O'Neill: public auction of state land will stop Lands Dept rot

30/10/2012 06:05

Papua New Guinea Prime Minister Peter O'Neill.




The public auction of state land will stop crooked deals being made in Papua New Guinea’s corruption-plagued Lands Department, says Prime Minister Peter O’Neill.
Revealing that he had written to his Lands Minister Benny Allan to express concern about the level of corruption in the government department, the PM said the Lands Department continues to come under public scrutiny over its issuing of land titles and leases.
“As you are aware, the public is concerned with the level of corruption in land deals and the issuance of land titles and leases. When this government came into office, we pledged to eradicate corruption through undertaking institutional and legislative reforms,” Mr O’Neill wrote in his letter.
A review of the Lands Act 1996 in a bid to ‘streamline’ the process of issuing of land titles and titles is now underway with the PM recommending that public auctioning of all state land be considered.
“This will eliminate possibilities of corrupt practices as the auction process will be open and transparent. At the same time, the state is paid for the value of the land rather than it being given freely to the person(s) as is now the case.”
According to Mr O’Neill the public auction can come under two categories: freehold leases for Papua New Guineans and lease titles for foreigners.
“In this way, ownership still remains with the Independent State of Papua New Guinea. I cannot emphasize enough the importance of the Lands Act review. It has to be done as soon as possible as I strongly feel that the public auction process is the only way to eradicate corrupt practices associated with land deals in the country,” he added.
The review and its recommendations is expected to go before Mr O’Neill’s cabinet for approval next year.
The awarding of titles for state land to individuals and commercial entities, often under controversial circumstances, is a problem that has plagued successive PNG governments.
However state land only comprises 3 per cent of total landownership in PNG with the other 97 per cent remaining in customary ownership. And it is the latter that has attracted more local and international scrutiny in recent years when the then Somare government embarked on a SABL (special agriculture and business leases) program, which reportedly saw corporations take over 5 million hectares (approx. 11 per cent of PNG’s total land area) of customary land.
An O’Neill government-instituted commission of inquiry into the SABL ended in May this year. Its findings are yet to be tabled in the PNG parliament.