Get The Truth – Land

SODELPA AND OTHER POLITICAL PARTIES SAY that iTaukei land is not safe under the 2013 Constitution, that the Land Use Decree violates landowner rights and that the Land Bank erodes the power of the iTaukei Land Trust Board (TLTB). They say they will “scrap” the Land Use Decree and Land Bank.

FACT: Under the Fijian Constitution, the protection and ownership of iTaukei land has never been more secure.

Unfortunately, SODELPA and other political parties have been spreading factually and legally incorrect information about the protection of land rights under our Constitution.

The truth about land rights is very clear, and one only needs to read the relevant provisions of the Constitution, supported by other land laws, to see that land rights in Fiji have never before been better protected.

Section 28 of the Constitution expressly states that the ownership of ALL iTaukei, Rotuman and Banaban lands shall remain with the customary owners and shall NOT be permanently alienated whether by sale, grant, transfer or exchange.

If iTaukei lands are required by the State for a public purpose, for example; if the State wants to build a road or a reservoir, then the State can use land for that purpose. This provision has been in our laws even before Independence, and has been included in all of Fiji’s constitutions after independence including the 1997 constitution.

But under our Constitution, the State can only use land for a public purpose if it pays landowners fair and just compensation at the time of acquisition. (Section 27) And also for the first time, if land which has been used for a public purpose, is no longer required by the State, then that land MUST be returned to its customary owners. This added protection is expressly stated in our Constitution. (Section 28(4))

Indeed, the rights of land owners are more secure now than they were under the 1997 Constitution.

Also for the first time, landowners will now be entitled to receive a fair share of royalties or money paid to the State for the extraction of minerals from the land or seabed (mining) in fishing right areas. (Section 30)

Despite the 1997 constitution’s so-called “entrenched Provisions,” which SODELPA and other political parties refer to, there are documented cases of iTaukei land being permanently alienated from its owners through a legal loophole that allowed iTaukei land to be converted to State land and then to freehold land.

While SODELPA and other political parties spread misinformation about land rights, they fail to acknowledge that in June 2006, the SDL Government approved to convert iTaukei land in Momi into freehold land title and then transferred that land to a private company as part of a land swap deal.

So when the SDL Government was in power not only did it do nothing to fix this serious breach in the security of iTaukei land, but it actually knowingly approved a transaction that alienated iTaukei land from its owners forever.

This was done by the then the SDL Minister for Lands, Ratu Naiqama Lalabalavu who presented this proposal to Cabinet. The proposal was approved by Cabinet, which was chaired by the former Prime Minister, Laisenia Qarase. And the Cabinet at that time also included the current leader of SODELPA, Ro Teimumu Kepa. They were able to do this even though the so-called entrenched provisions were in effect.

Similar land swap deals were also done by the SVT Government in the 1990s in Denarau, which led to the conversion of iTaukei lands into freehold lands. Lost forever. The Minister for Lands at that time was Ratu Timoci Vesikula and the Chair of Cabinet at that time was the then PM Sitiveni Rabuka. Now, the Constitution ensures that this type of theft of iTaukei land will never happen again. In fact, even before the Constitution was finalised, the Bainimarama Government closed this loophole.

This means that the percentage of land under iTaukei ownership – which currently stands at 91 per cent – will never be reduced, and in fact, could actually increase.

The Constitution now ensures that no future Government and its leadership will be able to bend the rules like the SDL and SVT governments did in the past.

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