Minister urged to revoke lease

24 Sep 2012

Vanuatu Daily Post

A total of 11 senior representatives of the people of Lelema (Lelepa and Mangaliliu) led by Chief Kalkot Mormor of Mangaliliu have all appealed to the Minister of Lands, Steven Kalsakau to “please revoke the Rural Agriculture Lease” that he signed for Leasee Kalorib Poilapa of Mele Village on August 17, 2012.

In an emotional address at a press conference in the Vanuatu Kaljural Senta Conference Room yesterday, Chief Mormor confirmed how shocked they were to learn in the Department of Lands two days ago that the Minister had approved and signed the lease to Kalorib Poilapa from Mele Village, despite assurance from the Ministry of Lands that their land was safe and that the Lelema Community Lease project was a historic model for the rest of the country to adopt.

He said they wept upon the sudden realisation that they were about to lose their birthright and the birthright of the children of Lelema. “What has taken place behind our back is daylight robbery for the people of Mangaliliu and Lelepa Island because there is no land dispute there”, Chief Mormor said.

“The Minister is my next door neighbour and what kind of custom is he going to perform in my presence to show that he is sorry for what happened? How is he going to show his face when he enters Mangaliliu or go to Lelepa for his political campaign?

“My community of Mangaliliu was a contributor to his political victory in the last election. I want to know the name of the investor who is going to invest in our community boundary. All we have is our land to resort to for our livelihood because we have nothing else and so I want the Minister to return our land to us”.

Chief Supua said the population of Lelema cannot be stopped from growing. He also appealed to the Minister to revoke his approval of the lease. He said Independence Struggle Leaders Donald Kalpokas (Ambassador to the UN) and Peter Taurakoto (former Ombudsman) are both proud sons of Lelepa who had a vision for the country to gain its political freedom from Britain and France. The country’s Constitution was clear that as of July 30 of 1980, all land was returned to the custom landowner.

He pointed out that the way that a Minister of State has taken away a traditional land from its indigenous owners and approved of its lease on their behalf without their knowledge is a slap in the faces of both Kalpokas and Taurakoto and all other Fathers of Independence.

Lelepa’s Kaljural Fieldworker confirmed hundreds of historical sites in the boundary on database that he carries with him in his laptop. That is all NKS property and they are determined not to let them be destroyed.

Both Chief Mormor and the Director of the National Museum and VKS, Ambong Marcellin said the legal process has started towards freezing all transactions from the Lease Title until the Supreme Court decides on the future of the land. The land boundary leased is the “last place” for the people of Lelema to plant their gardens.

Chairman of the Regional Council of Chiefs, Markmar Pierre also appealed to the Minister to revoke the lease in a peaceful way.

Women’s representative Leisara Kalotiti who is also a VKS field worker said ‘mama graon’ is where everyone sleeps, feed and die and get buried. “The late Father Walter Lini said, ‘Respect is honourable’ but that respect is gone because the act of approving a lease without permission shows a lack of respect for our people and mama graon itself”, she said.

Asked if the Land Lease can be reversed, the Vanuatu Kaljural Senta Legal Adviser, Siobhan McDonnell said it can be done through a Judicial Review; also the Land Law must change.

Land Valuation Expert Levi Tarosa said in his professional view, it is wrong to blame the Minister for his approval of the lease. Instead he said the problem lies in the system. “The land system needs a radical change. What has happened is a symptom of the disease, it is what I call a land cancer and we need a remedy to treat it. That is why this country needs a New Land Reform Policy”, he said.

We tried without success to reach the Director General of Lands, Joe Ligo to arrange for an interview with him and or the Minister but the switchboard said he was attending an important meeting. We called the Second Political Adviser Willie Kalo but there was no response from his end.