Lessors of Bauerfield airport maintain withholding of consent for runway development

Two representatives of the Lessors — McClory Nangole Kalsakau (l) and Vavautalo Sope.

By Jonas Cullwick

The Lessors of Bauerfield Airport — the Kalsakau family of Ifira, represented by McClory Nagole Kalsakau, the Sope Family of Imere, represented by Vavautalo Sope and Chief Nunu Naperi Mala George Soalo, maintain their position for not granting any consent towards the Bauerfield runway development under the Vanuatu Aviation Investment Program.

The Lessors say in a press release issued April 26 that their position is maintained because the Airports Vanuatu Limited and the Vanuatu Government have not satisfied their concerns and claims.

The statement says, “Responding to the press statement of the AVL Board Chairman, Bakoa Kaltongga issued in Daily Post Issue No. 5075 on Friday 21st April 2017, the Lessors state as follows:

“In the press statement by AVL, they refer to the Lessors as Custom owners. That is incorrect. We are “Lessors”, because we are parties to a Lease Agreement with AVL. We are also custom owners by right as declared by the Efate Island Court, but our issue with AVL is in relation to our obligations as Lessor and Lessee.

“We wish to clarify to AVL and the Government, that under the Land Leases Act CAP. 163, especially in Part 7, sections 40 and 41 of the Act, a Lessee like AVL must obtain the consent of the Lessors, prior to any developments taking place on the lease land. The runway rehabilitation project is a development and therefore it must obtain consent by advising the Lessors the nature of the works and also what it plans to do. This is what the law of Vanuatu states and what the AVL Chairman is attempting to say in the media is that AVL is above the law and it does not need to get consent.

“The AVL Chairman stated in his press release that the two leases of Bauerfield at either ends of the runway are Special Lease (Class E).

“This is incorrect and not true.

“They are leases which have actual parties and are not exempt from the application of the Act.

“The AVL Chairman is misleading the public through the media. The current lease terms and conditions still stipulate payment of annual lease rentals.

“The AVL Chairman also further stated in his press statement that AVL had assured World Bank that no safeguards issued will arise.

“This is a statement which shows lack of responsibility and due diligence on the part of AVL. It shows that AVL writing off any need to discuss any outstanding lease matters with any lessors and also is writing off any environmental and social impacts. This is an incorrect statement and has potential to jeopardise the confidence of World Bank.

“The AVL Chairman stated that AVL is not obliged to pay premiums on its leases. By law, AVL as a lessee is oblige to pay premium because the lease it holds belongs to declared custom owners and AVL in the past has conceded to this by making payments to custom owners. So AVL is denying a fact which does exist.

“The Deed of Release which AVL refers to is a document which has never been provided by the State Law Office and it is not clear whether it exists. Even AVL does not have a copy and if it does, we challenge AVL to disclose a copy. Even so, the Lessors of AVL say that they have never been a part of that Deed of Release so the payment AVL is referring to under that Agreement was never received by this group of Lessors.

“Even though, the lease for the middle section of the Airport which is 11/OK31/001 is urban lease land, it has never been acquired by the Government and therefore, prior to the lease being transferred to the AVL in 2205, the Government of Vanuatu owes lease rentals and premiums to declared customary land owners. This is confirmed by a former Financial Controller of AVL.

“The advance payments of land rents that AVL Chairman stated for 2017 and 2018, were never paid to Family Kalsakau and Family Sope of Imere and so even if AVL paid those rentals in advance it does not satisfy the claims that are currently outstanding.

“The Lessors of Bauerfield Airport state that the Government and the public must not be misled by the AVL and its Board Chairman, especially as they are trying to get the family of late Aloani Chichirua and Michel Kalworai to come forward and say that they support the Runway project. These families on Ifira are not declared custom owners and their names do not appear on any lease of Bauerfield Airport.

“Until and unless the AVL and the Government of Vanuatu come to consult and gain consent for the runway development at Bauerfield airport, the Lessors of Lease Title No. 12/0631/014 and 12/0634/005 will not be granting consent to the proposed developments for reasons that premiums have not been paid to them and outstanding lease rentals.”

A copy of the press releases from the Lessors was sent to the Chairman of AVL on Tuesday, May 2 for his comment, but none has yet come.

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

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