PNG Post-Courier

PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (Dec. 30) – The Lae dilemma with the furor over eviction of squatters has the potential to be disastrous for the nation’s second biggest city.

[PIR editor’s note: Lae is located on the northern coast of PNG’s mainland peninsula.] Provincial and national officials and politicians must be careful in handling this issue. Lae has been emulating the example of Port Moresby, where people from other parts of the country have been visiting on one-way tickets and staying for good.

The trouble is that they have been squatting on other peoples’ land, not their own. It is a recipe for disaster.

It is a shame nothing has been done nationwide. It’s been thrown in the "too hard’’ basket by a generation of so-called decision-makers and we now have two major cities surrounded by people who have no right to be there and, in many cases, poor chances of re-settling in the villages they came from.

Report after report gathers dust on shelves at Waigani about what to do with city squatters or settlers. Meanwhile, the original inhabitants of those cities are backed into a corner by the ever-surging tide of invaders.

They are pushed and pressured to let more and more people squat on their traditional land. Then whole generations of squatters’ children grow up knowing nothing about their parents’ home villages and often without a job or career to be proud of.

The situation in Lae is compounded by a glaring conflict between the political head of the province and the provincial administration. Each has taken a stand.

The Governor, since backing the landowners at a public meeting, has done an about-face and is now speaking up for the rights of the squatters to stay. He claims that having stayed on the land for 30 years or more, they are entitled legally to stay for good.

Coming from the mouth of a lawyer and former acting judge, this sounds good to the people facing eviction. Whether it is right or not remains to be decided.

In the meantime, the Ahi people of Lae and the Motuans and Koitabuans of Port Moresby see their land being consumed by overpowering groups with friends in high places. What hope do they have if their own political representatives do not support them in finding a peaceful and lawful solution to the growing problem?

Let us hope that the Lae situation is resolved by decision-makers with a sense of responsibility for human life. Let us also hope that the people tackle their politicians about sorting out the cause of the problem: unfettered illegal settlements.

December 30, 2005

Papua New Guinea Post-Courier: www.postcourier.com.pg/

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