Monday, May 28, 2007

Fijian Lands Could be Under Threat

Land ownership questioned - May 28, 2007

THE claim that about 90 per cent of land in Fiji is native land is questionable, according to a paper presented by a lawyer at a seminar in Suva.

Ba lawyer Doctor Mohammed Shamsud Dean Sahu Khan said it raised important legal and constitutional issues which needed to be addressed.

"We should avoid unnecessary future scrutiny of such matters by the court or other authorities," Mr Sahu Khan said.

He had presented a paper earlier this month on the legal status of different types and/or ownership of land and status of sea, waters and reefs in Fiji from the Deed of Cession in 1874 to today.

"We must avoid matters arising out of any legislation such as the Qoliqoli Bill to be an international issue.

"We should nip it in the bud and take all precautions before a Bill is debated in Parliament and emotions overtake rationality."

Mr Sahu Khan said Clause Four of the Deed of Cession provided that "absolute proprietorship of all land not shown to be alienated so as to become bona fide property of Europeans or other foreigners or not in actual use or occupation of some chief or tribe or not actually required for probable future support and maintenance of some chief or tribe shall be and hereby declared to be vested in Her Majesty, her heirs and successors". He said it was important to note that the only land not vested in the Crown was land as at October 10, 1974 not alienated to Europeans or other foreigners and land which was as at that date not in actual use or occupation of some chief or tribe and land actually required for the probable future support and maintenance of a chief or tribe.

"It does not refer to any constructive use or occupation. This obviously refers to land close to villages, etc.

"Actual use or occupation must mean land literally occupied or used such as village and house sites, etc, and small farms or land used for teitei, etc. This must have been so in order that the users and occupiers of land were not deprived of the same."

Mr Sahu Khan cited as example Nailaga or Votua Village in Ba which definitely could not have included land at Maururu, Veisaru or Koronubu which were many kilometres away from the land which was used or occupied by some chief or tribe.

He said all bare, vacant and unoccupied land could not have been included in the exemption provision referred above by any interpretation.

"Everyone must address the above issues first before embarking on any radical legislations such as the Qoliqoli Bill," Dr Sahu Khan said.

Lawyer Kitione Vuataki said native land was intact and had not been threatened in any way.

He said native land was protected under the Native Lands Act, Constitution and judiciary.

Mr Vuataki said reports in the media quoting him as saying native land was under threat, was misleading and sensationalised.

He said he did not agree with Mr Sahu Khan's presentation but it did not mean native land was not threatened.

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