Landowners robbed of a fair deal

Government is finding ways to compensate landowning units whose land were leased for Nausori International Airport in 1951 when they were short-changed and basically robbed of a fair deal for
15 Mar 2018 10:00
Landowners robbed of a fair deal
Acting Prime Minister and Attorney-General Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum outside Parliament on March 14, 2018. Photo: Ronald Kumar

Government is finding ways to compensate landowning units whose land were leased for Nausori International Airport in 1951 when they were short-changed and basically robbed of a fair deal for the land.

Acting Prime Minister and Attorney-General Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum made the shocking revelation in Parliament yesterday that during the Colonial days, when the prime land was leased on January 1, 1951, the landowners signed a deal for rent of 66 Pounds per annum.

There was also no provision which allowed for reassessment.

“The current Nausori International Airport site was acquired during the Colonial Government days on January 1, 1951. The lease issued was for 99 years at 66 Pounds per annum with no right of reassessment and no Government has actually corrected that – none during the Colonial days or the Alliance Government, or the Rabuka Government nor the SDL Government. We are actually going to correct that Madam Speaker,” Mr Sayed-Khaiyum revealed.

He said the Government will work on finalising a compensation which will be amenable Airports Fiji Limited and to the landowning units.

And, Mr Sayed-Khaiyum said Government wanted to ensure the future generations of landowners also benefit from this as well.

Therefore, he stressed that it was essential that instead of just a lump sum payment made initially followed by trifling payments over the years, the current negotiations to lease more land for extension take into account that reassessment of the market value be allowed every few years.

He was responding to a question on the update on Nausori International Airport extension.

He informed the House that negotiations are currently ongoing with different landowning units who own different parcels of land needed for the extension.

Mr Sayed-Khaiyum said according to the forecast by Air New Zealand and Fiji Airways, by 2023 at least eight Boeing 737 aircraft will land full load in Nausori.

Current status:

The 737-800 which Fiji Airways uses to fly out of Nausori Airport to Sydney and Auckland does not run on full load because of the length of the runway.

The current length of the runway is 1868 metres and 30 metres wide. The ideal length for 737 operations on full load capacity is 2100 metres.

“So this is why in all these years it has been flying, it does not take the full load for which it needs a longer runway.”

Mr Sayed-Khaiyum said while most air traffic to Fiji for tourism was largely for the Western Division, Government was also mindful that a major proportion of the Fijian population live in the Nausori-Lami corridor, by some estimates 300,000 Fijians live in this area.

“The negotiations for the extension means the negotiations for the iTaukei lease of land required for the extension and this began a few years back Madam Speaker  with the village in Naselai and three of the landowning units from Natogadravu. Negotiations are still going on and some leases will be through the iTaukei Land Trust Board and some through the Ministry of Lands.”

Lawyers’ shenanigans:

Mr Sayed-Khaiyum did not hold back when he called out those lawyers who were not advising landowning units properly.

He revealed that during one of the negotiations, a lawyer had advised that $50 million be paid up front.

Mr Sayed-Khaiyum said no developer including the Airports Fiji Limited will come up front with that kind of money.

He said that instead of being short-sighted and seeking an astronomical amount up front, the interests of future generation of landowners are also needed to be taken into account.

“Madam Speaker many of these lawyers who go around putting wrong ideas in people’s heads should not be looking at a lump sum upfront and an astronomical amount. What they should be looking at, Madam Speaker, is to get a reasonable market assessment done and how we can get reassessment done every three or five years based on market value of the land. It will increase.

“We would rather have more money paid over the years as opposed to a lump sum now and trifling amounts for the next 99 years. That’s what they need to understand Madam Speaker. They are just living for the moment.

“We want to think about the future generation. We need to look at the market rentals too and a market assessment of rental to be paid in the future. It’s not just to do with Nausori, it is in other parts of Viti Levu and Vanua Levu where these lawyers come around operating their offices from the boots of their cars, some of them run their offices out of a suitcase, some of them run it sitting at Dolphin’s…

“This has been an issue. We want to make sure we pay the right market value to the landowners. The other point that need to be noted that many of these people who become advisers Madam Speaker of the landowners don’t actually tell them that once you get a full international size airport at Nausori, it automatically increases the value of land around that airport. More people would want to live there. There will be commercial transactions, more freight companies will come in.”

Mr Sayed-Khaiyum said they were keen to start with Nausori Airport extension soon but highlighted that it was not only the runway which needed to be extended but the terminals would need an upgrade too. He also pointed out that there was no arrow bridge in Nausori right now and that too needed to be factored in.

The total time needed for the upgrade is 70 weeks and would cost $47.85 million. The extension will start only after negotiations with landowners conclude.

Edited by Mohammed Zulfikar


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