MAC: Mines and Communities

PNG's government promises to reverse draconian Environment Act amendment

Published by MAC on 2011-10-25
Source: Ramu Wordpress (2011-10-14)

In 2010 the Papua New Guinea parliament used extraordinary procedures to pass a draconian amendment to the Environment Act. See: Papua New Guinea removes land owner rights

This was designed at blocking any attempt by Indigenous landowners to use the courts to challenge any project, once it had been approved by the state and received the necessary permits. 

The amendment was specifically intended to stop a lawsuit against the use of deep sea tailings disposal on the country's Rai coast, by the Chinese-owned Ramu nickel company.

That suit was turned back by the court, although its decision is apparently being appealed. See: Ramu deep sea waste dumping can proceed, says PNG judge

But now the recently-elected PNG government has promised to reverse the controversial amendment.

While this may not save the valuable coastal fisheries and reefs on the Rai coast, it should restore important rights to the country's landowners.

Government to reverse Environment Act amendments

Landowner rights to courts to be restored

Ramu Wordpress

14 October 2011

THE government will restore the rights of landowners to challenge in court any decisions on projects they feel could be detrimental to the environment, reports The National.

To facilitate this, the National Executive Council recently agreed to repeal the Environment (Amendment) Act 2010 which had denied them this right.

Environment and Conservation Minister Thompson Harokaqveh said this week that he will be seeking an amendment to the current legislation in Parliament next month to correct an "unnecessary and undesirable" section of the Environment Act.

He said that contrary to advice from the Environment and Conservation Department, the previous government last year had amended the law to deny landowners rights to take their grievances to the courts.

Harokaqveh said the department had now advised the O'Neill-led government that the amendment must be repealed because it is unconstitutional.

"The amendment aimed to prevent landowners protecting their constitutional rights through appealing to the courts to review decisions of the government (on projects)," he said.

"It is essential that the rights of courts to review decisions by the government made under the environment act are retained.

"It is essential that the rights of landowners to request review by the courts is maintained.

"I am committed to protecting the rights of landowners to ensure their livelihoods and way of life are protected while promoting environmentally sound economic development which will benefit all Papua New Guineans.

"The amendments placed very significant powers into the hands of the Director of Environment which place far too much pressure on a public servant and could lead to improper attempts to influence his decisions.

"Maintaining the integrity of decision making processes under the Environment Act is critical to its effective functioning."

He said the amended legislation, by transferring significant powers to the Director of Environment, undermined the Environment Act and the normal processes of a democratic government.

Harokaqveh said restoring the Environment Act's integrity by repealing the amendments could result in delays to resource projects when landowners felt the need to take action through the courts. However this was both a normal and reasonable requirement in a democratic nation.

"The Act has been in operation since 2004 and has been a key element in balancing the needs of the environment with economic growth.''

"It has a very important role to play during the current resource development boom in ensuring we continue to find a solution balance between environment protection and economic development."

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