Monday, August 09, 2010

Indigenous rights under siege



Today, Monday August 9 2010 is the International Day of the World Indigenous People.

On December 23 1994, the United National (UN) General Assembly, by resolution 49/214 decided to set August 9 each year to be the International Day of the World’s Indigenous people.

The date was set during the current International Decade of the World’s Indigenous people.

And, in 2004, the UN Assembly proclaimed a Second International Decade by resolution 59/174.

The goal of this Decade is to further strengthen international cooperation for the solution of problems faced by indigenous people world-wide including such areas as culture, education, health, human rights, the environment, and socio-economic development.

Papua New Guinea is a signatory to a number of UN conventions, declarations, protocols etc.

Together with its affiliates world-wide, the UN takes on the challenges of addressing and implementing them.

The International Day of the World’s Indigenous people is one of such, which will be observed in parts of the world.

In PNG, many including policy planners, lawmakers and implementers are not fully aware of this.

For those who do, questions should be asked how PNG as a nation has fared to truly stand firm to represent the wishes and aspirations of its original inhabitants of Eastern half of what outsider explorers called “New Guinea”.

Despite much progress made in the process of nation building, PNG still lags behind by not advancing in some of the most pertinent issues affecting ordinary grassroots citizens - the indigenous population of this resource-rich country.

PNG is experiencing unprecedented resource boom with more new discoveries of oil, gas and minerals as well as increased foreign investments in fisheries, forestry and agriculture sectors.

The current resource exploitation trend and two recent controversial amendments to PNG’s natural resources and environmental laws have been met with stiff opposition from various sections of the wider PNG community.

PNG’s current social-economic development strengths are based on natural resources.

How these resources are managed jointly with their surrounding environments on sustainable basis is the key to meeting the needs and aspirations of this and future generations.

It also requires fair and equitable distribution of wealth derived from these resources and reinvesting the returns into management these resources and environments.

In early 2004, Prime Minister Sir Michael Somare challenged the Australian Government and the World Bank by announcing that he had 10 impact forestry projects, which if all came into operation, would generate more than K300 million annually.

Sir Michael said he would no longer need the Australian aid money.

The World Bank Forest Conservation Programme has since been kicked out of PNG.

The PM is yet to inform the nation what happened to the 10 impact forestry projects.

Are the 10 project areas still intact to fully realise the forgone value of forest conservation with forest carbon projects?

The 2009 Copenhagen meeting on Climate Change and reducing emissions from deforestation and degradation (REDD) failed to come up with any agreed way forward.

It was a total failure to PNG costing the nation’s taxpayers up to K8 million to send the delegation.

PNG’s position paper for the Copenhagen meeting was prepared by two sets of international consultant teams at very extravagant fees.

Exploitation of PNG’s rich natural resources using such tactics is sends wrong messages to the global communities.

Effective participation of resource owners in any meaningful dialogue and decision is in jeopardy and thus democratic principles adopted by PNG are being tested.

Collapse of effective natural resource laws through changes giving full government control is certainly a dangerous trend heading towards dictatorial rule.

In PNG, about 97% of land and resources are owned by indigenous people.

Over 80% of these people live on these land and resources in most remote regions of PNG.

These people are the most vulnerable ones to the environmental risks, which also give rise to poverty and deprivation of human rights and to healthy living.

Recent changes to Environment Act 2000 ultimately gave more powers to the Secretary of Department of Environment and Conservation (DEC), both as the Director of Environment and the Chairman of Environment Council (Sections 15-17).

The Secretary has ultimate power to make final decisions on the issue of environmental harm.

Landowners will only dispute his decision through Court without any third party involvement – violation of human rights.

Over 80% of PNG population has no access to legal means and to subject the people to such requirements is a crime against humanity.

In most instances, NGOs including the churches are first to provide help to indigenous landowners.

In effect, the changes make it difficult for NGO groups to assist the disadvantaged landowners and communities to pursue their concerns.

This is totally unfair and contrary to the principle of democracy.

At the dawn of this new Millennium, world leaders came to realisation that much of the human miseries resulted from the so-called socio-economic development.

The leaders came up with 8 Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) with set targets, and recommended that MDG 7 which deals with ensuring environmental sustainability is the key to achieving the other development goals.

Apparently, PNG has demonstrated little regard for environmental issues.

The National Planning & Monitoring Department’s Performance Framework Report on the MTDS in 2007 clearly showed that Environment Sector has the rating of zero (0) out of 5 for its trend of development and 1 out of 5 for its current performance.

Generally, the overall ratings of each sector on the MTDS were very poor.

PNG is moving into the new MTDS under the new National Strategic Plan for PNG’s Vision 2050.

PNG has failed miserably in meeting many important regional and international Multilateral Environmental Agreements (MEAs), including the Millennium Development Goals.

Responsible sectors have lost touch of their mandates to ensure sustainable development principles.

DEC is merely there to facilitate the process of Environment Permit issuance.

The important sectors are no longer headed by technically qualified citizens.

Manipulation of PNG’s resource and environmental laws to suit minority groups and foreign multinationals is bad and dangerous, which can cause PNG’s collapse.

Recent changes in the Forestry Act diminished the forest resource owners’ freedom of choice of developer for their forest resources. The changes gave ultimate power to the PNG Forestry Board to make final decision on the developer.

Were the changes made to merely to cover up for the Forestry Board’s blunders in 1999 for allocating a Management Area (FMA) in the Western Province to another (named)?

That decision was against the Provincial Forest Management Committee (PFMC) choice in which resource owners were party to the decision.

Also, the Forestry Board allocated the Middle Ramu FMA to another company against the Madang PFMC decision and recommendations.

In both cases, Forestry Board was found to have violated Section 69 of the Forestry Act.

Changes to the Act are simply to make the Board and ultimately the Minister have more control over the forest resource allocation in PNG, thus going back to dark days of the 1987 Barnett Inquiry into the forestry sector in PNG.

Also, the changes to Environment Act 2000 were simply to cover up for the incompetency of DEC in dealing with such environmental issues and to protect Government’s dealing with Ramu Nickel.

The Prime Minister defended the new law claiming “We cannot get mining going while this is in court. The Prime Minister’s Department has been held to ransom. (by judiciary). The Government will lose a lot (of money)”.

This is despite the Government granting the Ramu Nickel project a 10-year tax holiday.

Ramu Nickel deal is similar to the Panguna Mine - deal was signed overseas without much input from the relevant stakeholders including the landowners.

Though the proposed Deep Sea Tailing Placement (DSTP) may have met all the necessary requirements, the system has been considered to be of high risk worldwide because a small leakage in the ocean will cause more damage than if the same leakage was occurred on land.

There were such instances reported with Misima and Lihir Gold Mines.

Why repeating the same mistake? Is it because DSTP is the cheapest means and that PNG is the cheapest place to practice environmental protection and management?

Adding new laws (Sub-sections 69, A & B) to outlaw any third party involvement in land and resources issues in PNG is a crime of humanity.

There are still numerous landowner issues outstanding in resource development project areas including:

•           Landowners missing out on initial benefits from PNG LNG Project in Southern Highlands and Central province;

•           Outstanding landowner and environment issues relating to Ramu Nickel project, Madang province;

•           Claims of genocide over tailings disposed in the Auga-Angabanga river system by Tolukuma Gold Mine, Central province;

•           Outstanding health and environment issues by Simberi landowners on New Ireland;

•           Unresolved issues by Porgera landowners over Porgera gold mine;

•           Increasing landowners related and environment issues in Wafi and Hidden Valley projects, Morobe province;

•           Increasing landowner issues over Yandera Mine activities in Usino-Bundi, Madang province

•           Environment damages by Ok Tedi Gold Mine, Western province;

•           The State and Ok Tedi Mining Limited failing to consider the interests of customary landowners in the memorandum of agreement review of Ok Tedi mine;

•           Longstanding land compensations claims for Motu-Koita people for land on which Port Moresby city stands, NCD;

•           Outstanding compensation for Sirinumu dam use, Central province;

•           Outstanding compensation for Lae city land to Ahi people; and

•           Many outstanding landowner related issues in various logging operations PNG-wide.

The people don’t expect the Government and its agencies t o mistreat its own citizens.

Governments of the day, now and in future need to do more to uphold and meaningfully practice the Fourth Goal of PNG Constitution.

The Fourth Goal of PNG’s Constitution declares that “Our natural resources and environment to be conserved and used for the collective benefit of us all and are replenished for the benefit of future generations”.

Politicians have been vested with insurmountable powers to protect and promote the wishes and aspirations of their people.

Apart from being political genius, those who volunteer to serve people must possess high and appropriate moral values to participate meaningfully and honestly in important decisions affecting their citizens.

Our leaders are duty bound and morally responsible to do the right thing - putting indigenous Papua New Guinean citizens’ interests ahead of personal, parochial and political party interests.

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