Can ATS repel the Chinese challenge?

The bulldozers move in on ATS. Marape says he wants them out – but is he being truthful?

By KEITH JACKSON – posted on PNG Attitude 03 May 2021

NOOSA – I thought this was going to be a good news story, but now I’m  not too sure.

Late last week, Papua New Guinea prime minister James Marape seemed to move with lightning speed  to stop a developer evicting residents and destroying homes at Port Moresby’s ATS settlement.

However, just as I was putting the story to bed last night, I got some disconcerting news. But first some background.

ATS stands for the Air Transport Squadron of the PNG Defence Force and refers to the residential compound of the PNGDF ATS which is located adjacent to the settlement.

The ATS land at 8 Mile was traditionally owned by three men from the original Koari people who, in 1995, gave their consent to settlers from Oro Province to live on the land. The leaders of the settlement once said they had documents to prove this arrangement.

Map showing location of the ATS settlement on the north-east fringe of Jacksons International Airport.

The ATS settlement traditionally house people from Oro Province, but now there are many other ethnic groups there. According to various sources the population in ATS is about 10,000, many of whom are unemployed and in serious financial hardship.

According to the Department of Lands, in 2008, under suspicious circumstances, title was given to Dunlavin Limited, a Chinese company. In 2013 police attempted to execute an eviction order from Dunlavin and ordered the settlers, who had been given no notice, to leave.

The court battle over the title continued thereafter and was eventually awarded to Dunlavin, which wanted to develop the land.

Dunlavin took out a new court order to evict people living on portion 695 of the land giving notice of 120 days which ended last Thursday.

Immediately, the equipment moved in and, despite the 120 days’ notice, once again the settlers were caught unawares by bulldozers moving in, this time it seems to construct a road.

“We helped to build a house there for my wife’s family 10 years ago,” a correspondent told me. “It was a much better investment than paying bride price and I was assured the family had been given the land title by a former owner, an uncle who was a surveyor.

“Last week we had to help my wife’s family buy tools to dismantle the house before it was flattened.”

But on Friday it seemed like a court order taken out by the prime minister had brought things to a halt, with ATS residents being promised there would be legal action and the land will remain theirs.

But is this so?

A field agent has been gathering  information in ATS and it seems that people in land portion 695 have been given an eviction notice and people living in portions 694 and 696 are also in fear and are packing because they believe the police will move in with indiscriminating force.

Late last week, local MP John Kaupa  assured the people that prime minister Marape had promised to find other land and give it to the Chinese company – and that the people did not have to leave.

But that promise seems unlikely to be kept because the next day police and bulldozers moved in and demanded the people to vacate.

“It is corruption at play,” my agent remarked. “Politicians, Lands Department bureaucrats and pimps are united in this saga.”

So the people of ATS, all 10,000 or so of them, are at present in limbo.

Is prime minister Marape going to be a man of his word and protect their settlement, their land and their homes?

Or are these just sweet words to calm down  the people and make it easier to push them aside – and with nowhere to go?

We’re about to find out. Have these people been given an option to go elsewhere and rebuild? And if so where? And who will pay for it?

Dr Michelle Nayahamui Rooney has written of these acute problems of urban development in Port Moresby, saying that “at the very least, policies or proposed developments must include provisions to identify those who will be affected and options for their resettlement.”

In her study of the ATS settlement, Dr Rooney wrote that settlers have been such a prominent part of the urban landscape for so long that they not only have developed ways to sustain this lifestyle, they have developed knowledge that can inform urban land policy processes.

That, rather than bulldozers, would be a much better starting point.

But does the Marape government count the ATS people as being citizens worth listening to more than an overseas development company that probably thinks it’s been hanging around too long already?

With thanks to those who provided my information. You know who you are.

Published by Ples Singsing

Ples Singsing is envisioned to be a new platform for Papua Niuginian expressions of creativity, ingenuity and originality in art and culture. We deliberately highlight these two very broad themes as they can encompass the diverse subjects, from technology, medicine and architecture to linguistics, music, fishing, gardening et cetera. Papua Niuginian ways of thinking, living, believing, communicating, dying and so on can cover the gamut of academic, journalistic or opinionated writing and we believe that unless we give ourselves a platform to talk about and discuss these things in an open, free and non-exclusively academic space that they may remain the fodder for academics, journalists and other types of writers alone. New social media platforms have given every individual a personal space to share their feelings and ideas openly, sometimes without immediate censure. The Ples Singsing writer’s blog would like to provide another more structured platform for Papua Niuginian expressions in written, visual and audio formats while also providing some regulation of the type and content of materials to be shared publicly.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: