CAPTION: One of the incomplete over-the-water bures at the Momi Bay resort. Photo: FIJI TIMES.
Prime Minister Voreqe Bainimarama has expressed great concern at the conduct of the previous Government in orchestrating the alienation of iTaukei land from iTaukei land owners at Momi and its subsequent conversion into freehold land.
This has been revealed after investigations into the Momi land exchange, including the publication of the Cabinet paper and the Cabinet decision made in July 2006 to facilitate this alienation of iTaukei land.
The Prime Minister said that – in the case of Momi – despite the so-called entrenchment in the 1997 Constitution of the iTaukei Land Trust Act (“Act”), it did not in any way prevent the previous Government from permanently alienating iTaukei land.
The Prime Minister said “that the supposed rationale for the entrenched provision in the 1997 constitution and the related laws was to stop the permanent alienation of iTaukei land. Yet despite this the former minister for the then Fijian Affairs Ratu Naiqama Lalabalvu – who was also the Minister for Lands – presented a cabinet paper that did completely the opposite”.
“I ask where was Ro Teimumu, where was the then Prime Minister, where was the then Attorney General? All of these people hold themselves out as champions of land rights and leaders of the iTaukei, in particular the former prime minister, Ro Teimumu and Ratu Naiqama. Yet they approved a cabinet paper that not only was contrary to the 1997 constitution and the laws, but abhorrent to the customary and legal ownership of iTaukei land.”
The Prime Minister said that Section 5 of the Act expressly states that iTaukei land shall not be alienated, whether by sale, grant, transfer or exchange except to the Crown. iTaukei land cannot be alienated even if individual members of the landowning unit enter into agreements with private companies to alienate iTaukei land.
Despite this prohibition, the former Minister for Lands Ratu Naiqama Lalabalvu and the Qarase Cabinet allowed section 6 of the State Lands Act to be abused. Section 6 empowers the State to swap or exchange portions of State land with iTaukei land. It also permits the State to swap or exchange portions of State land with freehold land.
In the case of Momi, the Qarase Cabinet abused section 6 by converting freehold land owned by Matapo Limited into State land, and then exchanging this land with iTaukei land. Immediately after the conversion, the iTaukei land was then converted into freehold land.
In this case, the iTaukei land was not exchanged for the use of the State or for any public purpose, as required by the State Lands Act. iTaukei land was exchanged solely for the purpose of converting it into freehold for the benefit of a private company.
The Prime Minister said that this was the sort of practice that led him to propose an amendment to the State Lands Act – which was gazetted in February of this year – in order to close the loophole that permitted this behaviour and to further strengthen the protection of iTaukei land.
The Prime Minister said, “now, any iTaukei land that is converted into State land, can no longer be converted into freehold land. If the State no longer requires iTaukei land that has been converted into State land, then it must return that land to the iTaukei landowners.”
The Prime Minister said that his Government is committed to ensuring that iTaukei lands remain protected by law and that no alienation of iTaukei lands takes place.
He said that “iTaukei lands will continue to be protected for the benefit of the future generations and will not, through any means, be converted into freehold land, as was conspired and connived by the previous Government in 2006.”
He added that “the draft constitution provides the protection for the iTaukei land owners and that the landowners should not be misled by those saying otherwise. The actions of the past government and leaders on the one hand and the actions of my government on the other speaks for themselves.”