In the name of 'economic recovery', the World Bank/International Monetary Fund's (WB/IMF) Structural Adjustment Programmes for Papua New Guinea (PNG) and most other developing countries both mask and implement three main strategies for wrenching land out from the control of the original indigenous peoples who have traditionally controlled and looked after the land. The first and short term strategy is to forcibly evict communities from land targetted for key developement projects, such as dams, plantations, and mines. The second, medium term strategy is to offer schemes such as the World Bank's Land Mobilisation Programme to induce people to give up control over their land in exchange for promises of 'development'. Finally, the long term strategy involves the promotion of ideas about development that alienate the population in general and the youth in particular from the attitudes and work practices that are necessary for maintenance of viable communites and traditonal prosperity on the land.
When people adopt the vision of development promoted by the WB/IMF and the companies, they see little reason to hold onto their land, for they are no longer interested or able to live a happy life there. In this way, the people of Melanesia and other developing countries are being prepared to register their land and to eventually sell their land to the companies, that is, to receive a few limited land ownwership rights and 'fair market price' in exchange for their real power that all Melanesians have traditinally had over the land.
The market value of food and housing alone for a Melanesian extended family surviving at present free of charge on their own land runs into the millions of dollars, especially when the survival needs of the coming generations are taken into account. Of course, the value of the land goes far beyond food and housing to include fuel, water, inputs for money making activities, traditional medicines, etc. In short, even from a purely economic point of view, the land is worth much more to the people living on it than any company or bank could ever pay for it. As usual, however, the "fair market price" for land is determined not by the traditional inhabitants of the land, but rather by the "free market" which is in fact not free at all, but instead rigidly controlled by the companies and the banks who want to get control of the land. Under such a system, the companies and the banksare guaranteed to win, since they set all the prices and all the rules.
The record of the WB/IMF around the issue of land in other 'developing' countries is not a good one. It is estimated that over the last decade, the WB/IMF was directly responsible for forcing at the very least one and one half million people off of their land to make way for big bank "development projects," with millions more losing their land because of the hardships brought about by the WB/IMF Structural Adjustment Programmes (SAPs).
If Melanesians become landless, where will they get the food and the shelter that they need to survive? It is difficult to imagine how a landless family could survive on the present minimum wage in any of the Melanesian countries (about US $3.00 per day in PNG), if one of their members were lucky enough to find employment in the first place. But according to the WB/IMF, $3.00 per day is too much. One of the conditions currently being forced on PNG under the WB/IMF's second SAP is the complete abolition of the minimum wage, ostensibly to bring Melanesian wages down to so-called 'competitive' or 'Asian' levels (officially about US $1.27 per day in Indonesia, but in practice most Indonesian employers pay about US $1.00 per day).
In Thailand, over 200,000 girls under the age of 10 have been forced into prostitution because of their landlessness and the hardship that the SAP has caused for their families. Around the world the number of children who are subjected to slavelike working conditions as child labourers is now over 200,000,000 and growing rapidly, largely due to WB/IMF policies. Will the next generation of Melanesian parents be selling some of their children to the rich, in order to buy enough food for the others? In countries like the Philippines, the landlessness and misery caused by SAPs have given rise to the buying and selling of children. Are Melanesian children to become "street kids" and be butchered in cold blood for their organs? All over Latin America there are now millions of abandoned children living on the streets because of poverty and expropriation of land brought about by the WB/IMF and their SAPs. The systematic murder of Central American children by local doctors, lawyers, and businessmen has made possible a lively market in childrens' "spare parts" for export to the United States, Italy, and other countries of the North.
As in almost all of the other developing countries, Melanesian labour generates tremendous wealth for the world economy every year, but most of this wealth goes directly or indirectly to foreign interests and companies. This is the basic reason why the Melanesian countries and other developing countries have found themselves short of money and have had to borrow money from international banks. If Melanesians were paid according to the true value of the products of their labour, there would be absolutely no shortage of money in any Melanesian economy.
