National Research Institute Commentary
By VINCENT PYATI*
LAND and land resources constitute the most important resource in Papua New Guinea (PNG).
The contribution by land resources in terms of the Gross Development Product (GDP) is more than 70% of the total GDP.
Unfortunately, land is limited and finite in quantity while the population and its activities are ever increasing.
There are endless conflicts over land use because of its finite nature.
The demands for agriculture, livestock, forestry, mining, oil and gas projects, fisheries, conservation, urban development, infrastructure development, human settlements, tourism and others are greater than the available land resources.
These demands are becoming more pressing every year.
The population dependent on land for food, fuel and employment still continue to increase.
Where land is still plentiful, especially in the rural areas, many people have inadequate access to land or to the benefits from its use.
In the face of scarcity, the degradation of arable land, primary forest, water bodies, river systems, and the general ecology are clear but individual land users lack the incentive or resources to stop it.
It is therefore imperative that land is used in the most sustainable and rational manner to ensure optimum productivity and safeguard the opportunities for future generations.
The best way to achieve sustainable and optimum land utilization is through land use planning alone.
What is land use planning?
Land-use planning is the systematic assessment of land and water potential, alternatives for land use and economic and social conditions in order to select and adopt the best land-use options.
Its purpose is to select and put into practice those land uses that will best meet the needs of the people while safeguarding resources for the future generations.
It is a public policy tool used to order and regulate land use in an efficient and ethical way to prevent land use conflicts.
Governments use “land use planning” to manage development of land in an efficient and orderly manner.
The driving force in land use planning is the need for change, the need for improved management or the need for a quite different pattern of land use which is dictated by changing circumstances.
Why is national land use plan an urgent need in PNG?
The National Land Development Program (NLDP) genesis in 2005 after previous failed land reform attempts and has reached milestones.
The never-ending landownership conflicts that frequent the corridors of Aopi Centre, streets of Waigani Court House and the halls of Boroko Land Titles Commission Office became history as of 1 March 2012 after the enactment of Incorporated Land Group (Amendment) Act 2009 and the Customary Land Registration (Amendment) Act 2009.
The legal framework and the instruments are now in place and it recognises exclusive ownership of land by customary land owners.
In order to develop land, it has two key components namely land tenure and land use.
The enactment of the above mentioned legislations paves the way for easy settlement of landownership disputes.
The objectives of land use will be realised when a National Land Use Plan is formulated and implemented to identify potential land for different uses and map them for easy reference by developers and landowners alike.
The principle of balance land and land resource development will be the primary objective in the land release process under the National Land Use Plan.
In the absence of a National Land Use Plan, land use remains fragmented and incomplete, generally because of institutional barriers, conflicting mandates, and the prioritisation of economic over social and environmental goals and of short-term development over long-term goals.
The international and national strategies and action plans catalysed by the conventions on biodiversity, climate change and poverty reduction such as Agenda 21 are not integrated with sectoral plans into a comprehensive National Land Use Plan.
Moreover, sectoral codes, legislation and procedures governing planning process and regulations for human settlements, agricultural, forest lands and protected areas among others are not harmonised.
The scope of sectoral land use plans by intensive land users, especially by Department of Agriculture & Livestock, PNG Forestry Authority, Mining and Logging companies are very narrow that they do not encompass a wider geographical area and long term perspectives.
They do not carry out an assessment of future land resource requirements and identify areas with critical land degradation hazard and water use problems.
Larger ecosystems of physical units, such as watersheds, valley bottoms, wetlands and biodiversity “hot spots” are at high risk.
Land and water resources are subject to almost irreversible degradation by uncontrolled disposal of urban and industrial, especially mining wastes.
Frequent reports of environment contaminations are hitting the headlines of the dailies and an example is the court challenge between lower Porgera landowners and the state as reported in the National front-page dated 21st of March 2012 and the most recent seabed mining proposal which is widely criticised and opposed.
In the urban areas, squatting on prime land, disaster prone areas, easement reserves, waste dumps, hillsides and peri-urban areas without proper water supply, sanitation, electricity, transport and other services is a great concern.
