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Adding to the existing literature on the history of forestry policy and reform in Papua New Guinea (PNG), this paper focuses on the Malaysian Rimbunan Hijau Group (RH) – the largest actor in PNG's forest industry. Rimbunan Hijau's dominant presence since the 1980s has been accompanied by allegations of illegality, corruption and human rights abuses. This paper outlines RH's initial involvement in PNG's forestry sector and discusses some of the more controversial aspects of its engagement with concession acquisition processes and public policy, as well as its responses.
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The Rimbunan Hijau Group in the
Forests of Papua New Guinea
Jennifer Gabriel & Michael Wood
Published online: 09 Jul 2015.
To cite this article: Jennifer Gabriel & Michael Wood (2015): The Rimbunan Hijau Group in the
Forests of Papua New Guinea, The Journal of Pacific History, DOI: 10.1080/00223344.2015.1060925
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The Rimbunan Hijau Group in the Forests of Papua New Guinea
Adding to the existing literature on the history of forestry policy and reform in Papua New
Guinea (PNG), this paper focuses on the Malaysian Rimbunan Hijau Group (RH) the
largest actor in PNGs forest industry. Rimbunan Hijaus dominant presence since the
1980s has been accompanied by allegations of illegality, corruption and human rights
abuses. This paper outlines RHs initial involvement in PNGs forestry sector and
discusses some of the more controversial aspects of its engagement with concession
acquisition processes and public policy, as well as its responses.
Key words: Rimbunan Hijau, Papua New Guinea, forestry, timber, policy, governance
The Rimbunan Hijau Group (RH) is one of the largest fully integrated timber groups
in Southeast Asia and one of PNGs largest log harvesting and export companies.
Rimbunan Hijau was established in 1976 in Sibu, a town in Sarawak (Malaysia). It
quickly expanded its control of timber concessions in Sarawak and, by the 1980s,
began diversifying and expanding overseas.
© 2015 The Journal of Pacific History, Inc.
Jennifer Gabriel College of Arts, Society and Education, Division of Tropical Environments
and Societies, James Cook University.
Michael Wood College of Arts, Society and Education, Division of Tropical Environments and
Societies, James Cook University.
Acknowledgements: The authors wish to thank Colin Filer for sharing his extensive knowledge of
PNGs forestry sector with them while he was a visiting scholar at the Cairns Institute in 2013.
Gabriel wishes to thank the Cairns Institute and James Cook University for their support of her
ongoing PhD research on the Rimbunan Hijau Group. Wood wants to acknowledge the Australian
Research Councils grants that have funded his work in the Western Province and James Cook Uni-
versitys financial support and provision of teaching relief. The authors have benefited from some
excellent comments from reviewers, a number of which appear, only partially transformed, in this
The Journal of Pacific History, 2015
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This paper builds on the existing literature regarding the history of forestry
policy and reform in PNG by examining the activities of RH.
After outlining some
of the processes that have contributed to RHs poor reputation as a corporate
citizen in PNG, we describe the companys attempts to counter the negative represen-
tations through a reliance on orthodox economic understandings of development,
growthand global equity. We examine the responsiveness of RHs tactics and con-
sider its use of media and public relations campaigns. We highlight the strategies used
by the company to neutralise criticisms about the degree to which its presence causes
harm to people and environments.
We also explore RHs far less controversial diver-
sification into other sectors of the PNG economy. We highlight that by the 2000s, RH
had moved to supplement its often problematic capital accumulation in the forestry
sector with additional forms of investment in PNGs print media, supermarkets,
tourism and property development. The companys diversification has not dampened
its role in the ongoing social dramaof PNGs forest policy.
In PNG, and elsewhere, RH has become less reliant on logging and
thereby has partially redefined itself as a productive, as opposed to an exploitative,
part of PNGs future. These changes are encapsulated in RHs creation in Port
Moresby of Vision City, which is its most recent material statement of what it
considers to constitute developmentin PNG. But we also highlight how, in the
2000s, RH continued aggressively to pursue its interests in the natural resource
sector by acquiring controversial leases over land and by strongly supporting
amendments to the Forestry Act 1991, which reflected its approach to forestry
regulation in PNG. These strategies, while often very successful, have not resulted
in a politics of resignation
because the companys attempts to legitimise its cor-
porate power within PNG have largely failed, with the term RHnow being popu-
larly synonymous with the problems of the logging sector, corruption and anti-
Chinese sentiments.
Yet despite the contestations of various actors, NGOs and
social movements, the RH Group is still the biggest investor and largest employer
in PNGsforestrysector.
Colin Filer with Nikhil Sekhran, Loggers, Donors and Resource Owners, Policy that Works for Forests
and People 2: Papua New Guinea (Port Moresby and London 1998); Colin Filer with Navroz
K. Dubash and Kilyali Kalit, The Thin Green Line: World Bank leverage and forest policy reform in Papua
New Guinea (Canberra 2000); Colin Hunt (ed.), Production, Privatisation and Preservation in Papua New
Guinea Forestry, Instruments for Sustainable Private Sector Forestry (London 2002).
Peter Benson and Stuart Kirsch, Corporate oxymorons,Dialect Anthropology, 34 (2010), 4548.
Filer and Sekhran, Loggers, Donors and Resource Owners, iii.
Peter Benson and Stuart Kirsch, Capitalism and the politics of resignation,Current Anthropology,
51:4 (2010), 45986.
For a discussion of how, in the 1990s, Chinese were regarded by people directly engaged with
RHs logging operations, see Michael Wood, ‘“White skins,real peopleand Chinesein
some spatial transformations of the Western Province, PNG,Oceania, 66:1 (1995), 2350. For
more recent accounts, see various articles in sections 1 and 2 in Paul DArcy, Patrick Matbob
and Linda Crowl (eds), PacificAsia Partnerships in Resource Development (Madang 2014).
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The material we cover answers the following questions:
.How has RH been able to dominate and partially transform PNGs challenging
forestry sector over the last three decades? What strategies did RH pursue?
.Is diversification a long-term strategy to reduce RHs reliance on logging? Is
diversification a key to the success of the company in PNG?
.Or does evidence exist that RH has sufficient power and influence to continue to
operate in the timber industry despite the political, legal and bureaucratic
obstacles? Is this owing to weak regulatory controls, or has the PNG government
actively supported the company?
The decision of the RH Group to invest in PNG was driven by the need to find new
sources of timber to meet the growing demands of the companysglobalmarkets,
owing to a dwindling supply of harvestable logs from its home state of Sarawak (Malay-
sia). The overseas expansion of the RH Group was fuelled by the Malaysian govern-
ments decision to gradually phase out log exports from Peninsular Malaysia as well
as to introduce strict quotas on the export of logs from Sarawak in 1992. Malaysian poli-
ticians, including the prime minister, vigorously promoted the overseas expansion of
Malaysian timber groups during this phase. Malaysias primary industries minister
told the Malaysian Timber Market Convention that forest participants were being
encouraged to relocate closer to areas with abundant resources.
By 1989, Rimbunan Hijau (PNG) had acquired numerous logging companies
and a number of logging concessions, such as the Wawoi Guavi Timber Company.
bunan Hijaus investment in PNG forestry corresponded to a time when Justice Thomas
Barnett was formulating critical reforms of the sector. The forestry sector, dominated by
Southeast Asian logging companies, seemed to be operating beyond effective regulation.
The facts outlining government mismanagement of the forestry sector were recorded in
the 1989 Barnett Inquiry. The inquiry, while not dealing with RHs investment, outlined
extensive abuses in the forest industry and heavily criticised government administration
and foreign-based timber companies. Summarising his findings, Barnett stated:
It would be fair to say, of some [of the companies], that they are now
roaming the countryside with the self-assurance of robber barons;
bribing politicians and leaders, creating social disharmony and ignor-
ing laws and policy in order to gain access to, rip out, and export the
last remnants of the provinces valuable timber.
Log export ban from Peninsular Malaysia to stay,New Straits Times, 1 Oct. 1999.
Forestry and Conservation Project Independent Review Team, Review of Wawoi Guavi blocks 1,
2 & 3 (consolidated), Western Province, 2003,
doc_1374.pdf (accessed 19 Mar. 2015); Forestry and Conservation Project Independent Review
Team, Review of Vailala TRP blocks 2 & 3, Gulf Province, 2003, http://www.forest-trends.
org/documents/files/doc_1375.pdf (accessed 19 Mar. 2015).
T.E. Barnett, Commission of inquiry into aspects of the forestry industry, interim report no. 4,
timber exploitation in New Ireland Province, vol. I, Mar. 1989, 85.
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The Barnett Inquiry found that some logging companies bribed or influenced
customary landowners, provincial premiers, national and provincial ministers and
public servants, in order to gain access to the timber resources. Some landowner com-
panies were abusing the Forestry (Private Dealings) Act 1971 and using timber rights
purchases (TRPs)
and local forest areas (LFAs)
without safeguarding the interests of
customary landowners. Barnett argued that foreign logging companies were seen to be
controlling vast resources with few benefits for the landowners.
The report called for
a reduction in timber harvesting, the reformulation of national forest policy, the
establishment of a nationally integrated forest service, the development of consultation
procedures in the allocation of permits and the formalisation of detailed requirements
for sustained-yield forestry.
The inquiry led to significant changes to the Forestry Act in 1991. The For-
estry (Private Dealings) Act was repealed, and the new Forestry Act 1991 applied. The
state was now required to be an intermediary between resource owners and resource
developers. This was done through the acquisition of rights to the forest resource
through a forest management agreement (FMA) that gives the state the exclusive
right to harvest, grow and manage timber in the area covered by the agreement.
