Return Of PNG Landowners’ Property Delayed

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Cancellation of special leases taking longer than expected

By Jemima Garrett

MELBOURNE, Australia (Radio Australia, June 30, 2014) – The return of millions of hectares of Papua New Guinean land to traditional owners affected by a land-leasing scandal has been delayed.

Lands Department Secretary Romily Kila-Pat last week told Pacific Beat hundreds of thousands of affected landowners could expect to have their land back by Monday, but it has been revealed that it will take longer than a week to process the cancellation of leases.

His comments came after PNG's National Executive Council (NEC) ordered the cancellation of 25 Special Agricultural and Business Leases (SABLs) as recommended by a Commission of Inquiry.

Land Titles Registrar Benjamin Samson is overseeing the cancellation of leases and says the legal process will take longer than a week.

"By law we have to give [the leaseholders] 14 working days for them to deliver up the title, the owner's copy that is in the hands of the leaseholders," he said.

Mr Samson says the process is more involved than previously indicated, requiring ordering of summons for the 25 SABLs before lease cancellation.

"The law is designed as such that before cancellation is to be done a notice, which is called a summons has to be issued to the respective leaseholders," he said.

"[Because] some leaseholders might want to challenge the decision that we would undertake but I mean, as the agent of state, we are here to comply with the decision of the government of the day so that is another matter for the leaseholders to pursue."

Mr Samson says the return of land could be delayed further in the likely event that leaseholders decide to challenge the NEC's decision in court.

"Well, if they do obtain an injunction, if the matter goes before the court, then of course we will have to await the outcome of the court decision before the cancellation can be fully-effected," he said.

"I think a number of leaseholders, especially those lease-holders or those companies, who on the ground have expended a lot of money, they might want to pursue it in court but I am not sure.

"We will wait and see if we are served those court documents or not."

Mr Samson expects the first leases to be cancelled by mid-July.

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