Sevev land trust board’s forfeiture of RIPEL FTEs on Russell “void and of no effect”: Attorney General

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By Alfred Sasako

THE Attorney General, James Apaniai, has dealt a heavy blow to Sevev Land Trust Board (SLTB), which claims it has forfeited all Fixed Term Estates (FTEs) on Russell Islands in Central Province.

“SLTB’s purported forfeiture is … invalid and of no effect”, Mr Apaniai said in an email dated 27 June 2018.

Island Sun has obtained a copy of the email, which apparently was in response to queries by government officials following a declaration by Sevev Land Trust Board that it has forfeited all FTEs on Russell.

Island Sun published the story last month.

In what it described as a “historical milestone”, Sevev Tribal Chief and Chairman of the Sevev Land Trust Board, Leslie Norris, confirmed the takeover to Island Sun at the time.

“We are finally in control. The people of Russell Islands and indeed Solomon Islands should be relieved that after 100 years of foreign ownership of the plantations on Russell, the Sevev Tribe has resolved the ownership issue,” Mr Norris said then.

He also said that his Board had resorted to the action because Lever Solomons Ltd failed to pay up its rentals for the entire Russell Islands Plantation Estates Ltd (RIPEL).

But in his email dated 27th June 2018, Attorney General Apaniai said:

“Section 139 of the Land and Titles Act provides for relief against forfeiture. It does not give power to forfeit FTEs,” Mr Apaniai said in his email, which was sent to a number of officials including Cabinet Secretary James Remobatu, Prime Minister’s Chief of Staff, John Usuramo, his predecessor Robson Tana Djokovic and a Mr Leonard Rotu.

“That relief is in respect of forfeiture by the Commissioner of Lands under section 136. Forfeiture under section 136 applies only to FTEs granted by the Commissioner of Lands. Section 138 makes it mandatory for the Commissioner of Lands to give notice to the FTE holder before forfeiting the FTE,” the Attorney General said.

“Section 12 of the Land and Titles (Amendment) Act 2014 only amends section 139(2) of the Land and Titles Act by reducing the six (6) months’ period within which any challenge to the forfeiture is to be made to 1 month only.

“Reading all these provisions together, it is clear that the position in regards to the actions by Sevev Land Trust Board (SLTB) is as follows:

[a]            the power of forfeiture under section 136 only applies to Grant of land given

by the Commissioner of Lands;

[b]            Section 139 does not give SLTB the power to forfeit land. That section gives a

person aggrieved by the forfeiture to apply to the High Court for remedy within six (6) months from the date of forfeiture;

[c]             Section 12 of the Land and Titles (Amendment) Act 2014 only reduces the six (6) months mentioned in (b) to one (1) month. It does not give power to forfeit FTEs; and

[d]            SLTB’s purported forfeiture is therefore invalid and of no effect, “the Attorney General said.

A tribal land owner said last week the Sevev group was never a land-owning tribe on Russell.

It is understood a recent meeting of the local tribal group has found the Sevev group was never part of the land owning tribal group on Russell.

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