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PNG Begins Inquiry into Rainforest Land Grabs

VICTORY! Papua New Guinea Begins Commission of Inquiry into Rainforest Land Grabs

September 1, 2011

Papua New Guinea has launched a Commission of Inquiry into foreign land grabs of pristine, indigenous owned primary rainforests for clearcut logging and supposed oil palm development. PNG has the world’s third largest rainforests, but sadly industrial logging and oil palm are booming, and large, intact old rainforest ecosystems are dwindling fast. An entrenched and voracious Malaysian timber-mafia has until now virtually owned the government and the nation’s rainforests.

“Special Agriculture and Business Leases” (SABL) covering 5.2 million hectares (12.8 million acres) were granted 74 times in recent years by former Prime Minister Michael Somare. These agriculture projects skirted forestry laws and customary land ownership, allowing clearcuts of primary rainforests on customary land without consent, for oil palm which may or may not get planted. Local national led NGOs such as the highly successful ACT NOW! and others expressed concern that SABL leases were improperly executed and would result in large scale logging without providing agricultural development.

After nearly a year in country, patrolling and investigating the situation, Ecological Internet’s global network launched an affinity alert in support of local NGO demands in June of 2011, whereby 3,197 people from 81 countries sent 137,133 protest emails to PNG rainforest decision-makers in a short time. Past evidence and scholarship has shown displays of global concern when closely supporting local rainforest protection demands are highly effective. The start of the investigation has been aided by the transition of government from Michael Somare’s deeply corrupted government to new Prime Minister Peter O'Neill.

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“Thankfully PNG’s once great founder, but recent foreign corruption shill, Michael Somare is off of the PNG political stage. It is shocking that Somare-era grotesque stealing of customary land for clear-fell rainforest logging have taken so long to stopped and investigated. This foreign land grab has undermined landowner customary land rights which are largely respected. These standing rainforest are priceless and landowners must resist foreign occupation to instead pursue indigenous protection and community eco-forestry. Let’s be watchful and ensure the investigation is done properly,” comments Dr. Barry, Ecological Internet’s President.

While ACT PNG and Ecological Internet acknowledge there is reason for optimism and celebration, there is good reason to remain skeptical. The Commission of Inquiry has been given only three months to complete its work, which is unrealistic given PNG’s challenging logistics, particularly given many files have already been identified as having gone missing. This is not enough time to identify and fix failings in the Department of Lands and the truth about foreign ownership of land titles. Yet Ecological Internet believes it is important to acknowledge success and forward movement in rainforest protection campaigns, while remaining eternally vigilant.

“Special Agriculture and Business Leases” (SABL) have been misused to take control of land from local peoples, granting 99 year leasehold title over huge tracts of customary land to foreign companies. Former acting Prime Minister, Sam Abal, had called for a Commission of Inquiry into the SABLs earlier in the year, and had suspended their further issuance. Yet the forces of rainforest destruction successfully pushed back for months, led by logging giant Rimbunan Hijau of Malaysia and a deeply corrupted PNG government still led by Michael Somare.

In Ecological Internet’s home province of Madang, PNG, an area totaling 112,400 hectares of important primary ranforest was granted as an SABL in March, 2011. This joins Madang’s illegal tuna development, new Nickle mining ocean waste disposal, and Rimbunan Hijau’s struggling Ramu logging concession. At the same time, logging giant Rimbunan Hijau is diversifying, developing a large oil palm scheme in the Kikori plains in the Gulf Province. With Michael Somare gone, ending decades of corruption in rainforest management will also require sacking Wari Iamo, chief of PNG’s environment department and forestry board, and Somare’s corrupt bagman for rainforest crime.

Please support Ecological Internet's campaigns to protect and restore old forests at http://www.rainforestportal.org/shared/donate/


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