Court orders leased land back to owners

Source: Post Courier

The National Court has declared two special agriculture and business leases (SABL) covering 38,350 hectares of land in the Oro Province null and void and has ordered the Sate to cancel the title deeds.

The orders declaring the two leases null and void were through consent drawn up by the disputing parties and endorsed by the court.

The cancellation of the SABL titles has been described by the customary landowners as a victory for them and a case in point for other landowners throughout the country whose land may have been illegally given away in the guise of SABL to seek the courts’ intervention.

The land in question is part of the customary territory of nine indigenous tribes who rely on the natural landscape of the region as the basis for their economy and subsistence livelihoods.

Most of the land in question is pristine tropical forest containing extremely high levels of biological diversity.

According to the customary landowners, the SABL titles were issued on traditional land portions 113 and 143 in Collingwood Bay in Tufi, Oro Province, covering a land mass of 41,000 hectares.

Collingwood Bay holds many species of fauna and flora, with pristine and virgin forest, where fresh water is as pure as gold.

Under gazettal number G273 dated Friday, 27 July 2012; John Ofoi, the Acting Secretary for Lands Department, issued a 50 year SABL lease to Sibo Management Limited over Portion 113c . In the same Gazettal Notice, Mr Ofoi also granted a 50-year SABL lease to Wanigela Agro Industrial Limited for portion 143.

The two lands were then sub leased to ANG Agro Forest Management Ltd under the SABL. ANG Agro placed these assets under a company called Collingwood Plantations Pty Ltd and sold 51 per cent of the company to KLK for $US8.66 million. By KLK acquiring 51 percent of the company, it officially became the subsidiary of KLK.

The landowners initiated the court proceedings by way of a judicial review.

The application for leave was granted in December 2012 to pursue the case. The review was to determine whether proper procedures were followed pursuant to the Land Act to issue these titles.

The landowners were supported by Oro Governor Garry Juffa who also joined the court proceeding as the third plaintiff