Oct 22, 2017 Last Updated 8:27 AM, Oct 20, 2017

THE Papua New Guinea Government has finally decided to shut down illegal logging leases that have enriched foreign companies and dispossessed traditional landowners. The decision would put an end to a dubious agriculture and business purposes scheme where an estimated more than 5.2 million hectares of customary land around the country had been alienated for ‘special agriculture activities’ over virgin forest tracts containing tropical hardwoods.

It was estimated that more than 400 leases had been issued over customary land since the early 1980s to 2013. The country’s new Lands Minister, Justin Tkatchenko, has announced a committee to review the 175 controversial Special Agricultural Business Leases (SABL) with objective to cancel the leases. Mr Tkatchenko said a Customary Land Advisory Committee would deal with the SABLs which, he said, was a long-outstanding issue and one that was advertised all around the world.

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About to fall down

PNG - land of the mystic

PAPUA New Guinea marks its independence this month, just weeks after the end of elections. This land of contrast with vast amounts of natural resources has been plagued by corruption and violence for decades. As this edition goes to print, Prime Minister Peter O’Neill faces leadership challenges despite his reelection.

Veteran Pacific journalist, JALE MOALA offers this insight into PNG, Land of the Unexpected. Today I bring you two photos to illustrate the complexities of Papua New Guinea. The first is inside the first gate of our living compound in Waigani, a suburb of Port Moresby that is the heart of the government and city administrations.

I took the photo at about 7.30pm on Friday July 7, 10 minutes after men armed with guns had forced their way into the outer perimeter of our compound and held up our security guards while the rest went after my neighbour as he sat in his car waiting for the second gate to open. They forced my neighbour out at gunpoint, took the car and disappeared into the night as quickly as they had come.

The US State Department says that the crime rate in PNG is among the highest in the world. 

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PAPUA New Guinea’s Prime Minister Peter O’Neill recorded history by being elected into office for a second year term on July 2. He defeated a determined coalition of parties known as ‘The Alliance’ in a vote 60 to 46 but the real challenges are those that lie ahead for the re-elected Prime Minister. The returning Prime Minister will have many questions to answer for the general conduct of this year’s elections, the ninth in PNG’s short history.

The election has been marred by violence, numerous allegations of malfeasance, an attempted kidnapping, and comical court proceedings. A common feature across the country was the poor state of the electoral roll. Thousands of Papua New Guineans, many of whom voted in 2012, were disenfranchised, ineligible to vote because their names did not appear on the updated list. Independent observers have called the state of the electoral roll ‘alarming’, and it is the largest single issue that threatens the legitimacy of the election.

The Commonwealth Observer Group highlighted in its preliminary report that a key issue and challenge to the election has been the significant number of eligible voters whose names were not on the common roll. The Group was very disappointed to note that previous COG reports that highlighted the need to address this issue, have yet to be implemented.

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End of the road for Somare

AN era came to an end on April 4 when Papua New Guinea’s ‘father of the nation’ and one of the longest serving parliamentarians in the Pacific and the Commonwealth, Grand Chief Sir Michael Somare took up his seat in Parliament for one last time to bid farewell. Exactly 49 years earlier, a younger Michael Somare walked into the House of Assembly in the Territory of Papua and New Guinea as a politician for the first time on April 4, 1968.

Sir Michael was retiring and his last sitting was also the conclusion of PNG’s ninth parliament before it adjourned for the general elections in late June. The former prime minister was given a standing ovation as he gave his farewell speech to parliament. Sir Michael, who served this last fiveyear parliament term as East Sepik Governor after his ousting as prime minister in 2011, said it had been a privilege to have served the people of Papua New Guinea.

“I practise national unity and I am proud to be called the father of the nation,” said the man known in PNG as the ‘Grand Chief’. Highly respected throughout the Pacific Islands region, Sir Michael was instrumental in ushering PNG to independence from Australia in 1975, upon which he served as the country’s first prime minister.

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PM O’Neill upbeat

PNG prepares to go to the polls

RIDING on the perceived success of the government’s core policies, Prime Minister Peter O’Neill is confident of retaining government after the 2017 National Elections. Equally vying for the same is Opposition Leader Don Polye with other hopefuls including People’s Progress Party leader Ben Micah, National Alliance leader Patrick Pruaitch and Pangu Party leader Sam Basil.

They have publicly expressed interest - all are sitting Members of Parliament who will be seeking re-election in the polls which will open with nominations on April 27. Polling will start on June 24 and ends on July 8. Counting will start immediately and a new government will be expected after July 24.

Coming from the outside is former Prime Minister Sir Mekere Morauta who has indicated interest in re-entering politics from retirement. He has his sights set on the top job as well. Prime Minister Peter O’Neill is banking on his coalition government’s core policies to return him and his party to power after the elections. The policies include tuition fee free education, free primary health care and infrastructure development, among others.

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