The 2007 National Land Development Taskforce Report defines land administration as a technical, internal process. It adds that land administration system is one by which information on land allocation and dealings are recorded and stored.

Since 2005 when the current phase of initiatives on land reforms began, calls have been made to improve the effectiveness of land administration in Papua New Guinea (PNG). For instance, at the inaugural National Land Summit in 2005, participants including the private sector, landowners and private citizens, raised the need for improvement in land administration by the Department of Lands and Physical Planning (DLPP).

In November 2005, the National Land Development Taskforce (NLDT) was established by the National Government. Deliberations and consultations by the NLDT culminated in the NLDT Report in 2006. The NLDT Report contained 54 recommendations out of which 47 recommendations were aimed at improving land administration, particularly reforming and restructuring DLPP.

To implement the 54 NLDT recommendations and guide land reforms, the National Land Development Program (NLDP) was established in 2006. Implementation covered the period 2007-2015 as NLDP Phase One. Notable achievements include amendments to the Land Groups Incorporation Act 1974 and Land Registration Act 1981.

However, a review conducted in 2018 on the implementation of NLDP Phase One, concluded that most of the recommendations to reform the many land administration functions of DLPP have either not been implemented or only partially implemented.

To address ongoing concerns, a National Land Summit focusing on customary land was held in 2019. The Summit concluded with 17 resolutions focused on policies, laws and administration of customary land, with four resolutions specifically aimed at improving customary land administration. To implement the 17 resolutions, NLDP Phase Two (2020-2024) was established in 2019. Implementation is ongoing, however, land administration in DLPP remains a challenge.
A recent PNG National Research Institute (NRI) paper titled "Strategies to address challenges in customary land administration, governance and dispute resolution in PNG”, found the following with respect to customary land administration:

  1. Inefficiencies in the administration of State land by DLPP raises concerns on the capability of DLPP to administer customary land;
  2. Voluntary Customary Land Registration (VCLR) process is long, complicated, costly and centralised in Waigani;
  3. Need for public awareness on how the VCLR process works and the requirements;
  4. VCLR legal and policy framework need to be operationalised at the provincial government level;
  5. Incorporated land groups (ILGs) are appropriate in identifying landowners. However, a major hurdle is the process of obtaining birth certificates (national identification - NID) which is a requirement of ILGs;
  6. There is a need for provincial lands offices to have a NID section.

The NRI paper concluded that to promote effective mobilisation of customary land with safe, secure and bankable title, a robust customary land administration system is critically needed.

A robust customary land administration system should possess sustainability elements including but not limited to the following:

  1. Capacity building and sufficient recurrent budget to maintain the operations of all organisations involved in the NLDP;
  2. Promote good governance, transparency and accountability, particularly with DLPP;
  3. Ensure security of land records from loss, destruction and fraud;
  4. Promote and develop computerised workflow systems to better manage and monitor DLPP administrative processes and officers;
  5. Ensure that survey and legal data that is recorded in the field, together with maps and titles are held in a relational database, with a GIS spatial system providing records management, so there is ease of data processing and management;
  6. Define coordination mechanisms for ongoing stakeholder participation and public awareness on customary land reform issues.

Therefore, it is clear that unless PNG achieves a robust land administration system, current and future land reform initiatives will continue to face hurdles in producing secure bankable titles that protects the rights of the State, landowners and the business interests of investors.


This article was first published in the Post-Courier’s 22 July 2021 edition and on its website’s commentaries and features page.