Land Ombudsman Emil Mael says the latest proposed Land Amendments can go ahead to be passed by Parliament, as long as the Minister of Land has no power to sign any land lease.
“We can make land reforms but as long as power does not return to the Minister responsible”, he says.
“The Land Ombudsman Office must remain as it confirms its neutrality and transparency as the watchdog of the Department of Land and Custom Land Management Office.”
The proposed amendments involve the Custom Land Management Act, Land Reform Act and Land Leases Act.
In his view the Land Reform Consultation held in three Provinces of Tafea, Shefa and Malampa last year, was incomplete as it should have covered all six Provinces.
After all, land remains the most important asset throughout the country.
Ombudsman Mael speaks also as the former Secretary of Land Management and Planning Committee, which unified the two former committees of Rural Land and Urban Land in 2001. “In 2013, the mandate was taken from the Minister due to concern against alleged corruption,” he recalls.
In the proposed land amendment bills currently before Parliament, Ombudsman Mael says this is important to avoid any allegation of corruption by the Minister of Land, since it was allegedly rampant in previous Governments.
In addition, the Land Ombudsman says during his former days, he was also involved in investigations of land dealings in Port Vila in particular. “I have in existence a record of my findings”, he confirms.
In addition, he says before 2013 the Act empowered the LMPC to advise the Minister whether or not to sign any land lease.
However, now with the imminent proposed land amendments before parliament, the Land Ombudsman says, already his office is inundated with calls from throughout the country to act to influence the Minister to withdraw the proposed amendments.
The Land Ombudsman is concerned that if the amendments are passed by parliament to allow the Minister to sign land leases, his concern is that previously allegations were rampant that without any transparency in the processes behind closed doors, it was suspected that former Ministers might have been tempted to “accept money under the table” in order to sign land leases.
Meanwhile the Leader of Opposition, Ralph Regenvanu who has attacked the proposed amendments as setting the tone for corruption if passed, while assuring reporters in his recent press conference that he had held talks with the Prime Minister over the topic and was going to meet the Head of State next on the same topic.
In the latest development, sources in connection to the proposed land amendment bills have alleged that more work has to be done.