Commentary: Beautiful legislation' fails to protect PNG's environment, landowners

Author: Lucy EJ Woods, Mongabay, Published on: 16 February 2019

"'Beautiful legislation' fails to protect PNG's environment, landowners", 14 February 2019

Papua New Guinea['s]...natural wonders are ostensibly safeguarded by laws that..."look good on paper," says Evelyn Wohuinangu, principal lawyer at PNG's Centre for Environmental Law and Community Rights (CELCOR), an NGO. The slate of statutes constitutes "beautiful legislation," agrees Peter Dam from FORCERT, an NGO that works with forest communities.

... A lack of enforcement and accountability has rendered this precious paradise vulnerable, its flora and fauna threatened, and its citizens insecure.

...To protect customary land, all land transactions must go through the state....

...In some cases development projects end up either completely excluding, or avoiding, customary landowners....

...While landowners are "smart, they are just not literate,"....[t]his puts them at a major disadvantage when it comes to making Western-style land deals....

...The government and international companies are not the only entities in PNG taking advantage of desperate situations. The consent process can be hijacked by unscrupulous clan members....

...Wohuinangu says land surveys are undertaken on a project-by-project basis, with developers' wishes prioritized....

It's only after the developers have uprooted forests or illegally entered land that many customary landowners protest or raise objections....

Exacerbating the state's lack of capacity to manage land acquisitions is the blight of corruption.

...Wohuinangu cites a common example of corporate exploitation aided by corruption in PNG: the notorious special agricultural and business lease (SABL) program...so-called agriculture developers "come in and they just log the whole area."...

...In response to betrayals, incompetence and corruption, landowners take up arms....

Customary landowners who try to seek justice through courts generally find little satisfaction due to PNG's expensive, lengthy legal proceedings

...Wohuinangu suggests an action that can be taken now: those lucky enough to receive legal education...should..."...go back to our communities...".

Dam says..."people are now speaking out,"....

[Companies mentioned in the commentary are Rio Tinto & ExxonMobil]

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