The statement of Acting General Manager of NLTB Meli Beniuci that all native lands are safe and protected pursuant to section 4(1) of the Native Lands Trust Act, because all native lands are vested in the Board is feeble and unconvincing.
It is feeble and unconvincing because the interim Government has time and again showed its utter disregard for the rule of law in Fiji, so what exempts Board from being steamrolled into submission like all the others?
The current Board’s composition is illegal and unlawful since they were appointed after the coup by the interim Minister for Fijian Affairs.
Furthermore, the Board employs Meli Beniuci together with all NLTB staff and any disagreement with the Board would mean immediate termination.
We now hear of a recommendation by an Advisor from India to de-reserve all native reserve lands, which the Board is going to deliberate upon.
These are dangerous times for Mataqali members registered in the VKB.
They need to wake up and seriously ponder the potential legal, social, cultural and disastrous consequences this recommendation could have on their mataqalis and the taukei people’s as a whole.
There must be full and proper consultation with the concerned Mataqali’s and where consent has been obtained, equitable market returns on investments with respect to land rentals and long-term training for Mataqali members to enable them to manage their own lands in the future.
The NLTB unfortunately can no longer be relied upon to protect Mataqali interests because it has failed in its fiduciary duties in the past.
Furthermore, given the current political climate, the Board has not been able to convince the Mataqali’s or alleviate their genuine concerns, it has the moral fortitude to stand up to the interim government and uphold its fiduciary duties to protecting their interests.
Another major concern is the composition of the High Court and Court of Appeal by the interim Government with coup sympathizers, so any potential relief to be sought by a Mataqali would be an exercise in futility.
The only option for the Mataqali’s would be to unite & lobby, NGO’s and International bodies to their cause.
Ironically, it seems the late Ratu Mo Tuisawau had the last laugh, when he interpreted NLTB as the acronym for ‘Native Lands No Trust Board.’
14-Feb-2008 - www.fijidailypost.com
Indigenous body rebukes idea of de-reserving native land
A PLAN to de-reserve native land has been viewed by an indigenous rights group as something akin to sacrilege.
The Fiji Indigenous Ownership and Rights Association (FIORA) has rebuked any suggestions of de-reserving native land.
“The landowning units (mataqali) should be properly informed and consulted, as in accordance with the law, before their land under reserve are touched,” said FIORA spokesman Francis Waqa Sokonibogi.
“The first thing to be done in this case is to get the consent of more than 50 percent of the landowning unit before there are moves to carry this out.”
He added that it seems that interim Prime Minister, Frank Bainimarama, and ‘his mouthpiece’ interim Sugar Minister Mahendra Chaudhry, are doing what any typical ‘landless’ person will do and meddle with land.
He made these comments after following revelations that a report prepared by an Indian consultancy agency suggests that native land be de-reserved to assist in the recovery of the ailing sugar industry.
Sokonibogi said native land was never meant to be used for national interest.
He added that even if there were plans to de-reserve native land then protocol dictates it should not be made public.
“Once it is de-reserved this opens the land up for commercial use and members of the mataqali and their families may be left with nothing,” said Sokonibogi.
“They have spat on the Fijian people’s protocol. They should let Fijians do things their own way.”
But Native Land Trust Board maintains that native land is safe and protected under the law.
NLTB acting general manager Meli Benuci said that the law is quite clear on control and protection of all native land.
“Under Section 4(1) of the Native Lands Trust Act NLTA, the control of all native land shall be vested in the board and all such land shall be administered by the board for the benefit of the Fijian owners, he said.
He added that under Section 15(1) of the NLTA, it is lawful for the board to set aside any portion of native land as a native reserve.
But he stressed that no matter what, the nod will have to come solely from the landowners.
“In other words, de-reservation of native land cannot be done without the express approval of a majority of landowners concerned.
“This guideline is enshrined in the Native Lands Trust Act itself, and therefore if the Interim Government is now wishing to de-reserve all native land we would need the express approval of a majority of all native landowners in question,” said Benuci.
“Notwithstanding the above, such an exercise is not one which the NLTB should even consider given our fiduciary duty to landowners to ensure that they always have sufficient land for their maintenance, subsistence and survival.
“Any action to de-reserve all native land is in itself contrary to this duty, as landowners will no longer have any native reserve to use as they please.”
Benuci added that it was more than mere economics, as land represents life and sustenance, identity and culture.
“Mindful of its role in providing maximum benefits for the landowner, the NLTB also has other important roles to play in providing for lands for national development and giving access to land for others.
“The system is provided for flexibility in that it can de-reserve customary lands for the need of others.
“This however, must recognise the special connection the Fijian has to the land.
It is the one tangible asset possessed by Fijians in an insecure, changing world in which material progress seemed to pass them by,” he concluded.