THE National Court has quashed a decision by the National Lands Board and the Minister for Lands in awarding a company, Vitroplant,three agriculture leases to plant palm oil on Woodlark Island.
The decision by the Lands Board and the Minister was quashed after another company Woodlark Mining challenged the decision on the basis that it also has three exploration licenses over the same land in question.Woodlark Mining has been conducting mineral exploration on Woodlark Island, Milne Bay Province since 1980, and it continues to hold three (3) exploration licenses, i.e EL1279, EL1465 and EL1172. The other company Vitroplant is a company incorporated in Papua New Guinea, Vitroplant applied for three agricultural leases to plant oil palm on Woodlark Island.
In May 9 2007, the then Minister for Lands and Physical Planning, the Dr Puka Temu, granted Vitroplant the three agricultural leases. Vitroplant had proposed to plant oil palm on 60,000 hectares of the Woodlark Island. The agricultural leases encompass all that land which Woodlark Mining was holding exploration license for on Woodlark Island. The agricultural lease was issued despite Woodlark Mining holding exploration licenses for the Island. Woodlark Mining had submitted that it had exploration licences for the land and therefore, the land was not available for leasing by the State and as such the leases should be set aside.
Deputy Chief Justice Gibbs Salika who presided over the matter in his decision stated
“I have no doubt in my mind that, had the Department done a due diligence check on the subject land it would have found that the land already had mining exploration licenses over it, that is at least EL1279 and EL1172.
In granting Woodlark Minings Judicial Review application he said
“The plaintiff in my opinion did have substantial interest in the subject land and ought to have been informed or notified of what was going on especially notification of the meeting to consider Vitroplants application for Agricultural lease.
“In this case the plaintiff made the submission that it had pre-existing mining exploration tenement over the same subject land. Therefore the land was not available for leasing. The Land Board fell into error in not according or granting any opportunity to the plaintiff to be heard and secondly as a result of the failure fell into error in granting the Agricultural Leases.”