IN 2013 I visited the Angore gas field in the Hela Province, Papua New Guinea. On the other side of the valley on a ridge was the Hides gas field.
South east of Angore lay the Komo Airfield in all its glory.
I was visiting the area as a guest of the PNG Chamber of Mines and Petroleum.
The road from Tari to Angore snaked its way around limestone cliffs and red clay hills. The mountain air was dry and cold and wafts of smoke rose up from grass thatched roofs.
Along the limestone road carved out by the PNG LNG Project partners, men carried bush knives and guns while women sold 'buai' (betelnut) and noodles.
I was there to visit an Angore women's leader who had organised her women to attend sewing classes.
Turisa was a stocky Hela woman with a high pitched commanding voice. She drove a blue Toyota troop carrier acquired with funds provided under the Kokopo Umbrella Benefit Sharing Agreement (UBSA).
The UBSA provided the overarching framework for benefit distribution from the State to the sub-national level.
The UBSA was followed by the License Based Benefit Sharing Agreements (LBBSA). The LBBSA was related to customary land tenure arrangements with Petroleum Development License (PDL) in blocks.
The LBBSA was essentially a land access agreement whereby compensation would be provided for acquisition or utilization of land for the development of the PNG Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) project.
Obviously as part of the requirements of the Oil and Gas Act, the developer is assumed to have met requirements related social mapping and landowner identification. Exxon Mobil's standard response is always "Exxon has met all statutory requirements of the PNG LNG project".
How is it therefore that Exxon Mobil having met all legal requirements related to landowners now has a project being shut down by landowners?
Apparently, the determination of landowners falls under the responsibility of the Department of Peroleum and Energy and the Minister in particular. The Minister has the powers to make a Ministerial Determination regarding the matter but thank goodness all Petroleum Ministers have exercised restraint.
Landowner identification enables beneficiary identification.
The issue of identifying so called "legitimate landowners" is quite complex in the Huli context. Faultiness of social upheaval and complexity of relations run along the man-made Huli ditches that cross the ancient land of Hela.
Whilst travelling along the road to Angore my team came along a funeral procession. I asked what has happened and was told,
"Ol birua kilim em" (enemy killed him)
I then asked who the "birua" (enemy) were and was told that it was the neighbours just up the hill from where the deceased lived.
One can imagine that the deceased and his "birua" (enemy) may have kinship or other customary ties.
When our team arrived at our host's village, we were told that our host's brother had just "digim baret" (dig a ditch) after an argument with her. In Hela culture therefore to cross the ditch would have grave consequences.
Hela land tenure and relations are so complex that one can understand why identifying "legitimate landowners" can be complicated and contestable.
"Fact is that in our blind greed and craving for economic progress we forgot who we are and capitalism triumphed over traditional cultures."
In Angore there are folk who don't even speak Tok Pisin. These people were expected to sign up to common law agreements of a foreign culture in the name of "development".
What has transpired though is not development but "bagarapment".
.............(The word 'bagarap' in Tok Pisin means destruction. The writer construct the word 'bagarapment' with the suffix 'ment' to refer to the opposite of development / the other side of the development concept.?)..............
The critical question that needs be to asked is that how is it that Land Access Agreements were signed for gas extraction and yet now there has to be "vetting" of the beneficiaries.
Does that mean that the contracts were signed with the wrong people?
Are those contracts valid?
Is the gas being extracted illegally?
The people of Hela want development but what they see is bagarapment!