The National Forest Board, not the landowners, selects the company that will
implement the agreement and recommends to the minister that a timber permit be
granted. The state could only secure harvesting rights to forests from customary land-
owners who were members of incorporated land groups (ILGs). While landowner
companies had no specified role in the 1991 Forestry Act, such companies with
timber concessions granted prior to the reforms coming into effect continued to
operate in the industry.
The Barnett Inquiry also led to the development of
PNGs National Forest Policy, which was approved in 1991. The new forestry
policy was directed towards management of the nations forest resources as a renew-
able resource to achieve economic growth, employment and greater Papua New
Guinean participation in industry and increased, viable in-country downstream pro-
cessing of timber products. At the same time, World Bank structural adjustment loans,
provided to the PNG government to cope with the financial difficulties created by the
loss of revenues from the closure of the Bougainville mine, helped make the bank a key
player in both the forest policy reform process and the broader process of economic
policy reform. This influence of the bank on PNGs forestry sector continued through
the 1990s, owing to the need for additional structural adjustment loans in 1995 and
The timber rights purchase (TRP) was introduced by the colonial administration as a mechanism
for the state to gain access to timber within areas of customary ownership.
The Forestry (Private Dealings) Act 1971 granted customary owners the right to apply to have
their forests declared a local forest area (LFA) and to sell their timber directly to outsiders,
subject to the approval of the forestry minister. This act bypassed the procedures that had pre-
viously governed the exploitation of timber, where the state acted as the intermediary in timber
Barnett, Commission of inquiry, 85.
Colin Filer, Asian investment in the rural industries of Papua New Guinea: whats new and
whats not?,Pacific Affairs, 86:2 (2013), 310.
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2000, which came with forest policy reform conditions attached. The World Banks
engagement during the Chan government (199497) and the Morauta government
(19992002) appeared to be motivated by the assumption that RH was the principal
enemy of good governance in PNG.
As Rimbunan Hijau gained a foothold over PNGs forest industry, the
company and its connections to the political elite soon became the subject of constant
criticism. Allegations of corruption involving Malaysian companies in the PNG forestry
sector created a controversy during the 14th Commonwealth Forestry Conference in
Kuala Lumpur in October 1993. The deputy director of PNGs forestry service,
Chavi Konabe, openly accused two Malaysian timber companies of bribing
members of parliament with cash so they would support an amendment to the Forestry
Act that would allow them to acquire more logging concessions. Konabe said the com-
panies appointed senior government officials and politicians to the boards of directors of
subsidiary companies as a reward for their cooperation. On another occasion, Rimbu-
nan Hijau was said to have chartered planes, paid for hotels and arranged for land-
owners from the Pomio area in East New Britain to lobby the government against
the 1991 Forestry Act.
Tim Neville, forest minister from 1992 to 1994, conducted
an investigation into the groups level of ownership in the countrys forestry conces-
His view of RH as an impediment to good governance was supported by a
Department of Environment and Conservation investigation of complaints that
came up with 22 cases of breaking conditions under RHs permits, some of which
Neville described as very serious.
After laying down its roots in the PNG forestry sector, the RH Group rapidly diver-
sified, becoming one of the largest private-sector employers in the country.
By 1990,
just four years after incorporation in Papua New Guinea, RHs owners had sharehold-
ing in at least 15 companies in PNG, ranging from logging contracting and sawmilling
to shipping, retail parts and service, and real estate.
The National newspaper was
established by the RH Group in the 1990s, becoming the regions first online
Ibid., 307.
Forests Monitor, High stakes: the need to control transnational logging companies: a Malaysian
case study, Aug. 1998, part II, politics, law and the logging industry: Papua New Guinea, http:// (accessed 2 July 2015); part IV,
company profiles: Rimbunan Hijau Group,
550066/550085 (accessed 3 June 2015).
Filer, Asian investment in the rural industries, 309.
Quoted in Helen Vatsikopoulos, PNG: under the spell,Pacific Journalism Review, 2:1 (1995), 32.
ITS Global, The economic contribution of Rimbunan Hijaus forestry operations in Papua New
Guinea, report for Rimbunan Hijau (PNG) Group, Sep. 2007, 6.
RH PNG,Straits Marine, Niugini International, Sovereign Hill, Seal Manus, Seal, RH Parts
and Services, Central Logging, Central Sawmill, Evergreen Plantation, Frontier Holding, Rivergoi
No. 6, Wawoi Guavi Timber Company, Dynasty Estates, Island Forest Resources, Pacific Logging.
Downloaded by [Jennifer Gabriel] at 14:53 09 July 2015
paper. According to a full-page newspaper advertorial in the China Daily, Tiong Hiew
King, chairman of the RH Group
established the National, a neutral, English-language newspaper not
controlled by the Western media, at the invitation of the government
of Papua New Guinea. That venture put him in direct competition
with the established Post Courierunder media tycoon Rupert
Murdoch. The Papuan Government invited Tiong to set up a news-
paper there with an objective to check the influence of powerful
Western media while providing an alternative media channel to
defend and expound the governments views.
In the second quarter of 2007, the audited circulation for the National news-
paper was 29,706 compared with the Post-Couriers 25,549.
The National is now the
leading source of daily news, outstripping its competitor the Post-Courier with an
average of 66,000 against their 30,000.
Although popularly referred to as the
Daily Logger for its defence of RHs logging and forestry operations, some media
critics regard the National as independent and unbiased on other issues.
It has
been a mechanism for the RH Group to defend itself against the NGO community,
resulting in a number of litigation cases filed against its opposition the Post-Courier.
In 2010, RH (PNG) was found to be using the courts to threaten, intimidate and
harass the Post-Courier and force it into unnecessary expenses. A defamation suit
filed by RH Group against the Post-Courier in 2006 after it reprinted an article
from the Australian newspaper entitled The rape of PNG forestswas followed by
several other motions, but the judge dismissed them and charged RH with using
the court to prevent and distractthe Post-Courier from reporting on RHs conduct
in the forest industry.
By 2010, RH had expanded into newspaper publishing, aviation, shipping,
printing, trading, office equipment supplies, forest management services, computer
services, restaurants, retail and shopping, and oil palm development. Rimbunan
Hijau owns and operates Tropicair aviation, which operates in both Gulf and
Western provinces. One-third of passengers carried by Tropicair to RH forestry
operations in the Western Province are company employees.
RH has acquired land for the construction of wharves in Lae and Port
Tan Sri Datuk Tiong Hiew King: the world of Rimbunan Hijau,China Daily, 17 May 2005.
Andy Ng (general manager of the National), pers. comm., 6 May 2015.
Papua New Guinea, Press Reference,
Guinea.html#ixzz2bi2KUKAz (accessed 4 June 2015).
For example see PNG: logging company sues newspaper for defamation, Pacific Media Centre
Te Amokura,
newspaper-defamation-7724 (accessed 7 Apr. 2015).
Judge finds logging company threatened newspaper, ABC News,
2010-07-13/judge-finds-logging-company-threatened-newspaper/903060 (accessed 17 Apr. 2015).
ITS Global, The economic contribution of Rimbunan Hijaus forestry operations, 35.
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In Port Moresby, RH has completed the construction of the largest shop-
ping centre in the Pacific. Vision City Mega Mall includes 22,500 square metres of
retail space over three storeys. An 18-storey international hotel, executive apartments
and office space are planned for construction next to the shopping mall. The five-star
Raintree Hotel project represents an investment of K380 million and, when com-
plete, will contain 438 rooms, including 66 apartments and a 1,200-capacity ball-
room. The hotel will also offer a gymnasium, lagoon-style swimming pool and
lavish private lounge. The RH chairman said that Raintree Hotel and Suites by
Vision City will set a new standard for accommodation in PNG. Construction
should be completed in 2015. At the ground-breaking ceremony in March 2013,
PNGs prime minister reassured the group that RHs investments in PNG are
most welcome and are appreciated by the Government.
The RH Group has recently invested in PNGs agroforestry and mining
industries and has a small but growing interest in the energy sector.
On 31 May
2006, Tiong announced intentions to acquire land in PNG to increase the plantation
land-bank of Rimbunan Sawit Snd Bhd, a publicly listed company majority owned by
the RH Group. We have over RM100 mil cash, not including RM18 mil generated
from the listing exercise, for expansion, the representative said when asked how the
company would finance its expansion.
Since then, it has acquired at least 186,150
hectares of customary land in PNG to develop oil palm plantations (discussed
further below).
In November 2011, RH Mining Resources Ltd purchased
10 million shares in Siburan Resources (SBU) to become a substantial shareholder
of a mining company from Western Australia, registered on the Australian Stock
Exchange. RH Mining then entered into a 70/30 joint venture with Siburan
Resources to seek and acquire mineral exploration and mining tenements licences
in PNG.
The joint venture company is registered in PNG as Viva No. 39 Ltd.
RH Mining has applied for three large exploration licences targeting gold and
copper opportunities in Morobe, Milne Bay and Central provinces.
RH subsidiary Dynasty Estates Ltd has a sublease for 94 years over 25 hectares of land in the
National Capital District to develop a wharf and storage facility as part of a multi-purpose
marine facility. John Numapo, Commission of inquiry into the special agriculture and business
lease (SABL): final report, 24 June 2013, 52.
8th March 2013: ground breaking ceremony for Raintree Hotel and Suites by Vision City, Rim-
bunan Hijau (PHG), (accessed 17 Apr. 2015).
Interview: James Lau, managing director, Rimbunan Hijau (PNG) Group, Business Advantage
hijau-png-group/ (accessed 17 Apr. 2015).
