Vanuatu govt cancels all state land sales under former Minister
Vanuatu's government cancels all land leases issued to Lands staff at a discount during the tenure of a previous Lands Minister, Steven Kalsakau, between 2011 and 2012.
Vanuatu's government has cancelled all land leases issued to Lands staff during the tenure of a previous Lands Minister, Steven Kalsakau, between 2011 and 2012.
This follows a campaign by the current minister, Ralph Regenvanu, to get these lands titles, which were sold at a discount and totalled almost 100, back to the state.
He spoke to Johnny Blades about the leases.
RALPH REGENVANU: We got a consent order from the court saying that the decision of the former minister to award the leases to staff at a discount was unlawful. And based on that consent order, we have now proceeded to cancel all the leases. So that means there are about 33 registered leases that have been cancelled. There's about another 40 or so that were awarded but never presented in registerable form and we just cancelled those at the database, and there's another 14 or so that were in registerable form, sitting with the office of the registry, and we put them on hold. So now we've rejected all those for registration. So altogether about 97 leases have now come back to the state.
JOHNNY BLADES: What about the developments on those leases? And the former title holders, do they get compensated?
RR: There are no developments on the titles. They were awarded and then when I got in as Minister in April last year, I put a hold on any dealings on those lands. So the staff who have paid money can get whatever they paid refunded to them. And what they paid wasn't much; overall roughly the titles were got at one percent of market value. So it's not a lot of money.
JB: And the cabinet has endorsed all this. Is this a recognition that that process was extremely corrupt?
RR: The cabinet, back in April, when I became Minister, that was one of the first policy papers I put to be endorsed by the cabinet. And it was endorsed in April last year. The Council of Ministers basically mandated me to get all those titles back. And so now, we've done that. Another process has happened whereby the public service commission has engaged in a disciplinary process against the staff involved and that is proceeding as well. Under the public service commission, there was an investigation done and completed, and as of today six senior staff in the Department of Lands have been suspended, awaiting disciplinary action.
JB: Steven Kalsakau, will he be held accountable?
RR: At the end of 2012, there were two investigations launched. One was the public service commission investigation which is now resulting in this disciplinary action against the six staff members. The other was an investigation into the actions of Steven Kalsakau as the Minister of Lands and whether they were in breach of the Leadership Code. And that was an investigation initiated by the office of the ombudsman. So that investigation is also ongoing.
Ralph Regenvanu says that under land reforms passed in parliament late last year, the Lands Minister no longer has the power to unilaterally sell or lease state land.
Meanwhile, the total value of leases over state land issued by Minister Kalsakau, or income lost to the state, based on an independent evaluation, was approximately $10 million US dollars.
To embed this content on your own webpage, cut and paste the following: