By Oala Moi*
Tuesday 1 May 2012 – Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea: Boera village located on the coast, approximately 30 kilometres west of Port Moresby, is a Motuan village that is on an economic joyride to destination anywhere courtesy of industrial and commercial developments taking place on land and sea surrounding it.
They are the types of development unprecedented in the region in which Boera finds itself. And not many people are aware too that because of this, her total land area under customary ownership has been reduced to those lands outside what are by and large State portions.
What is left of Boera’s customary landholding can be further subjected to customary land located within Boera’s side of the traditional boundaries shared with neighbouring villages like Papa to its north and Porebada to its south.
The diminishing customary land area is a reality that a land custodian in an average landowning clan in Boera has to grapple with when he is faced with a decision to distribute or register title over customary land now and in the future. Add to that the potential there is for a fundamental change to a people who are not used to a metropolitan lifestyle that awaits them with open arms.
Take the developments on land for instance.
To Boera’s north and north-east is state land and in particular ex-portion 152 and portion 11 which became freehold land after their acquisition by agreement in 1908 and 1915 respectively. In 2007, the State acquired both portions through a process of compulsory acquisition thus freeing each one from their leaseholders. Ex-portion 152 was portioned into portion 2456 and portion 2459 respectively. Portion 2456 is the western half of ex-portion 152. It was granted under a 99-year lease to Esso Highlands Limited to develop a petroleum processing facility for the Exxon Mobil-led PNG LNG Project. Portion 2459 is the eastern half of ex-portion 152 which is not part of the PNG LNG Project and presumed vacant land.
Portion 11 is the latest State portion slated for development, and another indication that Port Moresby city is expanding this way. There are already unconfirmed reports that local landowner company, Boera Holdings Limited, is planning to commission the construction of a satellite township development on the 155-plus hectares of land. Aptly named Edai Town, after Edai Siabo the inventor of the lagatoi vessel prominent in the hiri trade and Motuan folklore, the proposed township comprises a total of 791 allotments.
Located near Boera is another state lease: portion 2174C. It is where a HF Transmitting Station owned and operated by Telikom PNG Limited can be found. In July 2004, customary landowner representatives from Boera signed a memorandum of agreement allowing construction of the station, and annual land lease rental to be withheld by the State due to a dispute between signatories over individual land boundaries within portion 2174C. The dispute was transferred to the Central Local Land Court and to date this has not been resolved.
There are developments over sea as well.
Portion 2456 borders with another state lease: portion 2457. Portion 2457 is a strip of land (foreshore) between portion 2456 and the ocean. Portion 2457 is required for the processing facilities and for access to portion 2458, which lies between Boera and Papa. Portion 2458 is the offshore area required by Esso Highlands Limited for the construction of a pier and other pipeline facilities for the export of liquefied natural gas.
Portion 2458 is over 900 hectares of sea and seabed. Until 2009, it was a traditional route or fishing spot frequented by local fishermen. But like portion 2456, Esso Highlands Limited also holds 99-year leases over portions 2457 and 2458.
Although it is not the first time Boera people have been deprived of fishing, hunting, water, and gardening rights, pressure from issues like population growth, project-related labour movement, and urbanization will accelerate a change in the cultural behaviour and thinking of a Boera villager or Boera village for that matter through contact with another culture. The effect of post-contact acculturation was steady for the past hundred years ago and has certainly picked up with the industrial and commercial developments.
How are Boera villagers managing with this process of acculturation post-2009? There is no comprehensive study.
But judging from newspaper reports, Boera has already been visited by events that are imported by project developments of this kind.
In 2009, private owners of fibreglass dinghies and outboard motors are said to have sold their dinghies and motors convinced that the PNG LNG would be a source of permanent employment. This has turned out to be a fallacy.
And since 2011, local villagers employed by landowners company Laba Holdings Limited and seconded to PNG LNG subcontractors have been involved in more than one strike action over wage rates.
In 2012, the engineering and construction phase is expected to conclude thereby ending all related unskilled and semi-skilled employment.
Whether Boera people have been taken for a joy ride is left to be seen. And there are other socio-economic effects invisible yet waiting to show their ugly heads. If it is not managed well, there lies the potential for a future generation of unemployables, destitute, and disorientated teenagers. As leaseholder of Portion 11, Boera Holdings Limited has a wonderful opportunity to create education, health, and housing trusts out of the lease revenue collected through Edai Township.
Meanwhile, let us remain hopeful that when the economic joyride should come to an end, the police will not be waiting to arrest the driver and passengers.
*The author is from the impacted area and is Party to Proceedings in the Supreme Court regarding land in the LNG project area