The Solomon Islands Government has had a significant win in the Court of Appeal against an unlawful land allocation next to Honiara International Airport. The Court’s judgement of 28th April 2023 dismisses a claim brought by former Fixed Term Estate holders Huang Xiaoli and Lau Lihwei against a High Court ruling which had made orders against them and in favour of the Commissioner of Lands. Those orders, now upheld by the Court of Appeal, are that the Fixed Term Estates over Parcels 192-004-1629, 192-004-1631 and 192-004-1651 be rectified (struck out) in favour of the Commissioner of Lands based on evidence of fraud involved in the land allocation.
Commenting on the judgement, Commissioner of Lands Alan McNeil called it a victory against corrupt land dealings that used to plague the Ministry of Lands. “I initiated this case in 2018 shortly after being appointed to the role of Commissioner, when I noticed construction underway at a site adjacent to the airport runway fence, and I researched the paperwork that led to the land allocation”, Commissioner McNeil explained, adding that “I then discovered what appeared to be irrefutable proof that some documents had been deliberately marked with false dates prior to the commencement of the Land Board on first of December 2014, in an apparently deliberate effort to bypass the Board and allow the allocation to be registered in October 2015 without the Board being aware”.
Commissioner McNeil then went on to explain that the commencement of the Land Board had effectively stripped the powers of land allocation from the Commissioner of Lands from that date onwards, which confounded the previous process whereby people could obtain land titles directly from one person or a network of officers. “From first of December 2014 onwards, all land applications suddenly had to be scrutinised by a Land Board comprising people who were not part of those established networks, and obviously that became too problematic for some proposed land allocations, and so in some cases applicants and officers colluded to fraudulently backdate correspondence to make it look as though land allocations had been received, assessed and approved prior to the commencement of the Land Board, and they could attempt to justify bypassing the Land Board by saying such approvals were ‘saved’ by the 2014 amendments to the Land and Titles Act and could be carried through to registration without the Board needing to know” Mr McNeil explained.
The former Fixed Term Estate holders had constructed the framework of a two-storey commercial building by the time of the court cases, at a site past Don Bosco at a road junction and not far from the communication towers. As the land register is now ordered to be rectified, the Fixed Term Estates will be struck from the register and the land will be owned solely by the Commissioner of Lands for the Solomon Islands Government.
Summing up the judgement, Mr McNeil said “this serves as a lesson to anyone thinking of trying to corrupt the land allocation process – think again because you will not succeed. This has been a five year battle, to take back land for the government that should never have been allocated in the first place”. McNeil said he is happy that fraudulent backdating stopped completely now, and all land dealings that are yet to be registered are reported to the Land Board for scrutiny now.