Report – By David Muri in Port Moresby
Customary landowners of Port Moresby’s Jackson’s International Airport have threatened to close the airport – dubbed the gateway to Papua New Guinea – if an outstanding compensation claim is not settled by the government.
The threat is directed at attracting a favourable response from the government on the eve of Prince Charles and wife Camilla’s most anticipated visit next month.
The Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall are scheduled to touch down on this airport to commemorate the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee in PNG.
But the Dubara landowners met at Vadavada settlement at the weekend and demanded that about K4.5 million owed to them be paid immediately or warned that they would forcefully shut the airport during the royal visit and embarrass the government.
The Dubara clan claims to own the entire length and breadth of Jackson’s aerodrome and surrounding portions of land.
Spokesman Kila Joe Gabutu said landowners are frustrated over the government’s failure to honour a deed of release signed with them six years ago.
Gabutu produced a deed of release for K5 million signed between his late father Joe Henao Gabutu and former Lands Secretary Pepi Kimas on September 5, 2006. Only K500,00 of the business development grant was paid.
“We will resolve to shut the airport. We have 200 people readily available to execute our protest,” Gabutu said.
Two female officers from the office of the National Intelligence Office also visited the gathering. They declined to comment on the issue, saying they were just there to monitor the threats and report to NEC.
“The government must know that the Prince will land on our land. If it means shutting the airport on the arrival of Prince Charles then we can do and face the consequences,” Gabutu warned.
He said that the agreement was signed when his late father forcefully closed the Jackson’s Airport.
He said only K500,000 was paid out of that agreement, adding the government still owed them K4.5 million with interest. Gabutu said his father had died in a tragic car accident without receiving what he had legally signed and was duly entitled for.
“The government has not honoured the deed of release. We have run out of patience because the government failed to honour its side of the bargain,” he said.
He further stressed that if the government could succumb to pressure from Highlanders and pay their demands on time, then there was no reason for them to be denied what was rightfully theirs.
‘We will walk’
“If Highlanders can fly into Port Moresby and force the government to pay royalties then we too can do it…They will fly in but we will walk towards the airport and shut it down. We are landowners of this city and airport,” he said.
Many people, including children had banners which asked: “If you can pay Southern Highlands at the barrel of the gun how about us?”
He said the government has not paid his clan for many of their customary lands in Boroko, Korobosea, Gordons and other parts of the city.
Kila Joe Gabutu says the Henao Drive in Boroko is named after his great grandfather.
The government was given the ultimatum to meet the demand before the Royal visit.
David Muri is a reporter on the PNG Post-Courier.