Papua New Guinea’s new government has been handed a report into an alleged giveaway of the country’s tropical forests. The present caretaker prime minister, Mr Peter O’Neill, initiated a commission of inquiry into controversial forestry concessions granted over the previous decade when Sir Michael Somare held power. Sources: Sydney Morning Herald, ABC Radio, The Australian
The commission’s report will be tabled in the new Parliament and is believed to include damning criticisms of the granting of a new form of lease over more than five million hectares of customary-owned forest.
A new report by Greenpeace Australia Pacific released details of how a new type of concession introduced by the Somare government in 2003 called Special Agricultural and Business Leases (SABL) has speeded up deforestation of PNG.
Seventy-two of these leases have been granted, in many cases to Malaysian and other foreign logging companies.
PNG log exports grew by almost 20 per cent in 2011 due mainly to logging within these special leases, according to the Greenpeace report titled Up for Grabs.
In many cases, the loggers pay for forestry and other officials to carry out their duties of inspection for compliance.
”In one case, they even paid police to intimidate and brutalise landowner opposition to their land being stolen,” Greenpeace said.
Greenpeace has obtained analysis that the forests covered by the leases contain about 12 per cent of the nearly seven billion tonnes of above ground carbon stored in Papua New Guinea’s forests. If the area was to be deforested, almost three billion tonnes of carbon dioxide would be released into the atmosphere, equivalent to six times Australia’s annual emissions.
The report’s author, Paul Winn, says the commission was told of a “litany” of problems.
“The land investigation process, which was supposed to be undertaken by the department of Lands and Physical Planning, was botched at every step of the way,” he said.
“In one case … an Australian company, Independent Timber and Stevedoring, has control of two million hectares – the largest single area [leased] in Western Province,” Mr Winn said.
“They now have most of the government approvals necessary to log 600,000 hectares of forest, which would be the largest logging operation in PNG’s history.”
Greenpeace says leases have been granted for some of PNG’s most pristine environments and take in 130,000 hectares of protected areas.
Special Agricultural and Business Leases are not supposed to be granted without the permission of landowners. However, Norbett Pames said his land in the East New Britain Province was cleared two years ago, without his permission.
Paul Winn has called on PNG’s new government to legislate to nullify leases that don’t have the consent of landowners.
“What we would also like to see … is legislation introduced that overturns and nullifies any leases that are found to have significant objections by land owners or are found to have been granted fraudulently.”
“There is a great opportunity for Australia to improve its relationship with Papua New Guinea.
“[Australia can help] develop a proper land use plan, where landowners have agreed to areas of their land being used for agricultural development.”
Since 2006, logging companies have exported over 1.5 million cubic metres of whole logs from SABLs, amassing over $135 million for the companies involved, almost all these logs were exported to China.