Leaders of Emua Village vow to fight to the end

By Len Garae

“We are very sorry to have to tell you Minister (of Land) that we will never sell our birthright for a pot of stew.

“We will fight to the end, to protect our custom rights, our future and our existence as ‘man Emua’. This is the response that Emua is giving you.”

This is the latest stand by the three who are claiming to be custom landowners of Emua and Malarua Quarry; Paramount Chief of Emua Chief Albert Manlaesinu, Chief Albea Masemantalo and Chief Michael Manlaetoa.

Parliament debated Malarua Quarry last week then went ahead to pass the “Land Acquisition (Amendment) Act No. of 2017” last Thursday.

The Minister is reported to have said he would stop the acquisition of Malarua Quarry if the “disputing parties” could come together and sign an agreement to receive Vt24 million in royalties.

Spokesman Tony Alvos makes it clear the offer is unacceptable to the landowners and reiterates, “We wish to advise the Government that as of today (June13), the matter is out of our hands.

“If anyone wishes to negotiate over Malarua Quarry, please contact our lawyer Ridgeway Blake.”

Meanwhile the Spokesman says the landowners and people of Emua wish to clarify the reasons for their ‘crying for justice’.

“Justice that we are crying for and pleading for is for the Minister and Government to respect and recognize the ruling of the Nakamal of Emua because to us, this is the first (alleged) injustice that is right in front of our eyes today,” Spokesman Alvos says.

“The Nakamal of Emua has spoken; it has resolved the dispute in line with its customs on July 3 of 2015.

“What we are suffering today is the very injustice that our forefathers had fought against in their struggle to gain freedom for our beloved country.”

The Spokesman says the injustice is that the Government does not respect and recognize the voice of the Nakamal of Emua.

“If you do not have any regard for the customs of Emua then in actual fact, you do not have any regard for any nakamal anywhere in Vanuatu,” he suggests.

“Today the victim is Emua but it could be Malekula or Tanna tomorrow.

“This is why we are still crying for the Government to recognise the customs of Emua and of Vanuatu.”

The Spokesman says the second (alleged) injustice regards royalties.

A figure of Vt1 billion is quoted for the quarry aggregates.

“It is going to need 60,000 cubic for the Bauerfield runway.

“Divide that by Vt1 billion, you get Vt18,000 per cubic. This is the market price of one cubic of basalt these days.

“The (alleged) injustice in royalties is that landowner are paid Vt400 per cubic which means they get Vt24 million for 60,000 cubic and the contractor who does not own the land gets paid Vt1 billion.”

The Spokesman says this is the (alleged) gross injustice that they are challenging.

“This is injustice to the struggle of our fathers who fought for our freedom.

“The New Hebrides National Party flag was first raised in our beloved Emua in November of 1977, for all land to be returned to the custom landowners for their benefit and the benefit of their descendants,” he says.

But the Spokesman asks, “‘Man ples’, when are we going to start to enjoy the fruits of our fathers’ struggle?

“We are tired of being fed with royalties.

“This is why we want to go into business, to set up a quarry business company to enjoy better benefits instead of Vt24 million in royalties.

“Our children are educated, some as far as university and we want a better future for them, to return and go into business to maximise their resources for significant gain.”

To conclude the Spokesman says the courts of the land have made their decision.

The nucleus of the court system, the custom land tribunal of Emua Village, has already ruled on the Malarua Quarry case.

The Supreme Court which is the highest court of the land has permitted the ruling.

“If the Government cannot recognize it then this is (alleged) gross injustice to the people of Emua and Vanuatu as a country.

“I repeat, today the people of Emua are crying because they have been united since July 3 of 2015, through consensus over their three chiefs as the custom landowners of the land in question,” the Spokesman says in conclusion.

“It seems the ‘dispute’ is created to promote division but we are united and we will continue to be united over our birthright to our custom land.

“Please recognize and accept the decision of our village custom land tribunal and the people of Vanuatu must recognize and accept our custom right to our land.

“Our fight is a fight for the whole country.”

In his response the Minister of Lands, Ralph Regenvanu says, to say that there is no dispute is just not true and the chiefs of Emua know this well.

“On May 2nd 2017, Chief Manlaesinu lodged a appeal with the Island Court (Land) challenging the decision of the North East Efate Area Land Tribunal made on March 10 2016, awarding custom ownership of Lakenasua Land (covering Lakenasua Plantation and also Malarua Quarry) to Chief Raymond Meringue.

“So that case has not even been heard yet and is pending,” the Minister says.

“I also made the Government’s position crystal clear in Parliament last week: we want all the disputing parties to consent to the Government accessing the existing stockpile at Malarua (which we already own) and to allow additional quarrying to be done, and we will put all royalties into COTA (custom owners trust account) and their dispute can continue and whomever wins gets the money.

“However, we need all disputing parties to consent to this for the Government to be able to proceed — if all parties don’t consent we cannot proceed to begin quarrying and putting the money into COTA.

“The disputing parties’ failure to agree has left the Government (with) no choice but to proceed to acquire.

“But the acquisition process is not complete and we will stop acquisition the moment they compromise and agree.”

Regarding royalties, the Minister confirms all outstanding royalties have already been paid — contrary to the claims of the chiefs and of Barak Sope in his letter in yesterday’s paper.

“They were paid to the three custom owners identified by Chief Manlaesinu in his 2008 letter (copy attached for your information),” the minister clarifies.

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