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Court hears complaint against oil company

PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (The National, Jan. 6, 2009) – Southeast Gobe oilfield landowners have obtained a court order restraining the State from exercising any rights of access, use and occupation of customary land within Petroleum Development Licence (PDL) 3 and PDL 4.

The order also temporarily forbade current developers, contractors and other parties from carrying out any work on PDL 3 and PDL 4, which are situated upon customary land belonging to the Wolotou Incorporated Land Group.

The Wolotou landowners obtained the court order following concerns that other landowner groups were benefiting from royalty payments despite their customary land not being actively used as part of the project.

They claimed that the Land Titles Commission and a former minister for mining and petroleum illegally extended the land boundary of PDL 3 and PDL 4 to include other beneficiaries, who were initially outside the boundary.

Wolotou chairman Ope Hapueke obtained the restraining order on Dec 22 from the Waigani National Court.

The order also restrained any person, entity, corporation, developer or company which the State, as first defendant, has leased, assigned or permitted the entry, occupation and use of all customary land occupied and controlled by the plaintiffs within PDL 3 and PDL 4.

Mr. Hapueke is currently in Gobe where a meeting is in progress to address the concerns.

"Ownership was wrongly issued and other people were benefiting . . . we have been trying to address this but have not been heard despite numerous land and dispute settlements forums," Hapueke said.

There are an estimated 1,000 landowners in the actual PDL 3 and PDL 4 areas.

Mr Hapueke alleged that other groups were taking the lead in obtaining the funds and were not sharing them fairly.

Minister for Petroleum and Energy William Duma, who returned from Mt Hagen yesterday, said he would reply upon receiving a copy of the court order and being briefed by his officials.

He said it seemed that the Land Titles Commission had delayed the issue of ownership, which was not helping to resolve the matter.

He said all petroleum projects had an agreement for sharing of benefits between the State, provincial governments, local level governments and project area landowners.

These agreements dictate how cash benefits are disbursed to beneficiaries.

In a full-page advertisement in yesterday’s newspaper, Mr. Duma said the Government was fully aware of its outstanding commitments in various MoA and development agreements and all State agencies had been working to address this.

He said an outstanding K20 million would be paid this year subject to lodgment of progress reports and acquittals by landowner companies through due process.

The department would also commence a full audit to establish if public funds had been used appropriately, Duma said.

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