‘Communal Ownership of Land is the Peoples’ only safety-net’

By the Melanesian Indigenous Land Defence Alliance (MILDA)

On behalf of the Melanesian Indigenous Land Defense Alliance (MILDA), we are writing to provide a different view on recent editorials promoting land registration for the Pacific. We wonder who authored this letter and in whose interest it was written? Because for Pacific peoples land isn’t just about making money, land is about ensuring Pacific families continue to maintain a high level of self-reliance and to control their own destiny. This includes feeding and housing their families well, as they have been doing for thousands of years, and this is already happening effectively through customary communal systems of land tenure. Land as it exists and functions now already provides for millions of people, so that we have a very low rate of absolute poverty – there’s almost no real hunger or homelessness. In the independent nations of Melanesia (PNG, Solomon Islands, and Vanuatu), customary community control of land is enshrined in our Constitutions and we maintain a special relationship with our land that is based on many generations living on and with the land as well as traditionally managing the natural resources. MILDA is well aware of the history of how land registration has been used over the past few hundred years to alienate land from indigenous peoples around the world, and we are not going to let history repeat itself and fall into that same trap.

MILDA is also mindful of the historical context of how land registration came to Melanesia and the Pacific at different times following first contact with the outside world through to independence and continues to date. Land registration is ostensibly promoted for the same purpose; to free up land for ‘development’ and to parcel it out in the name of individuals, companies and those with hard-cash. But for us, land is held communally for the benefit of all, and remains a central part of our cultural heritage and identity.

Land, particularly in Melanesia, is not a commodity but is an inalienable part of our peoples’ very existence. It has spiritual and historical values and other attributes that economists do not consider in their equations. In almost every part of Melanesia, the fact remains that land is our source of kastom, mana, sustenance and economic empowerment. Even if it doesn’t necessarily pay you in hard cash at the end of every week, although it may, if that is what a family or clan wants from it. Land under traditional tenure in Melanesia remains the largest employer and has sustained us self-reliantly for thousands of years. Land under indigenous control also makes our communities resilient to the upheavals often felt by global markets, and ensures that our children will also have this security.

For regional governments to venture into such propaganda promoting land registration, one needs to explore the legacy left behind by our colonial masters and other land registration programs across the region such as the Incorporated Land Groups (ILGs) and Special Agriculture and Business Leases (SABLs) in Papua New Guinea, the customary land registration program in the Solomon Islands and the Vanuatu Land Program. These programs have assisted to facilitate the alienation of traditional lands and leave traditional custodians sidelined from the lands that have sustained them for generations and beholden once again to foreign masters. Significant degradation of pristine environments rich in unique biocultural diversity along with undermining of food security and traditional economies due to clear-cut logging, mining activities, coastal developments and monocultures such as palm oil plantations are closely linked to these programs. These programs have robbed people of the independence they fought so hard for only a generation ago.

A Commission of Inquiry in PNG has since ruled that 38 of 42 SABLs investigated are illegal, yet little has been done to return these 99 year leases that cover some 5.2 million hectares (11% of PNG) of largely pristine forests back to indigenous control. The Commission found clear evidence that some 50% of these illegal leases were held by a Malaysian logging company, and the agricultural leases were a smokescreen for massive logging without any prior informed consent (PIC) from traditional landholders.

Vanuatu has also recognized the importance of maintaining indigenous land tenure after experiencing a land boom over the preceding decade and is now engaged in land reform to ensure PIC for landowners and transparency in land dealings as a positive direction. In addition, the powers of the Land Minister to unilaterally lease lands considered to be disputed has been removed, as this loophole in the land lease act has been routinely abused in the past. The amended land legislation also empowers the chiefs in the communities to deal with customary land issues, no longer the court of law. And the National Council of Chiefs must be consulted by government prior to any changes to land policy or legislation.

