At its meeting held on June 5th 2020, the Government of the Republic of Vanuatu led by Prime Minister Bob Loughman has decided to embark on a major review of the amendments made to the land laws in 2013.
The laws concerned are the Land Reform (Amendment) Act No 31 of 2013, the Land Leases (Amendment) Act No 32 of 2013 and the Customary Land Management Act No 33 of 2013.
The review is approved with a primary aim to separate the functions of issuance of land leases and the process of determination by the courts at the village and island level of a customary land ownership.
The decision is a direct implementation of an agreement made by all political parties that set up the new Government in April this year. Leaders have agreed that there should be some reviews and if necessary, those amendments must be repealed.
The Government however insists that the changes should not affect in any way the key recommendations of the National Land Summit of 2006 which include:
1. Protecting the custom land owners and their lands;
2. Ensuring that the final decisions making on custom land ownership of custom lands rests with the custom authorities such as the nakamals or nasaras and Custom Area Land Tribunals;
3. Ensuring that the Land Leases issuance processes is more transparent and participatory; and
4. Transferring the ministerial power on land lease processes to the Land Management and Planning Committee (LMPC).
The new government noted several issues relating to lands laws over the last seven years that needed to be addressed:
1. The amendment of the Customary Land Act of 2013 and Land Leases Act of 2013 is interfering with the custom rules of determining the custom land ownership and the rights to use the custom land by rightful custom land owners;
2. Too complicated processes to determine right custom land owners and rightful users of the customary lands;
3. The complications have increased the costs to the national government to administer the land laws which resulted in the backlog of cases;
4. The process of acquiring a lease is more complicated and expensive; and
5. When the land lease acquisition process is expensive and complicated, that affects in many ways the economic and social development of the country.
The outcome of the review process should go before the Malvatumauri Council of Chiefs for consultations purposes by August this year.
The Council of Ministers has mandated the ministries of Justice and Community Services and Lands and Natural Resources to prepare amendment papers to go before Parliament before the end of 2020 and they have been allowed to utilized necessary resources within their budget as well as external financial support to fund the consultations and review work.