Court finds fraud in issuing of SABL leases
The National Court has ruled another two Special Agriculture and Business Leases issued by the Department of Lands unlawful.
The judge found there was “a clear indication or suggestion of dubious, reckless or corrupt dealings or actions by the Defendants” – The Department of Lands and the Minister, Puka Temu.
There have now been at least seven reported cases in which the courts have found the Department of Lands failed to follow proper process in the issuing of SABL leases and have declared the leases null and void.
In this latest case customary landowners in East New Britain challenged the decision of the Minister for Lands to grant two SABL leases over their traditional land at Giregire in 2004.
The Court found the Department of Lands and the Minister failed to follow the provisions of Sections 10, 11 and 102 of the Lands Act in granting the leases and made “fundamental” and “serious” errors.
In particular, there was no evidence of any agreement between the Minister and the landholders as to the terms and conditions on which the land would be leased and no evidence the Minister had even discharged his duty to meet with the landholders to ascertain their views!
The court found the Department and Minister acted contrary to Sections 11 and 102 of the Land Act as no lease was ever signed by the legitimate landowners. The court also found the decision to grant the leases was in direct breach of Sections 11 and 102 and against natural justice as the proper landowners were never ascertained.
The court then went even further and said the whole circumstances of the case were so unsatisfactory, irregular and unlawful, the grant of the SABL leases was tantamount to fraud. Indeed, the judge said the there was “a clear indication or suggestion of dubious, reckless or corrupt dealings or actions by the Defendants” [The Departamnet of Lands and the Minister, Puka Temu]
The court quashed the decisions of the Department of Lands and the Minister to grant the SABL leases.