Vanuatu minister pursues dubious land leases
Vanuatu's Lands Minister is trying to flush out the Lands Ministry of those involved in dubious leases of state land under a preferential access process used by the former Minister.
Vanuatu's Minister of Lands Ralph Regenvanu says he is still pursuing state land titles held under a preferential access process used by the former Minister.
This is despite no-one as yet having surrendered such leases in response to official requests from Mr Regenvanu to staff of both the Ministry and Department of Lands last month.
Two investigations are underway to identify those who obtained leases under the former minister, Steven Kalsakau.
Mr Regenvanu spoke to Johnny Blades about his pursuit of the questionable stand land leases.
RALPH REGENVANU: I requested Department of Lands staff who had obtained titles over state land from the former Minister of Lands under a sort of concessionary scheme he set up, I requested them to surrender their leases. That was in a formal meeting at the chief's nakamal. And the letters were given to all of the staff who were recorded as having taken the leases. We also issued some letters to the Department of Land staff in Luganville and we are still issuing some letters now. We haven't finished giving them all out yet because different people have moved and so on. So, to date, there's been no-one who has surrendered leases yet, however a number of staff have written back to say the record is, in fact, incorrect, and they haven't taken any leases. The Public Service Commission investigation and the Ombudsman Office investigation are proceeding, and we expect to get the result of those investigations by the end of next week, at which stage we will have further grounds for pursuing the state land titles held by staff, as well as all other people - members of the public and political supporters of the former minister. So right now we are waiting to get those other reports in from the Public Service Commission and the Ombudsman Office before we proceed further on this issue.
JOHNNY BLADES: So pending the outcome of those investigations, if, for example, a staff member of the department was found to have a lease which was wrongly approved, could they face some sort of criminal charge?
RR: Yes, the staff were notified in the letter that I gave them, that if it was found by the investigation that leases were issued unlawfully, they could face disciplinary procedures under the Public Service Act, as well as under the Leadership Code, and also possibly criminal charges under the Penal Code.
JB: Presumably there are some people still within the department who may have assisted or encouraged this whole process under Kalsakau or whoever in the past. Is it going to be something that you need to do to flush some of these people out?
RR: Yes. This is a good justification for being able to flush out some of the people who we know have been actively involved in conspiring with the former minister to allow this stuff to happen, as well as other dodgy land deals in the past. So this is sort of like a perfect opportunity to get rid of some of those people.
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