Zimbabwe-like land grabs to escalate in Pacific

Karl FitzgeraldArticles, Commentary, InternationalLeave a Comment

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Creative Commons License photo credit: robertpaulyoung

There is little doubt that Zimbabwean-like land grabs will occur on our doorstep if current economic policy continues. The policy alternative we spell out below could pop the fuse to the frustration that led to Zimbabwean land grabs and the simmering tensions in Fiji.

With the Pacific Islands rapidly privatising from kastomeray land title in the last decade or so, the growing pains of adjusting to the outright ownership of natural resources is continually rearing it’s head. We have written about Vanuatu before and hold great fears for countries such as Papau New Guinea, West Papau and small island nations like Maluku. Why? Because there is something intrinsically wrong with the current notion of ‘private property rights’.

Read this story on death and destruction in PNG over a gold producing piece of land in Morobe Province near the controversial Hidden Valley goldmine:

The newspaper, The National, reports that fighting erupted when a land dispute over ownership of the McAdam National Park between Wau and Bulolo came to a head as Watut tribesmen gathered in Wau in their hundreds and staged an early morning attack on the villages of Biangai tribe.

The violence left three people dead, several injured, houses and property destroyed, and forced the temporary shutdown of the Hidden Valley gold mine and the evacuation of employees.

A Watut man was allegedly killed recently by Biangais over a gold-bearing piece of land on the national park, which is said to have sparked the tension.

How can one man be said to ‘own’ a piece of land, especially one that has gold underneath it? Did he create this gold? Did he do anything to produce it? No. Now how does this sit with indigenous culture that sees the creator spirit as having gifted the gold to all living beings past, present and future? If the creator gave gold and all other natural resources as a gift, why should white man come along with a black and white ruling to determine that private property is a god given right?

Is private property a god given right?

White man’s understanding of private property once knew of the need for a distinction. Unfortunately it’s been largely forgotten. The Lockean principle that founded private property rights stated that we all deserve to keep the fruits of our labour. The fruits of the earth, however, were to be shared amongst all and weren’t to be sold (Leveticus 25:23).

How do we process this distinction in the modern era?

As natural resources gain in value due to scarcity rather than hard work, the upkick in value should be shared amongst the community. This is where a Resource Rentals system comes into play. Natural resources such as gold come from land. Effective yearly land valuations would reflect the changing value of gold. The Site Rental on the land would be paid to a transparent government, where such monies would go towards the running of the country. In this way all tribes get some share of the money, as does the private company mining the gold. Sovereignty is maintained. Reward for effort is encouraged. Everyone benefits.

The resource curse is a fallacy pushed by the academic elite in support of the silent theft of millions by vested interests involved in ‘the land game’.

Indigenous cultures are seeing the worst of economic behaviour in a minute period of time. Western culture had 200+ years to adapt to the speculative mindset that dominates finance today. How would one feel in a country where your traditional cultural upbringing raises questions about the millions resource flippers make buying and selling? Then to see the house of cards come crashing down with the GFC, even the most educated westerners are questioning modern economics AKA speculative economics. Is an economic policy alternative being presented? Or are frustrated regimes left with the slash and burn policies of Mugabe?

How long will Boplivia’s Morales last with such land grabs?

Consider what the chiefs in Morobe province have heard about the tax benefits Freeport mine receives, for example:

As a complex set of limited partnerships, many of Freeport’s operations enjoy tax-free status under the 1987 Internal Revenue Code (Section 7704) exemption for partnerships that derive 90 percent or more of their gross income from natural resources. Its 1993 Annual Report (p. 1, 34 and 46) shows sales of more than $1.5 billion and yet in 1991, Freeport gained a federal tax BENEFIT (not a payment) of $28 million; in 1992, a tax benefit of $25 million; in 1993, it received more than $2 million in federal tax benefits.

It seems the entire Pacific has been given a bum steer when it comes to tax policy. Natural resources to receive an exemption from tax? Ahh that’s right, capitalists already own the earth!

Mining companies should be paying an environmental bond reflective of the immense value of eco-systems surrounding their projects (ie a bond in the millions) to ensure that they do the right thing by the local community. Acid-bleach mining may not be such a priority under such a move.

This bond plus a Resource Rentals system would go some way towards bringing harmony between the community and the miners.

Read Alanna Hartzok’s The Earth Belongs To Everybody to understand how the above can occur.

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