Transparency International PNG is concerned with the state-sanctioned construction of the Kiunga-Hiritano Highway through immense tracts of Western province land covered by the controversial special purpose agriculture business leases (SABLs).
Chairman of TIPNG Lawrence Stephens was commenting on the recent media reports of arrangements for construction of the Trans National Highway: "There is huge concern that the leases were improperly executed, that they will result in large-scale logging without providing large scale agricultural development and that the landowners are not adequately informed of the implications of these agreements supposedly executed on their behalf.
"Now the reports suggest that the leaseholders are involved in arrangements to build a major national highway which will cost the government nothing.
“The people of Western and Gulf provinces deserve to share in the prosperity of PNG.
“More importantly they need to benefit from resources in these provinces.
“A good road linking Kiunga to Port Moresby would be of great benefit to the people.
“But how do we achieve this at no cost to government unless we are giving some people the right to large areas of timber resources which, before the SPABLs were issued, belonged to whole communities?
“With the moratorium on new leases and the call to investigate existing leases there is a need to quickly ensure that the commission of inquiry is up and running to determine whether these SABL’s have been properly granted.”
Stephens raised the specific concern with reports that landowners have agreed to “trade off” their resources for access to roads in agreeing to a developer to harvest forest within the road corridors of the transnational highway.
“What will happen to the prime virgin forest that the landowners are trading off?
“Will all the landowners be fairly compensated by the developer not just a select few?
“How wide is the corridor of tree harvesting along a 600km road?
“Gulf and Western povince people have the right to know what is planned.
“They are familiar with plans which see them lose their resources with no development to show for it."
TI PNG, according to Stephens, remains concerned that “for too long our rural people based have not benefited from their resources and many unscrupulous developers have taken advantage of them. If this is to stop a true agricultural industry must be fostered, SABL's must not be a means for the bypassing of strict forestry regulations”.
Stephens reiterated the need to immediately conduct the commission of inquiry into the SABLs so as to rectify any possible irregularities.