Heated debate over controversial bill to reopen public land claims

Heated debate over controversial bill to reopen public land claims

  22 Jul 2016

By: L.N. Reklai

A proposed bill, being deliberated in the Senate, if passed with no changes will have far reaching negative impacts according to most of the comments submitted to the Senate Committee on Judiciary and Governmental Affairs.

House bill 9-202-25S HD1 seeks to extend the life of Land Court which is set to expire this August and to allow dismissed land claims to be revived and new claims for public lands to be filed until October 31st , 2016. [restrict]

Possible negative impacts of reviving dismissed land claims and opening new claims cited include losses to those that have relied on the final court “adjudications” for land and have improved their leases or obtained loans or made contracts on their leases to have them re-opened for claims.

Lending institutions existing loan portfolio will be compromised and their ability to lend against state leases will be severely restricted and lending will be restricted only to customers who own lands.

States like Koror State government will lose its primary sources of revenue, tourism fees and lease rentals and the tourism industry can be affected.

Tenants or people holding State leases will be displaced or even be put into debt due to their leases being affected by re-opening of dismissed claims.

Legal mayhem will arise as legal objections are certainly to be raised by all affected people such as res judicata, issue preclusion, claim preclusion, due process violations and others.

The proposed bill further prohibits the current title holder, the public land authorities from becoming party to the claim and only those that file claims to be party to the case.

Koror State Governor Yositaka Adachi denied the statement that HOTL and the traditional leaders of Koror did not know or did not have time to make timely claims.  He stated that the claims for return of public lands have been going on since 1950s.

He further stated that members of HOTL and even High Chief Ibedul and Bilung Gloria Salii had filed many land claims before the deadline of January 1, 1989 and the argument that the traditional chiefs did not know is false.

Governor Adachi stated, “The negative consequences of the proposed new law would far outweigh any limited public interest in reopening claims for the benefit of the few.”

In a letter from Kerngab, a traditional female leaders group of Koror, signed by the highest female chief of Koror Bilung Gloria Salii, it states that the people of Koror have lost their land, their rock islands, their sea, their taro patches, and control of their State because of what took place without their knowledge and limited time to claim what was theirs and asks that they be allowed the right to get back what is rightfully theirs.  The letter supports the proposal to revive dismissed land claims and file new land claims.  The letter had 700 signatures of people from Koror supporting the request.

The same concern is stated by the letter from House of Traditional Leaders of Koror, represented by all the Chiefs of Koror to the Senate JGA Committee.

Comments opposing the revival of dismissed claims and opening new land claims for public lands came from Koror State Government, Koror State Public Land Authority, National Development Bank of Palau,  and the Office of the Attorney General.

Other comments received that noted possible negative effects but did not make recommendation were Bureau of Land and Survey and Land Court.  Palau Supreme Court commented only by correcting a stated role within the draft bill.

“Land Court may die because I don’t think this bill can pass,” stated Senator Uduch Sengebau-Senior.  “Senate sent a clean bill with only the land court extension but House send back their version with the amendment to re-open claims for dismissed land claims,” added Senior. [/restrict]