Museum in the dark over land transfer

National, Normal

The National, Tuesday, April 26, 2011

THE National Museum and Arts Gallery said it was never consulted on the transfer of the title of land on which the first House of Assembly stands from the state to a private developer.
Museum acting director Dr Andrew Moutu said last week that “the deal was done without their knowledge”.
“The museum, as the rightful custodian, has been left in the dark as there was no dialogue between the museum and the Lands Department regarding the transfer.”
Moutu said the museum only became aware of the transfer of ownership when it made a submission to the national executive council to have the area fenced.
When the submission was made in 2008, there was already an earlier submission in 2007 by then Lands Minister Sir Puka Temu, which was approved by the NEC.
In the submission by Sir Puka, a private-public partnership was entered into by the state and a private developer, OPH Ltd, owned by the Constantinou Group of Companies.
“The museum has the record of ownership to this land for 99 years and that decision
was gazetted in 1998 and was made official by then Lands Minister Viviso Seravo,” Moutu said.
“I do not know how the 2007 NEC decision came into effect or whether that decision supersedes the 1998 decision that transferred the custodianship of the place to the museum.”
Culture and Tourism Minister Guma Wau vowed to bring the matter up with acting Prime Minister Sam Abal to have the decision revoked.
He said the site had great significance and should not be given away, adding that he would explore all avenues to revoke the decision and “if all else fails, he would take the matter to court”.
Meanwhile, Lands acting secretary Romily Kila-Pat maintained the land “was never sold to foreign interests, but only leased”.
An agreement was reached between the state and the developer so that the developer would build a replica of the building on one portion of the land and “take, as its reward, another potion adjacent to the building”. 
“There is nothing sinister about the project,” Kila-Pat said.
“Everything was done following due process.”