The first and second Structural Adjustment Programmes were forced on Papua New Guinea because it was unable to meet the payment schedule on its debts to the international banks, first in 1989 and then again in 1994. Most of these debts were accrued because of: (1) the rapid increase in the cost of energy, food and commodities imported from industrialised countries in the 1970s; (2) a series of 'big project' loans, which have been agressively 'marketed' by the World Bank and other international banks since 1976; (3) the sharp rise of interest rates on loans and the simultaneous collapse of the prices of commodities produced by tropical countries in the 1980s; and (4) PNG's lack of control over the exploitation of its labor, land, and resources by foreign companies who repatriate huge profits through mechanisms such as transfer pricing, with few benefits for PNG.
WB projects in Melanesia have proved to be no more successful than in other countries, filling the pockets of consultants, contractors, and suppliers from the industrialised countries, and leaving behind little for the people of Melanesia beside an ever growing debt burden and widespread ecological and social devastation. By 1989, Papua New Guinea's debt had risen to at least 2 billion Kina (US$2.2 billion at 1989 rates), and the government was forced to 'reshedule' its debts with the WB/IMF.
Before a nation is permitted to renegotiate its debt, it is forced by the WB/IMF to accept a SAP and a team of WB/IMF advisors to "manage" its economy and "get its house in order." The message is clear. The former colonial powers, now united under the umbrella of the WB/IMF, are triumphantly saying to their former colonies: "We told you so, you still need a 'master' to 'look after' you. We gave you your independence, but you weren't ready and you got yourselves into debt. Now you'll just have to let us come and clean up the mess you have made..."
But just as in most of the other 90-odd former colonies that have had to submit to SAPs over the past decades, the WB/IMF advisors and their SAPs have NOT gotten Papua New Guinea's house in order. After seven years of structural adjustment, PNG¼s debt has not gone down, but instead it has nearly doubled to about 5 billion Kina (US$3.7 billion at 1996 rates, or US$1,000.00 per capita). Debt service payments presently consume almost a third of the national budget. With the active encouragement of the WB/IMF, the debt is likely to double again by the year 2000.
Over the last few years, PNG has become a major exporter of gold, copper, and oil. The exploitation of PNG's mineral resources has resulted in GDP growth rates of as high as 14% per year and a trade surplus of over US$1 billion in 1994. But because the WB/IMF has all but dismantled the regulatory regime formerly imposed on foreign companies by the PNG government, nearly all of this 'growth' and 'surplus' was sold offshore and deposited directly into the bank accounts of the foreign companies that own the mines and drilling operations (Brunton 1995). So despite the rosy GNP and trade figures (or perhaps because of them), the government of PNG declared that it would have to reschedule its debt with the WB/IMF in 1994-1995 due to a lack of foreign exchange reserves!
A closer examination of most (if not all) of the so-called "WB/IMF success stories" (Ghana, Mexico, Chile, etc.) around the world would reveal a similar picture: "favourable" increases in exports and the GDP which go straight into the pockets of the international companies and the local elites who are willing to do the multinationals' bidding. These increases do not even begin to compensate for the massive falls in GNP and production that inevitably occur during the first years of any SAP (Eastern Europe is a case in point). Nor do these increases ever seem to rectify the wholesale redistribution of wealth away from the poor to the rich and the apocalyptic decrease in living standards for the majority of the population that have characterised every stage of nearly every SAP that has been imposed by the WB/IMF. And in virtually every country which has experienced structural adjustment, the debt burden is on the increase, with savings from cuts in social services being diverted to business, the military, and the police.
