Infrastructure secretary Diane Charlie-Puna said the other authorities had already had the power to acquire land with a court warrant – they’d just avoided exercising that power.
Charlie-Puna said the new Infrastructure Act preserved powers first legislated under the Cook Islands Act 1915, and was nothing new.
Cook Islands News earlier this week reported that government can compulsorily purchase land if landowners refuse to hand it over, as long as the government gets a judge’s sign-off.
Agreement with landowners should be obtained, to acquire land for infrastructure purposes. But if agreement cannot be reached, the infrastructure manager may seek dispute resolution – and failing that, the manager can apply for a court warrant to compulsorily acquire the land.
The court can grant the infrastructure manager whatever right or interest in the land it is satisfied is appropriate and reasonable in the circumstances. The court also has the power to direct the length of term and other conditions, including the financial terms, as well as appropriate compensation.
The infrastructure managers identified in the Act are Infrastructure Cook Islands, Te Aponga Uira, Bluesky Cook Islands and other government bodies such as the newly-formed To Tatou Vai (in charge of the water delivery).
Charlie-Puna said the Infrastructure Act and its provision allowing the government to take land by warrant, passed into law last week, was actually government’s way of “avoiding taking land by warrant”.
She said the Act also provided provision for mediation when an agreement was not reached before the court process.
The mediation carried out would be at the expense of the infrastructure manager, overseeing the project.
Charlie-Puna reiterated that infrastructure managers like meter readers already had access to land without prior approval, even before the Infrastructure Act was enacted.
Now, the new law required infrastructure managers to get prior approval for construction and other purposes that might cause disturbance to the occupier.
The Act did not change customary law exercised in relation to land access on the islands of Mitiaro, Mauke, Pukapuka, Palmerston and Nassau.
Charlie-Puna said the Infrastructure Act was “proofing our community” from climate change and other environmental effects and aimed at benefiting the people of the Cook Islands.