What is clear, is that since independence, corruption within Pacific governments and often supported by multinational corporate financial incentives and encouraged by the World Bank and other misinformed donors is one of the main sources of loss of indigenous control over lands. Donors who really wish to assist the people of the Pacific should turn their efforts towards reducing government corruption and strengthen indigenous tenure and control over land and waters rather than suggest registration as the only answer. As has been observed historically, once land is registered it can be easily traded as a commodity under legal titles. These land laws are well outside the purview and control of customary law that has safeguarded land for millennia and indigenous people understand and trust, and are open to other levels of corrupt practices including bribes, forgery and other subterfuge. These Melanesian experiences have prompted MILDA to release a declaration earlier this year that clearly denounces land registration and land alienation from indigenous people. The Lelepa MILDA declaration reads:

‘In response to continued and increasing severity of threats to customary land systems posed by the land reform and other foreign development agendas of international financial institutions, aid agencies, governments and elites within our own countries, the third meeting of the Melanesian Indigenous Land Defense Alliance (MILDA) re-affirms its commitment to indigenous control of customary land systems and Melanesian development goals. We are united and organized as a region to defend the continued control of Melanesian communities over their land, sea, water, air and ancestral heritage, recognizing that the threats to customary land are directed against the Melanesian Pacific as a region. We re-assert that the customary land systems are the basis of life and community in Melanesia.

Land has and always will be of the highest value to the lives of our peoples, and so it will be for generations to come. In all Melanesian traditions, land is regarded as a non-alienable resource that cannot be parted with. The relationship which we have with our land is special and unique, and cannot be replaced by foreign value systems. The Melanesian definition of land is collective and inclusive. We are custodians of the land since time immemorial.

Land is our mother and the source of life for our people. Land secures life, fosters and strengthens relationships that sustain our society. It embodies the connections to our past, present and future and therefore sustains everything we aspire to.

We declare the following:

1.As Indigenous Peoples of Melanesia we are committed to upholding and safeguarding our Melanesian indigenous traditional and cultural heritage, customs, values and beliefs.

2.We acknowledge and support the value and use of traditional resource management, traditional knowledge and vernacular language in the sustainable management of, and cultural links with, the environment and natural resources.

3.We oppose any form of alienation of land and sea from customary landowners, whether by outright sale, leases or acquisitions which remove landowners’ capacity to effectively control access and use their land and sea.

4.We believe that the ways in which land is used and distributed should be determined by Melanesian custom, and not by foreign systems.

5.We assert the value of our traditional economy, which promotes self-reliance amongst our people and communities, and we oppose actions and policies which promote the dependency of Melanesian peoples on others, including the State.

6.We say NO to all policies which require customary land be registered as a precondition for business or development activities, and demand that Melanesian governments and aid donors cease all pressures for customary land registration, whether voluntary or involuntary.

7.We are opposed to any form of experimental seabed resource extraction from our seas.

8.We oppose all foreign programs, bribes and other methods that take away the right to self-determination over our lands, reflective in Article 3 of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, including customary land registration, foreign land grabbing, and extractive industries in Melanesia.

9.We call for a total review of the current land administration in Melanesia to eliminate corrupt land dealings and fraudulent land practices. All customary land acquired by these means should be returned to the rightful ancestral inheritors.

The Pacific region should object to any proposals to record land rights and eventually register titles. Such measures may seem innocuous but we know from experience that demarcation and registration propels land into a commercial realm where it can be leased or sold to non-indigenous people – and thereby lost to the community. The option for legitimate developments that will benefit local people to enter into joint ventures with land custodians to gain access to land is a more equitable and sustainable option for the Pacific, rather than the transfer of registered titles.

Holding on to and using our land and waters provides us with healthy diets, rich cultural and spiritual lives and lifestyles We don’t want to exchange these for money now – and see our children in urban slums tomorrow.The region needs to take urgent measures to prevent its people from making the same mistakes that have deprived millions of their land and resources all over the world.

The global financial institutions and aid donors see our people in the region engaging in traditional farming, fishing and animal husbandry and think poverty – not self-sufficiency. They perceive our country’s low gross domestic product as a ‘problem’ that must be solved. But there’s much more to Melanesia than GDP. A few years ago, Vanuatu, one of the countries in the region with 80 percent of its land under traditional tenure, ranked at the top of the New Economics Foundation’s Happy Planet Index, which focuses on life expectancy, experienced wellbeing, and ecological footprint. So truth be told, the rest of the world has much to learn concerning environmental sustainability, wellbeing and life fulfillment from Melanesia and the Pacific!’

