PNG Government Settles Airport Debts With Landowners

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Tari landowners paid $9.5 million after 2012 protests in capital

By Gorethy Kenneth

PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (PNG Post-Courier, March 5, 2013) – The Government has paid out outstanding claims of K20 million [US$9.5 million] to Tari landowners for the airport land and owes them nothing to date, Chief Secretary to Government Manasupe Zurenuoc has advised.

Mr. Manasupe clarified that payment to the Tari Landowners had been settled in two lots of payments, the first K10 million [US$4.7 million] to Tari Airport Resource Holding Limited in 2011 and the second payment to Tari Town Landowners Association in June 2012 after protests by the group in Port Moresby.

He further clarified that the second payment was paid into a trust account held by Hela Provincial Government and the money was yet to be remitted to the Tari Landowners Association.

Because of this, the matter had been brought to the attention of Prime Minister Peter O’Neill, prompting his response to the landowners.

There are more than five landowner groups that have approached the Government on the same claim of K10 million by the Tari landowners.

One Tari Airport Association chairman Benson Angobe, acting on behalf of the Tari Airport landowners, has spoken about the outstanding IDG payments to be done, the K10 million for the Tari landowners and other issues that need to be sorted out by the Government.

Mr. Angobe called on the Government to explain the hold up of the K10 million outstanding claims to their association and to settle the claim.

Another group, the Tari Town Landowners Association under the leadership of Alembo Wangerere had written directly to Prime Minister O’Neill for the Government to expedite payment of K10 million for the Tari Airport compensation fund to their group immediately, with copies sent to the Finance Secretary Steven Gibson and Chief Secretary Manasupe.

This group now claims six chiefs have passed away in a span of six months patiently waiting for the funds to be released to them.

But Mr. Manasupe advised that two payments of K10 million were made for this same claim and one lot of payment is parked in the Hela Provincial Government trust account.

In his letter to Finance Secretary Steven Gibson late last month, the chief Secretary stressed the importance of the matter and the need to treat this urgently so the Government was not bothered again.

"You would have been aware that two payments of K10 million were made for this same claim, the first payment to Tari Airport Resource Holding Limited in 2011 and the second payment to Tari Town landowners Association in June 2012 after protests by the group," Mr. Zurenuoc advised.

"The second payment as I understand was paid into a trust account held by the Hela Provincial Government and is yet to be remitted to the Tari landowners Association, prompting the landowners to bring the matter to the attention of the Prime Minister.

"It is important that issues surrounding these two payments are clarified and the landowners appropriately advised on why payments are being withheld or whom the funds should be made to.

"Other issues relating to the landownership and planning and distribution of funds also need to be clarified given that two payments of K10 million to the two groups were approved and paid out.

"Failure to address these issues may result in bigger issues such as the closure of the Tari Airport which will have flow on negative effects on important economic activities in the Highlands region.

"This year (2013) being the Year of Implementation, it is important that issues such as these are addressed by the relevant Government agencies with a view to ensuring that service delivery is realized in the rural areas," Zurenuoc said.

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