Sunday, December 21, 2008


Grand deceit of genuine Angore gas field landowners

PAPUA New Guineans are increasingly becoming their own greatest obstacles to better life of improved living standards, happiness, better health standards and wealth creation in a modern monetary economy.

They create trouble where trouble does not exist. They block vital highway accesses needlessly just to force the Government to pay them compensation. Or they forcefully claim property, land and even money that do not belong to them. And then there’s that tendancy also to bad-mouth successful people or seek ways and means to spoil their succeeding or successful business.

Worst of all is the tendancy to use false pretences and impersonation to claim benefits including large amounts of money fraudulently from businesses, government or investors. This statement rings true for the landowner industry.

Call it grand deceit or whatever suits the fancy. The landowner industry is full of deceit, dishonesty and fraud. There is so much thieving, denial of rights and hijacking of benefits destined for genuine landowners by public servants, politicians and pseudo-landowners. Although there has been thorough social mapping to establish rightful landowners they are still denied by fraudsters of their just benefits, writes veteran award-winning journalist Susuve Laumaea, who has been researching the plight of a group of Southern Highland landowners.

THE landowner industry is not just full of deceit, dishonesty and fraud. It’s also full of intrigue, mischief and mystery. Total strangers – unknown to locals -- come out of the woodworks overnight to claim ownership of land as soon as some sort of resource is found at a particular location – even in deep jungle where no one has ever resided. That’s one of the ugly features of the landowner industry and it’s a feature that leads to time-consuming landowner disputes.

The oil and gas industry has created a “scramble” of sorts by shady characters who respect no-one’s right to traditional ownership of land, honest collective bargaining or equal distribution of gains from royalties, tax credit, special support grants and equity participation.

Many groups of legitimate and genuine landowners have been caught flat-footed in this fast-paced quick money scheme and often times have found themselves outplayed and outsmarted by conmen, spivs and fraudsters.

One such group of sincere, legitimate and genuine landowners hail from the Angore gas resource area at Tari-Pori in South Highland Province and it’s their plight that we capture in this article.

They are angered by what they claim to be a plot to dispossess and disinherit them by Port Moresby-based people claiming to be Angore gas resource area landowners.

The actual Angore resource area landowners are persons belonging to the Undupi tribe. They make up 11 council areas in Angore basin at Tari Pore.

They are questioning where the people claiming to be Angore landowners come from and why they have hoodwinked the Government for a payment of K2.4 million to establish their landowner company operations and to stop a “non-existent” tribal fight in the area.

The story of an ongoing tribal fight in the Angore area is a big lie and the Government – through a senior State Minister – fell for the lie.

The real Angore gas resource area landowners know of no ongoing tribal fight in their area. That’s the truth they want the Government to know.

They say that some conmen in collaboration with government officials and politicians were providing false information to the Government to fraudulently make off with a large sum of money.

The real Angore gas resource area landowners have called on the Government not to pay the money to the Port Moresby-based spivs who are backed by a local MP.

“We know of this Port Moresby-based group and their politician friends using political influence to siphon off large amounts of money fraudulently,” one Angore landowner leader said.

“We want to see things done properly and honestly so that everyone – but especially the genuine landowner and our old fathers, mothers, uncles and aunties – benefit before they die. ‘We have patiently waited 20 years to see the Angore gas come into production. “We are not confrontationists. “We are committed to working in unity with the developers and the government to develop the gas resource on our land.

“We are physically residents at the site of the rig-head of the Angore prospect which is sitting on top of our traditional cemetery.” That’s hard and indisputable evidence.

Who in his right mind can deny the Undupi villagers and the three main clans and several sub clans that make up the 8,000 to 10,000 Undupi men, women and children of their inherent traditional rights? Come on!

There has been an emerging trend for bogus traditional land ownership groups being created overnight – often times by conniving and shady characters and persons very far removed from project or resource areas and a lot of the time by so-called “consultants” operating in tandem with gullible and potentially corrupt public officials including politicians in Port Moresby. It’s a major racket.

Their modus operandi has been to register and legitimise a landowner association and a corporate entity via the Investment Promotion Authority in the name of the resource area landowners. These conmen then appoint themselves landowner executives and bingo, they are in business big time.

These registered entities then become vehicles to hoodwink legitimate landowners, resource developers and the State to steal millions upon millions of kina through bogus claims and invoices that are happily attended to and processed by “friends” of the fraudsters in key government departments and agencies. They target monies that government or companies appropriate for payment of royalty, equity, tax credit, special support grants, special purpose authorities, development and public investment funds.

The web of deceit and denial is massive and so extensive that traditionally and legally proven land owners become the victims.

The scam involves politicians, department heads, senior bureaucrats and businessmen. Such is the case in the oil and gas industry. It is akin to a septic tank crawling with any manner of worms.

The mining, forestry and fisheries sectors have their share of problems too.

But it’s the oil and gas industry landowner issues that need to be resolved, appeased and corrected swiftly in the interest foreign investment security, peace and good order in project development areas and ensuring national development goes ahead unimpeded.

By Southern Highland’s Huli or Hela standards the Undupi tribe with its three main clans and several sub clans making up no more than 10,000 people is a relatively small group. Being a small group does not mean they should be dominated or denied their just benefits by unscrupulous city sleekers.

The Undupis have a claim and they want to be heard by the authorities.

Their leaders came to Port Moresby several months ago and have been knocking unsuccessfully on political and corporate doors in Port Moresby since late October this year. No door has opened for them yet so they are taking their grievance to the courts.

They want somebody in authority to hear their predicament and restore their traditional ownership rights over land that is resource rich.

