‘Forced’ sale of land for big projects

Tuesday 18 June 2019 | Written by Rashneel Kumar | Published in National

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‘Forced’ sale of land for big projects
Koutu Nui president Terea Mataiapo Paul Allsworth.

Landowners fear a return to colonial days of property confiscations.

Government can compulsorily purchase property if landowners refuse to hand it over, under a new law.

Traditional leaders worry Cook Islands are heading back to the old practice where government took land by “force”.

During the consultation process, said Koutu Nui president Terea Mataiapo Paul Allsworth, the leaders had opposed the sections of the new Infrastructure Bill that allowed the government to take land by warrant.

But the bill has been passed by Parliament with support from both sides of the House.

It comes after problems getting land access for big projects like Te Mato Vai. This led to delays in the multi-million dollar project to provide potable water to Rarotonga residents.

The new law says agreement with landowners should be obtained, to acquire land for infrastructure purposes. But if agreement cannot be reached, the infrastructure manager may seek dispute resolution – and failing that, the manager can apply for a court warrant to compulsorily acquire the land.

The court can grant the infrastructure manager whatever right or interest in the land it is satisfied is appropriate and reasonable in the circumstances.

The court also has the power to direct the length of term and other conditions, as well as appropriate compensation.

Allsworth said they were not happy with the power vested in government.

“We are aware that if landowners don’t agree, the government can take the land by force so we are not happy with this,” he said. “The landowners were against the idea of taking land by warrant.

“It is better both parties agree on the term and conditions for land being acquired for infrastructure purposes rather than reaching a situation where the landowners may be disadvantaged.”