Another Duplicate State lease raises more questions for the NHC and DoL

The National Housing Corporation and the Department of Lands are synonymous, not only with fraud, corruption and mismanagement, but also the impunity with which corrupt public officials are able to repeat the same scams over and over again.

PNGi has previously highlighted many instances of the fraud taking place within the these government departments and we have repeatedly urged action to stop this rot that blights our Nation. We will continue to do so, even if the evidence falls on deaf ears in Waigani.

Today, we highlight the case of Allotment 59, Section 529, Hoholo, and the two duplicate State leases issued by the Department of Lands for this former National Housing Corporation property.

Kennedy Kiiark v Norit Luio

The legal battle between Kennedy Kiiark and Norit Luio has gone all the way to the Supreme Court in an arcane argument over the proper exercise of judicial discretion, in an appeal from the District court. But at its heart the case is all about two duplicate state leases.

Both the plaintiff and defendant claim ownership of a residential property known as Allotment 59, Section 529, Hohola which is located in the Port Moresby suburb of Gerehu.

“Inexplicably” says the Supreme Court there are “two entirely different State leases for the property, both of which purport to have been issued by the Deputy Registrar of Land Titles”.

Kennedy Kiiark has a State Lease, Volume 33 Folio 140, which is registered in his name and was issued to him, Kiiark claims, after he purchased the property from the National Housing Corporation in January 2014.

At that time Norit Luio was the NHC’s tenant at the property. Luio claims he also has a State Lease registered in his name. His lease, Volume 88 Folio 183 was registered in October 2017 following, Luio says, his purchase of the property, also from the NHC.

Luio’s lease was registered just weeks after then Lands Minister, Justin Tkatchenko, had announced he was creating a new and independent fraud and complaints office within the Department to weed out corruption.

Justin Tkatchenko has well publicised history of false promises. Remember the luxury Maserati motor cars that he claimed were being paid for by the private sector and selling like hot cakes…

In a further twist, Luio’s purported purchase of the property, and the issue of his State Lease only occurred after he was issued with eviction proceedings by Kiiark in February 2017.

In response to those proceedings, Luio duly filed notice of his intention to defend the eviction and then went a stage further, he filed an application to have the eviction proceedings summarily dismissed as an abuse of process. This application was based on the grounds that two previous similar eviction attempts had already been dismissed and neither decision had been appealed.

The application to dismiss the eviction proceedings was contested by Kiiark and a hearing held in April 2017, before Worship Garry Unio. Unio reserved his decision for 3 May.

However, when Luio and his lawyer attended court on 3 May they found the matter was not listed. Instead, Unio delivered his decision some two-months later, on 12 July, and without, it is alleged, notifying either Luio or his lawyer.

Surprisingly, Worship Unio did not just refuse the application to dismiss the eviction notice, he in fact made a final order requiring Luio to in effect vacate the property. This was without hearing any arguments on the merits of the eviction application and without sending the matter for trial, as he should have done. This deprived Luio of any right to be heard on the substantive matter and present his defence.

Luio unsurprisingly entered an appeal against the District judge’s decision. In November 2017, the National court granted a stay of the eviction notice and refused an application to dismiss the appeal on the grounds of a two-month delay in its filing.

These decisions of Justice Gavara-Nanu were then appealed to the Supreme Court on the grounds the judge had wrongly exercised his discretion to excuse the delay in filing the appeal against the District Court decision.

The appeal against the decision of Gavara-Nanu was heard in the Supreme Court on 26 May 2020. The three judges, found there were no grounds on which to overturn the lower court’s decision and dismissed the appeal.

The case will now return to the National Court for a hearing of the original appeal against Worship Unio’s decision to summarily order the eviction. If that appeal is upheld, then the matter will finally return to the District Court for a full trial on who is the rightful owner of the State Lease over Allotment 59, Section 529, Hohola.

Beneath all these appeals and counter appeals there are a number of key questions that deserve the attention of law enforcement agencies:

  • Why did the NHC purport to sell the property to Kennedy Kiiark in 2014 when they already had a lawfully resident tenant?
  • With a registered State lease already on file, how did the Deputy Registrar of Titles issue a second State Lease over the same property to Norit Luio?
  • Why did Worship Garry Unio order the eviction of Norit Luio before holding a trial and hearing arguments from both parties?

Some of these questions may be answered if and when the legal dispute is finally determined, but this should not just be a civil matter: there is clearly enough evidence for a full police investigation of the two duplicate titles and how they came to be issued.