“Process” preventing PNG government from slaying zombie plantation licenses

Thursday, January 18th, 2018

Papua New Guinea’s Land Minister has said that “process” is delaying the cancellation of devastating and illegal licenses, one year after the country’s Prime Minister claimed they had already been cancelled.

In the 2000s, 50,000 square kilometres of forest belonging to indigenous communities was leased by the government to private plantation and logging companies, under Special Agricultural Business Licenses, or SABLs. A government inquiry, in 2013, found that the process was riddled with fraud and illegality.

Since then, senior figures within government, including Prime Minister Peter O’Neill, have made repeatedly stated that the licenses would be cancelled, and even that they had.

In March last year O’Neill announced on live TV: “we have cancelled all the licenses. All SABL licenses are illegal in this country.”

But in an Al Jazeera short film released last Friday, 12th January, Land Minister Justin Tkatchenko admits the licenses have yet to be cancelled. He told Al Jazeera’s reporter that legal process is preventing the cancellation, almost half-a-decade on from the government inquiry.

Al Jazeera forests that are currently being logged under SABLs, then has the following exchange with Tkatchenko:

Tkatchenko: There’s definitely some that are illegal, there’s no question about it, and they will be cancelled. They will be cancelled and all logging will stop.

AJ: But it’s not stopping. We’ve just been in East Britain, the logging is devastating.

Tkatchenko: Correct. You’re right. It’s not stopping because of the fact that we still have to go through the process. There’s a legal process.

AJ: But it’s going to stop?

Tkatchenko: It will stop.

Click here to watch Al Jazeera’s report.

Click here to read our previous stories on PNG and the ‘zombie’ SABLs.