Federici (1992) points out the striking similarities between the content and purpose of SAPs worldwide:
The 'debt crisis' has unfolded in Africa...showing how misleading it is to...believe that from capital's viewpoint 'economic recovery' is equal to 'debt reduction'....In most countries, the debt has escalated dramatically since their acceptance of the IMF-WB economic recovery measures. The Nigerian debt rose from $20 to $30 billion after a SAP was introduced; while Africa's total external debt has tripled since 1980, and is now as large as the continent's GNP....What is at stake in the debt crisis is not the repayment of the debt, but the processes that can be activated through it. The debt crisis and SAP have made it possible to practically destroy or neutralise the labour unions, to freeze wages, to pass laws making labour and other social struggles acts of economic sabotage, to end free health care and free education, even at the primary level, to ban students' organisations. It has also resulted in the demise of local industry (not connected to foreign capital); and most important it has given the green light to the privatisation of land.....What this has meant for people can be seen by looking at Ghana, an IMF 'success' story....Since 1983, when Ghana decided to comply with the IMF, the national currency...has collapsed nearly 100% in value....Thus presently the monthly salary of a middle-level civil servant hardly pays for one third of the monthly food bill....Over the last four years two million Ghanaians, almost 20 percent of the Ghanaian population, have emigrated to Italy, Iceland, Australia, joining the thousands who are also leaving for other parts of Africa....This diaspora is a gold-mine for European and American capital, but it is an economic disaster for Africa that has lost in the 1980s one third of its skilled people to Europe alone. Meanwhile, hunger is spreading, even in places like Nigeria, traditionally the yam basket of Africa....The Chilean recipe has been learned by rote: students' organisations must be banned, unions must be intimidated, security forces must be remodeled (usually with the help of shadowy US-British-French-Israeli advisors). A new legislation has also been put in place, in a now standard fashion. In Nigeria, we have Decree 20 against 'economic sabotage'-including strikes at oil sites (establishing the death penalty for such saboteurs) - and Decree 2 establishing preventive detention for up to six months. Increasingly, capital punishment has been used as a weapon in the war against armed robbery, the African equivalent of 'the war against drugs.' As for the spaces left to freedom of speech, let us just mention the case of Nigeria, where even seminars on the SAP have been met with armed policemen at the doors (Federici 1992: 311-313).
UNICEF estimates that 500,000 children per year die because of WB/IMF SAPs. Given the fact that the real intention of the SAPs is not "debt reduction" or "economic recovery," but rather the re-establishment of a greater degree of power by the old colonial masters over their former colonies, it is not surprising that the goals of the Papua New Guinean SAPs in 1989 and 1995 are strikingly similar to the recommendations of the first WB mission to Papua New Guinea twenty five years earlier, in 1964, eleven years before Papua New Guinea achieved independence.
The 1964 WB report envisioned a cash crop export-led scenario for "development" in PNG. Under the SAP, the "Expand to Export Campaign" was initiated in 1990, to promote the establishment and expansion of plantations in the country. This at a time when the prices for cash crops are at all time lows, largely due to the fact that for the past decade the WB/IMF has been promoting similar cash crop production campaigns in nearly every other tropical country where it 'manages' the economy. Melanesian cash crop producers are actually working harder and producing more than ever, but getting less and less for their efforts.
Another key recommendation in 1964 was the lowering of wage levels. Under the SAP, the currency was devalued by 10 percent in 1990 and by another 20 percent in 1994 and then allowed to 'float' downward another 15 percent, all of which amounts to an effective 40 percent across-the-board pay cut for all Papua New Guineans. The urban minimum wage has recently been lowered from US$36.00 to the level of the rural minimum of US$21.00 per week, while under the second SAP, PNG is supposed to eliminate the minimum wage altogether. Pay raises, promotions, and new hiring have been frozen in the Civil Service, Papua New Guinea's largest employer. Traditional collective work practices were also targetted for criticism in 1964, and the "new wave" WB/IMF designed plantations are based on the "block system," in which nuclear families are isolated on small lots of company land where they must tend cash crops without the help of extended family members ("each man (sic) for himself" (sic)).
