RUMORED RESORT RAISES CONCERN IN VANUATU

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By Tony Ligo

PORT VILA, Vanuatu (The Independent, May 30) - Up to 15,000 hectares (3,706 acres) of land on south Malekula – the second largest island in Vanuatu - may be leased by a joint business venture between foreign and local enterprises, according to environmental and investment authorities in Port Vila.

Vanuatu Investment Promotion Authority, the Department of Lands and the Environment Unit have signed a certificate of negotiation that gives the company the right to negotiate with landowners in south Malekula.

Malampa provincial government was still reluctant to give approval before The Independent went to print.

A major part of the project was reportedly to develop cattle in the area, but there are rumours the venture also looked at the possibility of other business in the area, including leasing land to interested investors for real estate and resorts.

Concern was raised by south Malekula leaders in the capital over the proposed plans. This was not the first time the project had surfaced – several years ago a similar project stirred resentment for the ni-Vanuatu involved, especially a former member of parliament for Malekula believed to be a main backer of the project.

The Environment Unit said Thursday morning they received a request to carry out an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) survey of the area and gave the interested investors the go-ahead to conduct consultancy that would later be scrutinised by the unit. An impact assessment would take into account the economic, social and environmental impact of development in the area.

"What must be clearly determined is what exactly the leased lands would be used for, whether landowners would have access afterwards and do landowners really benefit from these lease?" asked one interested party.

Vanuatu Right-Wing Movement spokesman Jeff Joel Patunvanu, himself from the island, denounced the project.

"If there are any projects within Malampa province, they must be for the benefit of and managed by the Malampa people and not foreigners. Today nice beaches on many areas around Efate are taboo for the indigenous landowners, who become slaves in their own land. So beware south Malekula land owners.

"I believe some of these ni-Vanuatu people involved are not from Malekula, please go back to your island and lease your land to these foreigners but stay away from Malekula. They (investors) will paint such nice pictures about their proposed lease and the minute you sign they will simply pull barbed-wire across the land and say you do not have the right to enter your own land.

"When you lease your land, the initial lease will bring a nice amount like several million vatu. But you lose the right to plant gardens in your own land, live on it, get food from it. And what happens? You then resort to using your money to pay for new vehicles, pay for food every day and when that runs out, you become a slave in your own land.

"It would be better for you to establish your own business on your land and be your own boss than be a slave who works for a foreigner on your own land," Patunvanu said.

The proposed project is still in its initial stages. The minister for lands has yet to stamp the certificate of negotiation before the joint venture can start talks with south Malekula landowners.

June 1, 2005

Port Vila Presse: http://www.news.vu/en/

 

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