About MILDA

Established in 2009, the Melanesian Indigenous Land Defence Alliance (MILDA) is a regional civil society network that supports and coordinates community efforts to maintain control over their land. Information on what they do is available on Website: http://mildamelanesia.org/

Mysterious God – He Blesses His Own

Job 19:25,26  For I know  that my redeemer liveth, and  that he shall stand at the latter  day upon the earth: And though after my skin worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God:

I will open with an admission. I had no idea I would be writing about today’s topic. I had gotten the inspiration to open up the New Post window, but there was absolutely nothing to write about. Then I had an out of the ordinary experience this morning that prompted me to write.

What happened today is in light effect a consequence of a staff meeting we had on Friday, June 13. At that meeting, our CEO raised up concerns about staff watching the world cup during work hours. During the general discussion that ensued, the staff agreed on setting up a TV set in the ICT Section’s waiting room for those who wished to watch the games. Staff were permitted to watch from 6am to 8:30am. Thereafter, anyone wishing to watch would need special permission from their supervisors. It was then up to us in the ICT Section to get to work by 6:00am to have the doors open and the TV set tuned in to the correct channel.

Here’s a personal fact for you. I root for Germany in the world cup. It is the most underrated world cup team and the one with the cleanest game. It’s for that reason that I have pledged my support to them.

So why am I saying this? Well, you see, I don’t have a TV set at home. And Germany’s game against Portugal was scheduled for 3:00am, Vanuatu time. I have a TV set a work though. Naturally, I decided to spend the night at work so I could watch the game at 3:00am. That’s how this “strange” encounter came about.

Now, in the process of getting ready to watch the game between Germany and Portugal, I removed my wallet from my pocket and put it on the floor. It lied there while I was screaming for joy and jumping up and down in glee at Germany’s defeat of Portugal. When the game ended around 4:30am, I forgot to retrieve the wallet and put it somewhere safe. I went into my office to update my observations of the game on Facebook.

At around 6:00am, I heard someone rattling the front door knob. I went to open the door but there was no one outside. I walked out and saw someone with a blue hoodie walking outside. (I noticed the hoodie and nothing else, and assumed that he was either a youth or a staff of Wan Smolbag Theatre.) I went back inside and left the front door open in case staff arriving early for work wanted to watch the 6:00am game. I had the foresight to leave my office door open though, but forgot to turn on the lights in the waiting room.

While in my office, the blue hooded guy walked into the waiting room and pointed at the TV screen. Assuming that he was a youth member or a staff member of Wan Smolbag Theatre, I nodded nonchalantly, determined that he would not distract me from typing my full observations on Facebook. That was my mistake! Or so, it would seem.

In hindsight, I don’t think this was a mistake. I believe it was an act of God. Having me distracted propelled the next few minutes into a series of events that have left me, even now, feeling blessed. Here is what happened thereafter.

Firstly, while I was completely preoccupied on Facebook, the hooded guy lost interest in the game and took interest in my wallet. Having determined that there was cash in it, he silently picked it up and quickly left the room. His swift movement in leaving the room, and the fact that he had not uttered a word alerted me to foul play! In a jiffy, I ran out of my office, threw a quick glance to where my wallet had been, registered an empty floor, and ran outside. The thieve had left.

I had this sudden urge to search for him and find him. What I would do to him was not entirely clear at that time, but I got this earnest desire to find him. I ran hither and yon, but didn’t glance him anywhere. Eventually, the desire to find him became clearer – it was because my food money for this week was in the wallet. Additionally, I had four cards in the wallet that would require more money to replace – money I don’t have. I didn’t feel panic or anger. There was actually a peace in me – and the realization that I had been robbed right under my nose.

I followed the path towards the back of our Youth Centre’s sports grounds and came across a staff member living in the area. I told her about what happened and she said she met the guy on her way to the store to get breakfast. She had recognized the face under the hoodie. And she would make investigations.

