted to someone slammed in numerous corruption inquiries. Kidu rallied behind Joe Moses and became the political face of the campaign to save Paga Hill.

This is what she wrote in the Post-Courier during 2012:

‘the media have continually portrayed me as an emotional woman, protecting settlers, and anti-development. Yes I am emotional about the blatant corruption, greed and land theft in “modern” PNG and I am emotional when I personally witness gross abuse of human rights’.

She continued:

‘there was no tender process for the land and the company owes the State of Papua New Guinea millions of kina in unpaid land tax. They have paid nothing for this land and their so called relocation scheme [of existing residents] was laughable’.

A more detailed criticism of the company was provided in a press statement released by Kidu, where she details the flagrant violations of the Land Act 1996 committed by PHDC, all of which was tabled to parliament in 2012.

Police Pointing Guns

Dame Carol Kidu is escorted from Paga Hill by police in May 2012

Yet no apparent attempt was made by the O’Neill government to investigate. To the contrary, the government has give the developer tax breaks and offered its full support for the luxury real estate development.

Behind Gudmundur Fridriksson and PHDC stand some powerful business figures. One PHDC shareholder, is Michael Nali. A former Deputy Prime Minister, Nali was the first to sponsor the Paga Hill Estate as one of “national significance” when Tourism Minister. He then acquired a stake in the company, when he lost office.

Nali remains a major Southern Highlands powerbroker, who is a close business partner of Prime Minister Peter O’Neill.

Another important player is PHDC’s lawyer, Stanley Liria, who now holds a majority stake in PHDC which he evidently acquired from Fridriksson. Liria is known to have ties with the Prime Minister, and the Southern Highlands Governor, William Powi.

There is no evidence on the public record Prime Minister O’Neill or other politicians connected with PHDC have broken the law. But clearly the company’s local collaborators enjoy access to some the most influential political networks in the country.

Despite the controversy over the project in 2012, PHDC survived the initial public outcry. Then in 2013 there was another major twist.

Much to the surprise of those trying to save Paga Hill, Kidu announced she was now working under contract with PHDC, after she was personally approached by Gudmundur Fridriksson, and offered a consultancy deal.

The contract with PHDC is facilitated through a company fully owned by Kidu, C K Consultancy Limited.

Entity_Extract-CK_CONSULTANCY_LIMITED-1-850281

Entity_Extract-CK_CONSULTANCY_LIMITED-1-850282

This is not the first time Kidu has angered friends and colleagues fighting against companies involved in serious human rights abuses.

Take the example of Australian miner, Bougainville Copper Limited, who had been implicated in atrocities committed on Bougainville by government security forces.

In a bid to clean its public image, BCL appointed Kidu non-executive Director. For this role Kidu was paid K150,000 in 2014, and K135,000 in 2015.

Kidu Director BCL

Kidu has also worked for Canadian miner, Barrick Gold, after it was discovered the company’s security forces at its Porgera mine were involved in rapes and gang rapes against local women. In a bid to avoid a costly legal case and potentially sizable court awarded damages, Barrick Gold successfully reached out of court agreements with victims.

Most of the victims were evidently given less than USD 6,000 in compensation, and offered counselling services.

The Barrick package was heavily criticised in a 129-page report released by legal experts at the Columbia and Harvard law school, who referred to it as ‘deeply flawed’. One of the lead authors of the report claims:

‘These are some of the most vicious assaults I have ever investigated. The women and local communities had to struggle for years just to get the company to admit what happened. They had been suffering for far too long, and deserved much more’.

Much to the surprise of many in the human rights community, it was Carol Kidu who rallied behind Barrick Gold, and agreed to oversee their ‘deeply flawed’ remediation process. She even defended the company when complaints were lodged with the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.

Porgera Letter Kidu

There is nothing illegal about working for, or providing services to, foreign companies implicated in rapes, killings and home demolitions, that clearly comes down to an individual’s moral code. However, clearly there are ethical dilemmas involved, especially for those who proclaim to uphold the highest social standards.

Peter O’Neill recently claimed that many retired politicians leave parliament destitute, which might help explain Kidu’s consultancy contracts with companies implicated in serious human rights abuses.

However, according to Queensland property records Dame Kidu purchased a home at the Machans Beach on 19 April 2011, for approximately K822,368. The property is a few streets away from a second home registered in the name od Dame Kidu’s daughter, which was purchased for approximately K690,000 on 10 June 2009.

Machans Beach is a popular holiday spot for those seeking tranquillity and unspoilt ocean

Machans Beach is a popular holiday spot for those seeking tranquillity and unspoilt ocean 

If these property records are accurate, it would appear that these decisions cannot have been motivated by matters of economic survival.

We live in a free country. Kidu is welcome to do what she wants, make money how ever she wants, and work with whoever she wants, no matter what those foreign companies have done.

But why is she attacking and endangering the life of human rights defenders, she once supported?

Although no doubt unintentional, since Kidu went to the press, those close to him report report Joe Moses’ life has been put in danger by angry supporters of the Dame. He is now scared to walk the streets.

In addition to this a filmmaker who has captured one of Papua New Guinea’s most inspiring stories, is facing litigation in the NSW Supreme Court.

It has not been a good week for Papua New Guinea’s human rights community.

What hope do human rights defenders like Joe Moses have when they are under assault from PNG’s most powerful and influential political figures?

Can a little person ever truly stand up to a revered politician and the expatriate business elite? And if they do what will it cost them?

Ask Joe Moses, he is paying the price.

