Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Is Fijian land safe?

from w
Some scary stories have been published in the Fiji media today about proposals to muck about with Fiji land,(such as this one ) even a suggestion about de-reserving Fijian-owned land - based on a paper from a consultant from India, intent upon finding ways to improve the ailing sugar industry.(Reserve land is that set aside for the use of the mataqali owners for current or future use and ought not be leased out at all. For example our family has reserve land at Vatuadova where the village has been developed, including a church and cane farm.)

A response from the Native Land Trust Board is published in today's Fiji Times, this afternoon.

Native land is safe: Beniuci
Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Update: 3:13PM NATIVE land is safe and protected under the law, Native Land Trust Board's Acting General Manager Meli Beniuci says.

Mr Benuci was reacting to news reports and enquiries of concern from landowners that all native reserve land was bound to be de-reserved by the government. Mr Benuci said the law is quite clear on control and protection of all native land. Under Section 4(1) of the Native Land Trust Act NLTA, the control of all native land shall be vested in the Board and all such land shall be administered by the Board for the benefit of the Fijian owners, said Mr Benuci.

He added that under Section 15(1) of the NLTA, it is lawful for the Board to set aside any portion of native land as a native reserve. In other words, de-reservation of native land cannot be done without the express approval of a majority of landowners concerned.

"This guideline is enshrined in the Native Land Trust Act itself, and therefore if the Interim Government is now wishing to de-reserve all native land we would need the express approval of a majority of all native landowners in question.

Notwithstanding the above, such an exercise is not one which the NLTB should even consider given our fiduciary duty to landowners to ensure that they always have sufficient land for their maintenance, subsistence & survival, Mr Benuci said.

Any action to de-reserve all native land is in itself contrary to this duty, as landowners will no longer have any native reserve to use as they please. It is more than just economics, said Mr Benuci. Land represents life and sustenance, identity and culture.

Mindful of its role in providing maximum benefits for the landowner, the NLTB also has other important roles to play in providing for lands for national development and giving access to land for others. "The system is provided for flexibility in that it can de-reserve customary lands for the need of others.

"This however, must recognize the special connection the Fijian has to the land. It is the one tangible asset possessed by Fijians in an insecure, changing world in which material progress seemed to pass them by.

Added later: Several articles and responses have been written in today's Fiji papers and websites and in Comments in the Fiji Times. The term 'reserve' I had taken only to mean in the technical sense - that set aside for the landowners' use, but now I realize that Mr Krishnamurgi is really talking about ALL Fijian mataqali land! Now that really stirs up people and is a much different issue than just the wish to make the sugar industry viable.

By the way in Australia there has been a recent revamp of the sugar industry with millions invested into the mills and the changeover from burning cane to using the trash to make electricity is an interesting move.)Story on ABC TV Landline last Sunday)The cane in NSW is of course harvested by machine and not by hand.


Anonymous said...

Your post seems to leap Out of frying into the fire...
In just your previous post you dangle the eloquence of Rudd's speech in the air for the wonderful apology; yet stay silent on the land that was stolen from the Aborigines.

Now this dereservation of land in Fiji comes up and you shout bloody strewth.

What about other lands in Fiji that were de-reserved such as Yaqara; where the landowners were promised so much by Qarase and company and have since got nothing.

Read Fiji Parliament debate on Yaqara landowners.


Traditional Landowners - Yaqara Studio City

(Question No. 9/2004)

HON. SENATOR DR. A. EMBERSON-BAIN asked the Government, upon notice:

In the interests of expediting the studio city development at Yaqara and doing justice to the traditional landowners, could the honourable Minister for Fijian Affairs kindly: -

(a) Confirm that the Native Land Commission has conducted the veitarogivanua and that a ruling on the rightful owners of the Yaqara Studio City land has been made?

(b) Could he explain why there has been such a delay in confirming the ruling in writing with the rightful owners, namely, the descendants of the Bicilevu family, when the ruling was made four months ago?

(c) Can he confirm when the NLTB will submit a formal Memorandum of Agreement to the Bicilevu family for signing so that the studio city development can proceed without further disruption or delay?

(d) Can he explain why another landowning group, which is not the acknowledged owner, was involved in the recent installation of the Telecom disk in Ra, in apparent contradiction of the veitarogivanua ruling?

