Commission to senators: ratify “illegal” leases

Pika Fejeran, Chairwoman of the Chamorro Land Trust Commission

“They got the lease and then now we were sitting with the AG’s opinion saying that their lease is void.”

Guam – An overworked rubber stamp has reportedly been discovered at the Dept. of Land Management’s Chamorro Land Trust Commission. CLTC Chairwoman Pika Fejeran reports an internal study has revealed that more than a hundred land leases were approved for illegal leasehold switches over the years.

The revelation follows Attorney General Elizabeth Barrett Anderson’s May 2018 opinion that all such land lease switches are null and void and that applicant rights can only be passed upon death of an applicant.

Fejeran said commissioners rolled up their sleeves and dug into the report during Thursday’s meeting at the Land Management conference room inside the ITC Building in Tamuning.

On Friday the chairwoman told Newstalk K57 radio personality Andrea Pellacani during a call-in interview that the exercise was designed “to see, you know, ‘what do we have here? What were the circumstances that led to the switching?’ And we found out that the switches were actually approved by the department. Every single switch was approved, and all of the applicants that were involved in the switches, they went out and got letters notarized saying that they want to switch, because we told them to—that they could, ah, switch places, and so they did everything that we told them they could do. They got the lease and then now we were sitting with the AG’s opinion saying that their lease is void.”

The commission has been working under the oversight of Democratic Sen. Tom Ada’s Committee on Environment, Land, Agriculture, and Procurement Reform. Fejeran said the progress report has been a long time coming.

“Our staff has been working, ah, countless hours to go out and look at…the properties that the leaseholders received the lease[s] because of that switch. And so yesterday [Thursday] was the first time we really got to sit down and look at the entire list and look at the staff report that was prepared for each one of those.”

Fejeran said many of the holders of voidable leases are already settled on the controversially assigned lands now under legal scrutiny, but that she will recommend a legal remedy to the Legislature to ratify all 102 leases in question.

“And the commission arrived at that decision because we realized that the department and the commission [are] at fault here. We told these applicants that it is OK. We gave them procedures and requirements that they fulfilled, and then we ended up approving it.”