Governments Crushing Their Own

May 6, 2014 Leave a comment

 the police are being used to put down indigenous opposition to the alliance of state and corporate power over resource extraction

Catherine Wilson | Inter Press Service 

In PNG, mineral and gas extraction dominated by multinationals has long been protected by mobile police squads

In PNG, mineral and gas extraction dominated by multinationals has long been protected by mobile police squads

The global spectre of state violence against political dissent, with paramilitary law enforcement units advancing against citizens they are employed to protect in cities such as Cairo, Bangkok and Kiev is daily news. But in some developing countries, the police are being used to put down indigenous opposition to the alliance of state and corporate power over resource extraction.

Indigenous peoples around the world confront dispossession for the extractive industry. When formal avenues to resolve grievances with authorities fail, activism is often met with disproportionate force, unlawful detention and the criminalisation of protest leaders. And perpetrators of state violence invariably enjoy impunity.

Protest is frequently the last resort of those with the least socio-political influence.

Mandeep Tiwana of the CIVICUS World Alliance for Citizen Participation based in Johannesburg, tells IPS that the ultimate casualty is peoples’ faith in representative government.

“Failure by the state to hold security forces and other powerful state and non-state entities to account for infringement of democratic freedoms and the right to express legitimate dissent undermines democracy severely,” he says.

The police shooting of 34 striking miners at the Britain-headquartered Lonmin’s platinum mine in Marikana in South Africa in 2012 is seen by many as a watershed moment in contemporary state and corporate brutality.

The same year government forces in Panama deployed rubber bullets and tear gas against Ngabe-Bugle people demonstrating against copper mining on their land, resulting in three deaths.

The police confronted communities rallying in May 2012 against environmental damage and lack of benefits from the Tintaya copper mine in Espinar Province, Peru, owned by Swiss company Xstrata, with two fatalities. Workers Day on May 1 is a reminder of the oppression indigenous people and workers still face around the world.

In the Pacific region, mineral and gas extraction dominated by multinationals has long been protected by mobile police squads. Such action has come often in Papua New Guinea (PNG), where 28 percent of people live below the poverty line.

In recent years, police have been responsible for violent community evictions near the Porgera gold mine in Enga Province, majority owned by Canadian company Barrick Gold, and the fatal killing of a worker who expressed opposition to the PNG LNG (Liquified Natural Gas) project in the highlands.

South Africa, says David van Wyk of the Bench Marks Foundation, “has seen increasing strikes and service delivery protests, many in mine impacted communities.” When authorities fail to address grievances, the issues are left to the police, “which has led to increased police brutality,” he tells IPS.

State violence reflects the critical role of natural resources in national, geopolitical and military power. Many nations including PNG, Guatemala and Nigeria claim state right to subsoil minerals, which can undermine customary land and indigenous peoples’ rights.

But in suppressing local opposition, developing nations also act in the neo-liberal interests of multinationals and foreign stakeholders. At Marikana, state violence in the name of security allowed Lonmin to remain removed from direct responsibility for human rights abuses.

In Nigeria 50 years of oil exploitation in the Niger Delta by companies, including Shell and Chevron Texaco, in alliance with the state has enriched foreign and local elites. Government oil revenues are in excess of 350 billion dollars – while 69 percent of the local Ogoni and Ijaw people live in poverty.

Massive resource rents to the Nigerian state have ensured resourcing of the Joint Military Task Force committed to guarding oil installations and quashing communities angered at marginalisation.

In PNG, mobile police squads have received funding for decades from the Australian government, which has stakes in extractive projects such as the Exxon Mobil joint venture, PNG LNG.

Dr Kristian Lasslett of the International State Crime Initiative, based at King’s College London, says unified local opposition poses a threat to the state-corporate alliance in PNG.

“It would dry up the opportunity structure exploited by a swathe of foreign investors who ignore national laws and local custom, and come as a shock to national businessmen who have proven effective in illegal land grabs and corrupt resource transactions.”

Barrick Gold and Esso Highlands have agreements to provide support to police units in the form of vehicles, accommodation, food and fuel. Clauses indicating that support is conditional on state agencies complying with international standards of conduct are rarely enforced.

Companies “adopt a ‘hear no evil and see no evil’ policy when it comes to state violence,” says Lasslett.

The post-9/11 era has also seen increased use of anti-terrorism measures to deal with grievances. The Guatemalan government used the threat of terrorism to declare a ‘state of siege’ in May last year following demonstrations against the Escobal silver mine in the nation’s southeast. This paved the way for suspending civil liberties and introducing martial law.

Justice for the marginalised is a massive challenge in an era of rising illegitimate power, as described in this year’s State of Power report from the Transnational Institute (TNI). It claims that pervasive corporate influence over governments is a factor in the demise of accountability to the governed, even in democratic nations.

“Corporations, through trade and investment agreements, lobbying and corporate capture of political institutions have also weaved a web of impunity that protects their profits and accountability for human rights and environmental abuses,” TNI researcher Lyda Fernanda tells IPS.

Many states, where oppression occurs, fail to observe international codes of police conduct or their duty to protect citizens’ human rights. Tiwana says international law needs to be supported by national legislation, aided by autonomous human rights and police accountability commissions.

“The law favours those with large reserves of money and those who have the capacity and connections to buttress their claims with forms of evidence that courts accept,” says Lasslett. “This is not to say communities can’t win in the courts, but it is not a terrain on which they hold the advantage.”

He believes that when impunity is supported by corruption and inadequate police complaints procedures, powerful social movements may be the most effective way to defend rights.

“The greatest weapon they [indigenous peoples] have is their own history, culture and customary bonds.”