Papua New Guinea’s growing need for more residential land

A Papua New Guinea (PNG) think tank says the government must ensure that land is available for people to legitimately live on.

It is a feature of life in PNG that tens of thousands of people live illegally as squatters on the fringes of the country’s cities.

Residents of one of the largest such settlements in the capital of Port Moresby, Bush Wara, are facing the threat of being forcibly moved on this month, as the owner of the site plans to build a new suburb there.

The national superannuation body, Nambawan Super, has owned the 200-hectare site for more than 30 years and has advised the residents it wants to start the development of a fully serviced suburb in the area.

It advised in late April that the settlers would have until mid-July to leave the site or be forcibly removed.

On Saturday, Prime Minister James Marape said his government is working on solutions for people who have been ordered to move out of their residence of settlement.

The Institute of National Affairs’ executive director, Paul Barker, told RNZ Pacific this is just one of several illegally occupied sites that are earmarked for clearance.

“All around the vicinity of Port Moresby, there are legitimate landlords and a whole host who have received their land through rather less legitimate means. Nambawan Super certainly has legitimate title,” Barker said.

Paul Barker

However, others he said have far less credible title.

“It’s certainly tough. But it highlights a much bigger issue, which is that the Prime Minister makes statements, for example, saying that, ‘look, you’ve got to make sure that you’ve got proper title to land where you are going to go and live’. But the reality is, who provides the land?”

He said the situation is the same in all other towns and cities across the country, according to the Lands Department.

“There is totally inadequate state land made available for the growing populations. So, you inevitably are ending up with settlements.

“Many of the settlements have been there for very long periods of time, almost going back to World War Two, and they are being relocated for new developments.”

He said Nambawan Super have a long established title and people who were putting up houses there were given warnings.

“But it is very challenging, and the settlements are a very large proportion of the entire population, and they are housing a large portion of the formal workforce, as well as the informal workforce.

“So you’re having people in the professions – lawyers, accountants, government workers, policemen, all on these settlement lands.

“Some of them have put very large sums of money into developing their houses, and then sometimes those are destroyed at very short notice.

Barker said there are a variety of other major demolitions that are being planned by landlords around the country.

He said alternative arrangements could, and should, be made, and that promises made by those in authority “don’t usually materialise”.

“In many cases, the settlers are going on customary land and customary landowners are reaching tentative arrangements with the settlers, which the settlers then think are actually legitimate.

“The onus is on government to enable both the customary landowners to legitimately trade their land, if they so choose, for long term leases, adequate for settlers to actually be able to commit to building and maybe reselling properties over the course of time, but also for the state to acquire land legitimately.”

According to Barker, in many cases the squatters are either paying rent or they have paid someone for the land.

But with vast areas of customary land, they are all direct deals between customary landowners and settlers, without legitimate legal title.

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‘State has a major responsibility’

Barker believes all kinds of special arrangements could be made for the landowners and the squatters coming to an arrangement where there are lots of surveyed and they by the law but are living on.

“Obviously those who have got title, like superannuation funds and others who have legitimate title, want to safeguard that title and ensure that it’s not encroached upon, but there are opportunities for them to work out arrangements.

“But we have to recognise that the state has a major responsibility to make sure that land by one means or another is able to be available legitimately.”

He noted that PNG is also facing a situation where urbanisation has been happening at a fast rate, often due to the provision of inadequate services in the rural areas, or because of conflicts.

He said some people caught in conflicts in places such as Enga and Hela, would return if they had an assurance that peace and harmony could be restored.

“But in the meantime, you have all these internally displaced people often ending up as squatters or staying with all their relatives in the National Capital and adding to the population pressure and the demands on those houses.

“Government needs to take responsibility and not wash its hands and say it is someone else’s responsibility.”

He said land has been an area where there has been a lot of malpractice in PNG.

Barker said there have been a succession of lands ministers as well as lands department officials who have looked after themselves.

“A lot of slices of the state land have been carved out and allocated through backdoor means rather than front door means.

“You’ve got situation as a result, where you have got multiple titles on some land, even where the banks think they have a mortgage over land, they find out that others also have title to that land.”

He added making the land process much more transparent, more legitimate, making sure that more land is properly acquired, and enabling the customary landowners to more formally transact on their land, would help address the problem.

According to the news on Radio New Zealand

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