Vanuatu Parliament Approves Land Reform Legislation

Opposition claims amendment transfers power from landowners to foreigners

By Jane Joshua

PORT VILA, Vanuatu (Vanuatu Daily Post, June 6, 2017) – The Bill for the Land Reform (Amendment) Act No. of 2017 was approved by 42 votes in favour and five votes against, in Parliament yesterday.

This amendment will assist the Government in making sure it does not give leases, which may put people at risk, avoid liability and compensation over a situation, which could have been avoided in the first place.

These include relocations at the government’s expense, something which has happened in the recent years.

This was the first Bill presented by Minister of Lands, Ralph Regenvanu, when Parliament resumed yesterday morning.

It was followed by the Land Leases (Amendment) Act in the afternoon and oral questions.

The amendments to the Land Reform Act [CAP 123] make provisions for the inclusion of additional members to the Land Management Planning Committee (LMPC).

Additional members include the Director of the Department of Geohazard or a senior representative, who can advise the government on leases.

It also includes a senior planner from the Physical Planning Unit of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, which will be appointed by the Minister of Internal Affairs.

If the LMPC is to consider an application relating to land that is located in a province or municipality, the senior planner of the relevant province or municipal is required to be present at that committee meeting.

The amendment, says Minister Regenvanu, aims to strengthen the existing legislation.

But Leader of Opposition Ishmael Kalsakau disagreed.

He said the amendments are designed to remove the power of landowners and give the upper hand in land dealings to foreigners.

Meanwhile, in response to a question on quarry, the Minister stressed that with the amendment to the Quarry Act last year, the company (involved) must pay the Custom Landowner.

On revenue, the minister says the revenue collected by the Department of Lands continues to increase every year and the department met its target last year.

He says more information will be released to the members shortly.

On concerns raised over the customary land legislation, Minister Regenvanu said it is proper for the right custom landowner to lease his land.

This is why there is a new law assisting the right custom landowner to understand his lease, get its correct value and enter a deal that he can benefit from.

“Today, 70% of the land on Efate has been leased out,” he said.

“Can you show me a millionaire from Efate, who became a millionaire through land lease?

“There is none. They are still living in ‘kapa’ (houses).

“A large proportion of his land is leased out but he still lives in a ‘kapa’ (house) and going to ask for money from investors every two weeks because of the deal they made, due to the ‘middlemen’ involved.

“The Customary Land Management removed all these middlemen.

“This is why many people are unhappy.

“The people, who are unhappy, are the middlemen.

“I encourage the Members of Parliament to go back to their own constituencies, talk to the chiefs and people and ask their opinions on CLMA.

“Do not ask the opinions of land valuers in Port Vila with suitcases here and there, who talked a lot on Facebook.

“Talk to your chiefs and your people.

“Awareness is underway, the Malvatumauri Council of Chiefs is doing its work in the islands.

“We have just launched on Malekula.

“The people are happy because finally no one is going behind their backs to the minister responsible and leasing their land.

“Thousands and thousands of hectares have been leased out to the wrong Custom landowners.

“This trend has come to an end.

“With the recently passed laws, you must be a custom landowner, as declared by the court, a nakamal then you can talk about a lease.

“The Government will come to your doorstep and explain the lease clearly; a valuation must be produce to determine the value of a land before it can be leased.

“The chiefs and the community must be aware.

“This is the transparency that we are talking about, in order to stop the ongoing corruption in land dealings.”

The Bill for the Land Reform (Amendment) was the first of the 10 Government Bills, identified by the Leader of Business to be presented in Parliament yesterday.

Parliament will resume at 8.30am today.

Vanuatu Daily Post
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