We agree with much of Joel Simo’s useful news article published in the Sydney Morning Herald last week (available here). However, whilst we know and have respect for Joel Simo, and accept that leases have been inappropriately drafted in Vanuatu, we remain of the view that appropriately drafted leases are part of the solution as well (see our guidance on leaseholds). This view is not shared by the Melanesian Indigenous Land Defence Alliance (MILDA) – but hope that they will come to realise that leases are the only way that surplus customary land can be accessed and made economically productive by third parties. What is important is ensuring that the leases are at commercial rents (as opposed to unimproved capital value), regularly reviewed, have an appropriate duration (for the customary landowners), and any improvements should be returned with the land to the customary landowners at lease expiry (or renewal) in good and tenantable repair. The problem, as we see it, is that historically in the Pacific leases have been drafted to benefit external investors and colonial interests rather than the customary landowners.
It is time to reverse this trend.