They came early in the morning and gathered at the Council Chambers at Dagua. Landowners from various SABLs in East Sepik mobilized to present their grievances. The Commission of Inquiry into Special Purpose Agriculture Business Leases commenced today in Wewak, the Capital of East Sepik Province. The Commission, which is equivalent to a Royal Commission in Australia, was set up to investigate the largest land grab perpetrated against the indigenous peoples of Papua New Guinea by their government.
Over 5.2 million hectares of land has been transferred to foreign hands under dubious Agriculture leases. Most observers believe these leases were a cover to bypass stringent forestry regulations and log tropical hardwood.
In East Sepik Province, the Commission head by Commissioner Nicholas Miro will investigate leases belonging to Sepik Oil Palm (Turubu), Brilliant Investments (Marrianberg) Mapsera and Nungawa Rainforest (Ambunti/Drekirir).
As the Commission of Inquiry Convened in the morning, opposing groups hurled insults at each other and had to be controlled by police in full combat gear. A vocal group of landowners from Turubu marched down to the COI armed with placards denouncing the land grab and are expected to present their petition to the COI today.
Commissioner Miro told the crowd attending the inquiry that the inquiry would determine whether proper land investigation processes were followed. As he highlighted key points in the process, there was applause from around the room. He said a normal land investigation process should involve:
· a head count of the number of people in the area
· a boundary survey done by physically walking the land boundary
· consultations with people with-in and without the boundary
· and most importantly, there must be informed majority consent
The Commission then adjourned for today and visited the Sepik Oil Palm SABL, Portion 144c yesterday afternoon.