New Claim of Land Grab in Fiji Times weekly

Fiji Sun - - Election Countdown 2018 - by Ne­mani De­laibatiki Feed­back: ne­mani.de­laibatiki@fi­jisun.com.fj

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.

FACT

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.”

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