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Agents of alienation: accountants and the land grab of Papua New Guinea

Glenn Finau (School of Business, University of New South Wales Canberra at ADFA, Canberra, Australia) (Institute for Human Security and Social Change, La Trobe University, Melbourne, Australia) (Faculty of Business and Economics, The University of the South Pacific, Suva, Fiji)
Kerry Jacobs (School of Business, University of New South Wales Canberra at ADFA, Canberra, Australia)
Satish Chand (School of Business, University of New South Wales Canberra at ADFA, Canberra, Australia)

Accounting, Auditing & Accountability Journal

ISSN: 0951-3574

Article publication date: 10 July 2019

Issue publication date: 8 August 2019

Abstract

Purpose

The purpose of this paper is to explore and examine the role of accounting and accountants in customary land transactions between Indigenous peoples and foreign corporate entities. The paper uses the case of two accountants who utilised accounting technologies in lease agreements to alienate customary land from Indigenous landowners in Papua New Guinea (PNG).

Design/methodology/approach

Employing a case study methodology, the paper draws on contemporary data sets of transcripts related to a Commission of Inquiry established in 2011 to investigate PNG’s Special Agricultural Business Lease system. Analysis of other publicly available data and semi-structured interviews with PNG landowners and other stakeholders supplement and triangulate data from the inquiry transcripts. A Bourdieusian lens was adopted to conceptualise how accounting was used in the struggles for customary land between foreign developers and Indigenous landowners within the wider capitalist field and the traditional Melanesian field.

Findings

This paper reveals how accountants exploited PNG’s customary land registration system, the Indigenous peoples’ lack of financial literacy and their desperation for development to alienate customary land from landowners. The accountants employed accounting technologies in the sublease agreements to reduce their royalty obligations to the landowners and to impose penalty clauses that made it financially impossible for the landowners to cancel the leases. The accountants used accounting to normalise, legitimise and rationalise these exploitative arrangements in formal lease contracts.

Originality/value

This paper responds to the call for research on accounting and Indigenous peoples that is contemporary rather than historic; examines the role of accountants in Indigenous relations, and examines the emancipatory potential of accounting.

Keywords

Citation

Finau, G., Jacobs, K. and Chand, S. (2019), "Agents of alienation: accountants and the land grab of Papua New Guinea", Accounting, Auditing & Accountability Journal, Vol. 32 No. 5, pp. 1558-1584. https://doi.org/10.1108/AAAJ-10-2017-3185

Publisher

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Emerald Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2019, Emerald Publishing Limited