Greenpeace ship returns to PNG capital amidst controversy
A child from Pomio village poses during a protest in Pomio. Local Pomio landowners are protesting against
the biggest land grab in PNG history. Under a lease system called SABLs (special agricultural and business
leases) forests are being destroyed and customary land is being stolen. Picture courtesy of Greenpeace.
Greenpeace ship MV Esperanza will get into the Papua New Guinea (PNG) capital Port Moresby on Saturday amidst controversy with local authorities charging it breached customs laws.
The vessel is returning from New Britain Island where it led a campaign to bring global attention to PNG’s controversial special agriculture and business leases (SABL).
The lease for the Sigite Mukus Integrated Rural Development Project in New Britain’s Pomio area is owned by the Malaysian logging giant Rimbunan Hijau (RH) and was issued under the SABL. But the oil palm project has been immersed in controversy with villagers oppossed to it leading protests against the developer.
Greenpeace said it was invited to Pomio by landowners to join the protests and alleged that the Pomio SABL was fraudulently obtained, which the logging company has denied.
Local newspaper The National, a subsidiary of RH, reported in its October 28, 2011 edition that the MV Esperanza breached customs regulations when it sailed directly to Pomio instead of Port Moresby. The newspaper also ran a story on the inside pages of the same edition with the headline “Greenpeace warned to stay out of Pomio” and attributed it to “a majority of Pomio villagers” whom it claimed supported its project.
The standoff in Pomio between villagers who support and oppose the project as well as reports of brutality allegedly perpetrated by policemen who were flown to the project site by the company has become a hot topic in PNG social media networks.
In one post in a Facebook group which attracted 67 comments some called on Papua New Guineans to boycott RH businesses and products, while others condemned the close relationship between PNG politicians and the logging industry. There was also acknowledgement that the lack of basic infrastructure and services in rural areas made communities vulnerable to fly-by-night investors.
The Somare government established the SABL to increase economic activity in rural areas and enable local communities to benefit from spin-off business activities. However according to Greenpeace, the PNG Department of Lands and Physical Planning has approved 74 SABLs since 2003 covering 5.2 million hectares of forested customary land. This translates to 11 per cent of PNG’s total land area or about 18 per cent of its remaining forest.
Concerns by international scientists and the United Nations about the effects of SABLs on rural communities compelled then acting Prime Minister Sam Abal to set up a commission of inquiry. The inquiry continues.
Early this month acting police commissioner Tom Kulunga announced the establishment of a formal investigation into allegations of brutality by policemen who were flown into Pomio by the logging company. The top cop assured the public that disciplinary action will be taken against police officers who acted outside their powers.
Sep Galeva, a PNG landowner who was instrumental in exposing the illegalities of another Malaysian logging company Concord Pacific, warned that loggers left behind destruction and marginalised communities after they harvested all the logs and made their exit.