Agent’s actions misled Minister into approving land application, Land Court decides

The Minister of Land was misled into approving a grant of land, the Lands Court has decided.

The case involved a block of land  at  Pea,  part  of  the  Lavaka  estate. It was  granted  to Viliami Fonise Havelu on January  13, 2014.

In his report on the case, Mr Justice Scott said that the agent representing the land’s Estate Holder, Fīnau Hūfanga, had prevented another application for the land reaching the Minister of Land.

He described this as an unacceptable  departure  from  the  statutory   procedure  for  applying for  an allotment.

The case was held before Mr Justice Scott and Mr Assessor S. Toumo’ ua earlier this month.

The plaintiff in the case, Robert Mervyn George Makaui, claimed the land  was unavailable for granting to Havelu because it was already lawfully occupied on his behalf by his mother.

With the consent  of  the  then  town officer, his mother and his deceased aunt had fenced off the  allotment  and  built a  substantial  house  upon it.

Makaui claimed that the actions of the Estate Holder’s Land Representative, Finau Hufanga, the Minister approved the grant to Havelu  under  the impression that this was the only application,  when  in fact, he, Makaui, was  the  first  person  to  apply for the land.

Makaui  was  born  in Auckland  in  1981. He remembered  coming to Tonga  when  he  was about eight  years  old.  He  lived  on  the  land  in  question  with  his  aunt Lupe,  his  mother’s  sister,  who  had  a  house  there.  He  attended  the local  school  at Pea  and  returned to  New  Zealand  when  he was  about 11.  He  moved  to  Australia   in  2007  and  has  lived  there  ever  since. He is a New Zealand citizen, but also has a Tongan passport.

Makaui told the Court that his  mother  told  him that  he  had some  land in Tonga  and that  his aunt  Lupe, who  had  died  in 2011, had left her house in Tonga to  him.  She also told him that she had applied for the land to be granted to him.

Lipeti Tupou,  a  long time  resident  of  Pea, told  the  court  that  her  uncle  Fakavale  Tapua  was  the  town  officer “in the l970’s.’  His daughter  ‘Elisi,  who  was  a  friend  of  hers, told  her that  her father  had  authorised  the  Plaintiff’s  aunt  Lupe to  move onto the  land, on which she  built a house and a fence.

Tupou said it was  common  knowledge  in  Pea that the  land belonged to  Lupe and her sister   Alakivailahi.

Makaui’s mother,  Alakivailahi Fifita, said Havelu had agreed at a family meeting  in  1985   to  emigrate   to   New  Zealand   where   his  sisters would  help  him  start  a  new  life.  In return, he  would  relinquish  his  interest  in the  land  and  leave  it  clear  for  the  sisters  to  develop.

“Havelu surrendered   the   land   to   Lupe   so   that   it   could   be transferred  to  my son  after the  house was  built,” Fifita said.

The Estate Holder’s agent, Hufanga, told the court he had received an application for the land presented on behalf of Makaui by his mother and that he had undertaken to process it.

Following   the    Estate    Holder’s    instructions    to    give preference  to  those  born  in, brought  up  in  and  living  in  Pea  he  had consulted    the    family,    in particular  Makau’s  uncle  Sione, who suggested that the  land had been allocated to Havelu  many  years  ago.  He decided  that   he  could   not  support  the    application. He then went  to  the  Ministry of   Lands where he found   the   Havelu’s  name  written  on  the  plan  of  the  land.

He said this  confirmed what   he   had   been   told,   namely   that   Havelu  was generally  considered  in Pea to  be the  holder of the  allotment. He said it was his policy  not to  present competing  applications  to the  Estate  Holder but  to  decide  which  one  merited  the  Estate  Holder’s  approval. As a result, Makaui’s application was never submitted to the Estate Holder. Havelu’s application was approved  and  then forwarded to  the  Minister for  the grant to  be made.

The  Ministry  received  Makaui’s   application   endorsed   with   the   Estate   Holder’s certificate   of  support.   No  other   application   was   received  by  the Ministry   and  the   Ministry   was   unaware  that  there   was   another application  or  that  Havelu’s  application  was  contested.

Mr Justice Scott said that while he found it acceptable for the Estate Holder to issue his agent with guidelines, it was not acceptable for an agent to  intervene  in  the procedure  by  preventing  an application from  reaching   the   Minister.

The judge described this as “a    material   and unacceptable  departure  from  the  statutory   procedure  for  applying for  an allotment.”

The effect of Hufanga’s decision to withhold Makaui’s application was to cause the Minister to consider Havelu’s application as an uncontested first received application for a hitherto vacant piece of land.

As a consequence of this and a reliance on the Estate Holder’s certificate of approval alone, without any further enquiries being made, taken together with the suppression of Makaui’s application were that the Minister acted on the basis of materially incorrect information given to him.

As a result, he acted on wrong principles and the grant must be set  aside. It was now for the Minister to decide whether the land was actually available to grant.

The  main points

  • The Minister of Land was misled into approving a grant of land, the Lands Court has decided.
  • The case involved a block of land at  Pea,  part  of  the  Lavaka  It was  granted  to Viliami Fonise Havelu on January  13, 2014.
  • In his report on the case, Mr Justice Scott said that the agent representing the land’s Estate Holder, Salesi Fotu, had prevented another application for the land reaching the Prime Minister.
  • He described this as an unacceptable departure  from  the  statutory   procedure  for  applying for  an allotment.

READ MORE:

Land Court declares Minister has no power to overturn grant  and give land to somebody else

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