Land Matters with Allan Mcneil- Applying for land

Commissioner of Lands Alan McNeil
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By ALAN MCNEIL, Commissioner of Lands

Today I’d like to tackle a subject that everyone is interested in. How do you apply for land?

First though, it’s important to consider the role and responsibility of the Ministry of Lands.

In my view, there has been a fundamental misconception in how the public perceives the Ministry and what it is there to do.

While the Ministry has divisions that administer land-related professions such as surveying, valuation and physical planning, there are also land administration units that manage land dealings over government-owned land.

Our land administration units do not deal with other people’s Perpetual Estates, only government-owned Perpetual Estates.

I don’t have an exact figure on how much land in Solomon Islands is in the perpetual ownership of the government, although seeing as around 20 per cent of the country’s land area is registered, it is certainly less than 20 per cent.

A lot of registered land is in the perpetual ownership of Solomon Islanders, and if we take a rough estimate that half of all registered land is owned by government and half is owned by Solomon Islanders, it means that about 10 per cent of the total land area of the country is in the perpetual ownership of the government.

In other countries around the world, if you want to buy or sell land, you visit a real estate agent.

The agent will have a portfolio of land parcels that people want to sell, and will then match these up to people who want to buy land.

This is how it works in a free market economy, so that people who no longer have a need for their land can sell it, and people who have an interest in buying land will have a range of parcels to choose from.

In these countries, it is unthinkable to ask the government for any spare land.

It is possible that there could be schemes in other countries to buy public housing units or buy land in a properly planned land subdivision if and when the government has surplus land somewhere, but it is inconceivable that the government would be faced with random applications for land all over the country, and even more inconceivable that the government might actually consider such applications when it hasn’t even said the land is available for sale.

That however is the situation in Solomon Islands, and the Ministry of Lands has unfortunately been perceived for decades as being like a real estate agent, where all and any government land is potentially up for grabs at prices far below the commercial market price, if you know how to work your way through the system.

This perception must change. The government only holds about 10 per cent of the land area of the country, and much of it is already allocated with Fixed Term Estates meaning the government can’t use those areas for any future government purposes.

Whatever is left is mostly just roads and government buildings and if there’s anything else left over, everyone is scrambling to get it, and calling it “waste land”.

So much of Honiara and the surrounding areas in Guadalcanal Province have already been given out as Fixed Term Estates to the point where the government has nothing left for essential services such as clinics and schools.

If there had been a strict physical planning and land administration regime decades ago, we could have preserved land for public needs, such as playing fields in every neighbourhood, but those opportunities were lost long ago, and squatters have hindered any efforts to preserve public spaces.

So, getting back to the question: how do you apply for land?

I suggest you visit a real estate agent to see what land they have available for sale.

 In Solomon Islands it’s common to find land for sale on Facebook as well, but buyers beware of conmen who don’t actually own the registered land titles.

If and when the government has surplus land available, the Land Board will likely require it to be advertised for public tenders, and it’s then (and only then) that you should apply.

The Ministry has also been facilitating the upgrading of Honiara’s informal settlements, in which case the occupiers of these areas should not apply, but instead they should wait until such time as the whole area has been properly planned out and subdivided.