Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Landmark decision on old Lae airport

Caption: Jubilant Butibam leaders Jonathan Benjamin, Jonathan Saing, Sam Abel, Ali Isaac, Garett Kissinh, Barry Way, Thomas Peleli and lawyer Frankford Dagina.

The Supreme Court today handed down a landmark decision on the controversial old Lae airport land by rejecting an application to stay order taken out by Ahi landowners from Butibam and Kamukumung villages against the Morobe provincial government and the State.
The court noted that the landowners had not been adequately compensated for all anguish and turmoil they had gone through over the years,
It has long been a sore thumb in Lae as Morobe Governor Luther Wenge and his administrator Patilias Gamato fought a war of words both within and out of court against the villagers.
Just a couple of week ago, things came to a head at the old Lae airport, as old Butibam women were manhandled and beaten by Lae police.
Deputy Chief Justice Gibbs Salika, in a short one-page decision, refused the application of the Morobe government and its illegal LEC/LEH Joint Venture Ltd.
Village elders from Butibam and Kamkumung, flanked by their lawyer Frankford Dagina, hailed the Supreme Court decision as a huge victory for their people, who they said had been robbed of their birthright.
They included outspoken Butibam leader Garett Kissing, Ahi Landowners’ Association president Jonathan Saing, general secretary Ali Isaac, Butibam village chairman Jonathan Benjamin and Apo clan leader Sam Abel.
In the National Court, the provincial government was claiming the whole old Lae airport land, under a five-year urban development lease (UDL), which expired on Feb 26, 2009.
The landowners successfully fought in court to dismiss that case, and from which, the provincial government provincial government appealed to the Supreme Court.
“The Morobe provincial government was seeking to stay that order of Feb 13, 2009, on the basis that Morobe provincial government and LEC/LEH Joint Venture have a contract for construction of an access road within the old Lae airport for K3 million,” Mr Dagina said.
“On Monday, March 16, the matter was heard and it was adjourned to today for a decision.
“The Supreme Court had refused the application to stay on this basis:
•       LEC/LEH Joint Venture Ltd is not registered with the Investment Promotion Authority;
•       The five-year UDL had expired on Feb 26, 2009; and
•       The Morobe Provincial Government was in continuous breach of the memorandum of agreement (MOA) between the State and the landowners signed in 1999.
“In making the decision, the court noted that the landowners are yet to be adequately compensated for the land, pursuant to the Constitution and relevant Acts for the whole of Lae land.”
Emotional Butibam leaders said: “This land issue goes back a very long time.
“It has been through God’s grace that this matter has finally been sorted out, and we are seeking an end to all of this, as after all, we are the legitimate landowners of the old Lae airport and the whole of Lae City.
“We are seeking that the government address our current situation.
“The people of Butibam and Kamkumung really appreciate the decision of the Deputy Chief Justice and the Supreme Court today over the old Lae airport land.
“It is a victory for the oppressed and it’s a victory that gives the people the value of ownership, which has been deprived of us for several decades up to now.
“The people of Butibam and Kamkumung today acknowledge that there is justice, there is fairness, and there is a process that has never been shown in such a way until today.
“Amidst all the legitimised corruption of the Morobe provincial government, we invite the Somare/Temu government to come in and develop Lae City with the direct involvement of the landowners.”

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