MELANESIAN LAND MEETING IN MADANG RESOLVES TO HAVE FOLLOW-UP

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By Neville Choi

PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (June 18, 2001 - The Independent/PINA Nius Online)---Five days discussing the Melanesian philosophy of land and the relationship between land and development has resulted in the realization that not all Papua New Guinea's land problems can be solved with a "quick fix."

Forty experts on land issues presented papers or made their presence felt during the land symposium hosted by the Divine Word University (DWU) in Madang. They agreed that open consultation and increased awareness of the need for more land to be made available for development were issues that needed to be dealt with.

There were calls for a follow-up on issues raised and discussed at the symposium.

Many at the symposium expressed the view that the proposed law on customary land registration be treated and introduced carefully so that it is fully understood by landowners.

National Parliament Speaker Bernard Narokobi, in closing the symposium, reminded all present that in Papua New Guinea it was traditionally accepted that land was not to be given away to strangers, only to allies, friends and relatives.

He said that the symposium had put forward many "practical suggestions" but now the question was "how will the government respond?"

Stressing the need for the government to look more closely at land agreements, Mr. Narokobi said the genealogy of landowner rights and the situation of ownership of land and any minerals inside that land were also issues of concern.

Mr. Narokobi said: "We should look seriously at the roots of people and their land. All future land should always remain with the people. There's demand for development but it shouldn't make people beggars."

He also stated that there were alternatives to registering customary land that the government should also look into.

On draft legislation currently under deliberation by the government through the National Executive Council (NEC), Mr. Narokobi said that he viewed the proposal for registering land as aimed to break up land from the clans.

"That registration will not help secure loans. The banks' objective is to get their money back, with interest. It is not land. But if the banks are not prepared to lend money on licensed tenure, they should not be allowed to operate in the country," he said.

Mr. Narokobi also said that it had yet to be proven that the proposed legislation would help customary landowners raise enough money to repay loans.

"The laws as they exist now are sufficient. The state should be finding people to sort out their problems. Forget about inviting foreigners into our country," he said.

Divine Word University president Father Jan Czuba said that the land issue was complicated and "each of us has to be involved in some way or the other." He also highlighted that more land was needed and that a new policy or law for customary land was needed.

"People have to sit down and talk at all levels. Without development, land is losing its value," Fr. Czuba said.

Outspoken academics from the University of Papua New Guinea Dr. Lawrence Kalinoe and lawyer Eric Kwa posed questions on whether the proposed legislation before the Cabinet would be given the respect it deserved and not be pushed through by the current government.

Mr. Kwa said: "Parliament only recently passed the Integrity Bill, which now forces intending candidates to align with the largest party in government.

"Given the current Lands Department proposal to register customary land, will the current legislation guarantee that land titles will remain untouched?"

News reports on the land symposium have been compiled and are available on a website set up by Religious Television Association at (www.rtapng.com.pg/pngland). The proceedings were also broadcast live on Karai National Radio and FM100 through the National Broadcasting Corporation.

It is understood that a book compiling all the papers presented at the symposium will be available soon.

For additional reports from The Independent, go to PACIFIC ISLANDS REPORT News/Information Links: Newspapers/The Independent (Papua New Guinea).

Pacific Islands News Association (PINA) Website: http://www.pinanius.org 

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