Less than two hours later, the wallet was back in my possession, excluding 2050VT. And that is where I believe God’s hand was in this whole experience. He knew I wouldn’t just give money to someone whom I know would misuse the money if I gave it to them. My robber, I was told, is one of the marijuana addicts in his community. If I had taken notice of him, I would have judged him on the spot and maybe even sent him out of the waiting room. But the Lord let him rob me, so that out of my selfishness, would spring a blessing to someone not favored by society.

The lesson I learned is one of unconditional giving. I’ve always had reservations about giving – especially when I suspect that my gift will be misused. But that is not how God views giving. John 3:16 “For God so loved the world that He gave His only Begotten Son that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”

That gift of everlasting life is for ALL who believe. And I thank God for teaching me that lesson in a very practical and unconventional way. And with Job, I acknowledge that “my redeemer liveth!” That Redeemer is not mine alone. He is also the redeemer of my hooded friend. I look forward to meeting him one of these days and telling him about the Gift.

The Vanuatu airports contract

Antonio Josiah:

The Agreement signed on 27 July last year was to give VTDPL the exclusive right to “develop, finance, design, construct, modernise, operate, maintain, use and regulate the use by any Person of the Airports in any manner it deems appropriate and without any interruption or intervention by the Government or any Government Authority.” State authority and responsibility were in this manner to be assigned to the already contracted company.

In addition, VTDPL would “determine, adjust, demand, collect, retain and appropriate the Aeronautical Charges and Non-Aeronautical Charges and such other revenue and income as may be generated from the operation of the airports.” It could also sub-lease or license any part of the airports to anyone. VTDPL, initiating the Agreement, effectively put itself in a position to collect any and all profits for the fifty year term of the Agreement. The government agreed.

Originally posted on Vanuatu Daily Digest:

Airport rights & profits given to company of unknowns – and at cost of USD 350 million …

Four months after the formation of their government last year, former PM Carcasses and DPM Natapei signed a fifty year Agreement with the company called Vanuatu Trade Development Pte Ltd – VTDPL (incorporated in Singapore) to build, own and operate an international airport for Port Vila. It was agreed that four unconditional and on-demand promissory notes for a total of three hundred and fifty million United States dollars would be issued to VTDPL whose membership is unknown.

Daily Post has obtained a copy of this first major development Agreement of the Carcasses Government, achieved without any recourse to a tendering process. The document clearly lacks any advice of the State Law Office. It is simply signed by the former PM and DPM and Mak Kum Hoong David and Eric Ong Kok Eng…

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Vanuatu’s method of choosing PPP partners

Antonio Josiah:

The two biggest independent Melanesian countries are both entering into contracts for extension and improvement to their international airports. They both see the need for a Public – Private – Partnership (PPP). However, unlike the former government of Vanuatu, they are intending this to be achieved by calling for tenders to bring experienced operators in. They are advertising for bids from leading advisers worldwide with the intention of choosing the most competent.

Originally posted on Vanuatu Daily Digest:

Fiji and PNG both extending int’l airports, but by public tender.

The two biggest independent Melanesian countries are both entering into contracts for extension and improvement to their international airports. They both see the need for a Public – Private – Partnership (PPP). However, unlike the former government of Vanuatu, they are intending this to be achieved by calling for tenders to bring experienced operators in. They are advertising for bids from leading advisers worldwide with the intention of choosing the most competent.

The Fiji Government has been the most recent to advertise, about 2 months ago. Nadi Airport averages 30 international flights per day and 20 airlines connect Fiji to 14 international cities. Nadi handles over 90% of Fiji’s aviation needs. However, Nausori, serving the capital, was also needing upgrading.

An increase in efficiency, productivity and profitability for government at each Fiji airport is sought. Successful tenderers would have…

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Take a spell, have a rest

Genesis 2:2,3 “And on the seventh day God ended his work which he had made; and he rested on the seventh day from all his work which he had made. And God blessed the seventh day, and sanctified it: because that in it he had rested from all his work which God created and made.”

