Pakoa Kaltova Kalnagis, a witness in the Udaone Custom Land on North West Efate, has explained that what the people of Tanoliu Village are going through today, is a result of the failure of the Chairman of the North West Area Land Tribunal, to carry out his duties.
The people of Tasiriki Village on Moso Island sold the land title to Goodies before the land tribunal sat with nine parties to hear the case in 2008. The party that sold the title declined to be party to the claim to defend the case.
The nine parties attended the land tribunal meeting and a decision was made but some parties were not happy and appealed against it.
The appeal was heard at Pakaroa under the Efate North West Area Land Tribunal chairmanship of the late Andrew Popovi.
According to Mr. Kalnagis, a ruling was made in favour of one party while the meeting was still in progress.
While any question regarding proper hearing process was hanging in limbo after the ruling at Pakaroa, the land law was amended to the Customary Land Management Act.
Chairman Andrew Popovi passed away without calling the meeting to hear the case again. Wilson Popovi (Chief Wilson) took his place to head the Tribunal.
On July 26, the Custom Land Management Office also wrote to the new Chairman (Chief Wilson) ordering him to call the hearing. He allegedly did not call it. “Chief Taura called the hearing in the nakamal on the Udaone Custom Land Case”, Kalnagis explains.
“However when the decision was made in the nakamal, Wilson Popovi (Chief Wilson) challenged the decision in the Island Land Court. The decision was made last month on August 30 quashing all previous decisions and ordering all parties to return to the North West Area Tribunal to identify the true custom landowner of the said land in dispute.
On the concerns raised in the article under the heading “Eviction affects over 300”, Kalnagis repeats that the party at Tasiriki on Moso sold the lease before the land tribunal of 2008, pointing out that a lease is a lease.
He adds, “Basically what we are going through at Tanoliu today and my family and I are also affected, is partly as a result of the failure of the Chairman of North West Area Tribunal to carry out his duties.
“In fact, some of us even went as far as meeting with the Minister of Lands over the issue. At the end the Minister threw the issue back at us saying, ‘Your problem is in your own hands. Return to your village and advise your Chairman who is also from Tanoliu, to call the North West Area Tribunal to identify the true custom landowner. Only then can he (true custom landowner of Udaone Land) come to me to help you. But right now you have no right to talk about the land because the lease has already been sold to an investor”.
Kalnagis also corrects the plea made in the last article for the investor to return to talk to the villagers concerning their plight. “The investor did come back to Tanoliu two months after the eviction had taken place, to explain to the community that he had not done anything outside the law and that he did pay for the lease. I believe the complainants did not attend the meeting”.