West Rennell land acquisition - Solomon Star News

West Rennell land acquisition

07 February 2018

Dear Editor – I wish to refer to the above mentioned letter appeared in your issue no. 1982, Wednesday 17 January 2018.

As rightly said in the letter, there was fraud in the registration of land at West Rennel to APID, Parcel Number  289-005-1.

The reasons are as follows:

  1. West Rennell Land is customary.  To acquire or purchase a customary land must follow the current customary usage of that land.  Rennell and Bellona customary land usage is heredity. It passes from person to person.  See Part XXVI of the Land and Titles Act (Cap. 133) Section 240, and I quote, “Subject to the provisions of this Act, every transaction or disposition of or affecting interests in customary land shall be made or effected according to the ‘Current Customary Usage Applicable to the Land Concerned’. 

  2. 87% of land in Solomon Islands are owned collectively by tribes or clans linked to the tribe.  In Melanesian islands rights to and interests in land are subject to traditional land tenure rules.  There is no concept of indefeasibility of title in relation to tribal land.  Within the tribal territory each tribal member has right of occupation and use.  The equivalent of what is known in the British land law as “title” is vested in the tribe as a collective.  Membership of the tribe by blood descent or by adoption gives a person the right to occupation and use.  Individuals only have title to and right over the products of their labour and efforts, such as houses, fruit trees and gardens.

    In the Polynesian islands of Rennell, Bellona, Ontong Java, Sikaiana and Tikopia, land use is more individualized than in Melanesia.  The size of land is small and most of it demarcated and allocated to individual families or groups.  The allocations are made on the bases of tribal connections and linkages.

  3. In accordance to Part V, Section 62 of the Land and Titles Act, when acquiring a customary land the Acquisition Officer shall:-

    (a)    Cause the boundaries of the land to be demarcated on the ground or upon a map or plan in such manner as to bring them to the notice of the persons affected.  In the case of P/N 289-005-1, West Rennell,  the Acquisition Officer, Penrose Palmer did not produce any map or plan to the land owners, to see which of their lands affected by the acquisition, etc.

    (b)    Make a written agreement for the purchase or lease of the land required with the persons who purported to be the owners or with the duly authorized representative of such owners.  Penrose Palmer failed to use the current customary usage applicable to Rennell, by involving all individual or groups landowners.  Instead he used the land usage of trustees only applicable to Melanesian culture, where land ownership vested on tribe collectively.

    (c)    Section 63 – required the Acquisition Officer to publish in such a manner as he consider to be adequate  or most effective for the purpose of bring it to the attention of all persons affected thereby notice:

    (1)              of the agreement made under section 62 (b);

    (2)              of the arrangements made for a public hearing by him in the area to decide any claims:-

    Ø    That the vendors or lessors named in such agreement are not the owners; or

    Ø    That such vendors or lessors do not have the right to sell or lease the land and to received the purchase money or rent; and

    Ø    Requiring such vendors or lessors and the claimants if any, to attend. Penrose Palmer failed in this area because he did not publish or write any notice to  those who were affected by this acquisition, and this is fraud.

  4.  Penrose Palmer did not give adequate notice to persons affected, neither the public hearing conducted in areas demarcated for acquisition as required by the Land and Titles Act.    Instead Penrose Palmer held public hearing at Tigoa Station in West Rennell.   

    He knew that it was quite hard to hold public meetings in all the lands affected by the acquisition because those landowning groups or individual are many and scattered,  and land affected are inland and far apart.

    He knew that it was time consuming and he want short cut.   The public hearing he falsely made and produced a  report to the Commissioner  of Lands was held at Tigoa Station, and not at the areas demarcated for acquisition was fraud.  To produce a false report to the Commissioner of Lands to take a land is like stealing,  and stealing is an offence in accordance to Solomon Islands law. 

  5. The  customary land tenure  of trustees Penrose Palmer used  to acquire land of West Rennell only applicable to Melanesian culture,  where land ownership is through collectively by tribes and clans.  They may choose their chiefs, or anyone  as trustees to represent them in any acquisition of their land.

In  Rennell as a Polynesian culture,  landownership is  through heredity allocation to individual or groups.   Penrose Palmer should used the current customary land usage applicable to Rennell as Polynesian culture.

Which means all individual landowners and land owing groups must involve in the acquisition process.   Therefore to acquire land in Rennell or any Polynesian island for that matter, everyone who own land/s demarcating for acquisition must be involved in the acquisition process. 

Therefore  I would says, the land acquisition of Parcel Number 289-005-1 in West Rennell  by the Acquisition Officer, Penrose Palmer to APID   has been obtained by  fraud or mistake, and  can  be challenged  through legal means for rectification, see Section 229 of the Land and Titles Act.

Those land owners who are affected by the registration  of Parcel No. 289-005-1,  could use this section to challenge the validity of the registration.

Land tenure in Rennell is heredity, which means most individual person own piece of land/s through their parents or other relatives.

Therefore to acquire any land for company, commissioner of lands or individual,  must  follow the Current Customary Usage Applicable to the land concerned,  as spell out in Section 240 of the Lands and Titles Act.

The royalty payable to landowners  in regards to mining of bauxite mineral must  be paid  in accordance to the rate use for logging.

This is because bauxite mineral is at the top soil and down to the six feet own by land owners, just like log.  

The gold mineral rate cannot be used to pay bauxite  royalties because  gold  extracted  after the six feet down,  whereas bauxite are extracted from top soil down like log. 

Therefore,  the rate of royalties payment for bauxite should be same as the log rate.  The people of Renbel must not allow foreigners to exploit and cheat them from their resources.

It’s about time the government of the day should  change this land act,  so that  customary landowners could enjoy the benefit of their resources which foreigners  only enjoy.

This land act of six feet down own by landowners, while below owned by the state is a day light robbery which was enacted by British in the colonial era.

This act must be changed for the betterment of our customary landowners,  and Solomon Islands sovereignty.

D. Lavy