I am a ni-Vanuatu at heart. I have always been, and will always be, proud of that fact. There is no amount of coaxing by any third-party that will make me willfully deny the place of my origin. This is where I was born and grew up. I have never known any other place that I can call home like I do Vanuatu.

Both my parents are from Vanuatu – from the volcanic land of Ambrym. That island has so much stereotypes attached to it, so much so that people from other islands shun any associations to it by default; but it is my land of origin. It is where I spent my formative years; where I learnt about family ties, kastom, religion and language. My identify was formed in a tiny village just a few kilometers uphill from Linbul village, on the Northern part of Ambrym. I am from Fanjever village!

One particular weekly event springs to mind every time I think back to when I was a kid at Fanjever village. This event happened on Fridays. You see, the whole village that I am from is comprised of practicing Seventh-day Adventists.

When Friday arrived, there was no personal work to be done. Instead, everybody would go to the gardens, get some root crops, cabbages and vegetables, fruits, laplap leaves, dried coconuts, firewood then immediately head back home. Once home, the preparation of food for the remaining hours of Friday and the whole of Sabbath (Saturday) would begin.

Kids knew the part they were to play. Fathers and mothers kept order and made sure all responsibilities were carried out. No one was idle. Everyone had a work to do.

What was all this preparation for? It was a preparation for the Sabbath day. The next day would be the Sabbath. This is the day that no one was allowed to work. The whole village came to a halt and individuals rested. You could feel on the Sabbath that a holiness had encompassed the village. There would be church services, then lunch, then people singing – getting ready for the afternoon services.

When afternoon came, the church would be as packed as it was in the mornings. There were no excuses. The elderly and the younger villagers would sit together and sing their collective hearts out.

Those are pleasant memories which I can only ponder upon now. But I loved those Friday preparation days. Those were the times when you could feel the presence of the Sabbath approaching. It was a feeling like someone was coming to meet us at the village.

Children would be cleaned and ready for church by 4:30pm to 5:00pm. We would all be in church singing choruses before night came. Parents would soon after join the rest of us in church and services would begin with an apparent air of heavenly fellowship.

I didn’t use to appreciate this as a kid. But now that I only ever occasionally experience this, I am beginning to understand that feeling. It was indeed God’s presence that was approaching during those Friday preparations. He was coming to meet His children during the Sabbath hours. The hours which He had “blessed …and sanctified it: because that in it he had rested from all his work …”

How I long for that day, when all human kind will rest in the presence of God continually and be filled with rejoicing because at that time, everyone is free from worry.

Friendly Rivalry: Who’s side are you on?

Psalms 118:18 “The LORD hath chastened me sore: but he hath not given me over unto death.”

Just before putting up this post, I put one up about a brief history of the State of Origin. You can read that post here. It goes into a light background of how I came to know about the State of Origin series, as well as the origins of the series.

Leading up to Game 1 of the series in 2014, there was quite a bit of ruckus going on in Facebook. My friends and family, including myself, were at each other’s necks rooting for our favorite team. The Blues fans were bringing up facts and the Maroons fans were disputing those facts. People who did not know what was going on would either just ignore the comments, or go onto Google and search about the State of Origin series.

While some in the Church might frown upon such rivalry, the close circle in which this friendly rivalry was going on appreciate each other. We appreciate each other firstly as associates, then as fans of our teams. Due to this appreciation springs a respect that only people close enough will understand that it exists.

The rivalry, in my view, is healthy in that it promotes taking sides. As a Christian, life is all about making choices – and the right choices at that. One cannot be “lukewarm” and jump from one state of being to the next, then back. One has to either be hot or cold.

In Revelations chapter 3, Jesus is speaking about the seven Churches. The seventh Church is the Church of Laodicea (Rev 3:14). In verses 15 and 16, Jesus says “I know thy works, that thou art neither cold nor hot: I would thou wert cold or hot. So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of my mouth.

What is human condition today? Where is this world headed? How has human choices shaped the future of this planet? These are big questions, but it all comes down to making choices. In the eyes of Jesus, a faithful servant is one who makes good choices under the influence of the Holy Spirit. One who chooses to stand on His side.

