Jalesi from New Zealand has written a thoughtful letter to the Editor of Fiji Times concerning the allocation of lease money in Fiji. There has been talk recently about changing the distribution and giving each member of a group receiving lease money the same amount.That would be quite a change from the current allocation of much larger portions to the chiefs and heads of groups. At a recent Provincial meeting - Ba I think it was - the chiefs strongly objected to any change. Well, that figures. When you are on a good thing - stick to it! But a fairer kind of distribution needs to be addressed. Giving each member an equal amount also would not be fair as some people contribute much more to the mataqali development than others who might live far away.
THE stand taken by Ba chiefs in regards to the distribution of lease money is not surprising but there is more to this than meets the eye.
The subject is one that needs to be addressed objectively and the best interests of landowning units (mataqali or tokatoka) should be the intent of any review.
A realistic and dispassionate evaluation of the current system not only reveals its exploitative nature but the mechanism is a means of perpetuating a life of servitude to chiefs.
The genesis of the current lease distribution system can be traced back to the Great Council of Chiefs who played an advisory role to the colonial government. Upon their advice, the Native Labour Ordinance 1876 restricted the recruitment and commercial employment of indigenous labour and a native taxation scheme to meet tax obligation in kind, which confined them to communal existence without recourse to employment for wages.
An extension of the "taxation in kind" scheme was the codification of customs into law, including large exactions by the chiefs as traditional due. This practice was adopted as the method of disbursement of lease money by the NLTB, and has remained unchanged since.
Let's face it, these chiefs do not own the land. They may have overall guardianship or supervision of their chiefly domain but they have no say whatsoever in how a tokatoka or mataqali use their land.
The distribution system as it stands is unacceptable, in that after the 25 per cent and 5 per cent by the chiefs, the NLTB takes its administrative cost at say 10 per cent.
The landowning unit distributes what's left among all its members. As such, the only person who benefits is the chief as he takes his percentage from all mataqali land leased out in his or her domain.
Therein lies the trigger that sets off disputes over chiefly titles and the incessant chorus of discontent over the lease regime by landowners.