(e) Why did the NLTB draw up an unlawful Memorandum of Agreement with a landowning group without first establishing the rightful owners of the Yaqara land, and what are the liabilities likely to arise out of this unlawful agreement?

HON. SENATOR Q.B. BALE.- Mr. President, Sir, I rise to respond to the questions raised by the honourable Senator as follows:

(a) There has been no such inquiry conducted, because the Yaqara Studio City land which comprises three parcels of land, namely Nabuta, Qeledradra and Naqara (Part of) were sold as Crown Freehold land well before the Native Lands Commission was established. When the Commission was established, it conducted inquiries throughout Fiji on ownership of native land only. Freehold lands, like Yaqara were never the subject of such inquiries.

Moreover the Native Land Commission has not conducted any inquiry into the rightful holders of the subject or rather the initial native owners of this land and any land like it in Fiji, because it does not have the legal power to do so under its own act that is the Native Lands Act.

(b) Sir, the "ruling made two months ago" by the NLC was not a formal Commission sitting but merely a meeting with the Yavusa Navauvau of Korovou Village in Tavua to ascertain the current land ownership rights of Mataqali Nabulou and who the descendants of Bicilevu are.

On this latter issue, there were two claimants - the head of the Yavusa Navauvau of Korovou Village and Noa Sakava, a member of the Mataqali Nabulou, one of the mataqalis of the Yavusa Navauvau.

The Commission could not confirm that the descendants of Bicilevu at Korovou Village are the rightful landowners of Yaqara Studio City, meaning all those parcels of crown freehold land referred to in the previous answer, because it has no jurisdiction in such matters. However, the Commission advised the Bicilevu family during its meeting at Korovou Village on 11th August this year to take their claim to the proposed Lands Claim Tribunal when it is established (and I think he is referring to the Indigenous Claims Tribunal, which will be tabled in Parliament sometime next year).

(c) The NLTB is not aware of the Bicilevu family connection. It has issued a legal binding contractual lease to the developers of the Studio City, with the consent and blessings of the registered owners of the native land portion of Yaqara and the Yavusa Nadokana of Rabulu Village, Tavua. This is native land, which was formally Schedule A and was allotted to the Yavusa Nadokana under the provisions of section 18 of the Native Lands Trust Act.

(d) In order to answer this part of the question, it should be clarified perhaps, by the honourable Senator Dr. Emberson-Bain, who is this "another landowning group" that she is talking about or referring to, which is not the acknowledged owners. Further, we would like to know what is this veitarogivanua ruling that she is referring to because as I have said, there has been no such ruling.

(e) The NLTB is guided by the Register of Native Lands under the Native Lands Act on land ownership. The leasing process is within its legal jurisdiction and discretion to act as it deems necessary under the provisions of the Native Land Trust Act. As far as NLTB is concerned, it has acted in accordance within the confinement of its legal and moral obligations under that statute.

HON. SENATOR DR. A. EMBERSON-BAIN.- Mr. President, Sir, the honourable and learned Attorney-General and Minister for Justice has just asked what is this veitarogivanua that I am referring to.

Firstly, to refresh the memory of the honourable Prime Minister and Minister for Fijian Affairs and the staff of the Ministry of Fijian Affairs, two veitarogivanuas have been conducted in the past and officially recorded. The first one was actually on 29th November, 1926 and I can confirm that the honourable Prime Minister is aware of that; that established the rightful claim of the traditional owners that are descendants of the Bicilevu family.

Secondly, contrary to what the honourable and learned Attorney-General and Minister for Justice has said, a veitarogivanua was conducted on 11th August this year, in Korolevu Village near Tavua. When he gave his reply, he went on to effectively confirm that, but in his answer to part (a) of the question, he denied that it has not taken place. In fact, it has taken place.

My supplementary questions are; can the honourable Prime Minister and Minister for Fijian Affairs assure the House that the NLTB has not in any way sought to interfere with, overturn or compromise the ruling of the NLC, and in turn fought the legitimate right of the traditional owners to gain their ancestral land?

Secondly, can the honourable Prime Minister and Minister for Fijian Affairs give his assurance to this House and to the public that none of his Ministers has any kind of personal or financial interests, either directly or indirectly in the Yaqara Studio City Development or the Fiji Waters Development, both developments taking place on the land in question. Can he confirm that none of his Ministers is in any other way related or associated with any of the claims who purport to have a claim to ownership over the Yaqara land?

