Statement By Hatanga Limited Re: Eviction In Solomon Islands And Related Violence

STATEMENT BY HATANGA LIMITED RE: EVICTION

By Jay Bartlett – GM Hatanga

Hatanga Limited would like to respond to the numerous postings that have been made by various individuals on social media, particularly on the Forum Solomon Islands – International Facebook page relating to the eviction of illegal settlers on land under the legal ownership (“subject land”) of Hatanga Limited (“Hatanga”).

OWNERSHIP OF THE SUBJECT LAND

Firstly, without laboring too much on the specifics of the subject land, Hatanga wishes to simply highlight that it has been the lawful owner of the subject land for the last 20 years. During this time, Hatanga has carried out considerable civil works development on the subject land including the construction of roads, utility services and sub-divisions on the subject land.

Hatanga’s ultimate development objective is to set up a well-planned estate with residential lots and public spaces for parks, educational and health facilities. At present, Hatanga has about one hundred sub-divisions which will be available for sale to Solomon Islanders to build their own houses and raise their families in a safe and secure estate.

The abovementioned development is one of our core businesses. We have spent a good number of years in planning, including the obtaining of licenses and permits, purchasing equipment and recruitment of engineers, architects and project managers. We have invested significant funds and employed hundreds of workers to ensure the development objective is realized.

ILLEGAL SETTLEMENT OF LAND

Regrettably, despite Hatanga’s lawful ownership of the subject land and the development works carried out over the course of the last few years, the subject land has seen a huge increase of illegal settlement and illegal construction of structures. Our development of the subject land has failed to curb increasing squatting and squatter settlements on the subject land.

Over the years numerous notices were served on those who had illegally settled, signs were put up, boundary pegs have been put in many times. Despite these measures, people have continued to settle on the subject land. Hatanga has given people with more permanent structures the option of subdividing and selling the land they occupy to them but the response to this proposal has not been positive. Many illegal settlers have requested time extensions to relocate their structures. And although Hatanga has granted such request on many occasions, very little attempt to relocate is actually done.

As a result of the above, development of the subject land has occurred in small pockets, is often slow and interrupted and proving to be very costly to Hatanga. In the meantime, Hatanga remains obliged to continue paying land rentals to the Ministry of Lands for all the subdivisions.

EVICTION OF ILLEGAL SETTLERS

The recent eviction of illegal settlers from the subject land is a process that is the outcome of a legal matter and a High Court Order. The Order was granted to Hatanga after the Company presented its case in the High Court, based on evidence of lawful ownership of the subject land.

The duty to effect the eviction under the High Court Order was left in the capable hands of the Royal Solomon Islands Police Force (RSIPF). The large number of illegal settlers made it a difficult task. At first the RSIPF were themselves unable to effect the Order. When it was finally able to so, it was in the process of effecting the Order, that the RSIPF requested the support of the Company; a request for support that is not uncommon for the RSIPF (or any agency that effects an eviction order).

The nature of the current eviction process is one that Hatanga truly regrets. Hatanga regrets that this issue has had to come to this. But at the same time, it must be understood that Hatanga has done all that it reasonably could to avoid this situation, having exhausted all possible avenues over many years. This is the last resort.

ABUSE TO HATANGA PROPERTY AND WORKERS

Hatanga regrets that this situation has given certain individuals fuel to incite hatred and perpetuate misconceptions against Hatanga and its ownership of the subject land. Hatanga has paid very close attention to the accusations made against it on social media. As hurtful as many of these comments have been, Hatanga wishes to simply state for the record that it will continue to monitor the exchanges for the time being. It reserves the right to institute legal proceedings against individuals should the need arise.

Hatanga has also had to cease development works for the time being, due to the abuse that its employees are facing. A number of workers have been confronted, abused and in some cases attacked. Workers who reside on the land have been subjected to robberies and anti-social behavior, including the destruction of food gardens, rendering it unsafe for them and their families. 

As recently as Wednesday, 3nd May 2017, Hatanga has had to deal with the burning of a staff house, damages to equipment including vehicles and an excavator and continued threats to its workers. The police are currently managing the situation.

 GENERAL APPEAL FOR UNDERSTANDING

We continue to appeal to all those who continue to reside on the subject land to kindly vacate the land and not to resort to violence as it will only escalate and make the situation worse for all parties. We do not condone violence or unlawful behavior. By the same token, we thank the people that are now voluntary moving out.

This is an extremely unfortunate position to be in and we would not have to do this if people observed a basic tenet of civic responsibility and a very simple and fundamental notion in any society and country: respect for other people’s property and respect for the laws of this country.

The bigger discussion and conversation the people of Honiara and Solomon Islanders need to have as a community and society must include:

(a) How do we address land issues so more land is available and can be made affordable and accessible to the large majority of our people thereby reducing the need for people to resort to squatting?

(b) How do we tackle customary land ownership so we can develop and grow our economy and middle class to ensure a prosperous, sustainable future for us all?

(c) Can we come together to address the above issues or will we continue to allow and support these cancerous, no-care attitudes and behavior to thrive?

We will continue to work with the police and other community leaders to maintain law & order. The Company is open to have constructive, forward discussions on the matter. However, if this continues to be an attack on the Company and family, the Company will review its position and consider further action.

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