Rimbunan Sawit aims to raise yield by 15%, Star Online,
file=%2F2006%2F6%2F29%2Fbusiness%2F14684942&sec=business (accessed 17 Apr. 2015).
Additional special agriculture business leases (SABLs) have been linked to RH.
Rimbunan Hijau granted two exploration licences, Papua New Guinea Mine Watch, https:// (accessed 28 May 2015).
RHG to start with three mining projects, PNGIndustryNews, http://www.pngindustrynews.
Downloaded by [Jennifer Gabriel] at 14:53 09 July 2015
While developments named above were sometimes controversial, the main source of
contention about RH in PNG concerned its involvement in the forestry sector. A criti-
cal feature of forestry reform in the early 1990s was the encouragement by the World
Bank of environmental non-government organisations (NGOs).
During the 1990s
the World Bank sided with the National Alliance of Non-government Organisations
primarily environmental NGOs, in opposing Asian (particularly Malay-
sian) investment in the PNG forest industry. World Bank influence declined during the
Somare government era (200211), when revenues from expanding mining and gas
sectors replaced the need for structural loans.
During the 1990s, concession rights
to 5.8 million hectares of PNGs forests were issued to timber companies.
1998 approximately 10.622 million hectares of forest were under some form of con-
cession as TRP, LFA and FMA areas.
As a result of the mounting evidence of attempts by RH and other logging
companies to subvert the new Forestry Act introduced in 1991, the World Bank intro-
duced new financing conditions into its US$90 million governance promotion and
adjustment loan with the government of PNG. These included a moratorium on
new logging projects and a review of some emerging concessions and existing oper-
The bank also provided a loan of US$17 million to fund a forest conservation
project focused on strengthening enforcement capacities of the National Forest
Service and the Department of Conservation.
In 1999 the bank expressed concerns
about governance and transparency in the forestry sector, warning the government
that it could have serious implications for further funding.
The government,
(accessed 17 Apr. 2015); see also Jennifer Gabriel, The Rise of a Mining Conglomerate from Southeast Asia
(Cairns forthcoming).
The Forestry Act 1991 required that NGOs be represented on the National Forest Board and on
the provincial forest management committees in all 19 provinces.
ITS Global, Uncivil society: a review of activist NGOs in PNG, report for Rimbunan Hijau
(PNG) Group, Apr. 2013, 1415.
Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, Regional Office for Asia and the
Pacific, Pacific forests and forestry to 2020: subregional report of the second Asia-Pacific forestry
sector outlook study, 2011, 24, (accessed
20 Apr. 2015).
PNG Forest Authority, Draft national forest plan, 2012, 9.
F.J. Seymour, N.K. Dubash, J. Brunner, F. Ekoko, C. Filer, H. Kartodihardjo and J. Mugabe, The
Right Conditions: the World Bank, structural adjustment, and forest policy reform (Washington, DC 2000), 48.
Friends of the Earth Japan and Global Environmental Forum, Evaluation of social and environ-
mental risks accompanying the procurement of timber from Papua New Guinea, June 2011, 6, (accessed 20 Apr. 2015).
Neville Choi, World Bank funded projects in danger if govt ignores letters,Independent (PNG),
14 May 1999.
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however, was determined to solveits fiscal crisis by issuing new timber permits
despite World Bank attempts to prevent it from doing so.
Between 2000 and 2004, in compliance with the terms of the World Bank
funding, the government commissioned a series of reviews of the forest industry.
The reviews found incompetence at almost every level of the Papua New Guinea
Forest Authority,
with the review teams confidential report famously declaring:
The overwhelming conclusion is that the robber barons are now as
active as they ever were. They are not only free to roam, but are in
fact encouraged to do so by persons whose proper role is to exercise
control over them.
It added that only a Commission of Inquiry could hope to unearth the entire
picture and unravel the web of deceit.
But the PNG government did not table the
reports in parliament, and the government did not order any remedial action. The
reviews found that proper procedures were not followed in concession allocations
and permit extensions. Those granted to RH sometimes lacked any formal application
or board approval. The Independent Review of Disputed Timber Permits and Permit
Extensions determined that permits granted before the Forestry Act 1991were never
meant to be granted extensions and hence had no legal basis.
These reviews resulted in increasing demands by the World Bank for forestry
reform, interpreted by supporters of the PNG forest industry as part of a long-term plan
to rid the industry of RH. Mr Stanis Bai, then president of Papua New Guinea Forest
Industries Association (PNGFIA), said he was convinced the World Bank was on a ven-
detta against Asian companies and recalled that the head of the forestry unit of the
World Bank in Washington, Jim Douglas, told industry members six years previously
that the bank would oust RH from PNG.
The PNGFIA president announced that
the World Bank, acting through the National Forest Service and the office of the
chief secretary, had demanded the immediate suspension of logging at RHs Vailala
concession in the Gulf Province. He complained that the closure of the operations
would have been the death knell of RHs K30 million integrated timber processing
project in the Gulf. The PNGFIA claimed the banks changes to the timber permit
Filer and Sekharan, Loggers, Donors and Resource Owners, 50.
The reports of the reviews can be accessed at Forestry reviews, Papua New Guineas Forest
Reports, (accessed 5 May 2015).
Greenpeace International, Partners in crime: Malaysian loggers, timber markets and the politics
of self-interest in Papua New Guinea, Mar. 2002, 10,
PageFiles/320427/partners-in-crime-malaysian-l.pdf (accessed 27 May 2015).
Forestry and Conservation Project Review Team, Report on confidential matters, Independent
Review of Disputed Timber Permits and Permit Extensions, 2003, 1.
2003/2004 Review Team on behalf of the government of Papua New Guinea, Observations
regarding the extension of the term of timber permit 1-7 Wavoi [sic] Guavi and the proposed
alterations to the permit terms and conditions, 6 Apr. 2004, attachment 3, 1.
Shut down PNG timber industry,National (PNG), 13 Aug. 2003.
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conditions for Wawoi Guavi would effectively result in the closure of RHs Panakawa
veneer mill and Kamusie sawmill in the Western Province, comprising the largest
timber processing operations in the country. It was estimated that the closure would
result in the loss of 2,100 jobs, K25 million in government revenue, US$30 million
in export earnings and K10.5 million annually to landowners.
While the Asian financial crisis of 1997 dampened demand for logs on a
regional scale, nonetheless, between 1998 and 2005, PNG log exports recovered
to more than double in volume and increased by nearly 80 per cent in US dollar
This occurred mainly as a result of new investment activities by the RH
Group. By 2007, RH and its subsidiary companies had control of 17 forestry con-
cessions with a total area of 1,755,408 hectares out of an estimated 4.9 million hec-
tares of forests under active timber extraction licences.
RH had 12 operating
subsidiaries in the forestry sector; ten were licensed to harvest forest concessions,
and two were solely processors.
Partly in response to the 1996 National Forest
Plan, which called for downstream processing services, RH established five down-
stream processing operations, all of which are export orientated.
Hijaus commissioning of PNGs largest sawmill at Kamusie in Western Province
in 1991 led to sawn timber becoming the fastest-growing timber export from
PNG. Volumes rose from 23,000 cubic metres in 1999 to 42,348 cubic metres in
International media scrutiny of RH intensified in 2001 after an SBS TV Dateline
program ran a sensational documentary alleging human rights abuses by police
A study by ITS Global found that spending by RH in Western Province on health, education and
road infrastructure outstripped spending by local-level and provincial governments. ITS Global,
The economic importance of the forestry industry to Papua New Guinea, report for Rimbunan
Hijau (PNG) Group, July 2009, 2022.
ITS Global, The economic contribution of Rimbunan Hijaus forestry operations, 11, 13.
Ibid., 18. In 2007, RH or its affiliated companies had logging concessions amounting to 2.55
million hectares. International Tropical Timber Organization, Status of tropical forest manage-
ment, ITTO Technical Series 38 (2011), 223.
ITS Global, The economic contribution of Rimbunan Hijaus forestry operations, 18. Rimbu-
nan Hijau sells veneer mainly to South Korea; round logs to China, Japan, South Korea and
Taiwan; and sawn timber to Australia, New Zealand, China, Japan and Taiwan.
Rimbunan Hijau has also established five downstream processing operations. Sawmills are located
in Teredau (Gulf Province), Kamusie (Western Province), Edevu (Central Province) and Sagarai-
Gadaisu (Milne Bay Province). These downstream processing plants are export-orientated and
represent significant investments; the sawmill at Teredau alone represents a 20 million Kina (K)
outlay. ITS Global, Rimbunan Hijau about the company,1,http://forestryanddevelopment.
com/site/wp-content/uploads/fd-RHBackground-3.pdf (accessed 3 June 2015).
Greenpeace International, The untouchables, 17.
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who were said to be acting on behalf of RH.
Rimbunan Hijaus public relations con-
sultant, ITS Global, claimed that the allegations were subsequently investigated but
could not be substantiated.
In 2004, SBS broadcast another documentary, featuring
Annie Kajir, then CEO of the Environmental Law Centre in Port Moresby. The
documentary alleged widespread corruption and violence, as well as a lack of land-
owner consent in RH concessions.
Rimbunan Hijau has described allegations
levelled at the company by Greenpeace and other NGOs as an ‘“insultto the integ-
rity and independence of PNG.
The election of Michael Somare as prime minister of PNG in August 2002
resulted in export-driven policies and intensified existing tensions with the World
Bank. During a two-day visit in 2003 by the Malaysian prime minister, Somare
said he hoped Malaysian companies would play a growing role in the forestry
sector, adding that he would not allow Australia and other foreign donors to use
aid to impose further restrictions on foreign logging.
