NEWS

Land Leases Top Debate

The heated debate brought forward lengthy diatribe on the disadvantages of equal distribution of land leases, from the Opposition.
04 Apr 2019 10:10
Land Leases Top Debate
Prime Minister Voreqe Bainimarama. Photo: Ronald Kumar

The land debate once again took centre stage in Parliament yesterday with Opposition demanding that there be consultations on equal distribution of lease money.

A petition had been brought to the Standing Committee for Economic Affairs from Opposition Member of Parliament Ratu Suliano Matanitobua. The report on it was brought to Parliament yesterday by chair of the committee Vijay Nath after it was referred to the Committee by Parliament. It was signed by 446 members of public.

It was decided by the Committee that the petition did not have merits for further discussions.

The heated debate brought forward lengthy diatribe on the disadvantages of equal distribution of land leases, from the Opposition.

Government:

Prime Minister Voreqe Bainimarama wrapped up Government contribution to this debate and called out Opposition members for pushing forward with this issue to put the agenda of a few ahead of the 300,000 iTaukei landowners who receive the lease money today compared to 4500 who received it before Mr Bainimarama pushed for the change in this.

He also addressed remarks made by a number of Opposition members on a number of issues including when Mosese Bulitavu claimed that the $10million set aside to assist indigenous landowners had too many processes.

“You just don’t turn up at the Ministry of Economy and demand $2million. That is how we ended up with the Agriculture Scam,” Mr Bainimarama reminded Mr Buli- tavu.

He also told SODELPA’s Viliame Gavoka that FijiFirst does not “win elections by speeches. We win by acting.

“There were a lot of youths this morning in Parliament and I don’t know whether most of them know or remember the lease money was once paid out in a manner which was against democratic ideology.

We know money is power and the elite took that power and abused it. It was my Government who finally righten that wrong. I pledged to the landowners after my consultations that the distribution of lease money would be fair and equal,” he said.

Mr Bainimarama also recalled an anecdote shared with him by the then Education Minister Filipe Bole.

“Honourable Bole came to see me and I don’t know if he was pulling my leg but he said that in their mataqali, by the time it came to get their share, they had run out of money and they were given a match stick each to show that they are still part of the land owning unit,” he said.

Attorney-General Aiyaz Sayed- Khaiyum clarified a number of misleading statements Opposition MPs made regarding the findings of the report, pointing out that Opposition’s tendency to fall back on UNDRIP was also misleading. UNDRIP was mentioned by SODELPA’s Niko Nawaikula.

Minister for Women, Children and Poverty Alleviation,  Mereseini Vuniwaqa reminded Parliament that women and children below the age of 18 were not given a fair share under the previous set-up but now this new set up directly empowered iTaukei women landowners.

She further stated that the equal distribution of lease money did not stop any member from giving a portion of their share to the head of the landowning units.

She also said just because a landowner lived overseas does not mean they are deprived of money which rightfully belonged to them.

Defence Minister Inia Seruiratu said the only time Opposition thought about land issues was when they sat in Opposition and did not do anything about uplifting landowning units and landowners when those in Opposition sat on Government side.

Health Minister Dr Ifereimi Waqainabete told Parliament that during his various visits around the country, he had received overwhelming response that people were happy with this especially people like him who do not have a Ratu or Roko in front of their names.

Assistant Minister for iTaukei Affairs Selai Adimaitoga backed up these comments and reminded the Opposition that people were happy with equal distribution of lease money, were happy with Government and not necessarily with the Opposition.

Opposition:

National Federation Party’s Pio Tikoduadua said the report dis- played the partisanship within the Economic Affairs Committee. He questioned whether the petition was rejected because it was signed by more than 400 iTaukei.

He wanted more money to be set aside for heads of landowning units and not equally distributed to all members.

Social, Democratic and Liberal Party’s (SODELPA) Niko Nawaikula said no one denied or disagreed with equal distribution, but was contradicted by other members of his own Party including Mr Bulitavu.

Mr Nawaikula then talked about how he picked up rubbish in his village every Thursday.

He wanted the introduction of new lease structure.

Mr Bulitavu said by giving money equally to every member of the landowning unit, the structure within landowning units were weakened and it was unfair that members who lived overseas were given the same amount of lease money.

The petition was not taken forward.

Edited by Susana Tuilau

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