We are not unlike King David, who realizing his sin, fell before God and pleaded to God for forgiveness.  Through the leading of God’s Spirit, the psalmist realized the greatness of his sin and repented. After receiving reassurance of God’s forgiveness, he rejoiced and declared, “The LORD hath chastened me sore: but he hath not given me over unto death.

It is when we are on the side of Jesus that it becomes easy to make good choices. It is not of our own strength that we can overcome, because we have no power to do so. Taking our own side, is taking the devil’s side.

Where do we stand? Where are we headed?

State of Origin Logo

State of Origin: A History

Maroons and Blues

Tackle during game 100

It was the year 2000 and I was just starting out in Uni at the Papua New Guinea University of Technology (PNG UNITECH). It was the year I was introduced to Australia’s National Rugby League (NRL). Right from the start, I chose the Brisbane Broncos as my team of favor, mainly because they had a black man playing for them. His name was Wendell Sailor, from the Torres Straight Islands. Wendell, sadly, left the Broncos the next year to join the Queensland Reds, playing rugby union. He left me hooked to NRL and the Broncos have been my team to this day.

It was in the same year that I got a taste of the State of Origin series, a rugby league test of guts between two of Australia’s neighboring states. On one side from the South, is the New South Wales Blues (simply known as #Blues) and on the other side, up North, is the Queensland Maroons (#Maroons).

Back in 2000, Wendell Sailor played for the Maroons. My response was to align my support with the Maroons. Regardless of his move to rugby union, my fan support remained with the Broncos and the Maroons. The Maroons lost in 2000, but my support never changed. I was hooked!

The term ‘State of Origin’ reflects how the players are chosen. A player for either team is

State of Origin Logo

The State of Origin Logo

chosen based on which of the two sates they played their first senior NRL game in. This system was emplyed from 1980 onwards. Before that, the series was not known as the “State of Origin” since players were selected based on which state their NRL club team was based at. Criterias change though, and since 2012 there have been new criterias – for instance players can now be placed based on which state they were born in.

From 1980 onwards, the state winning most games has been the Maroons. Up to 2013, the Maroons have won 53 games and the Blues 44. That is 20 years to 12 with two draws – one in 1999 and the other in 2002. At the start of the 2014 series, the Blues have upped their game wins to 45.

Each year Australians and friends from overseas look forward to the State of Origin. In one year, there are three games played for the Origin series. There are two test matches and one final. The first test match takes place in May. After the first game, there is a spell for three weeks while the players return to fulfill their NRL club responsibilities.

After three weeks, the second test match is played. The final match takes place three weeks after the second test. To win the series, one team has to win two games. The State of Origin is known to be Australia’s greatest sports rivalry.

Crowd

Crowd at 52111

2014’s first test match was the 100th game of the series. (I was introduced to the series druing the 58th game.) The 100th game was played on May 28th, 2014 at the Suncorp Stadium, on Maroons homeground – at Milton, Brisbane, Queensland. The crowd was numbered at 52,111 – the majority of them wearing the Maroons’ signature XXXX jersey.

Diehard fan of the Maroons as I am, and regardless of my obvious dislike for Jarryd Hayne, I put my hat off to Jarryd for an outstanding play during the 100th game. He might have set out to beat the Maroons on homeground, but he surely made a personal mark on NRL history.

The Maroons’ dominance of the series is in question because of this man. He is a force to reckon with. Darius Boyd of the Maroons won the title of top try scorer during the 2013 Origin series, but he just might lose that title to Jarryd if he doesn’t play harder with the rest of the Maroons team in the 101st test match.

The Maroons have been winning for the past 8 years, starting from 2006. They know they have to put up a fight on Blues homeground if they have to win game 2 of this year’s series. This will be a nerve-racking game 2 that will see injuries, guts, and more injuries – all in the name of the game.

I am looking forward to a win by the Maroons in the second game. When that happens, the rivalry that will ensure will be something of a legend. The support, the nerves, the sheer thrill of grit coupled with the fit of anticipation will surpass that of known history.

Until that time comes, I am all for a Maroons win in game 2 of the State of Origin 2014.