Following a breakdown in
talks between the government and the World Bank in 2003, the PNGFA resumed
its efforts to get new forest projects on stream, with ten projects identified as having
a relatively favourable assessment by the independent reviews. Prior to these
reviews, the board of the PNGFA required new log export projects to produce at
least 70,000 cubic metres per annum. Additional conditions stipulated (a) that
fragile forests were to be excluded from the FMA, (b) that ten per cent of the area
was to be set aside for conservation, and (c) that a 40-year cutting cycle was to be
implemented. Of the ten projects chosen, four had the potential of becoming log
export projects that could meet the stipulated conditions, and the other six projects
could only be viable if one or more of the above conditions was relaxed.
indications suggested that the PNGFA was prioritising ten new projects that consti-
tuted the last remaining key high-volume forest resources under state control.
In the lead-up to the seventh ordinary meeting of the parties to the Conven-
tion for Biological Diversity in Malaysia (79 February 2004), Greenpeace released its
report Chains of destruction leading from the worlds remaining ancient forests to
the Japanese market.
Papua New Guineas forestry minister took out full-page
advertisements in both the Post-Courier and the National newspapers, denouncing
Papua New Guinea: wilderness laid waste by corruption,Dateline, television program, SBS TV
(Australia), 2 May 2001.
ITS Global, Masalai i Tokaut and Rimbunan Hijau Watch: a political and deceptive campaign
against Rimbunan Hijau, report for Rimbunan Hijau (PNG) Group, July 2006, 11.
PNG: jungle justice,Dateline, television program, SBS TV (Australia), 3 Nov. 2004.
Alex Rheeney, RH slams allegations,Post-Courier (PNG), 9 Feb. 2004.
Theyre our forests, says PNG,Sydney Morning Herald, 27 Oct. 2003.
Overseas Development Institute, Issues and opportunities for the forest sector in Papua New
Guinea, Papua New Guinea Forest Studies 3 (2007), 8.
Greenpeace International, Chains of destruction leading from the worlds remaining ancient
forests to the Japanese market, Apr. 2002,
international/planet-2/report/2002/3/chains-of-destruction-leading.pdf (accessed 20 Apr. 2015).
Downloaded by [Jennifer Gabriel] at 14:53 09 July 2015
Greenpeaces claims that RH was logging without permits and declaring that all
logging operations in the country are legal.
The forestry minister called the
claims libellous and maliciousand defended the RH Group as one of the most com-
mitted logging companies in PNG.
Greenpeace continued to claim in 2004 that RH was operating illegally, was
protected by political patronage and was destroying the environment.
In 2005,
Greenpeace declared that most logging in PNG was illegal and labelled RH as the
leading illegal logger.
In 2006, RH began a counterattack on the NGO and commis-
sioned a number of reports by ITS Global to challenge the allegations.
In its defence
of the company, the public relations firm described the attacks against RH as part of a
global campaign against logging and complained that the company was being made a
proxy for the timber industry. It insisted that most of the allegations against RH were
found to be false, unsubstantiated, severely exaggerated or misrepresented.
Global staunchly promoted forestry exploitation in PNG:
There is every reason for PNG to fully exploit the sustainable use of
its forestry endowment. This will provide forestry companies, such as
Rimbunan Hijau, with the strongest incentives to increase economic
activity and formal employment in the remote regions of the country.
And in doing so, the forestry companies will also provide such areas
with much needed infrastructure and social services.
Despite its slick counter-campaign, RH has been unable to shed its untouch-
ablereputation and has remained the subject of public criticism and legal disputes. In
defence of its client, ITS Global has stated that
many of the allegations of improper or corrupt conduct by RH in fact
relate to governance or regulatory problems in PNG, rather than
PNG minister defends Malaysian logging firm, ABC News,
2004-02-23/png-minister-defends-malaysian-logging-firm/140352 (accessed 27 Apr. 2015).
Greenpeace International, The untouchables,2.
Greenpeace UK, Partners in crime: the UK timber trade, Chinese sweatshops and Malaysian
robber barons in Papua New Guineas rainforests, Oct. 2005, 2,
uk/MultimediaFiles/Live/FullReport/7251.pdf (accessed 27 Apr. 2015).
ITS Global stated that Greenpeace was not using the term legalin an ordinary sense: It has
expanded it to mean that no transaction is legal unless, at the time of the transaction, all laws
and regulations and international treaties have been properly implemented by government, includ-
ing labour rights, indigenous peoplesrights, and businesspayment of all taxes and fees. By this test,
a large amount of activity at any one time in the industrialized world would be illegal.In
developing countries where governance is notoriously fickle, most economic activity would by
this definition be illegal”’. ITS Global, Whatever it takes: Greenpeaces anti-forestry campaign
in Papua New Guinea, report for Rimbunan Hijau (PNG) Group, July 2006, 8.
Ibid., 7.
ITS Global, The economic contribution of Rimbunan Hijaus forestry operations,7.
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actions by the company. Many of the governance problems are
beyond the control, let alone the scope of accountability, of the
Greenpeace called on the PNG government to stop RHs logging operations
in the Gulf Province and began a targeted campaign against Rimbunan Hijau in
In 2008, Greenpeace deployed its largest ship, the Esperanza, to blockade a
shipment of logs from the Gulf Province bound for China. Rimbunan Hijau
accused Greenpeace of a campaign blunder, pointing out that the ship and the
logging operation belonged to Turama Forest Industries: The concession and
vessel have no relationship with the company.
Greenpeace asserted that the inde-
pendent export monitor SGS a multinational company that provides inspection,
verification, testing and certification services had listed Turama Forest Industries
as a Rimbunan Hijau company.
In 2006, Greenpeace amplified its campaign against RH, distributing a
volley of reports to the international community.
The report Sharing the
blamealleged that around 90 per cent of logging was in violation of PNGs con-
stitution and forestry law, with most of the illegal logs being shipped by RH, and
others, to China. Greenpeace accompanied the report launch with a high-level
campaign in China to oppose the importation of tropical timber based on claims
of illegality. Greenpeace also demanded that the Australian government introduce
laws to stop the importation of illegal timberfrom PNG. The Australian
ITS Global, Masalai i Tokaut and Rimbunan Hijau Watch, 13.
Campaign history in PNG, Greenpeace Australia Pacific,
PNG/ (accessed 27 May 2015).
Greenpeace attempts to halt logging ship, IOL,
greenpeace-attempts-to-halt-logging-ship-1.415079#.VT3R_8lZXms (accessed 27 May 2015).
Logging giant denies Greenpeaces illegal harvest claims, ABC News,
news/2008-09-04/logging-giant-denies-greenpeaces-illegal-harvest/499308 (accessed 27 Apr.
2015). In 2011, SGS first recorded log exports from the Turama concession as being exports by
the RH subsidiary Niugini International Corporation (NIC). Colin Filer, pers. comm., Feb.
2015. It may be that NIC was operating as a subcontractor in Turama prior to 2011.
Greenpeace International, Chains of destruction; C.M. Roberts, L. Mason, J.P. Hawkins,
E. Masden, G. Rowlands, J. Storey and A. Swift on behalf of Greenpeace International,
Roadmap to recovery: a global network of marine reserves, 1 June 2006, http://www.
recovery.pdf (accessed 28 Apr. 2015); Greenpeace International and Greenpeace China, Sharing
the blame: global consumption and Chinas role in ancient forest destruction, 28 Mar. 2006,
sharing-the-blame.pdf (accessed 28 Apr. 2015); Greenpeace International, Rimbunan Hijau
Group: thirty years of forest plunder, May 2006,
Global/international/planet-2/report/2006/6/RH-30years-forest-plunder.pdf (accessed 28 Apr.
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Conservation Foundation (ACF) joined the campaign against RH in 2006,
uniting with the Human Rights Council of Australia and three PNG groups
Environmental Law Centre, PNG Eco-Forestry Forum and the Center for
Environmental Law and Community Rights (CELCOR) to lobby the ANZ
Bank to stop funding RH in PNG.
The 2006 ACF and CELCOR report entitled
Bulldozing progresslinked RH to arms and drugs smuggling, drunkenness and
domestic violence and the spread of AIDS. The PNGFA complained that the
NGO campaigns gave the general perception that all forest products entering over-
seas markets from PNG come from illegal sources. Dike Karin, acting managing
director, insisted that the PNGFA ensured compliance of the conditions set out
in the permits, timber authority and licences: We are of the view that there is
no illegal logging in PNG. We have one of the toughest legal framework and
sound policies to sustainably manage the nationsforest resources.
Rimbunan Hijau criticised the Bulldozing progressreport as almost
breathtaking in its elitism and misinformation and its disregard for the people of
PNG there is no exploitation and to suggest there is, is offensive to the
company and all our employees.
In 2006 the International Tropical Timber
Organization (ITTO) refuted the ongoing claims of illegal logging in PNGs
timber industry, citing the report of the independent auditor SGS, which concluded
that a 12-year log-tracking system proved that all logs exported from PNG were
legal and easily traced to the harvest area. The Australian government subsequently
rejected calls by Greenpeace and the World Wide Fund for Nature to ban PNG
forest products on the grounds they involved illegal logging.
Yet on 28 November
2012, the Australian Illegal Logging Prohibition Act 2012 was passed through par-
liament (and came into effect in November 2014).
To address concerns over the
illegality of its timber, RH subsidiary Saban Enterprises
became the first forestry
company in Papua New Guinea to receive independent certification (by SGS).
Australian Conservation Foundation and the Center for Environmental Law and Community
Rights, Bulldozing progress: human rights abuses and corruption in Papua New Guineas large
scale logging industry, 2006,
bulldozing_progress_full_report.pdf (accessed 28 Apr. 2015).
