We helped pay for that land – State

WhatsApp Image 2023-01-24 at 3.56.11 PM
WhatsApp Image 2023-01-24 at 3.56.11 PM

In the continuing legal tussle between government and Bamalete over Forest Hill 9-KO farm, the state has now revealed that it is entitled to the land because it helped settle the remaining debt when the tribe could not.

Forest Hill 9KO farm dates back to 1925 when Balete bought the farm for investment purposes. Then the tribe contributed to raising the 3,000 Sterling Pounds required to purchase the land from Aaron Siew. Appearing before the Court of Appeal (CoA) bench yesterday state counsel Advocate Sydney Pilane said Balete failed to pay the original owners of the land outstanding balance and that is when the government stepped in. Pilane said the government had paid part of the loan therefore it is entitled to the land.

The state is appealing last year’s High Court decision that the land belongs to Balete. “The tribe was unable to settle the remaining arrears therefore it asked the government to settle the debt. Government has stake in the land,” Pilane said in his submissions at the CoA yesterday.

He also argued that the government has a stake in the ownership because it took over the payment of arrears and did something that the tribe at the time could not. Pilane however revealed that this was not a loan and therefore there were no terms of payment. “It was neither an expropriation nor acquisition. It was a change of trustees from the chief to the landboard. Balete are not losing this land, they will just have different trustees,” he said. Pilane further argued that by taking the land, the government through Malete Landboard will allocate part of the land primarily to Balete tribe.

For his part Balete lawyer Geoff Budlender said what the government did when they took over the land was a compulsory acquisition of land and there was no consent from the tribe. He said the government did it without without the willing consent of its owner. "Balete were left with no legal right for their land. It was a freehold land owned by the tribe. The tribe asserted its ownership rights leading to loss of ownership,"he said.

Judgement on the matter will be delivered on February 17.

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