Minister for Agriculture and Livestock Puka Temu has strongly defended the Central province rice project, which has been the subject of much controversy lately.
He said this in response to criticisms in the media that landowners had been left out and not informed about the project.
Sir Puka said DAL, Central province administration and relevant government agencies had conducted wide consultation and awareness for the project.
He said government officers had conducted extensive awareness and consultation with landowners and communities within Kairuku-Hiri district and would continue to do so.
Sir Puka said he and other MPs from Central province, including Kairuku-Hiri MP Paru Aihi, had a public meeting with Aroa people at Pinu village last October and witnessed the support of the people for the project.
He said there had been overwhelming support from people attended meetings conducted by DAL and its stakeholders at Bereina station and the villages of Bereina, Inauaia, Inaui, Agevairu, Pinu, Magabaira and Vanapa.
A land mobilisation team comprising of officers from DAL and Lands Department also visited villages in the Gabadi/Aroa, Roro and Mekeo areas.
A few villages are yet to be visited by the team, however, there has been positive response from majority of the villagers, who want the project to go ahead.
Sir Puka said last month, the team visited North Mekeo area and spoke to people of Babagogo, Waika, Apanaipi, Piuga, Ameisaka, Inaujina, Egefa, Maipa, Akufa, Ioi and Imouga, who gave overwhelming support.
He denied claims that he was treating the landowners as “fools”, as one newspaper letter writer suggested.
“I have never in my political life, regarded and treated any landowner as a fool, or someone one can ignore in making decisions that require the use of their land,” Sir Pika said,
“Indeed, with the Central Province Commercial Rice Project (CPCRP), it is because of this, and the need to have wider consultation and participation that we have conducted extensive awareness and continue to do so for this project throughout the Kairuku district.”
He said the rice project was a major impact project in the agriculture sector that this country had ever seen, and the Kairuku-Hiri district in particular was very fortunate to have this project.
“When done properly, this project will be highly beneficial to the local people, including those who are criticising it right now,” Sir Puka said.
“In fact, I am advised that in a day, an average of four to five landowners and local villagers visit the CPRCRP office in Port Moresby, to either follow up on their ILGs or to obtain more information about the project.”
He said so far, landowners had already registered with the CPCRP office 44 existing ILGs and 44 new applications.
Of the existing ILGs, 30 are those that were formerly under the Mekeo hinterland project, with seven collected and 23 pledged to be handed in soon.
Notification has been received of more ILGs to be brought in.
Sir Puka said awareness and consultations on the project were continuing, together with land mobilisation work which was now at the land investigation reports (LIR) stage.
In the meantime, DAL and the national project steering committee progresses the work on a deed of agreement that is acceptable for the State before it is signed with the investor.
Sir Puka appealed to landowners and members of the public who have genuine concerns about the rice project to seek information from the CPCRP office at DAL headquarters and not to make misleading and incorrect statements in the media.
“I am always available and willing to visit Kairuku-Hiri district to talk about the project with our people and will certainly do so after the DAL and the project team has done its work,” he said.