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Managing Customary Land in Papua New Guinea

By Serah Aupong – EM TV, Port Moresby

The Lands Department was set up to manage state land leases only; and was not set up, to manage the unique challenges that come with customary landownership.

The National Research Institute is working with the PNG government to find an alternative system to manage customary land, and issue customary land leases.

A land system, they say, that empowers customary landowners.

Papua New Guinea’s unique customary land system continues to be an unsolved puzzle for the country’s development.

With a bulk of the country’s land under customary ownership, and a diminishing availability of state land, the country is at a crossroad.

“We have a choice, whether we allow the state to alienate more customary land or we empower customary landowners to bring customary land into the formal system,” Dr Charels Yala, a leading land researcher at the National Research Institute says.

The NRI believes that customary land must remain under the customary land owners and it “will not facilitate the alienation of customary land because the government has shown that it does not have the systems and process to efficiently administer state land.”

Dr Yala says, customary landowners “should not surrender their land to the state” but rather be empowered to enter into the formal government and financial system.

The system that the NRI and the government are developing will see some customary land leases issued this year.

Currently the program is based within the national lands department under the customary lands division.

The history of the lands department in managing land leases does not foster much confidence in the current land administration system.

“Should it remain in the lands department, or should it have a house of its own? If it stays in there, how do we make the system work because we don’t want customary land to be dealt with the same as state land,” Dr Yala said.

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