The WB/IMF inspired transfer of government funds from social services to the military, the police, and the prisons that has occurred in so many other developing countries is also to be found in Papua New Guinea. Incredible as it seems, the WB was already recommending cuts in social services such as primary education as early as 1964, when these services as yet barely existed in most areas of the country. Since the SAP was accepted in 1989, spending on social services has been slashed. Women's programmes, youth programmes, programmes for employment generation, education, and health have all felt the WB/IMF axe, while spending on the military, police, and prisons has increased substantially. These increases in funding for the SAP sponsored "Law and Order Campaign" can be seen as part of the implementation of yet another of the WB's 1964 recommendations: the establishment of a "favourable investment climate" in Papua New Guinea. That is, a climate where capital (especially foreign companies) could feel comfortable and safe. New legislation has been passed during the past six years, including the death penalty for certain crimes, an Internal Security Act, a Peace and Good Order Act that carries a severe sentence for obstructing the operations of a company, a Vagrancy Act, and new requirements for the carrying of national identity cards and police clearance before staging public demonstrations. In 1990, the better part of the regulatory regime for foreign companies operating in Papua New Guinea was abolished with the demise of the National Industrial Development Agency (NIDA). Under the second SAP, all regulations will be wiped off the books.
The PNG constitution is one of the most progressive constitutions in the world, committing the government to the recognition of customary power over land, the protection of the environment, and the adoption of a non-monetarist paradigm of development with the objective of 'the liberation of every Papua New Guinean from every form of oppression.' Under the second SAP, a review of the PNG constitution is now being undertaken, with the repressive constitutional and legislative regimes of the "Asian Tigers" such as Indonesia, Singapore, Malaysia, and even China being held up as models to guide the reform process.
The most salient recommendation of the 1964 World Bank mission to Papua New Guinea, however, was to eliminate or radically modify traditional land tenure systems to make it possible for land to be owned individually and to be bought and sold. Over the last decade, one of the flagship programmes of the WB in Papua New Guinea has been the "Land Mobilisation Programme." While social services budgets are being cut under the SAPs, the Land Mobilisation Programme has received generous funding. As will be shown below, the Land Mobilisation Programme is little more than a scheme to ready the legal system and the population for massive expropriation of land through the effective abolition of the traditional land tenure system.
Under traditional systems of land tenure in Melanesia, there is no concept of "owner." The people who traditionally inhabit and exercise custodianship over the land belong just as much to the land as the land belongs to them. In most Melanesian languages, peoples' relationship to land is not normally expressed in terms of alienable (commodifiable) possession, but rather in terms of an inalienable, that is, familial or even corporal association. Instead of referring to themselves as "landowners," Melanesians traditionally refer to themselves as the children, siblings, or parents of the ground. In the customary conceptual framework, it is as impossible to envision the buying or selling of ground as a commodity as it is to envision the buying or selling of one's mother or child, or of a piece of one's own flesh. While many Melanesians, with the active encouragement of the WB and the companies, are "triumphantly" referring to themselves as "landowners" these days, their uncritical acceptance of the name and the illusion of absolute control over land that it promotes, represent a major victory for the WB/IMF in its persistent drive to transfer control the land of Melanesia from the indigenous people to the foreign companies.
The popular media present the three main aims of the WB/IMF Land Mobilisation Programme as:
(1) To mobilise land for "development." The assumptions here are that land in Melanesia is not "developed" and that traditional land tenure is somehow preventing this "development." If development means to improve the quality of life, it can be convincingly argued that the land of Melanesia is some of the best developed land in the world. The accomplishments of this traditional form of development are impressive, and include techniques for conflict resolution and contraception which are unrivalled in their sophistication, and the elimination of homelessness, unemployment, and hunger. In the growing number of instances where customary land tenure is breaking down in the name of "development," the quality of life has depreciated. It is especially in areas of Melanesia which have been "developed" by the World Bank and other company oriented projects that we are witnessing the first cases of homelessness, hunger, women forced to accept regular beatings and yearly pregnancies, serious alcoholism, violent crime, prostitution, etc. In fact, it can be said that the current "Law and Order Crisis" in Melanesian countries is largely a product of the growing landlessness and alienation that result from the "Cargo Development" model so aggressively promoted by the companies and the WB/IMF. Cargo Development involves the rejection by Melanesians of themselves, their culture, and their resources as viable historical agents in the development process, accompanied by the uncritical acceptance of a version of 'development' which is owned, operated, packaged, and imported into the country by foreign companies and agencies, such as the WB/IMF.
