Government allegedly stole Lenur Island

The photo of Lenur Island as it appeared on Private Islands Magazine online

By Jonas Cullwick

Landowners of Lenur Island off South Malekula are accusing the Government of Vanuatu over the alleged sale of the island about 10 years ago without their knowledge.

The sale of the island appeared in the latest edition of Private Islands Magazine and its online edition for an amount of Vt70 million and the story of the sale appeared on the front page of the Daily Post Issue No. 4999 on Monday, January 23, 2017.

Representative of the landowners of Lenur Island, (Lenwur meaning ‘let’s talk about’ in the local dialect), Alfred Rolland Orah, explained that in 2007, when Mr Jacklyn Reuben Titek, was MP for Malekula and held the position of Minister of Lands, the island was allegedly taken by government.

“In about mid that year, when Maxime Carlot Korman was Acting Minister of Lands, he signed off documents that allowed the government to take possession of the island without our knowledge or consent as landowners,” he alleged.

“In November the same year, the government as lessor sold the island to Jacklyn Reuben Titek’s son as lessee for Vt1.5 million.

“It took the government two years to create another lease and in 2009, Titek’s son leased the island to an expatriate for Vt21 million,” Alfred Orah said.

He said the family that owns the island had always enjoyed the island of Lenur and since 18th century there was never any dispute over the island, and they were shocked to find out that the island had been leased to an expatriate in 2009.

That was the first time they became aware that they had lost possession of their island and in 2010 the first court case over the island began after the lease had already been made out to different people without the landowners’ knowledge.

“Clearly from information we got from documents accessed from the Lands Records Office of government showed that certain people of government had breached the country’s law at that time.

“They intervened in a land that never had any dispute over.

“As we all know, government can only act on behalf of a custom owner if there is dispute over the land, but there had never been any dispute over Lenur Island.

“Every people in the area knows that the landowner of Lenur Island is my father, Rolland Orah.

“In 2009 when the lease was made out to this expatriate, we were surprised an expatriate man arrived and started building shelters on the island.

“My father asked him, who gave him the right to the island, he replied saying it was Jacklyn Reuben Titek, a former Minister of Lands.

“My father responded that Jacklyn had no connection with the island.

“So, we found that when he was Minister, Jacklyn Reuben Titek fraudulently got ownership of the island,” he alleged.

“In 2010 my father took the matter to court, and again the people who were involved in holding the court proceedings were family members and relatives of Jacklyn Titek serving as chairman and judge in the proceedings of the joint villages of Malvakal, Bonvor, Vatrovun and Varun land tribunal.

“This was not good because Jacklyn is not from this area, but from Ahamb, some 5.5km away, his family had no business in the joint village area.

“So, the decision was biased,” Mr. Rolland Orah Jr. continued.

From 2009 to 2013, the expatriate lease holder Andrew Thomas Butlin, who arrived by yacht as a tourist, tried to apply for foreshore development projects of the island through the Ministry of Internal Affairs, but this was blocked by Orah and Internal Affairs never granted him the permit for foreshore development. On August 22 last year, Butlin reportedly left the island and has not returned.

“I decided to take legal proceedings over the illegal acquisition of the island in 2014 when a judicial review in court restrained all parties in the theft of the island including Jacklyn’s elder brother.

“In 2015 I put my claim in the Supreme Court to state that the island was acquired by government through fraud or mistake.

To this day the defendants have not responded to my claim meaning that they have nothing to say.”

Orah said the notice on the internet for sale of the island had been there before about mid last year. When it appeared he responded to the notice on the web to say that the island was never for sale and he was surprised to see it again this time when it appeared at the end of 2016.

“The island is my identity, my nasara. It is unique compared to other islands in the island. It is of the same size as Ifira (in the harbor off Port Vila), but it has a river, and an abundance of marine resources.

Butlin is selling Lenur Island on Private Islands for between Vt50 million and Vt85 million. The 34-hectare large island is located off Bonvor village on South Malekula.

It is alleged three other islands on the same side of Malekula are in the same state as Lenur, lost to other lessors.

NOTE: Mr Jacklyn Reuben Titek has denied all allegations levelled against him by Alfred Rolland Orah saying the island belongs to his family legally and they have customary land rights accorded by a customary Land Tribunal. Titek says Mr Orah is not telling the truth as his family have documents to prove that they legally own the island and are reconized through custom.

Jonas Cullwick, a former General Manager of VBTC is now a Senior Journalist with the Daily Post. Contact: Cell # 678 5460922

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