Pressure on World Bank to abolish business rankings
The World Bank is being accused of putting the interests of foreign investors before that of local landowners in the Pacific.
The World Bank is being accused of putting the interests of foreign investors before those of local landowners in the Pacific.
The Pacific Network on Globalisation is just one of hundreds of organisations around the world calling for an end to the Bank's Doing Business rankings system.
Amelia Langford reports.
The bank's Doing Business report scores Pacific Island countries along with other developing countries on the so-called ease of doing business. The Pacific Network on Globalisation wants it abolished. Here's its coordinator, Maureen Penjueli.
MAURENN PENJUELI: Right across the Pacific, customary land is still a key part of our land tenure system and so the World Bank's Doing Business rankings is a key means to our governments' formal policies of freeing up land and so what we are seeing now is that it is opened up for resource grab.
The sort of development that the World Bank is accused of endorsing has seen over five million hectares in Papua New Guinea, or 12 percent of the country's total landmass, developed without customary landowners' consent. A decade ago, PNG's government freed up the land for commercial use under the Special Agriculture and Business Leases or SABL system. The Bismark Ramu Group's Rosa Koian says a commission of inquiry found 80 percent of SABLs granted were illegal.
ROSA KOIAN: Those SABLs were taken out for 99 years for huge projects a lot of them for palm oil development and so Papua New Guineans suddenly wake up and realise their land is gone - they don't have their land anymore.
Rosa Koian says those titles should be cancelled and returned to the people of PNG. She says PNG needs to find ways of doing business that suit PNG - not the western standards of the World Bank.
ROSA KOIAN: All of these measurements come in and we try to do well, we try to do better than the last year and we try to do better again and better again. I don't know when this is going to stop - like we try to please everyone else. How about us trying to find our way without measurements from anybody.
In Vanuatu, indigenous people are also losing their land and being displaced. The head of land and language at Vanuatu's Cultural Centre, Joel Simo, says owning their own land is the key to the independence and freedom of ni-Vanuatu.
JOEL SIMO: The land in the Pacific is our safety net, it's the only safety net that we have. We don't have any other means of or anything to fall back to so I think there needs to be more awareness of these issues before they ever think of going out and implementing these ideas.
Joel Simo says the World Bank needs to consult more with locals.
A Samoan academic, Dr Iati Iati, of the University of Otago in New Zealand echoes that call. But he adds the World Bank is not the only so-called culprit.
IATI IATI: The World Bank is not the only one and I am not sure if they are even the most prominent one in the Pacific doing this kind of stuff. There is a concerted effort in the Pacific to free up land for investment and it is not just coming from the World Bank, Asia Development Bank, some of the governments themselves are pushing for it.
Dr Iati Iati also says Pacific governments need to slow down the pace of land development. He says the World Bank's rankings system, for example, makes investment the number one priority
IATI IATI:I think a lot of these organisations need to actually find out what the priorities of the ordinary people are, try to be a little bit I guess more responsive to ordinary people's interests and pursuits as opposed to pushing their own agenda and as opposed to supporting an agenda that is really only benefitting a small group in some of these countries.
But, the World Bank says any claims it supports land and resource grabs, or encourages them through its annual Doing Business reports, are incorrect. The Bank says it shares concerns about the risks associated with large-scale land acquisitions. In a statement, it included the following.
The World Bank recognises that secure access to land is critical for millions of poor people with policies that are transparent and accountable, that recognise all forms of tenure including customary land systems and that help women achieve greater equality and land rights.
It says in the Pacific it is stepping up its support for smallholders and sustainable agriculture and gives the following example.
We have recently announced additional funds for the Productive Partnerships in Agriculture Project in Papua New Guinea, which will enable 60,000 small coffee and cocoa farmers, especially women, to access higher prices and get more from their crops.
Meanwhile, since late last year, Vanuatu's government has been pushing through land reforms which aim to strengthen the consultative process around land deals and protect landowners' rights.
And PNG's government says it's setting up a taskforce to consider the recommendations by the SABL commission of inquiry. However, eights months after the inquiry report was tabled, PNG civil society groups say they are still waiting for a response from the Government, leaving what the Bismark Ramu Group are calling a massive land grab unchecked.