BY AARON LYNTON FILIA
THE Australian Government is providing technical assistance through the Pacific Community (SPC) to improve service delivery and reform laws in the Ministry of Lands, Housing and Survey.
In a presentation for business owners in the recent Australia Solomon Islands Business Forum in Australia, Acting Commissioner of Lands, Alan McNeil and Assistant Commissioner of Lands Lizzie Tegu took the chance to highlight some of the land issues investors might face in Solomon Islands.
In their presentation, McNeil also talked about the customary land system and how to deal with it.
McNeil said in terms of dealing with customary land, the only legal way to convert unregistered customary land to registered land is through land acquisition by national or provincial government; or customary land recording and registration.
“The land acquisition process has been used as a method for investors and purported customary landowners to collude to get customary land registered then leased to the investors,” he said.
He said it unlawful if the land is not acquired by the government first, before being passed to investors.
With that he also highlighted the issue of ownership below the high watermark.
McNeil mentioned that below high water mark is assumed to be customary and the same rules for customary land apply.
Assistant Commissioner of Lands Lizzie Tegu said, “In relation to registered land, foreign persons or companies can own land for a maximum of 75 years under the law.
“These can be either Fixed Term Estates granted by the Commissioner of Lands or leases granted by any other perpetual estate (freehold) land owner.
“All FTEs are now 75 years. All private land in Honiara is held as FTE. There is no automatic renewal of these FTEs when they expire. You need to apply for a new grant and pay for the land again.”
Moreover, FTEs are subject to an initial “premium” price for the land calculated as 10 percent of the unimproved capital value, and annual land rental of 10 percent of the premium.
Fixed Term Estate owners must abide by the conditions of their grant, and develop the land otherwise land can be forfeited back by government.
Tegu said planning Schemes are relatively new to Solomon Islands, and there are now schemes for Honiara, Gizo and Auki to guide and control development.
Traditionally, land subdivisions have been ad-hoc, she said.
McNeil, having taken on the role of acting Commissioner of Lands two months ago, is aiming to introduce reform, transparency and improved processing in land dealings, in what has frequently been dubbed as one of the most corrupt Ministries in the country.
His presentation at the Australia Solomon Islands Business Forum was aimed at improving business and investor confidence in Solomon Islands.
He has assisted the passage of six Bills through Parliament, including most recently the Strata Titles Bill in August this year.