Joint statement putting to light the premeditated consultations of the National Land Summit and call for the new government to leave customary land to her people. 10th June 2019

We, a consensus group of civil societies and peoples groups, have noted the publication of the resolutions of the National Land Summit consultations on the 17th of May 2019 and are very displeased and concerned.

The whole Land Summit process has been an indirect effort of the government to promote ‘land reform’ agenda under its Alotau Accord II, coupled with SABL, and other land reform concepts that promotes further alienation of customary land; and is based on the false premise that it is necessary to ‘mobilize customary land for development’.

This false premise, which is promoted by international financial corporations, foreign companies, governments and multilateral agencies, totally ignores the multiple values of customary land when it is left in community hands on development delivered to them in exchange for access to the land and resources that we have repeatedly seen are never realized. Apparently, false promises lead communities into poverty, displacement of their sovereign natural wealth, social security, and landless.

Main summit outcomes were predetermined to lead to the further privatization and commodification of customary land allowing it to be given away to private and foreign multinational corporations.

In order to attend the Land Summit participants -even rural citizens- had to pay a K100 registration fee. This came as a shock to many of the village people, the very custodians of the land, who were denied entry, unable to give their views. Therefore, it is clear that the people who were able to attend the regional summits do not represent all views. Also most of the time at the summits was taken up by participants airing their complaints, frustration and throwing questions at the Lands Department, which did not get answered. Participants were encouraged to make written submissions and were given time till end of May to submit them. So how is it then possible for Lands Department and National Research Institute to hold a concluding national summit and publish finalized resolutions on the 17th of May?

The Summit outcomes totally ignore the current uses and contribution our rural communities make to the economy. It also completely ignores the serious negative consequences of large-scale resource extraction and land alienation on community resilience and social structures.

Particularly worrying are the intention to ‘reform customary land tenure’ and make customary land ‘bankable’, and to renege on the Government decision to nullify all illegal SABLs and completely do away with the SABL concept.

Also very worrying is that government is using the excuse of needing ‘economies of scale to deliver ‘trunk infrastructure’ to justify the alienation of the largest possible areas of customary land.

The idea to establish an independent agency to administer customary land is welcomed, but with the following recommendations:

  • Independent agency to administer customary land; shall start with community awareness that will lead to customary landowners making informed decision and ensuring free, prior, informed consent.
  • The review of system and processes for land dispute settlement. These reforms should precede any further discussion on customary land.

Review of the ILG and VCLR legislation; these laws should be repealed, not amended, as previous reforms have failed and the concepts are fundamentally misunderstood and misused. In particular, benefit sharing should be decoupled from landowner identification as these are fundamentally different concepts and create a lot of confusion and unnecessary costs and delays.

In PNG, land is governed through communal stewardship. Every rural-based Papua New Guinean is born with governance/custodian rights and user rights over customary land. This land provides rural communities’ food and other basic needs, but that same land also produces cacao, coffee, copra, vanilla, betelnut, sawn timber, and fruits, vegetables & staple food for our town and city markets. More than 50% of the value of our agricultural export comes from smallholders, mainly family businesses, working on their own customary land.

The main premise of the National Land Summit is ‘freeing up customary land for development’. Special Agricultural Business Leases (SABLs) are prime example of customary land ‘freed up for development’. What development have they brought to the customary landowning communities there? People are short of land to garden, have no more forest to supply their basic needs, their water sources are polluted, and they are forced to work for the foreign corporations earning petty fortnightly wages. They have become slaves and beggars on their own land. That is the development that ‘freeing up customary land’ brings. Is that the development the Government wants for its people?

Customary land DOES NOT need to be ‘freed up for development’; development is already happening on customary land. In fact the informal economy based on customary land is estimated to be three times larger than our formal economy. This huge economic activity on customary land leads to development by the people for the people. ‘Freeing up customary land’ means giving our land and its resources to profit of international financial institution, multinational corporations, corrupt politicians and public servants.

What IS needed is for the Government to support our country’s major economy, the informal and subsistence economy, simply by doing its job; providing basic government services and basic infrastructure to our rural communities. That will ensure the people of PNG get real development, without losing their land and resources.

We are now taking a stand to warn the new government of Papua New Guinea or any government after that NOT to continuously push for land grabbing and marginalizing customary landowners. Leave ALL the customary land alone. Leave her to the customary landowners and the generations to come. We do not wish to be slave beggars on our own land.


Center for Environmental Law and Community Rights

Bismarck Ramu Group

Karawari Cave Arts Fund

 Act Now PNG

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