(2) To give landowners an opportunity to use their land as collateral to get loans from the banks. The very questionable assumptions here are that land is a commodity, that Melanesians' greatest need is money, and that bank loans are designed to enhance the quality of life in Melanesia.
(3) To protect a particular group's traditional lands from encroachments by neighbors. The assumption here is that Melanesians are their own worst enemies and that this WB programme will "save Melanesians from themselves and their traditions". This logic is typical of what is becoming known as the Cargo Development model which is the dominant development model in Melanesia today.
The Land Mobilisation Programme is implemented through the various provincial Land Acts, which make provision for the registration of land. In this article, I will use the East Sepik Land Act as a point of reference. The registration procedures entail the following:
(1) First, the land is surveyed and boundaries delineated. In traditional Melanesian societies, some boundaries are fixed, some are fluid, some are contested, and some zones are shared with neighbours. Shared and contested lands may not be registered, leaving the way open for these to be declared state property and taken away from the people who have traditionally used them. When these common lands are expropriated, the territorial basis for sharing relationships between ethnic groups is eliminated and the state is free to sell the confiscated land to the companies.
(2) The boundaries are then listed in the Land Register and one, or sometimes a few "landowners" or "trustees" sign the book. The registration process thus opens the way for the individuals whose names are listed in the Land Register to act "on behalf" of the rest of their extended family and to sell usage rights or to sell the land outright for their own personal gain, without consultation with and without consent from the other members of their family line.
(3) Once the land is registered, the "proud new landowner(s)" can use it as collateral to take out loans from the Agriculture Bank (the ultimate source of these loans is international bank loan monies to Papua New Guinea). Loan recipients are normally advised to use the money for cash crop projects. There is little likelihood of landowners being able to make enough profit from cash crops to pay off their debts. In the almost inevitable case of default, the bank is given control over the land for a specified number of years, to run as a plantation or for other uses. With only minor ammendments, the law could allow for the complete expropriation of lands from defaulting landowners.
4) Once the land is registered, it can be taxed. Under the SAPs, a number of regressive taxes have been imposed on the people of Papua New Guinea. Without land registration, however, it is imposible to levy land taxes. If enough land is registered and land taxes are charged, land could be confiscated by the State from those who are unable to pay. In the 1800s, the Head Tax was used in a similar way by the Germans and the Australians to force Papua New Guineans who were unable to pay it into slavery (so called åcontract labour¼) on plantations in Samoa and in Queensland. Under the present SAPs, the diversion of social service monies to debt servicing, the police and the military has caused steep increases in primary, secondary, and tertiary school tutition and medical fees. As a result, more and more Papua New Guineans are being forced to devote more and more of their land and labour to the generation of cash to pay taxes as well as to pay for scooloing and medical care for their children.
5) Land registration transfers control of land from the traditional and democratic authority of the local people to the absolute and centralised control of the Land Register. According to the East Sepik Land Act, the Land Register is under the supervision of the Controller of Lands, who has discretionary power to change boundaries at any time.
In summary, when a person registers a piece of land, the customary power that he or she and the community held over the land is lost and exchanged for a very limited set of ownership rights. Custom law was created by the people of Melanesia in their own interests, so that they could control their own land and the fruits of their own labours. Under customary law, land is something that can never be taken away. Western laws, such as the Land Acts, were created under the influence of foreign agencies such as the WB/IMF. Western laws are, in the final analysis, made in the interests of the companies who want to take control over the land and the labour of the people of Melanesia.
