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From the Courts

Sister fails to evict brother's widow and children

Nuku'alofa, Tonga

The Tonga Land Court has blocked a calculated attempt by a female leaseholder to evict her brother’s widow from her brother's family home in Kolomotu'a.

When the leaseholder’s brother passed away in 2015, he left behind a wife and four children who resided on the family allotment at Tu'atakilangi, Kolomotu'a.

In a Land Court decision Justice O.G. Paulsen yesterday, 30 January ruled that it was unethical for the leaseholder 'Alisi Nginingini to evict her brother’s widow Lupe Nginingini as she had lived on the land for over 15 years. The house on the land had also been built by the deceased Sosefo Nginingini on a substantial loan and formed part of his estate.

Justice Paulsen ruled: “It would be unjust to require her to move. Lupe may remain living on the allotment for as long as she wants...”

The case resulted from a family dispute.

The plaintiff 'Alisi Nginingini is the daughter of Ilaisa Nginingini and sister of the deceased Sosefo Nginingini. Ilaisa is the owner of the town allotment at Kolomotu'a and Sosefo was his eldest son and heir.

The first defendant Lupe Nginingini is the widow of Sosefo.

A few weeks after Sosefo died in 2015, his father Ilaisa granted a 99 year lease of his town allotment to 'Alisi and "purported to gift the house to her". The widow Lupe was not aware of the lease until it was registered in April 2016 "nor was she told that Ilaisa intended to gift the houses."

 'Alisi then demanded that Lupe move out of the house and off the allotment but Lupe would not leave.

"It is not hard to understand why, when her eldest son was the heir and entitled to succeed to the entire allotment in due course," stated the ruling.

Justice Paulsen stated that the house was owned by Sosefo and Ilaisa could not have gifted Sosefo's house to 'Alisi.

'Alisi and her children lived in a second house, which had been moved to the Kolomotu'a allotment from Fatai for her mother to live in before her death in 2014..

Seeking eviction

'Alisi was seeking an order from the court evicting Lupe from Sosefo's house and the allotment.

However, Lupe was successful in a counterclaim for the cancellation of 'Alisi's lease.

Justice Paulsen ruled that he would cancel the lease held by ‘Alisi.

"I found Lupe to be a credible and honest witness. She was forthright in her answers. By comparison I did not find 'Alisi credible and her evidence was neither compelling nor plausible in important respects. I also consider that she has not acted honestly in obtaining the lease. In cases of conflict I prefer Lupe's evidence."

Justice Paulsen found there were two reasons why Ilaisa granted the lease to his daughter, 'Alisi. "The primary reason was to provide 'Alisi with the means to evict Lupe and to take Sosefo's house. The second reason was so that 'Alisi could not be removed from the allotment upon Ilaisa's death should Sosefo's son inherit the land."

He stated, “The lease was a device to evict Lupe and defeat her rights. The existence of the lease is antithetical to Lupe’s continued occupation and might be dealt with by ‘Alisi or her successors in a manner that defeats Lupe’s rights. I intend therefore to direct the Minister to cancel the lease."

"For as long as Ilaisa is the registered holder of his town allotment Ilaisa and 'Alisi are not to take any steps to evict Lupe or her children from the allotment or interfere with their occupation of Sosefo's house," the Land Court ruled.

The widow Lupe is entitled to her costs, which are to be fixed by the Registrar if not agreed.

- Reporting by Finau Fonua/ Matangi Tonga