The Land Titles Commission was created by the Land Titles Commission Act 1962 as a Quasi-judicial Tribunal, initially to deal with disputes concerning all customary land. Its jurisdiction was very wide and in respect to customary land it had the exclusive jurisdiction to hear all land dispute matters concerning customary land. That jurisdiction was taken away by the enactment of the Land Disputes Settlement Act 1975 which took away its entire jurisdiction over all customary land and given it to Local Land Courts, District Land Courts and Provincial Land Courts which were established under the same Statute. It now only deals with customary land by invoking Section 4 of Land Disputes Settlement Act 1975, by the Head of State publishing Notice in the National Gazette which operates to effectively takes away the jurisdiction from the Land Courts System created under the Land Disputes Settlement Act 1975 over land disputes concerning customary land and placing it under the Land Titles Commission. That is how the Land Titles Commission gets to hear the customary land disputes in the Economic Impact Projects Areas.

 

Manpower Strength of Land Titles Commission

Current staff strength for the Land Titles Commission is about seventeen (17) which is made up of the acting Chief Commissioner, Deputy Chief Commissioner and two Commissioners as well as their support staff.

There are also Special Commissioners who have been appointed to deal with Land Disputes in Economic Impact Project Areas and we have three (3) for Wafi Golpu Gold Project in the Morobe Province and two (2) for Ramu Nickel Cobalt Project.

Ramu Nickel Cobalt Project Land Disputes

It is unfortunate that the Land Disputes between customary landowners for the land inside the Project Areas have not been dealt with properly, despite the fact that there were different Special Commissioners appointed at different times to deal with the disputes. It started with Mr Zachary Gelu who was appointed in the early 2000’s, but he did not even start the Hearing due to lack of funds. Later when his appointment was revoked the late Patrick Nasa was appointed in his place, but he was severely limited by lack of sufficient funding from completing the Hearing of the Land Disputes and despite that he continued until he met his untimely death.

The late Nasa heard most of the cases along the Pipeline Easement except for very few, and the review of the files which he created has shown that he has not handed down any Decisions. All the Decisions were still pending at the time of his death. Some of the matters may have to be re-heard properly again with the directions for the Disputing Parties to file further Affidavits because from the evidence adduced so far it is not clear which way can the Decision be made despite the fact that the standard of proof required is “balance of probabilities” (Fisherman’s Islands’ case).

Following the late Patrick Nasa’s death the NEC appointed Messrs Michael Gene, Micah Pitpit and Justice Don Sawong. However, soon after following the appointment as a Special Commissioner, Justice Sawong was re-appointed as a Judge to the National and Supreme Courts. And because of heavy work commitments he was not available.

There was an arrangement being made for the appointment of another Special Commissioner to replace Justice Sawong, and whilst that was being made, there were excessive demands being made by the remaining two (2) Commissioners. Commissioners were demanding their remuneration to be at K9000.00 per day which would cost the State over K3, 000,000.00 in one year per Commissioner. Over and above that the Commissioners were demanding that the funding be increased to K12, 000,000.00 in addition to the K3, 000,000.00 that was approved by the NEC when appointing the Commissioners. The State however, considered those demands as unreasonable, and it therefore did not support the Commissioners. Eventually this year the appointment of Messrs Gene, Pitpit and Justice Sawong was revoked and in their place Messrs Joseph Gabut and Kutt Paonga were appointed as Commissioners.

It is expected that the Hearing of Land Disputes for Ramu Nickel Cobalt Project will commence in around March or April 2011. As soon as the logistics are put in place the Hearing will commence, which could mean that it could commence even earlier.

The logistics that are still outstanding are Hearing Venue and Accommodations for the Commissioners and their support staff. In relations to the Hearing Venue there was a suitable premises identified as a venue, which is a classroom owned by PNG Institute of Public Administration in Madang, but it requires renovation to convert it into a proper court room.

Steps are now being taken to engage a contractor to carry out the renovation. There is a plan trip being organised to go to Madang and deal with some of those matters.

There is also an option being considered that if the renovation of the Hearing Venue is not completed by end of February 2011, the Hearing may still commence at the PNGIPA Premises in a temporary setting.

It is intended that the third Commissioner who will preside over land disputes for Ramu Nickel Cobalt Project will be the current Acting Chief Commissioner.

Wafi Golpu Gold Mine Project Land Disputes

For the Wafi Golpu Gold Mine Project land disputes Messrs Lawrence Titimur, Robert Irung and Richard Cherake were appointed as Special Commissioners in 2008 and they have now completed almost seventy-five percent (75%) of the Hearing. The Hearing commenced sometime in September 2009 and it is expected to be completed in May or June 2011 with the Decision handed down about that time.

The Hearing had gone through some difficult times while a minority group tried to disrupt it on several occasions. That group was also here in the National Capital District to petition the Minister for Mining, Honourable John Pundari to disband the Commission. Soon after the minority group went back to Lae, there was a majority group that also came to Port Moresby to petition the Minister for Mining not to disband the Hearing as they support the Hearing to continue.

Other Regular Matters for the Land Titles Commission

Other regular matters for the Land Titles Commission have been filing up whilst there are no Commissioners to preside over them.

There are now a total of 1600 outstanding matters, some of them are part-heard, and others are review matters whilst the rest are fresh matters. The above total is made up of the following categories of matters:

  1. a)Section 7 Applications for Land Tenure Conversions (Land (Tenure Conversion) Act 1963)
  2. b)Section 9 Matters referred by Dept. Of Lands and Physical Planning (Lands Act 1996)
  3. c)Section 5 Matters referred by Minister for Lands and Physical Planning (Lands Act 1996)
  4. d)Section 15 Matters initiated by Customary Landowners ( Land Titles Commission Act 1962)
  5. e)Section 34 Matters for Review initiated by Landowners ( Land Titles Commission Act 1962)
  6. f)Section 4 Matters referred after invoking S.4 of Land Disputes Settlement Act 1975

LTC Contact

PO Box 815
PORT MORESBY, NCD
General Enquiries: 323 1927/3251491
Fax:   325 8755
Email: LandTitles@justice.gov.pg  

Lands Tribunal Services

Goal

To provide effective process of settling land disputes, to decide on settlement payments over national land, and decide applications for customary land tenure conversions

Objectives

  • Determine and settle ownership rights and settlement payments over land in Papua New Guinea
  • Maintain register of all national land and land tenure conversion in Papua New Guinea

Priority Action Areas

  • Appoint additional commissioners in order to deal effectively with the substantial backlog of outstanding land cases
  • Effective participation in the planning and restructure of the National Lands Commission and the Land Titles Commission in line with the NEC-endorsed recommendations of the Minister’s White Paper
  • Register, secure and archive all files and documents of the commissions and implement a sound, long-term solution to preserve copies of these documents

Acting Chief Commissioner – LTC

Kutt Paonga