New Claim of Land Grab in Fiji Times weekly
Alawyer and academic whose column is published in the Fiji Times iTaukei language weekly newspaper Nai Lalakai has now claimed that there is a land grab. This new extraordinary claim follows his earlier shocking call for an Australia-led regional force to supposedly restore democracy here.
Ratu Isireli Vesikula’s land views are in his weekly column in the latest issue of Nai Lalakai, which was circulated yesterday.
Ratu Isireli is a PhD student doing research on the recognition of customary laws in Fiji. Some of his views reflect similar claims expressed by the main Opposition party, SODELPA. In this week’s Nai Lalakai, Ratu Isireli claimed that there was a list of land that should have been returned to the iTaukei landowners since Fiji gained Independence. He accused the Bainimarama Government of dropping the Nakauvadra Ranges from the list and shifting it to Crown Freehold to allow foreigners to buy it. He claimed he had been informed that there was gold under the Nakauvadra Ranges. He said this could be described as land grab because there was no consultation with the landowners.
There is no land grab and no evidence to suggest it is happening. This claim is not new.
It surfaced in the run-up to the 2014 General Election and it came from the SODELPA camp. It’s part of a propaganda to sway iTaukei not to vote for the Bainimarama Government despite its commitment to the provisions in the Constitution on iTaukei land rights. The Constitution’s preamble expressly says it “recognises the indigenous people or the iTaukei, their ownership of iTaukei lands, their unique culture, customs, traditions and language.”
It is reinforced in section 28 which states: “The ownership of all iTaukei land shall remain with the customary owners of that landand iTaukei land shall not be permanently alienated, whether by sale, grant, transfer or exchange, except to the State in accordance with section 27.” Any iTaukei land acquired by the state through proper processes, shall be returned to the owners if it is no longer required.
Given its high standards of accountability and transparency, the Bainimarama Government cannot do anything as foolish as alleged by Ratu Isireli.
Ratu Isireli’s claims in his recent columns could come under legal scrutiny.
The Constitution’s preamble expressly says it “recognises the indigenous people or the iTaukei, their ownership of iTaukei lands, their unique culture, customs, traditions and language.”