by Quinton Alomp – EM TV News, Port Moresby
A senior tribesman from the Tuguba tribe in Southern Highlands Province said the Exxon Mobil owned Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) project is illegally settling on their land.
Tribal Chief and Chairman of Tuguba tribe, Simon Ekanda, said the project is illegal because it was established on the land where true landowners were not yet identified.
“The LNG project is illegal because the Tuguba tribe, which I am the Chairman, did not give our consent for Exxon Mobil to have access to our private property (the land),” he said.
The Tuguba tribe territory covers a large portion of land where the LNG project is setup.
His arguments were that proper processes were omitted. These processes include social mapping, clan vetting and land identification.
These processes were supposed to be carried out and solved before the project established on the ground.
However, social mapping and land identification is still in progress. Currently, National Court Judge, Justice Kandakasi, is carrying out mediation to sort out the issue.
But Simon Ekanda shifted a large share of the blame to the then Somare government for bulldozing the setup of the project.
According to documents obtained by EM TV News, the then Attorney General, Dr. Allan Marat, was given only five hours to read through the 200 plus pages of the LNG Agreement and give the constitutional and legal clearance.
Though Marat insisted not to, and requested for a week to go through the agreement, the government insisted otherwise.
This has not gone down well with the Tuguba tribal chief, who maintains his position that the LNG project was illegally setup on their land without their consent.
In 2009, landowners were flown over to Kokopo for the Umbrella Benefit Sharing Agreement (UBSA). Members of the Tuguba tribe have not signed the document because of a court order preventing the meeting.
But again questions were raised on who signed the agreement when the process of identifying the real landowners and clans is still ongoing.
Some of these questions end up in courts and the landowners fear they might not benefit from royalties which they were supposed to earn with the first shipment of gas last year.