7/20/2008 - www.sun.com.fj
By WAME BAUTOLU
Land and chiefly titles disputes risk Fiji's economy as well as its communities, a lawyer warned yesterday.
If the country had adopted a tribunal like the Waitangi Tribunal in 1987, then we might have fewer chiefly and land disputes.
Senior counsel to the Great Council of Chiefs Kitione Vuataki said trying to simulate legislation like the Treaty of Waitangi Act in New Zealand or the Native Title Act in Australia or the Restitution of Land Rights Act in South Africa may take time.
He said it was a lawyer's duty to find paths trodden by first nations in America, the Maoris in New Zealand and the natives in Africa through which resolutions may be found for claims on crown breaches.
"It is also the responsibility of those who appoint tribunal members that look into chiefly title disputes to also have on board those who know the ambits of their powers, the rights to fair procedure and the application of customary law on succession when it is found," said Mr Vuataki. He stressed the chiefs in their wisdom recognised this in 1987 in proposing a tribunal and that was why the government was under intense pressure to pass such legislation after 2000.
"In 1987 the GCC submitted a recommendation to the then President Ratu Sir Penaia Ganilau that a tribunal be set up like the Waitangi Tribunal to look into disputes raised by their people on lands that were purportedly sold and had become freehold or which had been alienated by Governor Im Thurn or which otherwise should be returned to them," he said.
Mr Vuataki said this recommendation was contained in a submission on the proposed first Constitution of the Fiji Islands which ultimately became the 1990 Constitution.
This recommendation did not see the light of day until the Qarase Government and the Attorney's General Office started to look seriously into the issue by sending a team to New Zealand and a draft Bill was proposed.
"The Bill was to set up a tribunal with jurisdiction to inquire into claims or grievances of Fijians on behalf of any of their divisions or subdivision who have been prejudiced by past Acts, current Acts or policy of government," said Mr Vuetaki.
The fear of state lessees that transfer of state land to native owners would prejudice their interest was unfounded as transfer of Schedule A and B lands from the state to native owners included a transfer of leases over such land being transferred to the NLTB for administration.
"Nevertheless for some reason this particular Bill was cited as one of the reasons for the military coup of December 06, 2006 in the ousting of the Qarase Government," said Mr Vuataki.