Action alert: stop ANZ Bank funding of illegal logging in Papua New Guinea, Rainforest Portal, (accessed
27 May 2015).
Forest industry big money earner,National, 11 Oct. 2006.
Michael Casey, Papua New Guinea: environmentalists say logging companies in Papua New
Guinea committing rights abuses, CorpWatch,
13991 (accessed 28 Apr. 2015).
Australia rejects call to ban PNG forest products,National, 3 Nov. 2006.
The due diligence requirements stipulate that an importer must record information relating to the
product and its area of harvest, including any legality frameworks that apply, a copy of the harvest-
ing licence and evidence that any necessary payments or taxes have been made at the point of
harvest. Illegal Logging Prohibition Act 2012 (Australia), sec. 14.
Saban Enterprises Limited is a timber-processing business in the PNG province of Milne Bay.
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RH initiated development of this standard, said James Lau, managing director of
Rimbunan Hijau (PNG). Lau said the forest industry had been unfairly attacked
by those who opposed commercial forestry in PNG. The claims that most forestry
in PNG and most of RHs activity are illegal are false, he said. RH can easily
demonstrate that its logging is legal. We look forward to applying the SGS
to our other forestry operations. Lau added: Australia and New
Zealand have expressed interest in developing requirements that imported timber
products be verified as legal. RH will apply these systems to its exports as they
are developed.
Rimbunan Hijau continued to maintain that all its timber permits were
legally issued and extended, and insisted that all allegations of illegality were frivolous,
vexatious and baseless. The company claimed that such a large timber industry, which
contributed close to five per cent of the GDP, could not be deemed illegal owing to
some legislative oversight (if any occurred, which was denied).
In June 2009,
causing outrage among environmental groups in Asia Pacific, RHs founding chair-
man, Tiong Hiew King, was awarded an honorary knighthood for services to com-
merce, the community and charitable organisations in Papua New Guinea.
award signified the strength of the relationship between the PNG government and
RH, with a spokesperson for Buckingham Palace confirming that the recommen-
dation came from the highest levels of government: The prime minister of Papua
New Guinea, supported by the governor general, would have made the recommen-
dation to the queen. It would then have been cleared by the Foreign Office and
the Malaysian government.
Reinforcing the ongoing indications of forest policy failure, the government, with the
support of the forest industry, introduced a series of amendments to the Forestry Act
1991 that raised further concerns for those interested in the legitimacy of the PNG
forest sector. These amendments in 2005 removed the requirement for consultations
with landowners before the National Forest Board could make its recommendation to
grant the timber permit to the developer.
The Forestry (Amendment) Act 2005 was
Timber legality and traceability verification. See Timber traceability and legality, SGS, http://
(accessed 28 Apr. 2015).
Legality certification a first for PNG business, Timberbiz,
legality-certification-a-first-for-png-business/ (accessed 28 Apr. 2015).
RH refutes illegal logging claims,Post-Courier, 5 May 2006.
Forest campaigners deplore knighthood for Asian logging magnate, The Guardian, http:// (accessed
27 May 2015).
Forestry (Amendment) Act 2005 (Papua New Guinea), sec. 15.
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described as a form of institutional corruptionby Ombudsmen Commission counsel
Nemo Yal, who criticised PNG leaders for using the parliament, and other democratic
constitutional institutions, to protect themselves. With serious allegations against
foreign developers, he said the public is left to wonder whose interest their govern-
ment and parliament are servicing.
A further part of the 2005 amendment dealt with the matter of permits issued
prior to the 1991 Forestry Act an issue that was particularly crucial to the World
Bank and other reformers, especially as it related to the Wawoi Guavi case. While
the act was unclear whether these saved permits could be extended in their pre-
1991 form, the review team had argued that such renewals were illegal.
Many of
these older permits involved RHs concessions most notably in Wawoi Guavi
(Western Province) and Vailala (Gulf Province). The 2005 amendment stated that
such timber permits could be extended, subject to written indications of the permit
holders’‘social acceptabilityamong customary owners in the project, and other con-
ditions such as lodging a performance bond.
Another 2005 amendment indicated
that any timber permits saved under previous versions of the 1991 Forestry Act
were deemed to be extended.
This was an attempt to fully and retrospectively lega-
lise any extension of any saved permit.
In RHs view, these amendments should have
ended all concerns about legality issues.
Yet further amendments to the Forestry Act 1991 in the form of the Forestry
(Timber Permits Validation) Act 2007 were necessary to further legalise decisions
made in PNGs forestry sector. The 2007 amendments meant that no timber permit
granted under the 1991 Forestry Act could be invalidated owing to the absence, expira-
tion or defect in a national forest plan or a national forest inventory. At the time of these
amendments, two cases before the PNG courts were challenging the allocation of the
East Awin and Kamula Doso concessions to RH on the grounds that neither proposed
concession existed in the National Forest Plan, and hence their development and allo-
cation were illegal. The environmental group Eco-Forestry Forum described these
amendments as a deliberate attempt to circumvent the law
and heightened suspicions
that political leaders were using the parliament to benefit foreign investors. Transpar-
ency International (PNG) viewed the amendments as enabling the logging industry to
Graft legalised,Post-Courier, 18 June 2007.
2003/2004 Review Team, Observations regarding the extension of the term of timber permit
1-7, attachment 3.
Forestry (Amendment) Act 2005, sec. 31.
The complexities of permit extensions in the Wawoi Guavi case are further discussed in Michael
Wood Time and transitional relief in negotiating permits in a PNG logging concession, 1992
2012,Pacific Studies, 37:1 (2014), 128.
RH refutes illegal logging claims,Post-Courier, 5 May 2006.
Speaker urged to not certify timber law, Illegal Logging Portal,
content/speaker-urged-not-certify-timber-law (accessed 28 May 2015).
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pursue lucrative logging for export unabated.
Yet in the case of the Kamula Doso
concession, no logging took place. Despite RHs arguments that this concession was
fully legal,
by July 2010, RHs subsidiary, the Wawoi Guavi Timber Company,
and the PNGFA agreed to a consent order that the Kamula Doso FMA was not
valid. This meant that the state, and hence RH, had never acquired a legally enforce-
able interest in the timber of Kamula Doso.
While RHs attempts to legalise prior decisions concerning resource acquisitions were
not always successful, they also developed an interest in other forms of resource acqui-
sition facilitated by PNG laws. The first attempt by the RH Group to engage in agri-
culture in PNG occurred in 1988, when Goodwood, a subsidiary of RH, proposed a
clear-fell and coconut-sap project in Collinwood Bay, securing government approval
without resource owner consent. The resource owners successfully petitioned forests
minister Tim Neville, who shelved the project until proper processeswere followed.
Clear-felling forests for agricultural projects became widespread after the PNG govern-
ment, through national forestry guidelines in 2009, argued for 100 per cent processing
of logs prior to export. The issuing of licences to clear-fell was enabled through the
special agricultural business lease (SABL) mechanism, which resulted in a land grab
that alienated between 5.5 and 5.6 million hectares of PNGs land (nearly 12 per
cent) by 2011, sparking a commission of inquiry (COI).
The COI found that most
of the subleases underpinning the development of SABLs, which covered around 16
Michael Avosa and Alfred Rungol on behalf of Transparency International Papua New Guinea,
Forest governance integrity baseline report: Papua New Guinea, 2011, 7, http://archives. (accessed 29 Apr. 2015).
Rimbunan Hijau Group is good for PNG, PNGscape Komuniti Board, http://www.network54.
+good+for+PNG (accessed 29 Apr. 2015).
These details are further discussed in Mike Wood, Signatures, group definition and an invalid
contract in legal responses to an extension of a logging concession in the Western Province,
PNG, paper presented at the workshop Legal Ground: Land and Law in Contemporary
Taiwan and the Pacific, Taipei, Institute of Ethnology, Academia Sinica, 12 Sep. 2013. Forestry
concession acquisition politics in PNG involves strategies of accumulation by what appears to be
legal (or extra-legal) dispossession, but as the Kamula Doso case indicates, it is sometimes difficult
to harmonise asserted legality and state-regulated dispossession by FMAs into a productive unity.
Adelbert Gangai (on behalf of the Oro Community Environmental Action Network and Colling-
wood Bay Conservation and Development Association) to RSPO Secretariat, 19 Apr. 2013, annex-
ure 3, Forest Peoples Programme,
OCEAN%20Grievance%20to%20RSPO%20-%20KLK_v031April2013.pdf (accessed 29 Apr.
Colin Filer, Why green grabs dont work in Papua New Guinea,Journal of Peasant Studies, 39:2
(2012), 599617.
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per cent of PNGs commercially accessible forests, were used by logging companies to
gain access to new sources of timber.
The legislative and bureaucratic mechanisms underpinning the increased
ease in acquiring SABLs (otherwise known as a lease-leaseback scheme)
logging and other companies to undertake both logging and agricultural oper-
After forest clearance authorities (FCAs) became easier to obtain, log
exports surged to record highs.
According to analysis by Paul Barker, director of
the Institute of National Affairs, over one-third of Papua New Guineas logging
exports in 2012 came from SABLs.
A total of more than 1.5 million cubic
metres of raw logs, with a combined value of roughly US$150 million, was exported
from areas covered by FCAs in the five years from 2007 to 2011.
During December
2012, the Rimbunan Hijau (PNG) Ltd group of companies dominated log exports
with 20.2 per cent of total volume; in contrast, no other logging company exceeded
more than 8.9 per cent of log exports.
