PACIFIC ISLANDS REPORT
Pacific Islands Development Program/East-West Center
VANUATU SCHOOL SITE LAND SALE RAISES CONCERNS
By Bob Makin
PORT VILA, Vanuatu (Vanuatu Daily Post, April 11, 2012) – The general public of Port Vila and Vanuatu has lost about 100 million vatu (or one million dollars) on the ministerial sale of Vila City College to North Ducos Limited. It is all comprised in one site at Korman, Second Lagoon, on the main road to Teouma.
This estimate of the loss to the Vanuatu government was made by independent real estate experts.
Lands Minister Stephen Kalsakau sold the block of 2.65 hectares of government land in December last year, allegedly to cover a private debt to the National Bank of Vanuatu which is anyway totally owned by the Government.
Custom owners and residents of the Second Lagoon are demanding a judicial inquiry into the whole matter at Korman, beginning with the manner in which the state land was mortgaged by the National Bank of Vanuatu and finally sold for just Vt51.3 million [US$ US$556,399], without public auction being held according to the regulations concerning disposal of public property.
The final sale was organized by ministerial arrangement between the purchasers and minister, consent and transfer all taking place at the same time. Land use was also changed to "commercial" at the same time, to give the purchaser the possibility of making the block anything he wanted with no need for an Environment Impact Assessment.
North Ducos Limited is a company of Messrs Loic Bernier, Jean-Pierre Ledoux, Romain Babey and Paul de Montgolfier.
Main road land, nearby, according to real estate experts, is likely to reach 15 million vatu when sold, although 19 million vatu [US$206,074] is being asked. The lease for Vila City College is over ten times bigger than that and might have been sold for somewhere between 150 million vatu [US$1.6 million] and 190 million vatu [US$2 million], instead of just over 51 million vatu.
The original debt was for the construction of a school which has until recently occupied part of the title and seen to the educational needs of many children. This debt was in the name of a private individual who was treated by the court as mortgagor, even though he never owned the land.
Officials of the present Ministry of Education ask how a debt of a private individual could have been allowed by the Bank, in the first place, over state-owned land reserved for special purposes. Never-the-less, it was so allowed by NBV.
Furthermore, the Supreme Court ordered the sale of the government land to re-pay that debt of that private individual to a wholly government owned institution, which raises further serious questions.
And when the Ministry of Education last year made known its interests to keep a school going at the site, when it was advertised for sale, government officials from Finance, the Prime Minister’s Office and Lands, all declared that it must be sold, even though Trade Minister Lini in September had promised the South Pacific Games Council the site would become the Games Village for the 2017 Pacific Games. Vanuatu won the bid to host those Games.
The school had been functioning as a secondary establishment until recent times and all its buildings were in good order. A large collection of books comprising the school library was destroyed. The buildings have now been bulldozed and the site laid waste.
One senior Education official said "it surprises me how the Minister of Lands and Lands Department officials have seen fit to compromise children’s education for foreign owned investment.
"Many children are still without a school place, and Education is looking for land to build new schools. Other ministries should be helping the Ministry of Education in this regard, rather than working against it and the Millennium Development Goals to which Vanuatu is committed."
The sale of the land to North Ducos Limited makes it unlikely the 2017 Pacific Games will now be held in Port Vila as Vila City College was to be the Games Village for the region’s main sporting event. This is much to the disappointment of VASANOC, the Vanuatu National Olympic Committee.
Custom owners and residents of the Second Lagoon, through their association, had hoped to have space at the Games site and village for marketing garden produce and food when the Games are held. This is unlikely to be possible with the removal of the Games Village and 2.65 hectares of land from the state owned property. If the games are still held in Vanuatu, various other places around town to accommodate the athletes will have to be found.
Custom owners and residents of the Second Lagoon area are seeking a judicial order to immediately stop work at the site and to hold a full inquiry into the events which have destroyed an excellent school in their neighborhood and sold the land to foreign interests at a bargain price.
One older resident was aghast at the Lands Minister’s position in the matter. That observer said it was important to note that the present Lands Minister, Minister Stephen Kalsakau, was giving away what the minister’s father had strongly argued to have returned to customary ownership - land. That person was referring to Dr. John Kalsakau’s firm stand on "return of native lands." Dr. John was the main advocate for native title in the New Hebrides’ Advisory Council, before Independence.
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