PNG State Loses Case Over Forced Evictions In Madang

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Police involvement in eviction actions found unlawful

By Todagia Kelola

PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (PNG Post-Courier, May 20, 2013) – Papua New Guinea’s government has been ordered to pay a total of K4.13 million [US$1.9 million] to 1,281 plaintiffs who were forcefully evicted by police for illegally settling on State land.

The plaintiffs are individual citizens who had illegally settled on government land in Madang town.

They were affected by an eviction exercise in December 2003. Police squads led by the first defendant, Inspector Tony Wagambie Junior, entered the settlements in which they were living and forcefully removed them. In the process, police destroyed their properties, including houses and other buildings and their contents and gardens and crops.

The plaintiffs sued Insp. Wagambie and the second defendant, Madang provincial government, and the third defendant, the State, claiming damages for unlawful actions of the police.

A trial was conducted on the question of liability. The court found that the involvement of the police in the forced eviction exercise was unlawful.

It was contrary to an agreement between the provincial government and the Madang Settlement Committee, which represented the plaintiffs and other illegal settlers, which was entered into in May 2000 and sanctioned by an order of the National Court in July 2000.

The agreement was also breached in other respects: there was a failure to identify and verify genuine settlers; failure to resettle genuine settlers; and failure to allow for dialogue between the provincial government and the settlers.

The trial on liability was concluded by an order that stated: "It is declared that the plaintiffs have established a cause of action in breach of agreement against the defendants and the proceedings shall proceed, unless the parties agree on an alternative course of action or the court orders otherwise, to a trial on assessment of damages."

Since the proceedings commenced in 2006, 53 of the plaintiffs have died.

Justice David Cannings who presided over the assessment of damages in his decision, rejected all claims for general damages for pain and suffering because the claims were vague and poorly defined and there was no evidence to support them.

As for damages for destruction of properties, Justice Cannings stated: "I consider that the interests of justice lie in accepting that each of the plaintiff’s should receive an award of damages.

"However, the quality of the evidence is not as strong... I will discount each claim by 90 percent to take account of the deficiencies in the evidence."

For those that have died Justice Cannings ordered: "The safest course of action, and that which is required by law, is to order that the money be paid into the estate of the deceased where their estates will be automatically vested in the Public Curator."

Each of the 1,281 plaintiff’s will be receiving different amounts ranging from K500 to K15,000 [US$229 to US$6,878].

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