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FOCUS: iTaukei Land, Rights, Interest In Good Hands

iTaukei can break the shackles that bind them to the past if they stop thinking of themselves as victims in the new Fiji. In the context of iTaukei history, the
01 May 2015 07:58
FOCUS: iTaukei Land, Rights, Interest In Good Hands
Senior managers of iTaukei institutions (Ministry of iTaukei Affairs, iTaukei Land Trust Board) at a recent public consultation to address issues pertaining to land, scholarships and appointments among other things.

iTaukei can break the shackles that bind them to the past if they stop thinking of themselves as victims in the new Fiji.

In the context of iTaukei history, the word victim is out of kilter with the reality of their true position in the national scheme of things

The challenges that iTaukei face in Fiji are nothing compared to what the Native Americans, the Australian Aborigines and the New Zealand Maori encounter.

Common challenges experienced by indigenous peoples include cultural and linguistic preservation, land rights, ownership and exploitation of natural resources, political determination and autonomy, environmental degradation and incursion, poverty, health, education and discrimination. The facts:

LAND

The fact is iTaukei land, culture and interests are well protected. Those who disagree base their opinions on erroneous perceptions that are baseless in law.

iTaukei are in a much better position than the Maori, the Native Americans and the Australian Aborigines in as far as the security of their rights, land, culture, natural resources, interests and institutions are concerned.

The Aborigines were dispossessed of their land by early British settlers.  Land to the Aborigines means their hunting grounds, water resources, sacred sites and other spiritually significant places.

Today the Aborigines are still largely marginalised. The Australian government has tried to right the wrongs of the past, but its efforts are considered not enough. Aboriginal advocates refer to them as token gestures. Australia is now paying a high price for years of neglect. Many rural Aborigines are housed in Government-funded units in settlements which are grappling with alcohol-related problems and anti-social behaviour. There are question marks over the social experiments.

In the years following colonisation, the Indigenous population declined dramatically under the impact of new diseases, open warfare, dispossession, the lack of food and water and the almost complete breakdown of the traditional way of life and culture.

The Indigenous people continued to resist the occupation of their lands by the British, but by 1860, the British settlement covered over 400 million hectares of Indigenous land. Many Indigenous people could only stay on their land if they were employed by the settlers as stockmen or domestic servants. Today, the battle for land is fought out in the law courts under the term ‘land rights’.

In New Zealand, the Maori, the indigenous people, continue their battle to fight for compensation for land confiscated by the British during the fierce Land Wars of the 1800s. Their claims are being heard by the Waitangi Tribunal which has granted substantial compensations in the past.

FOUNDING DOCUMENT

The Treaty of Waitangi, the founding document of New Zealand, is not considered part of New Zealand domestic law, except where its principles are referred to in Acts of Parliament. The exclusive right to determine the meaning of the Treaty rests with the Waitangi Tribunal, a commission of inquiry created in 1975 to investigate alleged breaches of the Treaty by the Crown. More than 2000 claims have been lodged with the tribunal, and a number of major settlements have been reached.

In America, most of those who claim to be Native American live on designated Indian reservations. They are sometimes referred to as American Indians. Their ancestors were said to have migrated to America from Asia and South America.

They lived in peace until the 15th century when Europeans first arrived in North America. The new arrivals took over the land and set up farms and homes.

The native population began to dwindle after diseases and wars hit them.

They were a populous group, but today they represent only 1.4 per cent of the United States population.

Like the Aborigines, the Native Americans suffer from a lot of social problems. Suicide rate among them is the highest in the country. However, many Native Americans continue to take pride in their ancestral traditions. They still practice their art, music and ceremonial rituals. But not only are they a minority they have little impact on national life.

DRIVERS’ SEAT

In Fiji, however, iTaukei are in the driver’s seat. First they own 87 per cent of the country’s total land mass. Their consent is required if any land is to be leased out. They have a choice to deposit land in the Land Bank where they can get a higher return. The Land Bank does not charge poundage like the iTaukei Land Trust Board does. To date most indigenous land is still with the TLTB, which was set up in 1940 as the Native Land Trust Board under the iTaukei Land Trust Act known then as the Native Land Trust Act. Its initial purpose was to secure, protect and manage land ownership rights assigned to the iTaukei landowners and to facilitate the commercial transactions that revolve around its issue. Their land cannot be sold. The TLTB website says “it will forever remain the property of the landowning unit unless sold back to the State and then used solely for public purposes.”

PUBLIC USE

iTaukei land is available for public use by lease agreement. Leases can vary from 30 years for agricultural purposes up to 99 years for most other uses including residential, commercial and industrial leases.

The Constitution protects iTaukeiland. In Section 28 (1), it says the ownership of all iTaukei land shall remain with with the customary owners of that land and iTaukei land shall not be permanently alienated, whether by sale, grant, transfer or exchange, except to the State in accordance with section 27.

Section 28 (2) says any iTaukei land acquired by the State for a public purpose after the commencement of this Constitution under section 27 or under any written law shall revert to customary owners if the land is no longer required by the State. Some have argued that there are no safeguards to iTaukei land because the decrees promulgated before last year’s general are still in force.

The only changes introduced by the decrees in relation to iTaukei land include:

– Equal sharing of lease money by landowners. Previously, only the chiefs received the largest amount. It has been clarified that it’s up to landowners to give part of their shares to the chiefs.

– Land Bank decree. The TLTB says it is no threat to it. In fact the decree gives landowners the choice whether to go with the Land Bank or stick with it. The Land Bank gives a higher return.

– Abolition of the Great Council of Chiefs. Anti-Government critics have linked their claims of a threat to land rights to the abolition. They say the GCC was part of the entrenched provision to protect iTaukei land and rights. The old Constitution needed two-thirds of GCC nominees in the Senate to say yes before Parliament could pass any iTaukei land law change. Those nominees were put there by politicians in the lower House, the House of Representatives. The new Constitution replaces that provision by taking the issue to the people in a national referendum.

Seventy-five per cent must vote in favour before it becomes law after Parliament has passed the bill. It gives the power back to the people. Before, that power was in the hands of a few who towed the line of their political masters. Provincial councils have stepped up to deal with issues that the GCC handled. So far there has not been any adverse impact without the GCC. It was used by some politicians to promote their political agenda.

– The Prime Minister as Minister for iTaukei Affairs and chairperson of the TLTB makes sense. As a iTaukei and landowner himself Voreqe Bainimarama  will not do anything to undermine the interests of iTaukei.

All the new policies he has implemented so far are to enhance the economic position of the iTaukei.

TOMORROW: iTaukei institutions and challenges facing iTaukei

Feedback:  nemani.delaibatiki@fijisun.com.fj

 



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