O’Neill promises to look into islands’ sale

National, Normal

The National, Friday 14th of February, 2014

By John Zauya
Prime Minister Peter O’Neill says a decision on the sale of the Conflict group of islands will be made once he has received legal advice on the matter.
O’Neill said the matter was being looked at by him and the Milne Bay provincial government and would be deliberated on once proper legal advice was given.
It follows an appeal by the Linawia Sisilili clan of Panaeati, Misima’s chairman Daniel Duncan, asking the government to look into the matter and possibly buy and return ownership to the islanders.
Duncan said the 22 islands’ ownership had changed hands since 1896, with the original title of the islands being a state lease granted by Sir William Macgregor, the then Australian governor of the New Guinea protectorate to Sir Henry Alexander Wickham, a pioneer planter and adventurer after the administration was given to Australia in 1906.
“The lease granted by Macgregor to Wickham was a state lease for sponge farming and coconut planting,” he said.
Duncan said having changed hands several times, the title was eventually bought by Australian-born pharmaceutical and mining magnate Ian Gowrie Smith from Honolulu, Hawaii, residents Lu and Marry Anne Nevels in June 2003 for US$25 million (K63.6 million).
Duncan said the battle to regain ownership of their traditional birthright had taken them decades, with appeals to different governments having no positive outcome.
He said in 2006 the title to the islands was declared by the Lands Department Register of Titles in an advertisement in the print media that the copy was lost.
Duncan appealed to the government to correct the past mistakes and return the islands to them.