A major crackdown on alleged illegal land dealings in the offing
A major crackdown on alleged illegal land dealings in Honiara is in the offing, the Commissioner of Lands, Alan McNeil, revealed on Tuesday.
The proposed crackdown could result in forfeitures of public land, which were granted years ago to large companies and individuals but remain undeveloped for decades.
Commissioner McNeil revealed this in an exclusive interview with Solomon Star yesterday.
The move on alleged illegal land dealings in Honiara is designed initially to trap members of what Mr. McNeil described as the “land hunters’ network” with suspected links to government officials in both the Commissioner’s Office as well as the Office of the Registrar of Titles.
Mr. McNeil gave the following description of how the land hunters’ network operates.
“What members of the group do is they move about town in search of vacant land parcels in Honiara. They then ask government officers about the status of the land, requesting that the title be forfeited and given to them.
“This is often without the knowledge of titleholders. The group has secured the title, they then offer for sale the title(s) to unsuspecting private companies,” he said.
It is understood preliminary discussions between the Offices of the Commissioner of Lands and the Registrar of Titles have begun in a bid to close off loopholes which have allowed the land hunters to operate freely until now.
The Commissioner has insisted that staff of both Offices sign a declaration to abide by the Directions given by the Commissioner about a month ago. The directions require cross-checking of entry in the title transfers in the Commissioner’s Spreadsheet with the record kept by the Office of the Registrar of Titles.
“Once there’s a mismatch in the entry, then it is easy to track down who the officer is,” Mr. McNeil said.
The move by the Commissioner of Lands could also result in forfeitures of large tracts of land, which were “sold” to major businesses that have failed to develop their grants for many, many years.
“Under a standard clause in the Lands and Titles Act, grantees are required to develop their land within 18 to 36 months. It all depends on the type of grant conditions given at the time,” Commissioner McNeil said.
“I guess there will be a lot of litigations. But we will not rush into things until we have established the bona fides of each grant and whether they have been paying the annual land rentals.
“Annual land rentals are mandatory,” he said.
“Those in breach of the conditions of their grants will have to have good reasons why they have not developed the huge parcels of land given to them in the first place.
“I don’t think any excuses relating to COVID-19 would stick, because many large businesses, in particular, have held on to their titles for many, many years without any development,” he said.
By Alfred Sasako