A recent study found that out of 26 oil palm plantation projects covering almost
a million hectares, based on land suitability, developer experience, and capacity and
socio-legal constraints,
only five of these projects (covering 20 per cent of the total
Sam Lawson, Illegal logging in Papua New Guinea, Chatham House, Energy, Environment and
Resources Programme Paper 4 (2014), 24.
The mechanism that enabled the abuse of the SABL policy is the forest clearance authority. In
2007, sections 90a and 90b of the Forestry Act were amended to do away with the requirement of
calling for public tenders from registered logging companies to salvage logs from an area to be
cleared for agriculture projects. This allowed logging companies to both apply for an FCA and
undertake the logging and agricultural operation. Paul Winn on behalf of Greenpeace Australia
Pacific, Up for grabs: millions of hectares of customary land in PNG stolen for logging, Aug.
2012, 4, (accessed
30 Apr. 2015). After FCAs became easier to obtain, log exports surged.
Ibid., 3.
Colin Filer, The commission of inquiry into special agricultural and business leases in Papua
New Guinea: fresh details for the portrait of a process of expropriation, paper presented at the
International Conference on Global Land Grabbing II, Cornell University, 18 Oct. 2012, 19.
Up to one-third of Papua New Guinea log exports may not be authorised by landowners, says
INA, Business Advantage PNG,
papua-new-guinea-log-exports-may-not-be-authorised-by-landowners-says-ina/ (accessed 28 May
Filer, The commission of inquiry,4.
SGS, Log export statistics and export monitoring highlights, Dec. 2012, exec. summ., 1. Total
exports of other logging companies: Brilliant Investment Ltd with 6.2%, Viva Success Ltd with 6%,
Vanimo Jaya Ltd with 8.9%, Westenders Ltd with 6.6%.
Of 42 SABLs examined by the COI, only four were found to have proper landowner consent
and viable agricultural projects, whereas the remainder (more than 90%) were obtained through
fraudulent or corrupt means. Henry Scheyvens and Federico Lopez-Casero on behalf of Institute
for Global Environmental Strategies, Managing forests as a renewable asset for present and future
generations: verifying legal compliance in forestry in Papua New Guinea, IEGS Policy Report 1
(2013), 45.
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area studied) were actually likely to proceed in the short term.
Rimbunan Hijau sub-
sidiaries involved in SABLs for oil palm development include Sovereign Hill Ltd, with a
sublease for 70 years over 126,570 hectares in Western Province, and Gilford Ltd, with
a sublease of 55,400 hectares in East New Britain and 41,230 hectares in West New
Britain. Rimbunan Hijau also has a sublease over 11,800 hectares in the Gulf Province
for 99 years. The most controversial of these SABLS is the Sigite Mukus Integrated
Rural Development Project in Pomio, East New Britain. In October 2011, the
Pomio SABL became the centre of international public outrage and condemnation fol-
lowing allegations of police brutality and corporate complicity.
Registered as an
agro-forestry project, the two components of the project involve (1) construction of a
178-kilometre road connecting the Mukus River to Sigite (central/inland Pomio)
and (2) land clearance for an oil palm plantation under an FCA.
According to the
proposal, selective logging is to be followed by land clearance for oil palm cultivation.
Revenue from log exports set aside as an infrastructure fund (K2 per cubic metre) will be
used in funding the completion of the road.
Approximately 5,008,150 cubic metres
of timber extracted from a gross area of 286,000 hectares of forests (over 20 years) is
required to recover costs for the road. Sales from round logs and finished timber pro-
ducts in the first five years will be used to fund the establishment of the oil palm projects
and fund the completion of the road.
While this is just one example of RHs use of SABLs, evidence suggests that
they were significant beneficiaries of the SABL process. In his final report tabled in
parliament, John Numapo, chief commissioner of the COI into SABLS, stated
(without indicating the relevant SABLs): Our investigations reveal that over
of the so-called developers[sic] currently holding subleases on SABLs are
connected in one way or another to Rimbunan Hijau (RH) Limited, which by far
is the biggest logging operator in PNG.
The chief commissioner said that with
corrupt government officials from implementing agencies riding shotgun for them,
opportunistic loggers masquerading as agro-forestry developers are prowling our
P.N. Nelson, J. Gabriel, C. Filer, M. Banabas, J.A. Sayer, G.N. Curry, G. Koczberski and
O. Venter, Oil palm and deforestation in Papua New Guinea,Conservation Letters, 7:3 (2013), 188.
For further details see Jennifer Gabriel, Evergreen and REDD+ in the forests of Oceania,in
Joshua A. Bell, Paige West and Colin Filer (eds), Tropical Forests of Oceania: anthropological perspectives
(Canberra forthcoming). Also see Andrew Lattas reports on Pomio, Nineteen Years and Counting
in Papua New Guinea,
reports-on-pomio.html (accessed 30 Apr. 2015); Loggers linked to protest crackdown,The World
Today, radio program, ABC Radio (Australia), 11 Oct. 2011. News reports also appear in the
Post-Courier throughout the period 223 Oct. 2011.
Memalo Holdings Ltd and Sumas Timber and Development International, An environment
inception report for Sigite-Mukus Rural Development Project, 21 July 2006, 2.
We have identified only 16 SABLs with subleases directly linked to RH companies. These 16
SABLs comprise four projects, but at the time of writing, only one (Sigite Mukus) appears to be
a priority for RH.
Numapo, Commission of inquiry, 242.
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countryside, scoping opportunities to take advantage of gullible landowners and des-
perate for cash clan leaders.
This echoes Justice Barnetts claim (cited above) that
in the late 1980s some logging companies were roaming the countryside with the self-
assurance of robber barons.
Some of the strategies of RH that we have outlined
here reinforce Commissioner Numapos emphasis on the continuity, rather than sig-
nificant reform, of practices linked to securing control of timber resources.
After 30 years of industrial logging in PNG by RH, the company is increasingly diver-
sifying into other sectors. The RH Groups strategy in PNGs forestry sector has
involved increasing investment in downstream processing facilities. This has been
crucial to the reputation and influence of the company within the government. The
government has increasingly promoted downstream processing by providing exemp-
tion from export taxes to downstream processors. The revised National Forestry
Development Guidelines (2010) contain the requirement that all new concessions
will be for 100 per cent downstream processing, with the Draft national forest
plan(NFP) forecasting an 80 per cent increase in downstream processing by
Another government diversification strategy within the forest industry
emphasises plantations. A related strand of government thinking, reflected in the
draft NFP (2013), asserts that PNGs timber is running out: Much of the accessible
forests areas have been logged out or cleared for agriculture projects and other
land uses. Only minimal accessible forest areas are remaining while much of it is in
the hinterland where there is limited access.
In response to this threat, the PNG Medium term development plan 2011
2015seeks to establish 150,000 hectares of forest plantations by 2030 (up from
62,000), an increase in processed exports and a sustainable forest industry.
evidence exists that logging companies have invested in standalone timber plantations.
More interest has been expressed in developing oil palm plantations. From RHs per-
spective, timber is not in short supply, as the vast forest reserves of the Western
Province are still available as potential concessions.
Rimbunan Hijau has significantly diversified its activities beyond the forestry
sector to include supermarkets, media, aviation, tourism, hotels, travel, construction
and manufacturing. Supporting this diversification is the parent companys(RHMalay-
sias) access to diversified global markets, integrated downstream industry capacities,
and plantation experience in Malaysia and New Zealand. Rimbunan Hijau (PNG)s
diversification provides a long-term basis for investment beyond forestry, but it also
Barnett, Commission of inquiry, 84.
PNG Forest Authority, Draft national forest plan, 16.
Ibid., 1.
Department of National Planning and Monitoring, Papua New Guinea medium term
development plan 20112015, Oct. 2010, 73.
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increases its diffuse bargaining power with the state to secure future timber resources
and maintain its dominant position in PNGs forestry sector. Our evidence concerning
a number of forestry-related court cases mentioned in this paper indicates that RH has
quite effectively used ambiguities and gaps in the law, regulations and policy frameworks
to secure forest resources.
This paper presents some evidence, concerning RHsoil
palm projects, that this same strategy of exploiting weak regulatory frameworks has
been adopted in the sectors in which it has recently diversified.
Since the 1980s, critics of PNGs forestry sector have held the state, the pol-
itical elite and the public sector accountable for not reducing the influence of foreign
corporations, particularly the main actor, RH (PNG). PNGs educated middle class
and increasingly also some of the rural landowners have often articulated political
grievances concerning PNGs forestry administration through the campaigns of inter-
national environmental groups and local NGOs. As we have shown, RH uses litiga-
tion as a strategy to overcome opponents, but not always successfully (as indicated
by the Kamula Doso case). Rimbunan Hijau has launched international public
relation campaigns via consultants, such as ITS Global, to respond to allegations
made by NGOs such as Greenpeace. It has also used national media to shape its repu-
tation and structure debates over forestry issues. In these counter-narratives, logging is
framed as development and as a form of poverty alleviation. Forestry industry advo-
cates want environmental groups to align their objectives towards a specific under-
standing of national and local aspirations rather than global environmentalism.
Another feature of RHs power and influence is its ability to maintain long-
term relationships with landowners primarily through money, services and infrastruc-
ture that would not otherwise be available in many rural areas of PNG. Rimbunan
Hijau is often successful in mobilising relevant landowners in support of its projects.
