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Monday, July 22, 2013

The truth: Taurama Valley pilot project

I WRITE to counter some of the misleading statements made by a Concerned Resident of Taurama Pilot Project area on July 11 in The National newspaper in response to my July 8 article.

I believe Concerned Resident is attempting to justify or legitimise his residency in a declared pilot project area. He and others can stay, but all the Office of Urbanisation is attempting to do is make it a planned and serviced formal urban suburb so he can be a proud city resident and not turn his environment into a slum.
Concerned Resident is claiming that the project started in 2000. I have taken out a paid advertisement detailing all the activities that took place, including the dates, so that everyone can appreciate that customary land development is not as easy as Concerned Resident would like to have us believe.

The National Consultative Committee on Urbanisation (NCCU) had its first meeting in August 2003 and Office of Urbanisation (after its organisation structure was approved) was formally in place with a skeleton staff of five in June 2004.

There was no NCCU in 2000. There was no Office of Urbanisation in 2000. There was no Max Kep as chairman or director or any other person as director or chairman of such entities in 2000.
If these institutions were in existence 14 years ago engaged in developing the Taurama project, things would certainly be different. Concerned Resident would not have been there to sabotage our genuine endeavour with a project aimed at helping a marginalised people.

In truth, the Taurama Valley Pilot Project was selected in 2007 and formally launched in March 2008 by then deputy prime minister and minister for lands and physical planning Sir Puka Temu and then minister for community development and Moresby South MP Dame Carol Kidu.

The billboard with the project concept was erected in 2009 after formal planning approval was granted by the NCD physical planning board. The unveiling of the billboard took place amid protest by the landowners as depicted in the inserted picture in the July 11 article by Concerned Resident. The protest coming from potential beneficiaries of the project was bewildering. From thereon, the project was under threat from within the clans from the project site.

A surveyor was engaged to undertake boundary surveys after the erection of the billboard. His work was restrained by the landowners who were against the project. Police were engaged throughout the duration of the survey at great additional cost. The Taurama Incorporated Land Group’s office was constructed in 2011. The contractor is being pursued to complete the office.

Several workshops, seminars and awareness programs were conducted involving national leaders like Sir Puka, Dame Carol, Dr Webster, Dr Yala, Mr Warvi, the NLDP manager, the civil registry, the Office of Urbanisation, Motu-Koitabu village leaders like Rev Dick Avi, Rabura Aiga, Eli Temu and Babani Maraga. It is therefore not a lack of awareness that placed the pilot project under the current mess.
It is people like Concerned Resident who found it right to invade the project area and by making themselves residents, have been responsible for sabotaging the project’s smooth finish.
The greed and selfishness of some members of the landowning clans by selling their land have also been a detrimental factor in the development of Taurama Valley.

The reasoning that the Office of Urbanisation was slow and dragged its feet, giving legitimacy for the invasion of the area by Concerned Resident is simply pathetic.

Taurama Valley Pilot Project is a unique project. This means there are no similar experiences elsewhere in the world to emulate. Most countries do not even have anything called customary land.
PNG can be proud that land is still with the people under customary tenure. In such a scenario, the concept of developing customary land on the urban fringes is about creating wealth for customary landowners, not for invasion by the people with money.

Taurama project was ambitious. We were certain that it would generate substantial instant income for the landowning clans and long-term sustainability through lease rentals for their land. A total of 1700 serviced allotments at a minimum K200,000 per block would become a sizeable income. These allotments could have fetched even more when compared to the adjacent East Boroko area which have been going for K1 million a block. This opportunity was to be created for the three recognised landowning groups; the Vamaga, the Vaga and Sere Guba for claims 68, 45 and 67 respectively.

Many Motu-Koitabu people have been heard airing their grievances about how their land was sold cheaply to the State during colonial times as was the case everywhere in PNG towns. One would imagine that the bitter past would likely have taught important lessons for all customary landowners not to sell land at all. The land selling we are experiencing within the Taurama pilot project area is unprecedented and simply unbelievable.

The people selling land are the culprits who have engineered the sabotage of the project. What is worse than the selling of land is the element of betrayal – the betrayal of their clans, their families and the future generations by those trusted as custodians. The future generations will no longer have a land because their present custodians have decided to make few quick bucks. These very people selling land will be the ones licking their wounds and hanging their heads in shame when the land they sold is difficult to retrieve.

The success of creating wealth for landowners depends very much on how solid the partnership is between the urban customary landowners and government. It requires genuine commitment and cooperation at all stages of the project development. When one cannot get undivided cooperation, projects such as Taurama suffer. In such circumstance, one cannot blame an insignificant office like the Office of Urbanisation. If at all, it should be recognised for taking on the challenge on urbanisation and complex land development issues.
I am proud to have contributed to PNG’s progress in more ways than Concerned Resident would ever know. The promotion of urbanisation policy and program to the national forefront and the messy customary land development are examples of the tasks I have taken head-on.

As chairman of the industrial arbitration, I have also been responsible for putting to rest industrial relations disputes for a long time from what the country was facing 15 years ago. Have you ever wondered why industrial relations scene in PNG is still peaceful today?

The “Why Regulate Taurama Now?” heading suggests that the Office of Urbanisation and NCCU abandoned the project area and by doing so that it will legitimise Concerned Resident’s residency there.

I don’t think the majority of the landowners of the project area will agree to this suggestion. What I know is that they will be opting to get their land title under the revised ILGs for the whole area. And they will be opting for all those in the project area to cooperate with their three ILGs. I also know that they will be asking the project area residents to formalise their residency with the ILGs. So Concerned Resident needs to be aware of these requirements and create awareness among his fellow residents.

Office of Urbanisation

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