Open spaces, designated for recreational activities and urban agriculture land such as the land between 9-Mile and Bomana in NCD are converted to other uses without due concern for environmental damages, including air and water pollution, noise, and food security.
The urban development plans (land use plans) for most of our cities, towns, district headquarters were done during the colonial times and are not reflecting current scenarios.
Each sector has its own land use activities, which are not always integrated with those of others.
This alternative land uses have led to conflict over land use allocation and formulation of policies and laws.
There are inadequate consultations between sectors both in land use allocation and formulation of policies and laws.
Different sectors and institutions/agencies have different institutional responsibilities and mandates for land use management that are at times conflicting and overlapping.
There is also poor condition between institutions and agencies responsible for sustainable land management activities.
For instance, the working relationship between NCDC and Department of Lands and Physical Planning is non-existent as revealed by the NCDC Deputy City Manager, Regulatory Services at the recent National Land Conference.
Lack of common guiding principles has lead to each sector or institution pursuing its own objectives when it comes to planning for land utilisation.
Some laws relating to land and natural resources management and administration are weak and outdated. In addition, land resources are subject to different uses and thus its management falls under different sectoral institutions that have limited human and financial resources as revealed by Minister for Environment and Conservation, Hon. John Pundari for the Department of Environment and Conservation in the media recently.
Furthermore, decentralisation introduced new structures and institutions are aimed at improving service delivery at LLG and ward levels, but these are faced with lack of implementation due to lack of adequate professional expertise, as well as poor coordination between the national, provincial and local governments.
Inadequate sectoral coordination has also had negative impact on land use, just as weak inter-sectoral and district co-ordination has resulted in contradictory land use patterns.
There is also poor implementation of existing policy and legal instruments related to land use and land management.
Papua New Guinea is faced with the problem of policies (both formal and informal), which allows changes in land use of protected areas, especially forests, wetlands and wildlife reserves.
Many protected areas are being illegally encroached on in pursuit of economic development.
There is lack of effective planning both in rural and urban areas, which has resulted not only in haphazard development in urban areas, but also patterns.
In general, rural settlement patterns are wasteful in land use; they are dispersed, render provision of services less efficient and make it difficult for government.
The absences of proper urban plans have also resulted into mushrooming of new unplanned urban centres and expansion of existing ones.
There is no capacity to plan and implement urban development plans.
There is also extravagant use of urban land resulting in urban sprawl like the 8-Mile and 9-Mile areas.
What will be the role of a National Land Use Plan?
A National Land Use Plan will provide guidance in cases of conflict between different land users by indicating which areas of land are most valuable for what type of use.
It will set the parameters for the different land users to use land within their confines.
The motivational ideas surrounding the advocating of a National Land Use Plan are summarised in the following paragraphs and are not exhaustive.
· It will balance the competing demands for land use by different sectors such as agriculture, forestry, mining, oil and gas projects, wildlife conservation, eco-tourism, heritage tourism, human settlements, infrastructure developments (airports, seaports, roads) fisheries and others and achieve environmental objectives.
It will translate the national socioeconomic plans such as PNG Vision 2050, Development Strategic Plan, Medium Term Development Strategy, and other sectoral plans into land use.
All these sectoral activities happen on a piece of land with its own identity, name, specific characteristics, fabric and form.
It will bridge the higher order policies of government with the sectoral policies and plans. T
he National Land Use Plan will be the spatial dimension of socioeconomic plans and guide to achieve environmental objectives.
· It will coordinate all sectional agencies involved in land use.
It will provide a spatial framework for land utilization in respect of different land use categories including agriculture, forestry, urban development, human settlement, infrastructure development, fishery, environmental protection and conservation, industrial development, among others.
It will provide a broad framework for land use and will dictate land use at a strategic level to accommodate the interest of all land users.
It will provide a flat playground for all sectors to harmoniously pursue their respective goals to improve quality of life for all citizens.
We will discuss in Part 2 of this commentary the constraints in developing a National Land Use Plan and then provide a set of recommendations to conclude the way forward.
* Vincent Pyati is a Research Fellow with the land development research program under the Wealth Creation Pillar at the National Research Institute.