At long last custom chiefs who have been complaining to the Government for seemingly taking away their powers to preside over their people’s custom land disputes, can now rest assured that they will start to use the new Customary Land Management Act & Land Reform Amendment Act, to hear their custom land cases in their individual nakamals instead of in Western style court rooms.

Under the new Act, no chief of another jurisdiction is allowed to preside over any land case in another jurisdiction. It means all land cases are settled in the nakamal and not go as far as the courts. A complainant can only appeal the process of a case in the island court and not the actual case.

Minister of Lands, Ralph Regenvanu, gave the assurance when he opened a week-long training workshop of chiefs and adjudicators as part of the implementation of the Land Reform Legislations in Emua Village in North West Efate yesterday morning.

The Minister confirmed that the new Customary Land Management Act & Land Reform Management Act was passed at the end of 2013 which came into effect on February 2014.

However, since then no official meeting has been held to find out who is the real custom landowner of a boundary of land. “This workshop is the first of its kind to be organised to train our chiefs and adjudicators to prepare yourselves to become the first village to use the new law to hear the case of a custom land dispute”, the Minister said.

The Minister said it is a historic time in the history of the country to adopt a new system to hear a custom land dispute in the first trial of its kind in the country under the new Land Act.

In addition, the Minister said, “A request which we have been asking for a long time for the powers to be returned to the chiefs to preside over their custom land disputes, has finally been returned to the chiefs by the Government when it changed the Constitution and the Laws to return all (land dispute related) powers to the nakamal.

“I have extracted it from the Western judicial system and returned it to the nakamal. The Government has done its part by changing the Constitution and the Law which means the Government has confidence that justice about land disputed can only be dealt with in the nakamal. The Government has this confidence which is why two thirds of members of parliament voted to support the new law, to return the powers to the chiefs to sort out our custom land disputes by using our own customs”.

The Minister said now it is the chiefs who must demonstrate to the Government to confirm to the Government that the Government was right to return the powers to the custom landowners and the chiefs. “The Government as well as I as Minister of Lands, look forward to seeing the law being used to serve its rightful purpose. I hope that we will not see any process which pushes an appeal to the island court”, he said.

“On behalf of the Government I wish to say that we are confident in this workshop that is opening today and continues for five days. The Government looks forward to this training and the meetings that are going to follow as they will utilise the processes you are going to be taken through in this workshop”.

The training is the first of its kind being carried out with the collaboration of Customary Land Management Office, Malvatumauri and the Department of Lands, with financial support from the AusAID funded Vanuatu Land Programme and other stakeholders.

GJP MP Gillion Ernest also attended the opening ceremony.

Other official guests present included Malvatumauri Council of Chiefs President, Chief Senimao Tirsupe, Vanuatu Land Programme representative John Meadows, Acting Director of Cultural Centre Ambong Thompson, Chairman of Vaturisu Council of Councils, Chief Henry Manlaewia and Mrs. Manlaewia and the Paramount Chief of Emua Village.

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