In the 28th December 2016 issue of the Daily Post, an article referred to the ongoing Commission of Inquiry into the Vanuatu National Provident Fund (VNPF)’s so called under performing investments, in particular the Ranch de la Bouffa purchase and management of the property since it was acquired by the VNPF.

In 2010, our company sold this property to the VNPF on behalf of the former owners. Much criticism of this investment has been made in the media since then, however it may well be one of the best investments that the VNPF has ever made – if the VNPF had used it for the reasons that were discussed at the time of their purchase.

To refer to the Bouffa Ranch investment as under-performing may be correct if only the current usage and management of the property is assessed, but the underlying high value of this investment is unquestionable to anyone who has any knowledge of what is happening demographically, socially and economically in and around the capital, Port Vila.

The total land area of the Bouffa Ranch property is 530.3507 hectares (1,310.52 acres). The entrance to this property is only six kilometres from the Port Vila town centre. At the time of the sale, main power, telephone and a water supply were already on site, and approximately 60 % of the land area was improved pasture.

The total land area of 530 hectares is almost half the size of the existing 1,179 hectare Port Vila urban municipal zone, yet it is less that ten minutes’ drive from the Port Vila town centre.

Given the growth of Port Vila town since Independence, and today’s population of around 50,000 compared with around 7,000 in1980, in the years to come this will seem like a very short distance, and indeed already today, it is extremely difficult to find any larger plots of land in and around Port Vila town for any new projects, private or public.

The difficulty the Government has experienced trying to find land for another cemetery is just one example proving this. The same interminable process occurred a few years ago when the Government tried to find land for a new prison.

Teoumaville and the surrounding residential areas beyond the Teouma Bridge are farther away than Bouffa, yet these zones are already significantly developed. The future growth of Port Vila town will inevitably include the Bouffa Ranch area, especially when so much of the Bellevue Valley closer to town cannot be developed because of the security zone at the Bellevue end of the airport, over which most take-offs occur.

The Bouffa Ranch property has many prime features that make it an ideal short, medium and long-term investment, as well as providing land for a number of quite urgently needed social and community development projects.

Our company sold this property at that time for around Vt210,000,000 — or less than Vt40 per square metre.

Existing roadways, particularly in an area of about 40 to 50 hectares at the entrance of the property, allow for the relatively straightforward development of 80 to 100 large land “lifestyle” plots, or hundreds, possibly a few thousand, low cost housing plots. This was what I suggested the VNPF should do at the time of the purchase, and we provided a few plans showing ways this could be done.

Based on sales of similar plots of one hectare off the Bouffa Road at the time the VNPF bought the property, the full purchase price — plus subdivision development costs — would quite easily have been recovered by selling off only 20% of the property’s land area. If the VNPF felt they did not have the expertise or cash flow for this, they could have sought a development partner from the private or aid sector.

Over the years, I have had numerous visits from consultants looking to help the Government, or the National Housing Corporation, or the VNPF themselves, with low cost housing projects. The single biggest issue was always finding enough land, close to town for easy commuting, at a price that meant the end product (a low cost house on a serviced and registered plot of land) was affordable by the least well off in our society. The need for this is enormous as anyone connected to the development of this country, and particularly Port Vila, knows.

On this property, there is also enormous potential to do agricultural projects, or any other high value, long-term sustainable projects that would generate income and employment. This could have been done – and I daresay still could be done — concurrently with any subdivision and house building projects.

This property still provides the same potential as it did when we originally sold it to the VNPF — an opportunity to create parklands, campgrounds, sports areas, cycling and sport tracks and areas for community activities – in effect, to provide what the rapidly growing capital city of Port Vila desperately needs: ie — not only new affordable housing, but also green open spaces and areas where communities can meet and youths particularly can use for sports.

For many years we have received enquiries from churches, organisations, youth groups, and the VNPF itself, looking for land. There is very little land available for large events. There is no land allocated to the six Provinces for their people living in the Port Vila area to hold meetings and custom or community ceremonies.

This property can provide all of these things. Seen in this context, it may well be true that this VNPF asset has been “under performing” – but it simply cannot be said that this was a bad investment.

Thousands of VNPF registered workers live in sub-standard housing, with little or no realistic way of improving these circumstances. Surely before the VNPF would take the drastic step of selling this property (as it did by advertising the property for sale in mid 2016) it would be wise to consult widely with Government to see who may need land for future public projects, especially to look into how an affordable housing scheme could work?

Or perhaps the Government could negotiate the acquisition of this property – how often will the opportunity arise to purchase a property that is 50% of the land area of the capital town’s existing urban municipal zone, and so nearby?

The alternative is that a private purchaser will buy this property from the VNPF and develop it in a way that does not need to take into account or to provide any of what we know the town (and the country) increasingly needs.

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