26 Sep 2013

Vanuatu's Nagriamel movement opposes planned land reform

4:51 pm on 26 September 2013

Vanuatu's Nagriamel custom movement says it is opposed to the initiative of the minister of lands, Ralph Regenvanu, to change land laws.

A spokesman of the Nagriamel, Jeff Patunvanu, says in 1975, the movement's leader, Jimmy Stevens, went to the United Nations to demand independence from Britain and France to enable locals to regain control of their land.

Mr Patunvanu told Hilaire Bule the minister's proposed plan is confusing and also goes against the constitution.

JEFF PATUNVANU: From what I understand and from what the minister of lands is trying to campaign for, a new land reform for the country, I think it is a little bit confusing and I am not really understanding what is his plan for this kind of reform. I think what we have in the constitution, it's stated who owns the land, how to use the land. It specifies all this in the constitution. If all this was in the constitution, this country would had independence 32 or 33 years ago. And we should not have any problem with the issue of land, for example. If you just buy a new brand Ford, you use it for a couple of weeks and you don't like the engine of the Ford, you change it and you take this car to the garage and you say 'Please can you change the engine of my Ford and put the Kia Motors engine on' something must be very wrong with you.

HILAIRE BULE: The constitution says that the land belongs to custom land owners. And Mr Regenvanu is proposing changes to amend the constitution and saying that land belongs to a group of land owners.

JP: That's exactly what I'm trying to say. It is very wrong.The land belongs to the indigenous land owner. It's not for the group. It's not for some community. We do not have communities in our customs. We have tribes, we have all our tribes. And our customs are all different in all the islands in Vanuatu and we do not have such things like some group of people with who we discuss our land.

HB: Currently Vanuatu faces a lot of problems with land disputes in court. We have several cases that are still waiting for court hearings. Do you think that the current idea of Mr Regenvanu could cause more problem in land?

JP: It will be far more problems in this case. What we have in the past is just normal dispute on the rights of our elders who have more power. We have to try and dispute it in the courts. That is fine, that's okay. It is our duty to do that. And if we have a group of people managing on behalf of the minister and land owners then it would be a much, much bigger problem than Vanuatu can face in the future.