Lands Dept restrained from dealing with land

The Waigani National court has issued a restraining order to the Lands Department from any further dealing with a customary land pending a judicial review.

 This includes the Minister for Lands Benny Allan, his secretary, their servants and agents.

The National Court will be judicially reviewing the forfeiture of land known as portion 2747, land located along the PNG LNG Project area.

This comes after Laba Holdings Limited, the landowner company that represents the four villages of Porebada, Boera, Papa and Lealea, filed a motion in court seeking interim orders and Judicial Review.

Justice Leka Nablu issued the restraining orders this morning after she allowed for a judicial review to be carried out.

The court was satisfied Laba Holidings Ltd had an arguable case and raised serious issues to be considered by the court through a review.

Justice Nablu said damages was not an adequate remedy for the landowner company if land is further rezoned, adding they will suffer if the Lands Minister, his secretary, the Surveyor General, the PNG Land Board, their servants and agents are not restrained from further rezoning the land.

The four villages are in the Hiri west districts of Central Province whose customary land was acquired for the PNG LNG Project at Caution Bay.

Lawyer for Laba Holding Limited Dudley Yariyari told the court that the site was alienated some 100 years ago and the last leaseholder was a foreign corporation who left the land lying idle for some 20 years before the state forfeited the land in 2008.

The PNG LNG project commenced construction in 2009 and the land known as portion 152 was further sub-divided into four portions; portion 2456, portion 2457, portion 2458 and portion 2459.

This land was further rezoned in 2011 and a further portion 2460 was added.

This additional portion which has a state lease for 99 years was granted to a foreign company Fimali, on Jan 20, 2012.

Laba Holdings have been sub-leasing land from ExxonMobil. This land was once traditionally owned by Laba Holdings and they decided to apply for the land for itself when it was made aware of the latest grant.

Yariyari submitted in court that upon consultation with the Lands Department, they carried out surveys in 2013 resulting in the application of state lease over portion 2747.

They did so to protect the interest of traditional landowners it represented as Laba Holdings Ltd after losing what was initially traditionally owned land.

After three years of pursuing its bid for land, the Lands Minister on Dec 23, 2015 granted the state lease portion 2747 title of 99 years to Laba Holdings.

In early 2016, the minister informed Laba Holdings that a foreign company was keen on developing its project on  the same land, and that the minister was directed to forfeit the state lease title to enable that company to develop its project.

A forfeiture notice of the land portion 2747 was published in the National Gazette on Nov 18, 2016.

To date, Laba Holdings says the Lands Minister has failed to provide reasons for forfeiting the land.

Sally Pokiton