Papua New Guinea’s new Lands Minister says it’s his mission to clean up the entrenched corruption in the Lands Department.
Justin Tkatchenko says he’s formulating a five year plan to weed out a network of corrupt officials who facilitate crooked land deals that alienate Papua New Guineans from their land.
Appointed as Lands & Physical Minister this month in Peter O’Neill’s new-look government, Mr Tkatchenko warns that he may make himself unpopular with some department staff.
He spoke to Johnny Blades about taking on the job.
JUSTIN TKATCHENKO: Yeah it is a major responsibility and it has huge problems that need rectifying immediately and for the long term. And I have faced in my own electorate in Moresby South issues and problems with the lands department with land grabbing and stealing and all this sort of stuff protecting public places and all the rest. So I understand the problems we have that need to be rectified.
JOHNNY BLADES: How is it there are these problems through the lands department and with the way the land is used.
JT: I think this has accumulated for many many years. And land is a scarce commodity in our country especially in our city areas our urban areas we are finding selfish greedy individuals are bribing and corrupting land department officials to get portions and allotments of land that they are not entitled to and stealing public places. Land is a quick way of making money. And through the lands board we have had great difficulty where the land has been given away to foreigners and to Papua New Guineans and then not applied for and what they wanted to do on that land has not been implemented and they have just utilised that land got the land and sold it and made money. So there’s rorts in the system everybody clearly has the perception that the lands department is totally corrupt. So it is my job to change that perception and that is going to be a massive task so we are introducing some key sectors here and one of them is the setting up of the fraud and complaints unit with the department of personnel management inside the lands department. Where any person or public can go and register their complaints on land deals and the staff within the lands department. That really hasn’t been done and we are putting in four staff dedicated from the personnel management area. HR and as well as two lawyers to go through all the complaints all the fraud. Look at all of those who have been suspended and reinstated or terminated and reinstated and just clean up the department from top to bottom. Now I am not going to be the most popular person here I am probably going to be the most hated minister after I do it. But at the end of the day it is needed. So the public places, recreational facilities land our people’s customary land is finally given back to the rightful owners and for the right usages.
JB: I was going to ask you about the SABLs ?
JT: That I will be making a press conference on that in the next couple of days and with that the NEC has issued for a high powered committee to be set up to review and to cancel all SABLs that are not adhering to what they are set out for them to do. For example how can you have an agricultural lease here in Port Moresby in a residential area? It doesn’t make sense. So there are a lot of SABLs that are totally not doing the purpose that they are supposed to be doing in respect to agriculture and other things like that. There are some SABLs that have worked very very well in the country. And the people have done the right thing when they have applied for it. So these need to be sorted out.
JB: I guess you have been, you will be well aware of some of the complaints from some of the landowner advocates or that the statement about the cancellation of the ones that have been fraudulently obtained which according to that report back in 2013 was the majority of them. But they still hadn’t been cancelled and I think the forestry minister had indicated that they would probably be converted to customary leases which just sounds like another name for something that is still bad. So what can you do about that?
JT: So what has happened is that within the department and the state solicitor is involved with this as well and the provincial affairs office. We there has been a high power committee set up to go over the reports especially that was given to us by the two commissioners and from there we will then issue the SABLs will be either cancelled or continued on terms and conditions that I would say ninety percent of them will be reviewed of being cancelled. No other SABLs given the direction are to be issued at all from our department. That is now stopped and cancelled and we have to rectify all these ones that are currently causing problems for our people as we speak. So this is going to take time and I will personally get involved to ensure that there is no side deals and the complaints are taken seriously and legitimately and we will work with the department of forestry and the agriculture department on the ones that are working well, those that are not will be cancelled.