Anti-development groups use SABL controversy to try to block agriculture

PNG activists funded by foreign groups are using the controversy around Special Agricultural and Business Leases to try to shut down a successful agricultural development that is delivering jobs and incomes for local communities. Landowners in Pomio, East New Britain, are furious that anti-development activists are trying to destroy a project that is already changing lives.

The Sigite Mukus Integrated Rural Development project – located in Pomio, East New Britain – is a major agricultural project managed by Rimbunan Hijau subsidiary Gilford Limited. The project employs over 4000 Papua New Guineans, including in highly skilled manufacturing and technical roles. The project has significantly upgraded local road, port, bridge and airstrip infrastructure, helping create new businesses and make it easier for local people to access education and health services.

The SABL issue is complex. Among the 75 SABL projects, there appear to have been instances of abuse, and the Commission of Inquiry recommended that some leases be cancelled. However there is also recognition from government that some of the SABL projects represent substantial investments, and have brought significant benefits to local communities. The Sigite Mukus project is one of these, and the Commission of Inquiry did not recommend the project be cancelled.

In a time when PNG’s economy needs to diversify into non-resources industries – especially those that generate foreign currency inflows via exports – projects like Sigite Mukus deserve support, not unfounded criticism from anti-development activists with their own agendas.

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