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Change TLTB Management: Ratu Timoci

Change TLTB Management: Ratu Timoci
Members of the Yavusa e Tolu at Narewa village in Nadi yesterday. Photo: WAISEA NASOKIA
July 21
11:04 2018

Reform the iTaukei Land Trust Board and get new management in, say landowners of Denarau.

The plea is coming through Ratu Timoci Duaka Dawai, the Turaga ni Yavusa Sila (one of the three landowning groups comprising the Yavusa-e-Tolu).

They jointly own the iTaukei land leased to proprietors of several hotel resorts and commercial and residential complexes on Denarau Island in Nadi.

He is pleading for swift political action to heed iTaukei landowners’ cries and demands for long-neglected reforms to the institutional structure and operation of the TLTB.

TLTB was established in 1940 as an independent board of trustees vested with the control of iTaukei land to be “administered” under statute “for the benefit of the iTaukei owners”.

Ratu Timoci’s statement was released yesterday afternoon.

An email was sent soon after to TLTB deputy general manager Solomoni Nata outlining the comments made by Ratu Timoci and seeking comments. A reply is yet to be received.

Ratu Timoci said he was echoing the sentiments of most iTaukei landowners who were “disgruntled with the bureaucratic red tape and paternalistic attitude of TLTB management.

“They remain insensitive to our genuine concerns and wishes in deciding what is best for us in negotiating and concluding deals for the long-term leases of our lands.”

TLTB’s mission statement and values list its commitment to “transparency”, “accountability” and “integrity”, undertaking to “uphold good governance, visibility, inclusiveness” and “provide the best financial and investment advice to the iTaukei landowners.”

Yet, according to Ratu Timoci, “whenever we knock on the doors of TLTB managers to find out what we need and want to know about their dealings with our land, they treat us like a nuisance”.

But, said Ratu Timoci , “when TLTB needs our signatures on consent forms, they come dangling carrots, rarely explaining the nuts and bolts of transactions which short-change us and end up depriving us access to our land for many generations”.

One of 345 applicants spearheading a case against TLTB and the owners of the Sheraton and Westin to seek judicial orders for access to information under Fiji’s 2013 Constitution, Ratu Timoci cannot understand why landowners were paid $250,000 in late 2015.

It transpired that the payment was made under a deed of settlement whose existence and terms were never previously disclosed by TLTB to them.

Resorting to legal action became necessary when TLTB and other parties to the deed refused repeated requests for access by lawyers acting for Ratu Timoci.

That substantial payment seemed paltry compared with the $260 million price tag for the sale of the Sheraton and Westin properties to Avoser Challenge Limited, a local consortium owned by Ananth Reddy and Suresh Patel.

The Fiji National Provident Fund board recently acquired the hotels after the initial sale to Avoser did not go ahead.

With TLTB remaining tight-lipped about the details of the deed of settlement, Ratu Timoci turned to his lawyers to unravel the mystery.

The 345 landowners are represented by Akuila Naco and Julian Moti QC.

Munro Leys’ Richard Naidu and Jon Apted act for the hotel operators. TLTB has engaged its in-house lawyers.

Suva High Court Judge Justice Kamal Kumar will hear the case on August 15 and 16.

This is to determine the landowners’ entitlement to have access to the settlement deed and other relevant documentary materials, as beneficiaries of income which they receive from the lease of their iTaukei land by TLTB to the hotel operators.

Ratu Timoci revealed that fresh leases have been negotiated by TLTB and FNPF for 99 years.

And TLTB’s managers are pressuring landowners to consent to their terms without being shown copies of documents.

According to Ratu Timoci, this is the first case where landowners are exercising their right under the 2013 Constitution,.

That is to seek access to information which they need before either joining or excluding themselves from proceedings against TLTB and the hotel operators for breaches of leases.

Or commencing a new action based on what the settlement deed reveals.

“We didn’t need to go to court if TLTB was cooperative in giving us the information we have the right to get,”he said.

“TLTB is the trustees of our land and have a duty to account to us for their administration and management.

“If they’re doing everything properly as they claim, what are they afraid of revealing?

“They are supposed to be transparent and accountable to us. They’ve paid us $250,000. Why? What’s the reason for all the secrecy?”

Ratu Timoci refused to speculate on the reasons for TLTB’s refusal to disclose the details of the settlement deed, saying that “the matter is now in court for Justice Kumar to decide whether our constitutional right to know has any meaning for us.”

PM’S HELP

Instead, he urged “our Honourable Prime Minister as the chairman of TLTB and Minister of iTaukei Affairs to listen” to their cries for decisive political action.

The culture of secrecy and unaccountability which has flourished at TLTB under previous governments needs to be weeded out, they said.

“We humbly invite the Fiji First Government to call a summit of iTaukei landowners to hear our grievances with the system in which TLTB has been operating for so long. Almost 80 years have passed with nothing being done to review and revamp TLTB’s operations to make it responsive to our demands and needs as custodians of our land and future welfare.”

Ratu Timoci said he was voicing the concerns of all iTaukei landowners who wanted urgent reforms to the TLTB Act and existing governance and operational structures.

“We desperately need a full scale public inquiry into TLTB, if the current government is serious about hearing our complaints and fixing the problems we encounter daily in our dealings with management,” Ratu Timoci said.

Edited by Percy Kean

Feedback:  jyotip@fijisun.com.fj

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