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11% of our customary land-into the hands of foreigners in less than 3 years

August 3 2012 at 7:51 AM
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SABL sucks 

Thursday 02nd August, 2012
Land grab raises concern

IN THE past decade, land grabs in poor developing countries have seen hundreds of millions of hectares of customary land sold or leased in the rush to develop the Earth’s last wild tropical areas for industrial logging and agriculture.

In Papua New Guinea, around 11 per cent of the country’s total landmass and 16 per cent of accessible commercial forests are in the hands of foreign interests through Special Agriculture and Business Lease (SABL). These SABLs equate to 630 million tones of carbon, and foreign owners could receive more than USD23 billion, if sold into national carbon trading schemes such as that of Australia and the European Union.

Analysis also reveals that SABLs contain 12 per cent of the almost 7 billion tonnes of above-ground carbon held in PNG’s forests. If these SABLs were logged and deforested, almost 3 billion tonnes of CO2 would be released – this is almost equal to Australia’s total equivalent CO2 emissions for the rest of this decade.

These intriguing findings are highlighted in a well-researched report into SABLs compiled and launched by Greenpeace Australia Pacific this week. The report analyses and documents background conditions and impacts of PNG’s massive land grab, which has given away 72 SABLs totalling well over 5.1 million hectares of customary land to foreigners for up to 99 years.

When launching it, Greenpeace Australia Pacific forests campaigner Sam Moko said the report was aimed at raising awareness to the new government that there is a Commission of Inquiry (CoI) report on SABL, adding it should be tabled before addressing development issues.
“The new government should not pay a blind eye to the issue of SABLs and the CoI report like previous governments have done with reports like the Barnett's Inquiry Report,” Moko said, adding the report contains information from the CoI transcripts and outlines areas of discrepancies in the processes in issuing of permits and lease agreements.

“Before the CoI report is taken up by the new prime minister to be elected, we ask the new government to pay attention to this report on SABL so the leaders of this country are prepared to make an informed decision to protect people's land and rights over foreign companies’ profits and interests,” Moko said.

The Greenpeace report revealed that most SABL holders are Malaysian-owned subsidiaries, including major player Rimbunan Hijau. In Papua New Guinea (PNG), Greenpeace has calculated that just over 25 million hectares of accessible commercial forest remains and most of it is threatened by logging and agricultural development. As with many tropical forested countries, PNG has poor forest governance with questionable regulatory and compliance regimes.

With a rapacious appetite for whole logs to satisfy China’s insatiable demand for tropical timber, foreign-owned logging companies have their eyes firmly set on PNG. The country’s people - who remain largely dependent on subsistent agriculture and hunting and gathering - are vulnerable to their promises of employment and services.

With 97 per cent of land in PNG under customary ownership, land grabs pose a significant threat to its remaining intact forests, which form part of the third largest tract of tropical forest on Earth.
Special Agricultural and Business Leases (SABLs)
Since 2003, PNG’s land grab has seen 72 Special Agricultural and Business Leases (SABLs) totalling 5.1 million hectares of customary land granted to unrepresentative landowner companies and foreign-owned corporations for up to 99 years.

Of the total 5.1 million hectares of SABLs, 75 per cent or 3.9 million hectares are controlled by foreign-owned corporations under 54 subleases or development agreements. Most of these are logging companies of which Malaysian and Australian interests dominate with control of at least 3 million hectares in 32 SABLs.

PNG log exports grew by almost 20 per cent in 2011 due almost entirely to logging within SABLs. Since 2006, logging companies have exported over 1.5 million cubic metres of whole logs from SABLs, amassing over K290 million (USD 145 million) for the companies involved. Almost all these logs were exported to China.

Many of these foreign corporations paid for the government agency staff to undertake their statutory duties in investigation and approving these SABLs. In one case, they even paid police to intimidate and brutalise landowner opposition to their land being stolen.
Government failings

By actively facilitating the granting of SABLs with legislative amendments that enabled logging companies to gain easy access to customary-held forested land, the previous Somare Government continued a long-standing predatory relationship with customary landholders.
In 2007, the PNG Forest Act 1991 was amended to enable agricultural development companies to harvest logs under Forest Clearing Authorities (FCAs). The amendment did away with the need for public tenders and allowed logging companies to both apply for FCAs and to undertake the logging and agricultural operations. It is no coincidence that, between 2008 and 2011, six times the area of SABLs was granted compared to that granted between 2003 and 2008.

By actively promoting the streamlined regulatory processes of SABLs and failing to provide advice, public notification and proper scrutiny of SABL applications and sublease conditions, government agencies ignored their duty to customary landholders. This failure left many rural communities alienated from their land and with burdensome and unfair sublease conditions, which, in most cases, will never lead to significant economic benefits flowing to communities.

Directors of landowner companies and Incorporated Land Groups were not provided with independent legal advice when signing subleases. In many cases these subleases demand substantial compensation should the sublease be overturned. For the few SABL subleases that do contain clauses for profit sharing, customary landholders are unlikely to see any significant economic benefit as historically very few foreign-owned corporations operating in PNG declare profits.

In August 2011, after international condemnation, the PNG Government instituted a Commission of Inquiry into SABLs. The Commission’s report was completed in May 2012 but will not be made public until it is tabled in Parliament by the newly-elected Prime Minister in the second half of 2012.

The single biggest issue highlighted during the Commission’s hearings was the lack of fair representation of customary landholders in agreeing to SABLs being granted over their land.
Impacts on forests and the climate

Greenpeace analysis reveals that the largest 48 SABLs - 95 per cent of the total SABL area - include almost 14 per cent of the remaining 14.7 million hectares of Intact Forest Landscapes in PNG.

These are the least developed forests in PNG. SABLs also include over 130,000 ha of PNG’s protected areas.

These SABLs also contain 12 per cent of the almost 7 billion tonnes of above-ground carbon stored in PNG’s forests. If these SABLs were logged and then deforested, almost 3 billion tonnes of CO2 would be released – this is equivalent to Australia’s total CO2 emissions for the next six years.

Foreign-owned companies potentially hold the carbon rights to about 630 million tonnes of carbon in SABLs and could be the recipients of more than USD 23 billion , if these rights were sold into international carbon-trading schemes such as those of Australia and the European Union.

Hope in a new government

In July 2012, the country went to elections with hopes for a more transparent government and public service that will protect the interests of the majority of Papua New Guineans, rather than the profits of a few corporations.

The newly elected PNG Government must act quickly after being formed and implement the recommendations of the Commission of Inquiry as well as review and amend the legislation that allowed this land grab – the biggest in PNG history - to occur. To address many of the underlying issues that led to the land grab, the PNG government must also seek international assistance to develop a national land use planning process that includes land use agreements by all relevant stakeholders including customary landholders.

The role of the international community

With signs that a new, more progressive government is set to take the reins in PNG, there is an opportunity for the international community to provide financial and technical assistance to begin a process to develop a National Land Use Plan that has the participation of all relevant stakeholders especially customary landholders, and with the key objectives of protecting customary land rights and maintaining forest resources for future generations.

The international community should also seek assurances from the new PNG Prime Minister that the Commission of Inquiry’s recommendations will be implemented in full.

Read the ‘Up for Grabs’ report:
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 Re: 11% of our customary land-into the hands of foreigners in less than 3 yearsthanx a lotAug 3, 2012, 8:16 AM
 Re: 11% of our customary land-into the hands of foreigners in less than 3 yearssad truths that should shame usAug 11, 2012, 7:50 AM
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