They are Angore-based representatives and leaders mandated by their people to re-state their case, re-legitimise their claim and re-assert their ownership rights over the Angore gas resource project area at Tari-Pori District in Southern Highlands Province.

They have been denied that ownership and rights. The rig-head of the Angore gas field is sitting on top of their traditional cemetery at Undupi Village.

For the last 20 years, people of the three clans and their sub clans that make up the Imika clan of the greater Undupi Tribe generally have been receiving monetary benefits ranging from K1, 000 to K8, 000 annually for rental lease of Imika land upon which the rig-head sits.

Gas was discovered at Angore in 1989. The people registered their landowner association in 1998. Records of Oil Search Limited and the Investment Promotion Authority shall attest to this and other claims advanced herein.

Some time this year some Port Moresby-based people deregistered their landowner association and incorporated something else to deny the real landowners of their benefits. The Angore Kobalu people have re-registered their landowner entity and are seeking to prosecute the people who have dishonestly sought to deny them of their Angore inheritance and ownership rights.

The efforts of the Angore Kobalu tribes people to right the wrong that’s been done to them is tantamount to a scandal.

Their pleas to for a fair hearing by relevant authorities have been falling on deaf ears in Port Moresby.

They have now taken their plight to the courts so that restraint can be executed and authorities hear them fully and conclusively.

The landowner leaders now in Port Moresby are “bush people” and are far away from their 8,000 to 10,000 Imika, Halebura and Telia clansmen and several sub-clans. They may miss spending the festive season with their loved ones in remote Angore Kobalu basin.

Illiterate, semi-literate or literate, a youthful Elijah Timba and a couple of his executives of the Angore Kobalu Resources Owners Association Inc have been in Port Moresby to consult with and seek assistance for their people through the Investment Promotion Authority, Department of National Planning, the Department of Petroleum and Energy and the Ministry of Petroleum and Energy.

So far there has been no luck in their endeavours. No one – the Department of National Planning and the Department and Ministry of Petroleum and Energy it seems – want to hear them out.

Pseudo-landowners, impersonators and politicians – it seems – have highjacked the Angore Kobalu people’s right of traditional landownership and have also made a submission to the Government to divert payment of monetary benefits that are – by law – supposed to be paid to the Angore Kobalu traditional land owners.

At the heart of the Angore Kobalu-based landowners’ claim – as opposed to the claim by the Port Moresby-based Angore Gasfield Community Association Inc – is a submission by the Port Moresby-based group for K2.4 million underpinned by the Angore gas project.

This Port Moresby-based group has won the support of a local Member of Parliament and has received endorsement from a State Minister and his department head to be paid the K2.4 million. The money – according to documents -- is to resolve an ongoing tribal fight, to mobilize the Angore Gasfield Community Association and to assist set up foundation and seed capital to establish Angore Holdings Limited as the umbrella company to absorb all benefits coming from the Angore gas project development.

All the reasons advanced to justify payment of the K2.4 million are bogus and suspicious.

Letters demanding payment of the funds have reached the Office of the National Planning Secretary and that’s where it’s stuck for the time being.

The name of the department head and the originating correspondences with his signature and that of two senior politicians -- both Ministers – are available for disclosure at the appropriate forum.

The correspondences recognise the Port Moresby-based landowner group purporting to be the rightful one mandated by the people when in fact they are not.

This group needs to be thoroughly scrutinised.

They have applied to the authorities and received recognition – rightly or wrongly – to be the Angore Kobalu people’s landowner and corporate entities in the Angore gas development venture.

Prime Minister Grand Chief Sir Michael Somare cannot turn a blind eye to the ministerial indiscretions and highly irregular conduct of senior officials.

Ministers, vice-minister and heads of departments are the last hope of the people in executive decision making and they must never behave corruptly, betray the public trust or draw attention to themselves in dealings that are highly irregular and illegal, potentially shady, suspicious and smelly.

The documents detailing the Angore Kobalu saga that this scribe has in his possession with copies circulated to relevant legal and judicial authorities for safe-keeping is all-revealing. They are strong enough to bring at least two government ministers and department head as accessories after the fact. For good measure copies of the documents have been put away for delivery to the Ombudsman Commission for their separate investigation under the Leadership Code.

No one must deny the the genuine Angore Kobalu landowners their God-given inherent rights. These are the people who can guarantee supply of gas from Angore to add to what will come out of Hides and elsewhere in Southern Highlands to make the ExxonMobile-Oil Search multi-billion kina LNG project “stack up” and attain the projected level of success and return on investment.

Many Papua New Guineans have seen the landowner industry grow by mammoth proportions since the advent of the Kutubu oil project in 1990.

Indeed the landowner industry has become a multi-billion money spinner for thousands of Papua New Guineans in the nation’s natural resources sectors.

It’s an industry that sprang from a compensatory culture that became fine-tuned and given legitimacy by various laws governing commercial exploitation of PNG’s abundant bio-diversity and richness of renewable and non-renewable natural resources including pristine tropical rainforest, minerals, oil and gas and smorgasbord of marine resources. Some experts say that PNG has to be one of God Almighty’s last frontiers of natural wealth in abundance.

This natural wealth can be value-added, apportioned to last and sustained in perpetuity for the present generation of Papua New Guineans and their children and for generations thereafter.

Government, developers and landowners hold the present and future success or failure of natural resource-based development, resource extraction, resource marketing and benefit sharing in their hands.

They must do the right thing. They must have respect for one another irrespective of who holds the highest equity in a project.

The three main stakeholders must operate honestly and transparently as fair, equal, sharing, caring and participatory partners in all aspects of a project development – be it forestry, fisheries, oil and gas or whatever else involving the abundant bio-diversity of PNG.

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