Friday saw more than 50 chiefs of the Vaturisu Council of Chiefs of Efate meeting and agreeing on a set of resolutions that could ensure squatter issues were properly, decently and legally resolved.
Their concern was voiced over a week ago in this newspaper and was one of the reasons why Chief Henry Manlaewia, their Chairman, had sought the assistance of Professor Don Paterson of USP Emalus Law School and his legal guidance.
The different categories of squatter were considered starting with those people who claim to be custom owners but regarding whom there are succession or inheritance questions to be answered, anyway.
Then there are people who were granted the right to reside a long time ago, sometimes through family connections. And there are those people who have simply occupied vacant land which is not theirs.
The Vaturisu members were concerned with the way in which the Police and VMF have had to be involved with squatters within the last month, sometimes just seemingly dumping them elsewhere.
Removal of people in this matter is something which the Vaturisu will be taking up with government. Expanding the town limits, providing more land for squatter settlements or sending squatters back to their home islands are all issues which need to be addressed.
But the chiefs are concerned that living conditions must be improved as squatter settlements are seeing greatly increasing populations and action must be taken now.
The Vaturisu was concerned that there has been “plante toktok” about moving people back to home islands, but such discussion has not yet ever been resolved into action..
Further questions arise concerning the so-called chiefs of Seaside and Freswota: leaders simply chosen to look after their communities in these places.
The Vaturisu seemed to feel that the Area Chiefs of South Efate should exercise a control over these lesser, non land owning chiefs.
Indeed the Vaturisu should be able to exercise a power of leadership and persuasion in these places, the meeting agreed.
A series of resolutions emerged from the meeting which will assist in resolving the squatter questions.
The substance of the resolutions is such that the Vaturisu will encourage their custom land owners not to allow ownership to others unless confirmed by properly authorised documentation.
The Vaturisu will also discourage occupation unless accompanied by written legal authority. Vaturisu chiefs will insist on community awareness meetings, their representatives’ inspections of squatter settlements and discussion of the resolutions, on which they decided, together with the Municipality of Port Vila, the Shefa Provincial Government, National Government and NGOs.
Chief Meameadola was also insistent that custom law be applied to ensure Vaturisu resolutions will be applied. The meeting was hopeful that its pressure and interventions might assist other island chiefs where they have similar sitiuations, such as in Santo.