Commission of Inquiry into Special Agriculture and Business Leases: Final Report

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    Report of the Chief Commissioner, John Numapo

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    John Numapo Chief Commissioner Port Moresby

    24th June, 2013

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    This is our Final Report. It differs markedly from our Interim Report in structure and content layout as a direct result of the manner in which the government received our Interim Report. This change of strategy on our part, amongst other imperatives, is a full acknowledgement that the government is entitled to demand of us a Final Report of a kind that suits its purposes. However we do have a duty to report the truth as we discovered the truth through our investigations, in the context of our own experiences as well as offer best options on the way forward.

    This Commission of Inquiry (COI) was established by Acting Prime Minister Hon. Sam Abal MP pursuant to his powers under Section 2 of the Commission of Inquiry Act (Chapter 31) on 21st July 2011 to investigate and inquire into SABLs and their operations.

    Growing concerns over the way in which SABLs were being acquired and the manner in which SABLs were being used for dubious agriculture and business purposes, as some instances indicated, generated heated debate. It was estimated that over 5.2 million hectares of customary land around the country had been alienated, mostly for ‘special agriculture activities’ over virgin forest tracts containing tropical hardwoods. It was estimated that more than 400 SABLs have been issued over customary land since the early 1980s to the time this COI was set up.

    The turnkey event that singularly galvanized government into action was the James Cook University conference in Cairns, Australia in March of 2011 where social and environmental scientists, natural resource managers and non-governmental organizations from Papua New Guinea (PNG) and other countries met to discuss future management and conservation of PNG’s native forest. An anecdotal figure of 5.2 million hectares of customary land being alienated through SABLs was first noted at that conference. It was resolved there that appropriate actions be taken to halt further grant of SABLs by Department of Lands and Physical Planning and issue of Forest Clearance Authority (FCA) by PNG Forest Authority. The conference called for an inquiry to be set up by government to inquire into the application, registration, processing and issue of SABLs. The conference further called for a moratorium to be imposed on processing of SABL applications while the inquiry was being carried out.

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    The government moved proactively and set up this COI. By a set of wide Terms of Reference (TOR) this COI was directed to investigate seventy-two (72) SABLs scattered around the country. During the course of our inquiry three (3) more SABLs were added, increasing the total number of SABLs we needed to investigate to seventy-five (75).

    We were initially tasked to complete inquires within three (3) months, by which time we were to provide a Final Report containing our findings and recommendations to the government. The initial three months was simply inadequate. We were directed to investigate a large number of SABLs and the wide ranging TOR obligated us to carry out investigations into many