HON. SENATOR Q.B. BALE.- Mr. President, Sir, both questions are new in the sense that I think the honourable Senator could have realised that those are substantive questions in their own rights. If they were intended to be asked, they should be in the substantive question, even anticipating answers to the questions raised.

To be fair to the honourable Senator, I do not have the answers ready with me, Sir, but I would be happy to obtain the answers to those specific queries and give them to the honourable Senator, either personally or on the floor of this House, whichever way she prefers.

MR. PRESIDENT.- Honourable Senator, can you just wait for a while?

HON. SENATOR DR. A. EMBERSON-BAIN.- Mr. President, Sir, I am requesting if I can ask my first part of the supplementary question.

MR. PRESIDENT.- You are asking a new question. These are supplementary questions, for the purpose of elucidating the questions that you had asked originally.

HON. SENATOR DR. A. EMBERSON-BAIN.- Mr. President, Sir, I do believe that I have a right to raise them, but the honourable and learned Attorney-General also has a right to come back with the answers at a later stage, given the fact that it does require him to go and search for the answers. So, I accept his response, Sir, but what I am asking him to do is to respond to my first part of the question, and that is in relation to the veitarogivanua that had taken place.

HON. SENATOR RATU G.K. CAKOBAU.- Mr. President, Sir, a point of order. Standing Order 51 - Relevancy. She is not a member of the VKB, even to ask about the native land or even about Yaqara. So, you just keep quiet and you will learn.

HON. SENATOR DR. A. EMBERSON-BAIN.- Listen, don't you point at me, honourable Senator!


HON. SENATOR RATU G.K. CAKOBAU.- Why? You should not talk about anything to do with NLTB or about our land!

HON. SENATOR DR. A. EMBERSON-BAIN.- You are saying that I have no right!

HON. SENATOR RATU G.K. CAKOBAU.- Yes, you have no right, you are not even in the VKB.

HON. SENATOR DR. A. EMBERSON-BAIN.- And you are being offensive!

HON. SENATOR RATU G.K. CAKOBAU.- I am talking about something that is right. You are not in the VKB, so do not talk about it.


HON. SENATOR F. ANTHONY.- Sir, this is not the first time that the honourable Senator Ratu Cakobau has behaved in the manner he has. This is unparliamentary, disrespectful and brings disorder to this House. This is not on!

MR. PRESIDENT.- Sit down!

HON. SENATOR F. ANTHONY.- That is not on!

MR. PRESIDENT.- Now, honourable Senator, because you were not listening, I will put that question to an end. We will move on to the next item.

HON. SENATOR DR. A. EMBERSON-BAIN.- The honourable and learned Attorney-General has not answered my question and because it was ....

MR. PRESIDENT.- I have made a ruling.

HON. SENATOR F. ANTHONY.- Sir, may I say that as President of this august House, you have a responsibility to be fair and that when questions are asked, they should be answered.

MR. PRESIDENT.- Order, I have made a ruling.

HON. SENATOR ADI L. CAKOBAU.- Mr. President, Sir, a point of order, Standing Order 2 - Ruling of the President must be adhered to.

HON. SENATOR DR. A. EMBERSON-BAIN.- Yes, that's all you have to say.

HON. SENATOR ADI L. CAKOBAU.- That's all I'm saying, honourable Senator.


HON. SENATOR ADI L. CAKOBAU.- If you have anything to say, do it the proper way - stand up and speak. He has made his ruling. You sit down!

HON. SENATOR DR. A. EMBERSON-BAIN.- Don't you tell me to sit down!


HON. SENATOR ADI L. CAKOBAU.- Keep quiet, I have a right, like you have.

MR. PRESIDENT.- Honourable Senators, before I call on the next item, I have already said why I had put an end to that question. It is simply because honourable Senators were not listening to me, so I decided to put an end to that question and then I called for the next item.

If you want to ask a new question, you put it forward in writing for the next meeting.

Peceli and Wendy's Blog said...

I was silent about land because that was not the topic. Of course there are dreadful stories of alienation of land in Australia and very little reparation has been made.
I don't like Australia Day to be January 26th - which some consider to be Invasion Day when the visitors assumed the land was for the taking.
Maybe yesterday - February 13th - could become an annual day of reflection of where we have been and who we are.