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Complete SABL inquiry report

The revelations from research by the James Cook University on oil palm being used by developers as a cover for logging should not come as a surprise to Papua New Guineans.

“It is crucial that the real intentions of developers are understood and highlighted so the PNG Government can manage the property appropriately. At present a lot of people around the world think that buying products containing palm oil encourages deforestation, but boycotting those products at the supermarket is not going to stop loss of forest in PNG,” he added.

The controversy relating to the Government’s Special Agriculture and Business Lease (SABL) is well documented in PNG, compelling the government of then acting Prime Minister Sam Abal in 2011 and a year later PM Peter O’Neill to support and establish a commission of inquiry.

It is a pity that the commission of inquiry into the SABLs is yet to hand a final report to the Government as the findings of the research co-authored by the JCU’s Dr Paul Nelson and Jennifer Grain could have easily complimented the inquiry’s recommendations.

We wonder how many of the 36 oil palm proposals with plantings planned for close to 1 million hectares would have been covered and investigated by the commission of inquiry during their fact-finding tour of affected provinces? 

Dr Nelson is of the view that only five out of the 36 oil palm proposals could eventuate with the researcher concluding that it is likely the developers will only extract the timber and not convert the land into agricultural use.

We think the key words in the above quote is “the real intentions of developments are understood and highlighted”, as we believe the Government and more importantly the people – the custodians of the land – need to be kept in the loop. 

Revealing the dirty business of the logging industry, Dr Nelson makes reference to the PNG forestry guidelines and how it bans the export of raw logs from areas covered by new timber permits versus the same companies being granted the lease which enables them to export logs. It is a loophole that logging companies continue to capitalise on.

And again the findings and recommendations of the commission of inquiry’s final report could have contained these analysis and consequently recommend remedial action to stop dodgy developers capitalising on the vulnerabilities within the system. 

It is in that light we appeal to the O’Neill Government to revisit the commission of inquiry and consider options on how to complete the final report and get it submitted for the Government’s consideration. The spending of K15 million on the commission of inquiry are monies that could have gone to other priorities areas, however the fact it was expanded on the inquiry should make it necessary for the Government to complete the report.

Papua New Guineans have in recent years been affected by the SABL policy of the past and current Governments and it is only correct that they be accorded that right to see the commission of inquiry report completed and its findings and recommendations acted on. We applaud the JCU research paper authors for bringing the issue back to the public domain, ensuring the world continues to apply pressure on the Government to act on the matter and process the return of land to Papua New Guineans affected by the SABL policy.