[Documents menu]History of Papua New Guinea and occupied West PNG
Date: Fri, 8 Sep 1995 02:12:05 GMT
Sender: Activists Mailing List <ACTIV-L@MIZZOU1.missouri.edu>
Subject: IMF Plan Rejected by Papua New Guinea People
/** econ.saps: 270.0 **/
** Topic: IMF plan rejected by png people **
** Written 1:16 PM Sep 7, 1995 by margross in cdp:econ.saps **
From: Ross Hammond <margross>
/* Written 7:16 PM Sep 6, 1995 by twn in igc:twn.features */
/* ---------- "IMF plan rejected by png people" ---------- */

IMF plan rejected by PNG people

By Kalinga Seneviratne, for Third World Network Features
6 September 1995

To curb rising civil unrest, the Papua New Guinea government may withdraw the Land Mobilisation Programme imposed by the International Monetary Fund, the Australian government and the Japan Export-Import Bank in exchange for a $235 million rescue package.

Sydney: Mounting civil unrest is forcing the government of Papua New Guinea to rethink pushing through with a land reform programme that is a major component of a deal it struck with the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

Reports reaching here indicate that the PNG government may yet withdraw the Land Mobilisation Programme (LMP) that was among the conditions imposed by the IMF, the Australian government and the Japan Export-Import Bank in exchange for a $235 million rescue package.

Protests greeted the World Bank appraisal team that was in Papua New Guinea in July to assess the implementation of the various elements of the reform plan agreed to by a cash-strapped Port Moresby.

University students attacked and set fire to government vehicles, while the vehicles of provincial officials on their way to a meeting on the LMP were commandeered by protesters. Labour leaders, non-government organisations (NGOs) and even soldiers also joined demonstrations in the capital. In a phone interview from Port Moresby, National Union of Students of PNG vice president John Napu told IPS that students and NGO representatives had met with Lands Minister Albert Kipalan two weeks earlier during which the official gave an undertaking to withdraw the LMP legislation.

But Prime Minister Julius Chan balked at the idea, and said the government would go ahead with the LMP. Said Napu: 'The Prime Minister says that because we have debts to the World Bank and IMF, beggars can't be choosers and the government has to enforce (the agreement). We students and the people of the country are saying, "No, we don't want the legislation of customary land."' Customary land tenure in Papua New Guinea covers 97% of all land and supports more than 85% of the total population.

Customary land rights are obtained by virtue of being a member of, or being affiliated to, a land-owning group.

'Customary land tenure system serves the needs and requirements of the people,' says University of PNG lecturer and land tenure specialist Andrew Lakau.

'It has preserved a way of life which the people know best,' he adds. 'Because of it, people have remained on or returned to the land, rather than drift to remain in a stagnant urban sector. It has also prevented the rise of a tenant-landlord class of people.'

But for some time now, the government has been trying to register all customary land. It said it wanted to find out how landowners could benefit by developing the property without losing it. Kipalan himself has said it was important to work out a system where customary owners could develop their land in joint-ventures with developers or by just becoming landlords while others lease and work the land.

Meanwhile, foreign consultants, including those from the World Bank, have called for structural changes to the customary land tenure system. According to them, the present set-up is an impediment to productivity and economic development.

In this regard, customary land registration is the main policy strategy that has been repeatedly advocated.

When the government moved to introduce legislation to implement the LMP in the midst of negotiations with the IMF, many Papua New Guineans thought they saw a conspiracy by foreign capital to buy their lands.

Lakau insists that rather than being a disincentive to development, the customary land tenure system has provided subsistence security in a country where there are no unemployment benefits or a social security system to speak of.

He notes, 'When people fail in the education system, fail to find any job or are fed up with living in the urban ghettos and squatter settlements, their most worthwhile options is to return to their homeland and make a living from their customary landholdings.'

Lakau also says most of the country's cash crops are produced on customary land with no serious land tenure obstacles. For example, he says, 70% of coffee, 42% of copra and 40% of cocoa are produced by small holders on their customary landholdings with no registered titles.

'People are generally quite willing to work harder, produce cash crops and make other economic use of their land,' observes Lakau. But he says they can only do so if the government provides them with favourable support services such as transport, credit extension and market outlets.

There seems to be divisions within the government itself regarding the issue. While the premier was championing the programme, his deputy speaker was busy calling for the immediate withdrawal of the LMP legislation.

The deputy speaker also publicly supported the protests and even went as far as calling the IMF and the World Bank 'monsters' for pushing the LMP under the name of economic development to suit their own ends.

Napu said they will be fanning out to the provinces to explain to landholders the ins and outs of the government's land reform moves. He dismissed as 'total rubbish' suggestions in the Australian media that the PNG demonstrators are being manipulated by Australian and other Western NGOs.

'We have access to all the policy papers of the IMF and the World Bank, including all the added policy documents on the structural adjustment programmes and draft legislation,' he said. 'We have read them and act on this information, not on any advice of foreign NGOs.'

Added Napu: 'If we are given an opportunity to see the people concerned with the prime minister and his deputy...we'll place it on the table.'

_ Third World Network Features/Inter Press Service

About the writer: Kalinga Seneviratne is a Sri Lankan-born Australian journalist, broadcaster and media researcher. He writes for the Inter Press Service (IPS) news agency and teaches Development Journalism at the University of Technology, Sydney.

When reproducing this feature, please credit Third World Network Features and (if applicable) the cooperating magazine or agency involved in the article and give the byline. Please send us cuttings.

Published by Third World Network 228, Macalister Road, 10400 Penang, Malaysia. Email: twn@igc.apc.org; Tel: (+604)2293511; Fax: (+604)2264505.

[World History Archives] [Gateway to World History] [Images from World History] [Hartford Web Publishing]