While not covered in this paper, the police, especially paramilitary units known as the task
force, have sometimes played a crucial role in violently securinglegal, and extra-legal, conditions
within logging concessions. Such security often involves forms of power derived from the state, the
logging company, land owners and existing markets for police security. See Andrew Lattas,
Logging, violence and pleasure: neoliberalism, civil society and corporate governance in West
New Britain,Oceania, 81:1 (2011), 88107. For recent coverage of events in Pomio, see entries
tagged Pomioon the PNGexposed Blog, including Logging in Pomio: violence, wages, land
and the environment, PNGexposed Blog,
logging-in-pomio-violence-wages-land-and-the-environment/ (accessed 4 May 2015); RH has
become the government of PNG, PNGexposed Blog,
2014/07/07/rh-has-become-the-government-of-png/ (accessed 4 May 2015).
ITS Global, Uncivil society,6.
Landowner ideas and activities in reference to logging are discussed in numerous other papers.
Here we highlight some accounts linked to RH projects in PNG: Lattas, Logging, violence and
pleasure; Colin Filer and Michael Wood, The creation and dissolution of private property in
forest carbon: a case study from Papua New Guinea,Human Ecology, 40:5 (2012), 66577;
Michael Wood, The Makapa timber rights purchase: a study in project failure in the post-
Barnett era, in Colin Filer (ed.), The Political Economy of Forest Management in Papua New Guinea,
NRI Monograph 32 (Boroko 1997), 84108; Michael Wood, Kamula accounts of Rambo and
the state of Papua New Guinea,Oceania, 76:1 (2006), 6182.
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This has been particularly important when contesting other developers and dissenting
landowner groups. In summary, RHs power and influence in the forestry sector
involves an ability to lobby the state, exploit regulatory weaknesses, shape national
debates and promote a developmental culture, as well as maintain degrees of land-
owner support. The broader structure of these interactions is defined by conjunctures
of elements of the state and the corporation, primarily involving shared understand-
ings and practices concerning developmentand forestry.
James Lau, managing
director of RH (PNG), recently pointed to this feature when he noted that the political
elite continue to support economic growth and development via foreign investment:
Domestically, the current ONeill government is taking concrete
action to improve the business climate and attract direct foreign
investment. Most operators who have been in PNG for a long
time, such as RH, understand that the occasional bout of political
instability, as was seen before the last general election, is simply
part of doing business here.
The ongoing challenge for RH, even if it has the support of the political elite, will be to
demonstrate more equitable and just negotiations in its business ventures in PNG.
Such demonstrations will be difficult to implement since the activities of RH, and
the state, that routinely help intensify popular demands for greater justice and
equity in PNGs forestry sector are often those that productively maintain and
extend RHs power over forests and other resources.
Kapferer uses the term corporate statesto describe state assemblages that are increasingly
subject to corporate power. Bruce Kapferer, New formations of power, the oligarchic-corporate
state, and anthropological ideological discourse,Anthropological Theory, 5:3 (2005), 28599.
Interview: James Lau, managing director, Rimbunan Hijau (PNG) Group.
Downloaded by [Jennifer Gabriel] at 14:53 09 July 2015
... Despite this, the provincial government continues to support the project as a means of bringing socio-economic development to the area (Lapauve, 2017). Rimbunan Hijau (RH), which is by far the biggest logging company in Papua New Guinea (Gabriel and Wood, 2015). RH is a multinational and multi-sectoral company, owning one of the two national newspapers in PNG (The National), the mall Vision City, and the luxurious Stanley Hotel & Suites. ...
Land formalization for large-scale agricultural development has received renewed interest in academic and policy circles as a mechanism to spur economic development and growth. International development organizations increasingly promote large investments by private investors in the agriculture sector to enable access to capital and technology, and generate employment and productivity. This article uses a case study in Papua New Guinea (PNG), where the government seeks to attract large-scale transnational investments for oil palm production by formalizing large swathes of customary land. Employing a political economy approach to land rights, the case demonstrates how PNG’s recent land formalization policy has been captured by powerful ‘big shots’ and companies, within an environment of weak and changing governance. The article highlights the importance of analyzing contextual factors such as the local political economy to understand the process and outcomes of land formalization attempts. To understand the distributional outcomes of land formalization, this article finds that it is less useful for governments and development agencies to ask if land formalization works, but rather for whom and under what conditions.
... Both are part of a complex web of companies which can be traced back to registrations in tax havens, such as Singapore and the British Virgin Islands. Gilford Ltd is owned by Prime Resources Corporation Ltd, a subsidiary of Rimbunan Hijau (RH), one of the biggest logging companies in Southeast Asia and the biggest in Papua New Guinea(Gabriel & Wood, 2015). RH is a multinational and multi-sectoral company, owning one of the two national newspapers in PNG called The National, the mall Vision City, and the luxurious Stanley Hotel & Suites. ...
Conference Paper
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This paper uses the case study of Papua New Guinea (PNG) to engage with the debate on customary land formalization processes, derived from Hernando de Soto's 'Mystery of Capital' (2000). The case of the oil palm industry in PNG demonstrates that customary land registration processes may be captured by powerful 'big men' and companies, within an environment of weak and changing governance. Weak or non-existent state capacity for the regulation and enforcement of the palm oil industry have been exploited by logging/oil palm companies surpassing various government agencies at different levels. Instead of increasing agricultural activity and national income, the case shows that customary land formalization has led to worsening poverty and wealth inequality due to biased land lease agreements between customary landowners and developers, loss of tax revenues due to tax exemptions, and a lack of service provision such as roads, schools, and health centers.
... Because of the unique land tenure system of PNG, whereby up to 97 percent of land is legally owned and managed by resident communities and clans [39], it is also essential that PNG citizens have an adequate knowledge of their legal rights over communal lands to prevent inequitable and abusive land acquisitions and unsustainable resource exploitation by outside interests. For example, there have been numerous cases of rural communities and clans effectively losing permanent control over their legally-owned lands to unscrupulous developers and foreign resource extraction companies, e.g., [40][41][42][43]. Assisting local communities with the often complex legal and ecological issues associated with protecting and sustainably managing their lands can yield substantial dividends in terms of biodiversity conservation, including in development of protected areas. ...
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Accurately identifying threats to global biodiversity is the first step towards effectively countering or ameliorating them. However, such threats are usually only qualitatively categorized, without any comparative quantitative assessment of threat levels either within or across ecosystems. As part of recent efforts in Papua New Guinea to develop a long-term strategic plan for reducing threats to biodiversity at the national level, we developed a novel and quantitative method for not only assessing relative effects of specific biodiversity threats across multiple ecosystems, but also identifying and prioritizing conservation actions best suited for countering identified threats. To do so, we used an abbreviated quantitative SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats) analysis and multivariate cluster analysis to identify the most significant threats to biodiversity in Papua New Guinea. Of 27 specific threats identified, there were nine major threats (each >5% of total) which accounted for approximately 72% of the total quantified biodiversity threat in Papua New Guinea. We then used the information to identify underlying crosscutting threat drivers and specific conservation actions that would have the greatest probability of reducing biodiversity threats across multiple ecosystem realms. We categorized recommended actions within three strategic categories; with actions within each category targeting two different spatial scales. Our integrated quantitative approach to identifying and addressing biodiversity threats is intuitive, comprehensive, repeatable and computationally simple. Analyses of this nature can be invaluable for avoiding not only wasted resources, but also ineffective measures for conserving biodiversity.
... Multinational companies have prospected and extracted various natural resources from the Gulf of Papua for over a century (e.g., see Carne, 1913;Hope, 1979). Among recent projects in the Gulf of Papua are logging activities conducted by the Malaysian company Rimbunan Hijau (see Bell, 2015;Gabriel and Wood, 2015) and a liquefied natural gas (LNG) pipeline planned by the French company Total SA. In 2015, immediately prior to the archaeological project described here, Malaysian miners Mayur Resources had conducted extensive testing for magnetite-rich sands (black sands) at Popo and other ancestral village locations: ...
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The Gulf of Papua, Papua New Guinea, is a rapidly changing geomorphic and cultural landscape in which the ancestral past is constantly being (re)interpreted and negotiated. This paper examines the importance of subsurface archaeological and geomorphological features for the various communities of Orokolo Bay in the Gulf of Papua as they maintain and re-construct cosmological and migration narratives. The everyday practices of digging and clearing for agriculture and house construction at antecedent village locations bring Orokolo Bay locals into regular engagement with buried pottery sherds (deposited during the ancestral hiri trade) and thin strata of ‘black sand’ (iron sand). Local interpretations and imaginings of the subsurface enable spatio-temporal interpretations of the ancestors' actions and the structure of ancestral settlements. These interpretations point to the profound entanglement of orality and material culture and suggest new directions in the comparative study of alternative archaeologies.
... However more recent oil palm developments under the Special Agricultural and 15 Business Lease (SABL) model appear far less beneficial to local landowners (Gabriel and Wood 2015;Nelson et al. 2014). given the paucity of government service provision and the availability of more lucrative, though environmentally destructive, economic alternatives. ...
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In this paper we discuss differences in the ways transnational conservationists and Melanesian farmers, hunters and fishers value 'biodiversity'. The money for conservation projects in developing countries originates from people who are embedded in a capitalist system, which allows engagement with nature as an abstract entity. Their western education has given them a scientific/ evolutionary-based worldview, which attributes intrinsic value to all species (and particular arrangements of species, e.g. rainforests and coral reefs), irrespective of economic value or ecosystem function. Because this value system is mostly not shared by the custodians of the biodiversity that conservationists want to save, alternative tactics and arguments are utilised. These inevitably take the form of so-called 'win-win' economic rationales for preserving biodiversity, most of which do not work well (e.g. bioprospecting, ecotourism, non-timber forest products, environmental certification schemes, payments for ecosystem services, etc.), for reasons which we detail. Agriculture-and aquaculture-based livelihoods appear to enjoy more success than the 'win-win' options but do not necessarily obviate or deter further biodiversity loss. Artisanal use of species-poor but productive and resilient pelagic fisheries is increasing. These ecological and economic realities bring into sharp focus the importance of understanding differences in value systems for successful biodiversity conservation in the tropics.
