16 May 2012

Injunction on controversial PNG land development back in court on Monday

5:56 pm on 16 May 2012

Papua New Guinea's only woman MP, Dame Carol Kidu, says a company behind a huge development that saw hundreds of settlers in her Port Moresby electorate made homeless at the weekend, does not have a valid title to the land.

Developers, supported by armed police, tore down houses at the Paga Settlement near the centre of Port Moresby on Saturday.

Don Wiseman has more:

Dame Carol Kidu, who went to help the settlers and was herself manhandled by police, says some of the people were beaten before a stay order forced the developers to stop work.

She says the land is within a national park, parts have historical significance, and the company has acquired it fraudulently.

"I don't believe that this company should be getting multi-billion kina land. We are not talking about just any land. This is absolutely multi-billion kina land. It was not even tendered. They have not paid a toea for it. They have not even paid the outstanding land rents. So there are so many issues, and as far as I am concerned - I am all for development - but not the way this is being done."

Dame Carol says it has been a settlement since colonial times and several generations of some families have grown up there.

The executive director of the PNG Institute of National Affairs, Paul Barker, says the land was certainly acquired by dubious means.

He says some years ago, despite the land being zoned for the national park and public use, the present developers - then under a different guise - acquired it.

Mr Barker says after this was overturned they pushed for a rezoning and are now claiming title again.

The parliamentary Public Accounts Committee did a probe many years ago and found that the land had been acquired fraudulently. Now what we understand is that the company then renamed itself and came back and somehow, as far as we can see, through some backdoor arrangement, managed to acquire the land again.

But the lawyer for the company, Paga Hill Developments, Stanley Liria, disputes that the Public Accounts Committee has ever ruled the acquisition fraudulent.

SL: It has gone through various stages of scrutiny within the country, including the Public Accounts Committee. RNZI: Didn't the Public Accounts Committee call it fraudulent? SL: The Public Accounts Committee has given various negative thoughts about the grant but that is all they have actually said. They have given all kinds of names and all kinds of statements against the grant but there has not been one single action substantively to actually justify what they're saying and the company has simply been working to have this negativity cleared.

Paul Barker says the removal of the settlement simply increases the pressures on other areas of Port Moresby while the dispute has highlighted the need to safeguard public recreation areas.

He says a lot of land has been handed over for business developments, often through back door deals, so there is a growing push to retain a prime site such as Paga Hills for public use.

You've got that fairly discreet settlement there and the rest of the hill is open and exposed, and the major sight-seeing and visiting spots, so a lot of the city's population would like to see that retained and for various services on that hill to be upgraded to make it a good recreation spot and return it to its old National Park status.

Meanwhile, Stanley Liria says the settlers are getting a good deal with the company offering to help them resettle on 12 hectares it has acquired at Six Mile.

The court injunction placed on the development has been extended until Monday of next week.