The people of Tubusereia Village in the Central Province have come out and made their stand known on what they think is illegal land grabbing by the government and developers of the Loloata Island Resort in Central Province.
They say they have been spectators on their own land for too long, and it is now time for the government to hear them or they take matters into their own hands.
Loloata Island was alienated from them back in 1895 when colonial administrators first settled in Port Moresby, back then when PNG was not even a country yet and subsequently became state land after independence.
The 99-year lease to the island land expired in 1996.
Landowners gave notice to the State then and 25 years later, they are yet to receive any response from the government.
“For 25 years, we’ve dealt with 3 different Prime Ministers, 3 different secretaries, not one single reply came through,” said the clan leader, Rarua Biga.
They say the state is yet to complete the acquisition of the land (Loloata Island) so it can become state land by way of declaration under Section 7 and 9 of the National Land Registration Act.
However, the developer has responded through their legal representative maintaining that the acquisition was done by agreement with their ancestors as per Deed of Attestation No 320.
But the people say the agreement that took place back in 1895 lacked the basic elements of an agreement to be binding given the fact that for an agreement to be binding, it should be well understood by both parties and in this case, the ancestors at that time did not have the slightest idea of the transaction.
The landowners, therefore, maintain that the land has been “STOLEN” from their ancestors by deception and so the developer cannot use Section 53 of the Constitution to argue that the requirement for compulsory acquisition to be for public purpose.
And to add salt to the wound, Lands Minister John Rosso in May published a gazettal notice in the papers making the department’s intentions known to declare the surrounding sea and reefs of Loloata Island as State Land under Section 5 of the Land Act.
This is what has provoked the landowners to stage a peaceful protest today, where a petition was presented to the Governor of Central Province, Robert Agarobe.
They say the sea is their “Supermarket” – that’s where they get their food from and has always been their traditional fishing grounds.
“That’s our SUPERMARKET, our supermarket for the last 100 years and you come and grab it without informing the people the implications of the registration and you’re telling the people that this is no longer your property, it belongs to state?……. Information is very very important, this is what’s lacking with the government,” added Mr. Rarua.
Central Governor Robert Agarobe in receiving the petition assured the people, he would discuss this further with the authorities.
“But as your governor, I’m giving you my word now that I got your petition, I will go straight to the Lands Minister and I’ll sit with him,” Agarobe assured the people.
Agarobe says this and other land issues in the province is something he has been fighting for since taking office as Governor of the province by submitting a petition to the government in 2018.
“The petition is all about the state of Papua New Guinea going back a hundred and thirty-five years and investigating Central Province issues. And 135 years is, that’s when the first white man landed on our beach. The day the white man landed on our beach was the day our lives were changed,” Governor Agarobe said.
He says while business is good and companies and business houses are welcome to do business in the province, they must provide spin-off benefits for the locals.
His comments follow concerns raised by the leaders that no locals were employed at the resort and with zero participation in spin-off benefits by the locals.
In their frustration, they also revealed certain actions taken by the developer which they think has infringed on their rights and is provocative and has the potential to attract violence in the future.
Locals have been harassed by the security guards on the island while they are out fishing in and around the island.
“We’ve been physically harassed we’ve been verbally harassed, even assaulted with weapons. This has to stop!” said a local.
Some even claimed they were put under gun-point to retreat to their village and not to go fishing near the resort.
Clan Leader Rarua Biga also expressed disgust at how the developer bulldozed the place up for development, in the process destroying their traditional burial sites.
Rarua says the village chiefs were not informed of this, they heard rumours and when they went there, they found the remains (bones) of their ancestors buried by the developer at a location behind the island.
He said he retrieved the remains and took it back to the village and has kept them as evidence.
Nasfund owns 50 percent of the Loloata Island Resort and CEO Ian Tarutia said during the initial planning stages of the development, landowners were taken into consideration but he will consult with other shareholders and find a way to solve this.
He assured landowners that the resort looks at ways to amicably resolve this.