Review of national land legislation, policy and administration

1 Mar 2007

The National Land Summit in September 2006 marked a turning-point in Vanuatu’s land affairs. The twenty-six years after independence were marked not by land policy development, but by land policy decline. The 20 main resolutions endorsed by the Summit are evidence of serious problems in such areas as agreements to lease custom land, lease conditions, land use planning, subdivisions, registration procedures, public access to beaches and rivers, and the public’s awareness of land rights and laws

The review team was given the task of assisting the Government to advance the outcomes of the Summit, and identifying the reforms and possible assistance necessary to implement those outcomes, both in the short term and the longer term. The team undertook this task under the direction of a Steering Committee, during February-March 2007. This report reviews Vanuatu’s present land policies and the main legislation affecting land, either  directly or indirectly, and the present arrangements for land use management and administration.

The report then identifies the reforms which the review team believes are necessary, to implement the National Land Summit’s resolutions. First, there is a need for policy development, not only to address serious problems in the leasing of land to outsiders, but also to address the emerging need for greater security of tenure for ni-Vanuatu, and for land dealings between ni-Vanuatu. Problems in lease arrangements have dominated the land agenda so far, but ni-Vanuatu land needs will be a greater priority for the future. Physical planning (or zoning) is a critical tool in efficient land use management and sustainable development, but at present it is seriously deficient, both in rural and urban areas. Foreshore development is taking
place without the necessary approvals, causing beach erosion and preventing public access.

To remedy the problems raised at the Land Summit, policies need to be clarified, new legislation introduced, and some existing legislation amended. What is required is not a sweeping revolution, but a reinstatement of sound land tenure and land use principles, as well as fairness and social equity. There is also a pressing need for strengthening the land administration and land use management arrangements. Partly this can be done by institutional reform, partly by better coordination, partly by training and capacity-building. Decentralisation is also important, but in order to be effective it must be accompanied by organisation and management reforms.

The report contains a matrix, listing the 20 main resolutions from the Land Summit, and the actions which the review team sees as necessary to implement each of them. There is also a set of recommendations, for consideration by the Steering Committee and further processing within Vanuatu’s system for policy-making.

These recommendations, some for immediate and short-term action and others for the longer term, are intended to maintain the momentum generated by the Land Summit, and lay the basis for a comprehensive reform of the nation’s land policies, laws and administration. A series of  scoping notes are provided for each of the short term initiatives to assist the Steering Committee in submitting proposals for assistance. It is also recommended that the Steering Committee appoint a secretariat to support the development and implementation of the proposed short
term initiatives.

The ultimate goal for the Steering Committee is to obtain support for a land reform program that will assist in the implementation of the numerous reform measures that need to be undertaken to satisfactorily progress the 20 resolution from the National Land Summit. Land reform is required in a number of key areas, including legislation and policy, institutional development, land use management and land administration. The drafting of a National Land Law, as provided for in the Constitution, is a high priority and which must be developed with widespread consultation but specifically in consultation with the National Council of Chiefs (Malvatumauri).

 

Authors: Chris Lunnay, Jim Fingleton, Michael Mangawai, Edward Nalyal, Joel Simeo

Attached files