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Under Ratu Naiqama’s Watch Momi Landowners Lost Prime Land: Sayed-Khaiyum

Under Ratu Naiqama’s Watch Momi Landowners Lost Prime Land: Sayed-Khaiyum
Opposition MP Ratu Naiqama Lalabalavu outside Parliament on September 15, 2017. Photo: Vilimoni Vaganalau
September 16
12:03 2017

The role Ratu Naiqama Lalabalavu, the current President of SODELPA and the former Lands Minister in the Laisenia Qarase Cabinet, played in converting native land to freehold at Momi was revealed in Parliament, despite his attempts to suppress the matter.

Opposition Members continued to say that there were no provisions in the 2013 Constitution which safeguard native land.

This false statement was not missed by the Government side.

Acting Prime Minister and Attorney-General Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum and other Government parliamentarians were quick to remind the other side that it was under the watch of their SODELPA President when landowners lost out on their prime land in Momi.

Ratu Naiqama rose on a point of order, saying that the cabinet decision on the conversion of the land was confidential when Mr Sayed-Khaiyum pointed him out and said this swap was done under Ratu Naiqama’s watch.

What had happened:

There had been interests by a private company to invest in Momi Bay, but investing in freehold land is deemed more lucrative where an annual lease is not paid to native landowners. But native landowners are short changed.

Ratu Naiqama presented a paper to Cabinet and asked for the native land in Momi to be converted to Crown or State Land. The same day, through a second Cabinet decision, the same State land was converted to Freehold Land.

This meant that despite the 1997 Constitution having so-called entrenched provisions which were to ‘safeguard’ native land, the Laisenia Qarase-led Government found a loophole in the law.

The same land, if leased out to the developer would have earned landowners a hefty sum of money in lease payments.

Landowners were given another portion of land elsewhere, but the current market value of the land the Momi landowners were given is far less than the land that was taken from them.

Why this can no longer happen:

Provisions under the 2013 Constitution puts in clear terms that if the State has to acquire any native land for Government use, for example a road, it cannot convert that land to freehold.

And, not only that. If decades later, that portion of land is no longer needed for the purpose it was acquired for, it has to go back to the landowners. It has to be converted to native land. It cannot be used for another project. It most certainly cannot be converted to freehold land.

What good were the entrenched provisions?

Entrenched provisions meant certain laws cannot be amended. But the flaws in our previous laws enabled the Qarase Government to permanently alienate native land.

The very entrenched provisions which were to save native land failed them and a ‘high chief’ Ratu Naiqama had presented a paper to allow this to happen.

Edited by Mohammed Ali

Feedback:  jyotip@fijisun.com.fj

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