Spokesman Wesley Obed says party wants agreement reviewed

By Len Garae

A spokesman representing two land owners and two representatives of landowners who signed the Land Lease Agreement with Metenesel Estates Limited (MEL)

on the 7th of October of 2016, says they have instructed their lawyer to file a stay order on the development of cocoa at Metenesel, in order to request the Government to review the existing lease agreement that was signed in 1983.

This is to make it fair to all parties especially the landowners who according to the agreement, are entitled to receive Vt100 per hectare of their land.

Wesley Obed says the four signatories are not against plans to build a facility to manufacture organic chocolate in Vanuatu. “What we want to see is fairness in the agreement for the landowners to get more for their custom land. According to the agreement since 1983, the landowners are paid Vt100 per hectare”, he says.

“The landowners’ view is that after 36 years, the Government should be in a better position to negotiate a more attractive deal with them. This is the main issue why we are taking the case to court but we have nothing against the French company that is coming to bring about development”.

He says their concern is that when Biscochoc arrives, it is going to operate based on the original Vt100 per hectare agreement. “He is a genuine investor but our dispute centres on the existing agreement which will be heard in court on February 23”, Obed explains.

His party wants a review of the existing agreement or a termination of the agreement and any company that comes in, has to sit with them to proceed according to a totally new agreement.

According to his calculation, any company that comes in will pay the landowners a total of Vt170,000 for operating on 500 hectares of their land. “In my view the Government should work for the benefit of the landowners because it is their land, not this Vt100”, he says.

After the first agreement with the Commonwealth Development Corporation ended, C-Corp (Vanuatu) Limited took over Metenesel from 2008 to 2016. “During the entire period of 8 years, C-Corp never paid even one vatu to the landowners. We understand there could be confusion as to which landowners should be paid but the Government should at least keep the money safe and people should know where it is”, he argues.

In addition he says their investigation proved that Metenesel Cocoa Estate had been de-listed for so long and it was only after the party pursued the case last year that the Government re-listed the company.

He claims that this means that the company has been operating illegally. Furthermore he suggests that the Government should wait until the court has heard and ruled on their case.

The party’s spokesman also questions the position of the current Chairman of the Board of Metenesel saying as Howard Aru is no longer the Director General of the Ministry of Agriculture; his decisions should be of no effect.

Meanwhile during the signing of the Memorandum of Understanding between the parties at Metenesel on December 27 last year, the Chairman of the Board along with the Secretary, Richard Kalses and the Acting Secretary General of Malampa Province, Palen Ata, all emphasised to all the parties not to do anything to disturb Biscochoc from coming in to start work at Metenesel.

They appealed to everyone to sort out their internal differences in their ‘nasaras’ while development must be seen to be happening at Metenesel on West Malekula.

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