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Momi Land Row

Momi Land Row
SODELPA MP Viliame Gavoka.
June 14
10:56 2018

The controversial Momi land deal has come up again for debate.

It has been resurrected by Opposition SODELPA MP Viliame Gavoka to justify converting iTaukei land to State land then to freehold land.

Mr Gavoka said in a Facebook post: “I’m from Nadroga and the people of the Tokatoka Nasau are my people, and only yesterday I asked this question again whether the people of Tokatoka Nasau have complained about their land at Momi, and the answer was no. I said ‘again’ because their position has been made known and clarified, consistent with the clarifications from the SDL Govt, but the surrogates of FF can never let go. Long story short, the people of the Tokatoka Nasau saw the big picture at Momi, knew that the development of magnitude was taking place and they had a role to play, and agreed to the swap, which meant they got back in full value what they gave.”

What he failed to explain was that this was a Cabinet decision made in May 2005 which saw Tokatoka Nasau give up prime land forever, in return for $25,000 as goodwill money and land which today is not half the value of the land they lost.

Cabinet papers of May 2005 show this deal being struck with the help of Lands Minister Ratu Naiqama Lalabalavu.

Now,  Mr Gavoka has jumped in to defend the deal which left landowning units of Nasau out of pocket.

What he is not saying is that Ratu Naiqama Lalabalavu, the current President of SODELPA was the Lands Minister in the Laisenia Qarase Cabinet when native land was permanently alienated from Momi landowners.

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 was to “safeguard” native land, the Laisenia Qarase-led Government found a loophole in the laws.

They abused this loophole, they abused the provisions of the then Land Trust Act and took away prime land, which would have earned landowners a lot of money if they had leased it out to a developer.

But the land swap can no longer happen under the provisions of the 2013 Constitution:

The sections clearly put 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 a road it was acquired for, it has to go back to the landowners. It has to be converted to iTaukei land.

It cannot be used for another project, without consent of the landowners. It most certainly cannot be converted to freehold land.

What good were the entrenched

provisions?

Entrenched provisions mean certain laws cannot be amended. But, what is the use of a law which is flawed? It is the previous law which handed a loophole to those in power to take prime land from iTaukei. How can anyone who professes to have iTaukei welfare at heart, deny the same iTaukei the opportunity to progress?

Land in Momi is prime and if the land swap had not been allowed by Ratu Naiqama, today those landowners would have been earning tens of thousands of dollars in lease money.

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

Feedbacks: nemani.delaibatiki@fijisun.com.fj

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