Vanuatu Customary Land Coordinator Assaulted Over Land Dispute

Vuti was issuing Certificate of Recorded Interest in Land on Santo when he was attacked

By Len Garae

PORT VILA, Vanuatu (Vanuatu Daily Post, Oct. 28, 2016) – National Coordinator of Customary Land Management Act, Alicta Vuti was physically assaulted in connection to issuing a certificate as required by law in connection to land ownership in South East Santo, at a packed Pekoa Airport Terminal on October 23, 2016.

A certain party was not happy with him for issuing a Certificate of Recorded Interest in Land to another party, recognised by law.

The Coordinator, a veteran lands officer for the last 15 years and a highly respected Custom Chief of Ambae in his own right, is appealing to the Government to; increase the Lands Budget and revisit the new Act, fix it to facilitate a peaceful process towards resolving land disputes, and issue the relevant documents associated with land ownership to the rightful owners without receiving any threats.

He says over the years, he and his staff have been threatened and verbally sworn at and their desks physically punched at the Chiefs Nakamal in Port Vila as well as in Luganville. Officers have even wept as a result these threats.

He says two of his officers in Port Vila and one in Luganville have resigned from their posts.

However, this is the bottom line and the Coordinator says even his own family agree that it is time for him to speak up and out against such brutal behaviour. He says what happened to him at Pekoa Terminal is a wakeup call for the Government to react accordingly to ensure a peaceful process towards dealing with customary land matters in line with the new Act.

Three people from East Santo approached him on arrival at Pekoa.

“They said they wanted to see me outside but it became clear from the tone of their voices and behaviour that they meant to do me harm so we did not go outside but I encouraged them to explain why they were not happy,” he says.

“One of them, a member of staff of the Ministry of Justice and Community Service, assaulted me from behind twice while they used abusive language to the effect that I should return to my island of Ambae and deal with custom land issues there.”

The Coordinator says the Director General of Justice, Mark Bebe witnessed the incident and advised the men to explain why they were not happy.

Instead they demanded him to withdraw the certificate he had issued.

“I explained that the process to follow is for them to challenge the issuing of the certificate in court because I followed due process to issue the certificate.

“It was not an administrative error for me to correct,” he said.

They also used similar colourful language at the DG and suggested he too should concentrate on the customary land issues on his home island of Pentecost.

Fortunately the Minister of Internal Affairs from West Coast Santo, Alfred Maoh arrived and intervened.

They listened to him but by then it was too late as the assault had already taken place.

At a formal meeting two days ago, the three men also attended but remained silent in the presence of many holders of the same certificate.

Asked if the trio apologised for their behaviour, the Coordinator shook his head.

In his opinion, assault on his staff won’t stop until the law is “fixed”.

Asked what the Government can do to educate the chiefs and custom landowners throughout all six Provinces on the new Customary Land Management Act, Vuti says the Government has to start by increasing the Ministry of Lands Budget to match those of the Productive Sector. “The Government can talk about Agriculture and Livestock but it needs to start at the beginning and the beginning starts in the Ministry of Lands,” he says.

“Land is a sensitive topic so we need to increase our budget and capacity to be able to travel to the rural areas, to run awareness and training programmes for our chiefs and facilitate relevant infrastructure in the islands. We cannot do all those yet because of lack of money,” he says.

Vanuatu Daily Post
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