Speaking on behalf of a committee that is representing the landowners of Puoromea Section S49D, Doreen Boggs, Tua Pittman and Lester Papera expressed their disappointment that neither TCI nor the Government had consulted them on the Digicel sale and what the implications are for the use of the land that houses Telecom buildings in Parekura – as they have both known for the past three years of the landowners’ views on the usage of their land.
“This has been particularly frustrating for us as we have been in a legal standoff for three years with both Telecom Cook Islands and the Government over our claim for entitlements under Section 106a of the Property Law Amendment,” said Boggs.
“The current situation, as we understand it, is that TCI have been operating on our land all these years without a lease on the property. Instead they have been operating under some form of license from Government to use the land. Government has the lease on this land,” said Boggs.
“This is something totally new and unheard of for the landowners.”
The Government as the leaseholder have an obligation to deal with landowners together with TCI claimed Boggs.
She further questioned the nature of the licence arrangement between Government and TCI which was made in 1992.
In her view, this licence was highly unusual and questioned why Government had not entered into a sublease with TCI in 1992 when records suggested there was an agreement that the two parties would do so but, for some unknown reason, instead of completing signing over of the sublease, everything came to a halt.
“But today, as we can all see, TCI is able to utilise the said land based on a licence agreement between the Government and TCI.”
When it came to rental review, landowners had to deal with Telecom through costly lawyers. Telecom refused to sit down and to talk with landowners about a fair rental review and their only option was to fight any extra dollars being paid to the landowners.
“So sad for such a profitable business having no respect and consideration for the land they operate on. They would rather spend thousands on legal fees than give landowners an extra dollar. Up to date, they’ve been happy to say they’e only tenants yet they acquired 60% of the value of the Telecom business and all assets upon purchasing them from Government.Surely, whether the assignment of the property was completed or not, the confirmation was there from day one?”
Boggs said it was very disturbing to hear the Minister responsible for Telecommunications, Mark Brown say in Parliament last week that the interests of the landowners is a matter between them and Telecom Cook Islands.
She also questioned the comments in Parliament from Minister Brown that Government is ready to assist landowners on their land issues with Telecom Cook Islands, because this is exactly what our families have been trying to do for the last three years, and it is still unresolved.
“It has cost my family thousands in legal fees to get answers to the questions we have sought so that we can understand what our rights are as the landowners,” said Boggs.
“We shouldn’t have been forced to go through this expensive legal exercise; they should have given us answers from the beginning when we asked of them, and instead they ignored us.
“There is no truth in this Government statement, that they are here to help our people, we are finding that out the hard way. I will be making an appointment to see the Minister as early as possible to seek more answers from Government,” she said; “hopefully he will do the right thing.”
To date, it has cost the landowners over $20,000 in legal fees over the last three years in trying to get TCI and, by extension, the Cook Islands Government to acknowledge that they have a responsibility under section 106a of the Property Law Amendment to negotiate with landowners. TCI have not acknowledged this responsibility said Boggs.
“This long and frustrating process has been a very and still is costly one for my family, the landowners,” said Boggs.
"We are seeking legal advice on what our options are in light of the sale to Digicel,” said Boggs. “Our concern at the moment is that Telecom New Zealand is selling up and leaving our shores with their $23 million and we, the landowners, have not realised any benefits under the current law.
“We are not against any sale to Digicel but we do believe in our rights as landowners and intend to pursue this very strongly. We must also ensure that our rights as landowners are protected should Digicel go ahead with the purchase.”
Boggs said there are a lot of questions that need to be answered concerning this deal between TNZ, Digicel and Government.
“To-date we the landowners have not been invited on any discussion; we have been completely left out in the cold.” - Statement