CAPTION: Attorney General Mr Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum with the Special Administrators. The Ba Town Council special administrator Arun Prasad is on extreme right.
The Bainimarama Government has made a dramatic intervention on behalf of hundreds of people living in a squatter settlement in Ba who are questioning the Special Administrator’s plans to move them and sell off the land.
The Attorney General and Acting Minister for Local Government, Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum, and his team made two visits to the Clopcott Subdivision in 24 hours to assess the resident’s complaints. He said that he had been deeply disturbed by the way in which they had been treated.
“ I cannot believe the insensitive way in which the Ba Council and its Special Administrator have treated the legitimate concerns of these poor and vulnerable Fijian families. It is very upsetting that this was allowed to happen”, he said.
The AG said he had spoken to the Special Administrator, Arun Prasad, and told him to stop harassing local residents, some of whom have lived in Clopcott for up to 50 years.
He said that he had been disturbed to learn that the Special Administrator had threatened to cut off the water and electricity of some of the residents if they did not listen to his dictates. “Apart from the fact that it is unbecoming of the Special Administrator to make such threats, he clearly has no legal authority to do so”, he said.
At their meeting with the AG, distressed residents told of how the Ba Council had sent earthmoving equipment into the area without warning and had begun demolishing cassava patches and coconut trees that were vital for their survival.
“The Bainimarama Government will not tolerate such an outrageous assault on the basic rights of ordinary people and we have ordered an immediate stop to it”, the AG said.
He strongly criticised Mr Prasad – the Ba Special Administrator – and accused him of misrepresenting the true position of the Bainimarama Government at Clopcott and using bullying tactics against the residents.
“The Special Administrator claims that he had widely consulted the residents before all this happened. The truth is that he didn’t and, as Minister, I have been misled”, he said.
The AG said that contrary to normal procedures, no Environmental Impact Assessment had been finalised for the proposed subdivision before the bulldozers were sent in.
“We can assure local residents that we are now ordering a complete halt to this development and there will be no forced removals until the entire project has been reassessed”, he said.
The AG said he had been struck by the willingness of residents to cooperate with the authorities and there was no question that they were being unreasonable or that they were opposed to development.
“We are now going to sit down calmly and work our way through these issues. But as far as the Bainimarama Government is concerned, people come first. If the Special Administrator wants to exploit this land then he will need to ensure that these long term residents are given a viable option which ensures their dignity, rights and sustained livelihoods”, he said.
The Minister visited the settlement after the community-formed Clopcott/Valele and Vatuni Squatter Settlement Residents’ Committee wrote to him seeking his assistance.