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British subsidiary Levers Solomons wants no interference

By Ednal Palmer HONIARA, Solomon Islands (Solomon Star, March 31, 2010) - Levers Solomon Limited (LSL) has brushed aside demands by the Guadalcanal Provincial Government to be involved in the selling of the Lungga and Henderson lands in the Solomon Islands.

[PIR editor’s note: Levers Solomon Ltd. is a subsidiary of Lever Brothers Sydney, itself a subsidiary of British conglomerate Unilever.]

The Solomon Star obtained a letter written by Guadalcanal premier Steven Panga to LSL on March 3 demanding their involvement.

Mr. Panga in the letter stated that his government has had a grave concern over how the selling of land is being handled.

"Guadalcanal province must be involved in the many processes regarding the land dealing on Lungga and Henderson area," the letter stated.

The letter said:

The premier further raised concerns over the excessive cost of acquiring a piece of land in the area.

"We learn that there are parcels of land sub divided and registered and are ready for sale that are very expensive for potential individuals and business investors. The provincial government earns its revenue through oversea investors through paying of business licenses, building permits and rates, tax prospecting and mining licenses, therefore to attract investors to operate in its legally controlled area; it has to be fair and considerate."

The premier said they need a much more neutral and fair evaluator to value the properties.

He recommended to LSL:

When contacted, LSL Chairman Patrick Wong said he had responded to the premier yesterday.

Mr. Wong said any rights to undertake a sub-division of FTE land clearly falls under the Lands and Titles Act (Cap 133).

"Under Cap 133, there is no mandatory requirement, in law, to seek the Province’s prior consent – Guadalcanal Town and Country Planning, before the sub-division could proceed ahead."

He said LSL have followed everything which is required under the law and Cap 133, before the sub-division was approved by the Lands Department.

He said regarding development of the land, it is the responsibility of the new owners (purchaser).

"It is the purchaser’s responsibility to obtain the necessary development approvals from the Guadalcanal Town and Country Planning Board. It is not the sellers’ responsibility.

"For your information, in our Contract for Sale, we insert a special and specific clause drawing to the purchaser’s attention that Town and Country Planning approval will be required before any development could proceed ahead."

Mr. Wong said zoning and design of sub-division the provincial consent is not required.

"With regards to the mandatory need to seek the province’s prior consent before any sale or lease of fixed term estate (FTE) Land, our advice is GP prior consent is not required, nor is this required by Law nor is any such thing mentioned in Cap 133.

"LSL does not wish to confuse province consent as against seeking PE consent, which is currently held by the Commissioner of Lands.

"For the record, we were also advised that this said PE Consent cannot be unreasonably withheld.

He said in relation to the Land Owners Association, their aspiration is the return (or transfer) of Perpetual Estate (PE) from the Solomon Island Government (SIG)/Commissioner of Lands over to them.

"LSL understands that there is no aspiration for the FTE titles to be transferred to these same Land Owners Association, but if we are incorrect, we want the premier to reply to us as we acknowledged this particular point has massive and significant ramification."

He said on the demands the Board of Directors ‘minutes are the property of LSL, a private company.

"Provided all transactions are transacted in accordance with LSL Articles of Association plus any agreement between the Shareholders, only the Directors may question this.

"LSL, under the Solomon Islands Constitution, can sell its land (and any other property it owns, i.e. coconuts and cocoa) to any willing buyer that prepares to accept LSL sale terms or whose prices LSL is willing to accept. LSL is not bound to accept any particular sale from any particular person or group. These are matters to do with LSL’s private business affairs and it is inappropriate for Guadalcanal Province to expect to be a party to the private business affairs of LSL."

"However, with a wish to move forward, in his letter he made reference to the peace process and the wishes of the land owners. As no one is above the law, LSL humbly tender and submit that should any party wish to achieve their objectives, then proper and sincere negotiations must be held with the rightful stakeholders, which must also include FTE Owners."

Mr. Wong said failure to do that would be an injustice to those who do not understand and are illiterate.

"We call upon all, including all the Solomon Island Government MPs, especially Guadalcanal MPs and all GP MPs to be transparent and honest regarding land dealings.

"He added that LSL read with interest Manasseh Sogavare’s OUR party views regarding land issues and the return of land and his party’s subsequent clarification regarding returning PE and the rights of FTE Owners.

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