A last ditch effort for the outgoing Ninth OEK to give new life to Land Court before closing out its term appear to have failed following the House of Delegates rejection of the conference committee report on bill, SB 9-188, SD1, HD1, CD1. The bill restores the power of the Land Court to conduct hearings and determine land ownership.
The subject bill removed amendments by the House limiting it to returning operational authority of the Land Court. The House wanted to include addressing the return of private lands and third party interests in land leases to alleviate the public and businesses’ concern of being left without any protection.
However, the House of Delegates rejected the conference committee report after the conferees gave its approval unanimously with three members signing it “with reservation”.
In their session on November 21, the House members expressed dismay that the Senate removed everything they worked hard for, out of the bill. This is despite the fact that some of the delegates who signed the conferees report voted against it when it came to floor votes.
Senate President Camsek Chin in a response to media’s query said that he was surprised when the HOD rejected the Senate version of the Land Court bill as during the conference committee meeting, when all House conferees signed the committee report endorsing the bill.
"In fact they signed the committee report," Chin stated.
In an earlier statement made to Island Times, Speaker Anastacio said the bill is not dead. He said it can still be revived for a second conference “if the senate wants to extend the life of land Court.” The speaker added that the Land Court should have a deadline.
But Senator J. Uduch Sengebau Senior disputes Anastacio’s position that the bill is not dead.
“Speaker Anastacio is wrong in giving out inaccurate information when he says SB 9-188 is not dead. When the HOD rejected the conference report, it also rejected SB 9-188,” said Sen. Senior in a comment provided to Pacific Note yesterday.
“The land court is now closed indefinitely,” Senior further said.
In statement prior to rejection of the report, Speaker Anastacio said that there is no rush to approve the bill, which still can be picked up in January by the new Olbiil Era Kelulau.
Senator Senior, who chaired the Senate conferees, questioned the wisdom of prolonging the Land Court closure.
“And how is the closure of the Land Court in the best interest of the people and government of Palau?” asked Senior.
“The HOD’s rejection of Senate Bill 9-188 is detrimental to the claimants who have been waiting for years and, in some cases decades, to have their claims heard. The question to HOD is who benefits from this rejection of SB 9-188,” Senior added.
Meanwhile, its going on 4-months since the Land Court stopped holding hearings and issuing decisions on land ownership since August 11, 2016.