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Long-term economic vision

The mineral deposits of gold, oil and copper, and the production of palm oil has grown over the past few years, and become a major agricultural export. Luckily, landowners, especially on the coastal areas, have invested in this new industry, whereas, in the Highland provinces with restrictions on obtaining land for development due to customary land titles, it makes it almost impossible for foreign companies to invest long-term in this kind of investment without steep compensation requirements and contracts to improve the environment with roads and schools.

Subsistent farming, with smaller household industry of cocoa, coffee, coconut oil and copra still remain a major export. The United Nations declared in 2006, that the designation of the United Nations Development Policy to developing nations (including PNG) to be ìdowngraded to least-developed country because of protracted economic and social stagnation.î Since then, with a more stable government and a recent economic growth attributed to strong commodity prices in mineral and agricultural foods and, a high demand for mineral products and investments in Liquefied Natural Gas ( PNG LNG), ( to include exploration, production wells, pipelines, storage plants and port-terminals all within PNG), 2009 saw a turn-around for self-productivity on the long-term. Sometime in 2014, the major gas project, PNG LNG along with a PNG company called Oil Search, based in Port Moresby, led by ExxonMobil, will begin to export to China, Japan and Korea. Other major gas companies, Total S.A (France), InterOil Corp (US) and Royal Dutch Shell, all have long-term sights on oil production in Papua New Guinea. It is the contentions between land-owners and foreign companies that make final exploration an economic liability and long-term production, in some areas, difficult. Proposed submarine exploration in the Bismarck Sea was delayed due to land-owner court challenges. So it goes on.

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Papua New Guinea’s long-term economic vision is based on a more diverse economy, to include sustainable industries. Logging has always been an issue with land-owners and the establishment of a Sovereign Wealth Fund to reform ìrampant corruptionî and to utilise revenue and expenditure flow proves to be beneficial to all the country, so that individual provinces will not promote a hegemony-dominance of wealth and take bribes from land-owners to allow mineral and oil companies to access the land. It is important to realise that 97% of total land area is owned by the local people (customary land-owners), and the remaining usable land is either held by a 99 year State Lease or, by the government. There is very little freehold titles as freeholds can only be held by Papua New Guinean citizens. Customary land is owned by community clans and definition of ownership is held by individual heads of the clan, whose identity may be obscure, or dead. This makes economic development slow or in some cases, untenable, as the true ownership of the land is not clear and disputes have occurred between false land-owners and those declaring ownership that is passed on by customary inheritance and not devised by the western style of making a will.

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For centuries land-ownership was customary and each clan dealt with their own form of a subsistence economy of producing kaukau (sweet potato), green-leaf vegetables and rearing pigs for barter, exchange, festive eating-rituals and ceremonials, i.e. moka exchange (peace-offerings after war-fare), marriage transactions, initiation ceremonies and funerals. Over a hundred years ago, with the insertion of missionaries and colonial planters, plantations of sugar-cane, coconut, cocoa, banana and, in the highland provinces, cash crops of tea and coffee, land-owners were part of the transaction. They gave land to the mission to build churches and mission stations, which in most cases included a health centre and school. Today, despite the multinational companies and Special Agricultural and Business Leases (SABLs), to acquire certain areas of customary land, there remains certain levels of corruption, with companies under the SABLs scheme, claiming that the land is for agriculture and business, thus clearing the forest as part of their scheme to make access for airstrips and roads as a ‘back-door mechanism for securing tropical forest resources for logging and circumventing the more exacting requirement of the Forest Act which demands Timber Permits.’ It is only after years of investigation that the Commission of Inquiry (est. 2011), has presented their findings to be presented in Parliament.

(R.M.H.)

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