Lata airport faces indefinite closure as landowners demand $81m from Government

Lata airport in Temotu Province will face indefinite closure as of tomorrow as people who claimed to be landowners of the land where the airport is located are demanding $81 million from the government.

Lata airport from air. Photo courtesy of TV NZ

In an interview with SIBC news this afternoon, Secretary to the Landowners under the Melewi Noubembla Trust Board Association, Gordon Meaio said the government needs to settle this before the end of this month.

He said an assessment report on the valuation of the airport revealed that the government had owed them over 62 million, being for environmental damages and rental.

Mr. Meaio said it is a long-standing issue which the government has ignored for the past 51 years.

“We have to protest this way to put pressure on the government to address this long-standing issue. For the past 51 years, we have been ignored, derailed, and suppressed.

“An assessment report which was provided to us by the valuer from a valuation work on the airport totaled up to Sixty Two million one hundred and two thousand dollars ($62,106,000).

“That is for Environmental damages and rental since 1970,” Mr. Meaio said.

He reiterated that they will only open the airport once the amount is paid to them.

He also demanded the Perpetual Estate (PE) title from the government with an outright purchase of $19 million.

“We the landowners are willing to give the land to the government.

“But that will only happen if they could transfer the PE Title to us and as well, pay an outright purchase of $19 million and the total ownership will be transferred to the government.
“This means that they will pay a total of $81 million.

“But like I have said, they need to pay up our dues before the end of this month before we open up the airport,” Gordon Meaio said.

Several calls made to the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Communication and Aviation (MCA) Moses Virivolomo today went unanswered.

However, Mr Virivolomo has rejected the claim in the media, saying the airport is owned by the government and any closure is illegal.

Virivolomo stated that their record showed that the land was legally acquired from the landowners by the government.

“We see any closure as illegal and police are ready to act once that happens,” Virivolomo said.

But Mr Gordon Meaio also told SIBC News, a former Attorney General of Solomon Islands had told them in 2016 that there was an error in acquiring the land from the landowners by the British in the colonial days.

“The former AG (name withheld) told us that the registration of the land by the British during the colonial days was an error.

“When there is an error, it means that the whole registration issue is already messed up.

“So the airport will be closed as of tomorrow until the people decide to hold a dialogue with us. I won’t open it until they pay us our dues,” Mr. Meaio said.

by Simon Tavake

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