I read Mr. McNeil’s response to an article you wrote on him ‘Is McNeil on his way out’ with great interest but sadly I didn’t have the chance to take a glimpse of this article.
Sure, he is quite efficient in his work by keeping that scope of duties and responsibilities in check but I must say that Mr. McNeil has a dark side to him and is not at all that perfect public servant he claims he is.
What I’m about to provide you will leave him gasping for breath.
Allow me to walk you through a brief background on the history of our case or rather prior and subsequent to Mr. McNeil’s appointment as Commissioner of Lands;
In 2012, a Grant of Profit over five (5) lands parcel in Lot 3 of LR395/2 Noro, Western Province were issued to this company for a term of 10 yrs until late 2014, we received a letter from the Registrar of Titles with instructions from then COL (Commissioner of Lands) Nesta Maelanga that this Grant of Profits has been canceled for rather feeble and ulterior reasons.
Early 2015, resentful of being mistreated, we filed legal proceedings against the COL and Registrar of Titles for the unjustified and unfair cancellation of the Grant of Profit hence High Court Civil Case 169 of 2015 came to being.
Late 2015, the first Consent Order was issued following a ruling in our favor stipulating that in lieu of damages for losses, the Government (COL & ROT) is ordered to facilitate the transfer of 5 land parcels in the Grant of Profit forthwith to this company.
Of the first Order dated 11-12-15, only one land parcel (PN.098-016-1) was transferred a year later on 2-12-16. In 2017, three (3) land parcels were transferred at various dates and at the end of it the original order has to be varied because the Ministry opted to ignore the court order then continuously subdivided and offered land parcels to third parties.
The second Order came to being on 27-12-17 and in early 2018 another three land parcels were duly transferred to this company.
On 16-5-18, a third Order was issued amid the Ministry’s continuous subdivision and offer of land parcels to third parties. These subdivisions as anyone can figure out tantamount to Contempt of Court.
By now, from the original 5 land parcels in the first Order, only 1 land parcel remained as it was whilst the other 4 land parcels were subdivided and superseded to create an additional 15 new land parcels including two parcels transferred to a third party.
Of the 15 land parcels depicted in the last Order of 2018, only 7 parcels were transferred to this company since 2016. These 7 parcels were subsequently submitted to Western Province Planning Development Board for subdivision approvals at various dates in 2018. The other 7 parcels remain outstanding. Late 2018, Mr. McNeil was appointed Acting COL.
Following the subdivision applications to WPPDB, numerous follow up letters and emails were sent to the board, but to no avail. Part of these emails in 2019, Mr. McNeil stressed the following ‘’ As far as I am aware, this is still an outstanding matter between the lawyers for Pari and SIG, and in the meantime nothing can or should be done on these parcels, and WP Planning and Development Board can quite rightly hold off on any permits over these parcels. If the Board were to approve the subdivisions, it would need to come to me for consent under s.140 LTA and I would likewise not consent while there is an outstanding legal matter.’’
For the most part of 2019, either party made attempts to communicate or create dialogue on the outstanding lands that are yet to be transferred.
In early 2020, in his attempt to resolve the issue, the COL (Acting) wrote a memo to his legal counsel about his view on the case and his desire to re-draft and tailor the Order to his interest. Of course, the proposal was rebuffed by this company. We still have a copy of the letter. Putting to perspective, Mr. McNeil despises indigenous companies that are struggling to achieve commercial success hence contributing to the development of the national economy.
For most part of 2020, evidence of a standoff was obvious as the COL attempted to convince us in agreeing to his terms of a proposed Order which he thinks should finally resolve the matter. We simply wanted the COL to comply with the Order of 2018 and transfer the remaining land parcels in the Order. It was as simple as that.
In December 2020, the WPPDB approved 3 of the 7 subdivision applications we submitted.
On April 4 2021, probably tired of our unresponsiveness to his proposed Consent Order, the COL took the drastic step of publishing a Notice before Forfeiture over the 7 land parcels transferred to this company giving us a month to appeal the Notice.
We responded by appealing for extension and variation on this notice but he declined the appeal based on the grounds that we have breached certain provisions in the grants of these titles.
In this period, he insisted we establish dialogue in the absence of our legal counsels with the primary aim of resolving the issue once and for all. In this discussion we agreed in principle over many areas that I noted were depicted in your last article. We agreed that the points in our discussions will be incorporated into a final Order. But again, the COL grew impatient with our inaction and decided to Re-enter these lands. These negotiations collapsed. We initiated court proceedings against the COL over these forfeitures in HCC 318 of 2021.
In May 2021, we filed a complaint of perjury in relation to a false statement made by the COL while under oath to RSIP. We also made copies of the same to the office of the Public Service Commission. The Commissioner of PSC has informed PS of the Ministry of Lands about the case which both prefer to wait for the outcome from CID of RSIP and the office of the DPP. So far, DPP has given the green light for an arrest warrant which is now before CID. CID will execute the warrant any time soon hence the COL will be suspended on the spot.
At the end of June 2021, the COL finally decided to comply with the Order in HCC 169 of 2015 and offered the remaining land parcels but with the imposition of fees including premiums, rentals etc equivalent to about SBD1.04M. His actions of course were in contradiction to the standing Order of 2018. We rejected his offer and we are now pushing for the COL to fully comply with the Order of 2018 regardless of other conditions he wish to impose.
At present we are anticipating fruitful endings to these court cases by mid-2022.
In brief, the COL tends to think that we are nothing more than land speculators without realizing that we have plans for these lands through a Township Development Plan that includes working alongside investors through genuine and sound partnership arrangements.
He has forgotten that these lands were bought by the British Protectorate for a mere 25 Pounds and an axe and that past and present Governments have often promoted policies of returning Government alienated lands to their original owners.
By DONALD BATO
Pari Development Company