The Archbishop of Rabaul in East New Britain – aided by previously deported missionary Doug Tennent – is facing a restraining order issued by Pomio landowners who object to his anti-development activities.
The actions of the Archbishop represent a continuation of a concerted campaign against the project led by anti-development activists.
Bob Tate, Executive Officer of the PNG Forest Industries Association, summed up the situation:
“There is a small group of local activists who are opposed to the project. This group – supported by foreign NGOs – has repeatedly attempted to disrupt the project, by erecting illegal blockades and bringing legal challenges. Three times this matter has been brought to the National Court, and each time the court has confirmed the legality of the Pomio project. How can the activists claim that the project is illegal when the court has ruled three times that it is legal? They have the right to express their dissent, but under PNG law, they must accept the will of the majority of landowners.”
The Catholic Church can be added to the entities supporting this small group of activists. Since late-2016, Archbishop Panfilo has been championing the agenda of a small group of dissidents against the majority of landowners who support the project. The Department of immigration even found it necessary to deport Catholic missionary Doug Tennent, who had been engaging with landowners on the Archbishop’s behalf.
Tennent has since returned to PNG, under the condition that he no longer engage in landowner issues. The fact that he is named in the restraining order issued this week suggests that landowners fear he is not abiding by this condition.
As has been reported in this newsletter before, the Sigite Mukus Integrated Rural Development project in West Pomio is a transformative initiative that is delivering significant benefits to landowners, employees and the provincial and national governments. More than 4000 people are directly employed by the project, and substantial investments have been made in roads, bridges, health and education services.
The vast majority of landowners are in favour of the project, and have been waiting a long time for the development benefits that are finally flowing. By siding with a small minority of disgruntled locals, the Catholic Church is jeopardising the improvements in health, education and employment outcomes that are driving improved development outcomes for the vast majority.