28 Aug 2013

Vanuatu landowners want further clarifications about plans for a new airport

5:24 pm on 28 August 2013

Vanuatu landowners want further clarifications about plans for a new airport.

The project is highly controversial, with landowners in one area under consideration saying they are opposed to compulsory acquisition of their land.

The chairman of Efate Vaturisu Council of chiefs on Land Reform Commission, Levi Tarosa told Hilaire Bule about the meeting held at Eton village.

LEVI TAROSA: If the government intends to acquire land under the compulsory acquisition then there's a legal debate that will arise over who is entitled to the value of land. Is it the landowner, as leaser, or the leasee, the investor that acquires the lease? So I think it will end up in court if there's not a decision made on who will get the compensation. As it is now, I think the leasees, the investors, will put the claim on the value of land. If they succeed, then the landowners won't get any benefit from the compensation. But if the government intends to acquire direct to the landowners, then the leasees will object to that. So this is a legal difficulty, legal question that will give rise to a lot of debate if the actual competition is carried out.

HILAIRE BULE: But what is now the current standing of the indigenous landowners?

What transpires out of the meeting last week in Eton is that we would recommend that the government don't use the compulsory acquisition. We feel that the compulsory acquisition is an adverse position. It will adversely affect the future long-term interests of the landowners, therefore we would recommend that the government, or the private company, the consortium company, negotiate directly with the leasees to buy out their land using the normal market transactions. And then it would require the landowners to give their consent to transfer, but they will issue a conditional consent. For instance, one of the conditions would be that the lease which currently... All of the leases are agricultural leases. You wouldn't have to surrender those leases to create a new lease which will be commercial leases. And it is during the surrender and the granting of the new lease that the landowners will have an upper hand in the negotiation. They would be in a position where they can demand or they can dictate or negotiate a fair deal, like land rents... (Indistinct) ..have an equity share in the company. They would be able to negotiate those economic benefits under a formal lease, a new commercial lease. That's what the position of the landowners is at the moment.We'd rather see a direct negotiation after a transfer has been done, a direct negotiation with the leasees, the landowners, rather than the government using its powers to compulsorily acquire land, in which case the landowners will forfeit their future rights. That's what the landowners have decided at the moment.