The East Sepik Land Act requires that before land registration can begin in a particular district, a considerable majority of all of the people of the district must give their prior approval, presumably after some sort of awareness campaign is carried out to help them to make an informed decision. It can be convincingly argued that in most if not all of the districts where land registration is taking place, this approval has never been sought, much less granted. It could very well be that for this reason alone, most or all of the land registered under the Land Mobilisation Programme thus far has been registered illegally.
The popular response to the threat of forced or accelerated land registration under the WB/IMF policy matrix was unprecedented in the history of PNG. While secondary and tertiary students were boycotting classes, rallies and marches occurred in most of the urban shanty settlements including Morata, Gerehu, and Kilakila, as well as in most of the largest provinces including East Sepik, East New Britain, Enga, Simbu, Eastern Highlands, Morobe, and Oro. Lawyers who had been charged with drafting the proposed framework legislation for land registration were run out of several provincial centres as they were trying to promote public acceptance of the new land laws.
The unrest culminated in a massive march to the Parliament House in Port Moresby. Police were stationed at key road junctions to prevent marchers from reaching Parliament. As the marchers approached the police and their officers ordered them to raise their guns, women from the crowd approached each policeman, asking him if he had children and if he, too wasn't worried about what was going to happen to his customary land. Invariably the policemen lowered their guns and expressed sympathy with the marchers, letting the demonstrators pass through police lines. Meanwhile, another group of women convinced a group of some sixty soldiers from Murray Barracks to join the march.
When the marchers reached Parliament House, the government ministers responsible for implementing the WB/IMF 27 point plan were in disarray. The Minister for Lands promised to end all work on any new legislation regarding the registration of land. A public statement by the Prime Minister to this effect was published in all of the daily newspapers a few days later.
A battle for indigenous power over land was won, but the war continues. The old registration laws still exist, and they will be reinforced by a major injection of new funding to the Lands Department. The recent replacement of strong and independently-minded provincial governments by national government-appointed provincial administrators will facilitate the implementation of WB/IMF sponsored "reforms" such as "Land Mobilization." But the struggle for power over land will not be won or lost in any of these arenas. Ultimately, it is the WB/IMF's distorted concept of "development" that is being pushed like a drug on the populations of PNG and the rest of the world that will need to be challenged and demolished if the people of PNG and the rest of Melanesia are to retain real power over their land, their labor, and their lives.
It is clear from the way that they are trying to implement their SAPs in Melanesia that the WB/IMF intends to make Melanesia another source of low cost labour and resources for the companies. The key question now is whether or not the Melanesian countries can learn from the horrible cost in human life and suffering caused by the WB/IMF SAPs in other developing countries. Will the Melanesian countries allow the big banks and companies to transform their indigenous populations from relatively well housed, well fed, and productively employed citizens into landless, homeless, and underemployed wage slaves? Or will traditional Melanesian creativity, resourcefulness, and humanity prevail and the tremendous developmental achievements of the ancestors be used as a solid foundation on which to build an alternative model of Community Development that will compete with the WB/IMF Cargo Development model? If Melanesians have the courage to assert themselves in this way, they could become the world's teachers and humanity's guides in its quest to become human again, instead of becoming the world's latest coffee, timber, oil, and gold plantation slaves and toxic waste dumping victims.
East Sepik Land Act 1987.
Federici, S. 1992. "Development and Underdevelopment in Nigeria." In Midnight Notes Collective (Eds.), Midnight oil: Work, Energy, War 1973-1992. New York: Autonomedia.
Federici, S. 1992. "The Debt Crisis, Africa, and the New Enclosures." In Midnight Notes Collective (Eds.), Midnight Oil: Work, Energy, War 1973-1992. New York: Autonomedia.
Narakobi, B. 1980. The Melanesian way. Suva: City Typesetters.
World Bank 1965. "Report of the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development mission to the Territiory of Papua and New Guinea, 1964."