Customary Land Management Act launches

Radio Vanuatu carried the big news today. Seven years after starting the land reform process the Customary Land Management Act has been launched by Lands Minister Regenvanu. It will replace the Lands Tribunal Act in line with the land reform laws. An awareness programme for chiefs and community leaders now begins on Efate and is followed by Santo, Malekula and Tanna. One area of importance to this legislation, Minister Regenvanu explained, is “new applications for leases in places where there have never been leases before. Under the law it must be established who is the true custom owner, notifications must go to everyone, so they all understand there is a pending application for a negotiator’s certificate which would lead to the land being leased. Verification of custom owners becomes particularly important. There must be agreement amongst all the custom owners, especially over permission for the land to be leased.”

Minister Regenvanu continued to explain issues concerning pending cases which have been to the land tribunal already. They were suspended until the Act came into force and now they are being restarted in the new Custom Land Tribunal.

Then there are the cases of the existing leases where there are persons named as lessees and others as lessors and yet not one lessor is a custom owner, said Regenvanu. And then there are cases in which the community has asked the government to review a lease to a particular person. There may well have to be further nakamal meetings to determine who is the real custom owner and to rectify the lease.

Government has appealed to chiefs and community leaders to attend all awareness meetings of this kind in their area.

Minister of Lands Regenvanu was assisted by Justice Minister Alfred Carlot in the first presentation covered by Radio Vanuatu in VBTC News today. They also acknowledged Australia’s support through the Vanuatu Land Programme to provide technical and financial support to the land reform process until now.

A former co-ordinator of the Lands Tribunal, Alick Kalmelu, said he welcomed the decision the Office of Customary Land Management had taken to extend the time to 20 February for anyone who does not accept a decision of any land tribunal to ask the Island Court to review the decision. He said he, too, supports the idea of such a replacement to the lands tribunals. Kalmelu said that in the 2001 – 2013 existence of the lands tribunal system, certain chiefs had taken advantage of the system and not carried out their work properly in adjudicating land matters.

Other important news items today will be covered tomorrow.