LAND IS THE UMBILICAL CORD


By CHRISTOPHER PAPIALI

I read with interest the profound views expressed by Dr. Charles Yala of National Research Institute. Land use, mobilization and converting land into viable economic corridors is a way forward for this country.

Land to most respects is our umbilical cord, the very nerve centre that connects to everything from culture, family, clan and business and therefore it transcends at the highest peak of our societal living.

PNG unlike the rest of the world continue to face daunting challenges relating to land. Our efforts to maximizing the land use potential was overwhelmingly discussed almost two decades ago when the previous government regimes discussed ways to grab hold of all customary/traditional land and transferring to the state.

I am led to the efforts made by Loani Henao Lawyers some years ago, when this law firm was engaged by the government at that time to draft the policy surrounding the Land Mobilization Act and for obvious reasons there was widespread opposition from tertiary students, NGOs, churches and other citizens right around the country.

As it was, the Land Mobilization Act was not properly construed and interpreted and we cannot continue on reserving this very conservative view when PNG is moving forward.

PNG founded by more than 1000 tribes have now beginning to come of age, not completely but at least have leaped forward, to see changes brought about by our emerging economy.

Land Officers and other line representatives from state agencies have a challenging task ahead of them to explain to the people the real benefits of registering the customary land for commercial use.

Commercial land use cannot and should not be interpreted as state having absolute powers to developing and utilizing customary land or neither act as a middle man to market and sell to third parties.

As Dr. Charles Yala and other experts on land matters lamented, we have to find a win -win situation for the developers, customary landowners and the state.
A robust economic activity can be created considering the accessibility and available of good road networks and infusion of telecommunication, police, banks and other services.

These efforts are achievable by doing basic renovation to old government buildings through collaborative efforts directed and administered through joint government monitory operations.

Any layman’s view on the improvisation of state developmental utilities can be within the vicinity of K800,000 – K10 million. If for example, I want to make Ialibu as a satellite town that could form as an economic hub then I would be embarking on an ambitious commercial development plan which could include:
(a) K300,000 – electricity ramifications
(b) K500,000 – Renovating and maintenance of district office
(c) K300,000 – 2 police vehicle for security operations/protection
(d) K100,000 – Staff training/recruitment/development

This gives me a rough budget estimate of K1.2 million multiplied by 23 provincial centers giving me the total figure of K27.6 million. The K27.6 million spent in those identified economic hubs can be virtually seen as a litmus test but then our people would certainly regard that as tangible development which has been missing for several years since independence.

On this note, we want to make sure some of these district offices should have business officers that could advise village and small business people on small loans, customary land registrations, health matters and educational prospects.

Land officers should develop a small achievable plan by visiting villages or clans or even inviting landowners to discuss ways to utilization their land and then identify developers that could fit into their land development perimeters.

Any dubious companies and developers that do not get government approval at Waigani or other appointed bodies should not be allowed to establish in those start-up business spheres of influence.

The current government has already made its money plan and if it is geared towards recovery plan then it means coherent and consistent regulatory measures so that every toea spent is accounted for.

Accountability does not mean improver book keeping and overspending above the budget ceilings planned for by the senior key officers at the finance and planning offices in Waigani.

At times we fall short of knowing our defined perimeters and we go on breaking the requirements and when we do that we invite the primary killers of corruption, nepotism, fraud, and inflammatory allegations.

I am of the strong view that land use and converting land into viable business opportunities can come about if the community, church and existing NGOs operate on a partnership epitomes so that there is this feeling of ownership and oneness which could then revitalize and energize the community spirit, unity and to most respect attain cultural prudence.

In my experience with many resource owners and as a resource owner myself, we are all left in the dark to fend ourselves because of the escalation of compounding problems and all these problems are systematically complex which makes it very difficult for government consultants and planners to really pin down the core rotting issues.

However difficult these compounding problems may be, the unsteady diminishing of state obligations to its citizens cannot be directly pointed to any particular government or in this respect a political leader.

We become who we are from what we make. This courageous view can on the other hand be viewed as nostalgic or verbal rhetoric. Papua New Guineans inherit very volatile economic climate and fluid political systems that spans more than three decades and we cannot assume everything as fine and continue on living on pretense like what we did when the royal dynasty visited Port Moresby last month.

The hard talk in all board rooms, sporting fields, village hamlets and night clubs is that Papua New Guinea is now becoming a nation of uncontrollable spenders, amassing millions of state money by corrupt politicians and bureaucrats and then slowly feeling the pinch at the demise of reckless attitudes and unfriendly behavior which are becoming hindrance to tourism boom and international tolerance to race, business and linguistic/cultural diversity.

This hard talk is sufficient to argue that there are many loopholes in our government systems which foreign elements optimize and they continue on doing it at our face.
Can we allow this to go on? Can our so called friends from the North be seen as equal partners to combating international terrorism, transnational crime, or real mutual bilateral trade partners?

Our political leaders and bureaucrats have fallen short of knowing the international trade language. The various treaties and forums participated by our leaders do not in any form or shape contribute to overhauling the inconspicuous movement of people. Where there is trade there is people movement and foreigners in particular want our resource. And in most cases the primary resource they after is the land because acquiring land in their countries is proven difficult.

When our learned leaders like Dr. Charles Yala of the National Research Institute talks about land utilization packages it means real and our political leaders cannot ignore such observations.

Land is a scarce resource and our people depend so much on it and thus development on the land involve landowners.

Therefore, the recent national budget of K13 billion is en-marked to reach provincial and district centres and when money reaches there people would always want to talk about development on their land.
Considering this stern view, we have got to have a policy that deals directly with land and the rightful owners.

And what I have alluded to in the preceding paragraphs relating to the government’s expenditure on establishing economic hubs can truly become a reality if people from all sides work together to identify the common grounds.

If this is done then the cost benefit analysis will always favor the people and such rating is important indication of saying that the national budget was ‘people’s budget’.


The author is a researcher, consultant, author and commentator on national development issues in PNG. He can be contacted on 721111918, email: edwebconsutlants@yahoo.com.au

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