Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Churches main cause of land issues in Vidar & Basamuk

Madang province is now embarking on some of the major economic projects in the country. These projects include the Ramu Nickel Mine, Yandera Gold Mine, the Pacific Marine Industrial Zone (PMIZ), Carbon Trade Pilot project at Middle-Ramu, Ramu Oil Palm and a long history of logging activities.

With these major economic project, there is one cross-cutting issue - Landownership and customary landowners. For now I would like to touch on two major projects thriving on lands acquired by religious organizations under a 99 year lease arrangement.

The land area at Vidar which was acquired by the Catholic Church in the 1800's from the locals from Kananam, went through several transactions after the 99 years lease lapsed. The Catholic church gave the land over to the government of PNG (not sure whether some money were exchanged in the transaction), then the government sold it to RD Tuna, and RD Tuna sold about a quarter of that Vidar landmass back to the government who is now embarking on the PMIZ project.

In a similar situation, the Lutheran Church also acquired the land at Basamuk from the locals under a 99 years lease. After the lease lapsed, the land went to the government and now the Ramu Nickel Mine developer CMCC who has set up the production plant site for the nickel.

Customary Landownership issues surrounding these two projects remains an unsolved issue. Both the Catholic and the Lutheran Churches entered the 99 years lease agreements with primitives and illiterate leaders who never went to school and do not understand the consequences of the agreements.

The Lutheran and the Catholic church also brought in people from the hinterlands to work on the plantations at Vidar and Basamuk. Now the 4th and 5th generations are also claiming landownership of the plantations and are challenging the customary landowners in participating as traditional landowners in the two projects.

The land titles commission is yet to deliberate on these landownership issues, but it is very clear the Catholic and the Lutheran churches are very quiet on the issue when in fact they are the main causes of the problems.
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