There is renewed interest in the capacity of private investors to use the revenues from the sale of carbon credits or offsets to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from the process of deforestation and forest degradation and thus help high -emission countries like Australia to meet their emission reduction targets. Papua New Guinea is one of the countries in which these voluntary forest carbon projects are being constructed, validated and certified in order for this market to be expanded. This paper examines some of these projects in detail in order to reveal some of the fundamental flaws in the way that their proponents represent what is happening in the areas where such investments are being proposed and approved. We aim to s h o w w h a t s o r t s o f e v i d e n c e w o u l d n e e d t o b e p r e s e n t e d i n o r d e r f o r s u c h p r o j e c ts to make a credible claim to achieve their stated goals. At the same time, we cast some doubt on the capacity of relevant government agencies and their development partners to ensure that projects of this kind will not simply benefit the companies that buy and sell carbon credits but also produce some real and lasting benefits for the rural communities whose members own the native forests that are being exploited in this peculiar way.
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Although the 1972, Convention Concerning the Protection of the World's Cultural, Natural Heritage (World Heritage Convention) and the 2003 Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage (Intangible Cultural Heritage Convention) both operate to protect and safeguard the world's heritage, they do so largely in isolation from each other. They have developed separate processes, and implementation committees. Practitioners also tend to specialize almost exclusively in working under one or other of the conventions. In many parts of the world funding for heritage is highly competitive and UNESCO also has to prioritize its financial support for heritage in a tight fiscal climate. It is therefore timely to rethink the ways in which we work and to look for synergistic collaborations. This paper considers the benefits that might be gained through a closer relationship between the two conventions and the strategic use of both conventions in combination by State Parties. It does this in the context of the Asia Pacific Region- a region within which 20% of the State Parties, including two significant western economies, have not ratified the Intangible Cultural Heritage Convention. Engagement with this Convention is even more questionable when one considers that only just over 40% of the member states in that region have registered ICH under the Convention. Rethinking the way that we work is not new to the cultural heritage sector, nor is the environment where we are all asked to do more with fewer resources (Purkait et al., 2013). ICOMOS and IUCN, two advisory bodies under the World Heritage Convention, have initiate several projects recently which aim to better integrate and streamline their assessment processes and this paper looks to their Connecting Practice Project and the Nature Culture Journey as two such examples. The author considers two case studies from the region as a way of exploring how A new approach to management of tangible and intangible heritage... 3 the two conventions could work together. One of these is in relation to an existing World Heritage Site listed for its natural values only despite having substantial cultural values in relation to the Indigenous communities that live adjacent to the WHA. The other is a site on Papua New Guinea’s Tentative List which is located in a remote part of the country and where local communities would be looking to heritage to assist in developing alternative local economies. In both cases there would be benefits in integrating efforts under both Conventions. . Keywords: World Heritage, Intangible Cultural Heritage, Asia Pacific Region
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Any global agreement on climate change will impact on how we manage our forestry operations. If we are to sustain our industry into the future, we must stay alert and aware of these developments. Most importantly, we must respond by making our case to Governments and business partners around the world. If we don't, the future of our industry will be in peril. (Tiong Hiew King 2008)
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An unprecedented increase in oil palm developments may be underway in Papua New Guinea (PNG) through controversial “special agricultural and business leases” (SABLs) covering over two million hectares. Oil palm development can create societal benefits, but doubt has been raised about whether the SABL developers intend establishing plantations. Here, we examine the development objectives of these proposals through an assessment of their land suitability, developer experience and capacity, and sociolegal constraints. Our review reveals 36 oil palm proposals with plantings planned for 948,000 ha, a sevenfold increase over the existing planted area in PNG. Based on our criteria, however, we estimate that only five plantations covering 181,700 ha might eventuate within the foreseeable future. We conclude that most of the developers are clearing forest with no intention of cultivating oil palm, and that a large-scale land grab is therefore occurring in PNG under the guise of oil palm development.
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One part of the Australian colonial legacy in Papua New Guinea (PNG hereafter) is the Australian government's attempt to forge partnerships with foreign companies in different economic sectors in order to lay the economic foundations for rural development in the newly independent nation. American and Australian capital was invited to develop the mining industry, European capital to develop the oil palm industry, and Japanese capital to develop the forest industry. Nowadays, the Australian government seems to have forgotten its late colonial enthusiasm for this form of state capitalism, and its aid to PNG is largely framed by the neo-liberal policy prescriptions which the World Bank was able to impose on the PNG government through a sequence of structural adjustment programs beginning in 1990. However, members of PNG's national political elite have persistently sought refuge from this economic orthodoxy through their engagement with Asian governments and companies. In this paper I examine the way in which changing political and economic conditions have affected the actual pattern of Asian investment in PNG's forestry and agriculture sectors, and the way in which different stakeholders have responded to this changing pattern of investment. Despite the prevalence of a policy narrative which holds Asian investors responsible for the corruption of PNG's political institutions when mineral resource booms liberate national politicians from the constraints of Western economic orthodoxy, I show that Asian investment in these two sectors has taken several different forms, and there is no simple sense in which PNG's national economy and political system are subject to a concerted takeover by Asian business interests.
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The article presents a broad claim that the political environment of the nation-state is complicated by the emergence to dominance of state and state-like oligarchic-corporate state formations. These are considered as a relatively new kind of political departure that constitutes a reconfiguration of the relation of controlling interests to social realities. The argument develops the suggestion that some recent anthropological orientations to the state are relatively unreflective as to their own ideological positioning.
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This paper shows how the prospect of a forest carbon market in Papua New Guinea added a new element of instability to national forest policy and property processes that were already moving in contradictory directions. In particular we examine attempts by foreign investors to forge voluntary carbon agreements with customary landowners after the Bali climate change conference of 2007, and the mobilization of state institutions to counter these 'private dealings'. We highlight the connection between the ways that these processes played out at both national and local scales, with a focus on the highly contentious Kamula Doso forest area in Western Province. We conclude with some observations on the way that the constitutional protection of customary land rights inhibits the formalization of market-able rights in forest resources, including forest carbon, and creates an inconclusive circularity in the operation of forest policy and property processes at different levels of social and political organization.
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In recent years, private companies have acquired long-term leasehold titles to more than five million hectares of what was formerly customary land in Papua New Guinea (PNG), but hardly any of this land has been devoted to production of the four green commodities in which PNG might have some comparative advantage – sustainable palm oil, bio-ethanol, biodiversity and carbon credits. Nearly all of it is dedicated to so-called ‘agro forestry’ projects that appear to be short-term salvage logging projects justified by the promise of a purely virtual form of large-scale agricultural production. I argue that the ‘agro foresters’ have been more successful than the green investors because of a set of political and institutional factors that distinguish PNG from many of the other countries where land grabbing has become the order of the day.
This paper contributes to the ethnography of masculinity and the media in PNG. I outline some changes in Kamula men's understandings of masculinity as they are registered in accounts of conflicts between state security services, the Kamula, Rambo and other actors. Outlining this history shows how Kamula men are increasingly entangled in forms of state power and violence that are partially defined by new myths of masculinity expressed in Melanesian readings of Rambo. The paper describes how some of the power effects linked to Rambo are transferred to Kamula men. I argue that in their accounts of Rambo the Kamula are also exploring different models of sovereignty and state power.
The postcolonial world of Melanesia is made up of diverse experiments, which combine modern and customary technologies of power into new hybrid assemblages. In the 1990s, there occurred a proliferation of landowner companies in rural New Britain. This happened in a context of neoliberalism where the state divested itself of many functions and services by allocating these to a supposedly more efficient private sector. In the Kaliai area, this new economic partnership between state and capital gave rise to more militarised forms of policing, which sought to protect logging by a large Malaysian company from growing local unrest. Supplementing these coercive state actions were private strategies, which used sorcery to intimidate opponents to logging as well as rivals within the landowner company. Opponents were bought off and alliances created through using customary exchange relations as well as through modern gifts of money, western goods and commoditised pleasures.
Anthropologists since the 1990s have paid greater attention to the state and governmentality than to one of the most consequential forms of power in our time, the corporation. The lack of attention to corporations is especially problematic when the harm they cause is readily apparent and substantial. We propose to reorient the study of power in anthropology to focus on the strategies corporations use in response to their critics and how this facilitates the perpetuation of harm. We identify three main phases of corporate response to critique: denial, acknowledgement and token accommodation, and strategic engagement. In case studies of the tobacco and mining industries, we show how corporate responses to their critics protect these industries from potential delegitimization and allow them to continue operating in favorable regulatory environments. Finally, we connect these corporate strategies to pervasive feelings of discontent about the present and the perceived inability to change the future. Although corporations usually benefit from the politics of resignation, we argue that widespread dissatisfaction with corporate practices represents an important starting point for social change.
This article examines the promotion of corporate oxymorons that conceal the harm caused by corporations to people and environments. They are part of a larger set of strategies used by corporations to manage or neutralize critique. They often pair a desirable cover term such as safe or sustainable with a description of their product, for example cigarettes or mining. Repetition of the resulting contradictions—safe cigarettes or sustainable mining—renders the terms familiar and seemingly plausible. We suggest that the analysis of corporate oxymorons provides a valuable entry into the anthropology of capitalism. KeywordsCapitalism-Corporate oxymorons-Language-George Orwell-Mining-Politics of resignation-Tobacco