- NDBP loan freeze due to propose bill to re-open land claim
By: L.N. Reklai
(Palau) Palau Land Court, once again, is in danger of shutting down this Thursday, August 11, 2016 and NDBP freezes home loans, all due to a controversial proposed bill to re-open public land claims.
A House bill 9-202-25S,HD1 proposes to remove altogether the term limit for Land Court and change the date for filing claims to public lands from January 1, 1989 to October 31, 2016, 27 years after the original deadline to file claims have passed.
Senate bill 9-188, also proposes to amend 35 PNC Section 1304 to remove the term limitation for Land Court. The bill passed the Senate and is in the House. Both houses seemed locked in their positions. HOD is insisting on amending deadline for filing of public land claims and re-opening public land claims while the Senate opposes it.
The controversy has had an immediate effect on banks, especially Palau National Development Bank, which recently advised approved applicants for home loans that they will not be issuing loans for homes to be built on public lands until this issue is resolved clearly.
Families that have gone through a long and expensive process of applying for a home loan, are now stuck with no specific answer as to when and if, they will finally get a home.
“It is very high risk now for the Bank not knowing how this (proposal to re-open public land) would go. The effect if this bill becomes law, would be devastating to the Bank, not to mention the homeowners and business owners whose houses and buildings are on public lands,” responded NDBP Board member to an inquiry from an approved applicant who was advised that they will not be getting their loan until OEK settles the issue.
The controversy of re-opening public land claims had been undergoing debate since it was introduced in February in the House of Delegate by Koror State Delegate Alexander Merep. Most adamant supporters of the bill are the Traditional Leaders of Koror State and members of the House of Delegates.
Countering the supporters are Koror State Government, Koror State Public Land Authorities, and financial institutions as well as some members of the public.
Council of Chiefs in their letter addressed to Senator Uduch Senior of July 29, 2016 on House bill 9-202, note their concerns with re-opening public land claims. “although some of us advocate having legitimate claims to public lands heard, we are troubled by what appears to be an attempt to re-open for re-determination of ownership of land already determined to remain public lands and are being held in trust and administered by the various public lands…” stated the letter from the Council of Chiefs. The letter further noted the Council of Chiefs concerns for people who have recently been displaced in Koror due to return of their leases to original land owners. The 5 page letter cited 5 concerns with the proposal to re-open public land claims and urges Senate JGA Committee to just passed the amendment to extend life of Land Court but study further the proposed impacts of re-opening claims.
In a recent letter of August 4, 2016, the same Council of Chiefs took back their earlier recommendations a 2-page letter stating, “we hereby amend our comments as set for in our July 29, 2016 letter and we support the House bill 9-202-25S, HD1.”
The letter further urged Senate JGA Committee to go ahead and pass the bill and later make additional amendments if so needed.
“I don’t know what happened but I will take the Council of Chiefs’ advice of July 29, 2016 because it looked very well thought out,” responded Senator Senior to the inquiry about the two conflicting advises.
Closure of Land Court will mean that there will be no more determination of land ownership, among other land related matters.
In February 11, 2016, through RPPL 9-56, the term for Land Court was extended to August 11 of this year. The issue that nearly caused the closure of Land Court then is the same one now, a proposal to re-open public land claims by amending the original date of filing claims to public land from January 1, 1989 to October 31, 2016.[/restrict]