Politics

Like Sugar, Squatters Are Not A Political Football

The issue of squatters in the country will never be solved as long as we have politicians who continue to use squatters as vote banks.
01 Aug 2020 11:32
Like Sugar, Squatters Are Not A Political Football
SODELPA Opposition Member of Parliament Ro Teimumu Kepa congratulates Prime Minister Voreqe Bainimarama after the 2020-2021 National Budget was passed in Parliament on July 30, 2020. Photo: Parliament of Fiji

The sugarcane belt used to be treated like a political football. Now, the attention seems to have shifted to squatters.

The issue of squatters in the country will never be solved as long as we have politicians who continue to use squatters as vote banks.

The issue of squatters will never be solved as long as we have politicians who go around these settlements urging the residents not to take steps to better their lives and to wait around for the Government to hand them land leases on a silver platter. Despite this, the Fijian Government has invested in giving out leases.

What has been done by the Bainimarama and FijiFirst Government?

Five squatter settlements were regularised between 2010 and 2017.

These are:

  • Badrau in Ba where 60 households were given leases. This cost Government $630,391;
  • Bangladesh in Nakasi where 60 households were given leases. This cost $370,375;
  • Vatoa in Nasinu which is on iTaukei land where 105 leases were given costing the Government $779,734;
  • Lakena Hill No. 2 in Nausori, 143 leases given costing the Government $667,731;
  • Omkar Road in Narere, where 83 leases were given, which cost the Government $2,189,612.

Completing this year

Ledrusasa, Cuvu and Waidamudamu where 451 households will receive 99-year leases.

Projects, where preparatory works are nearing completion and construction, is set to start include:

Sakoca – 174 households;

Field 40 – 126 households;

Wakanisila – 120 households;

Tavela – 108 lots; and

Tore – 60 lots.

The scheme plans for all projects have been completed; the Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) and engineering plans are in progress and total payments to consultants this financial year is $207,731.

In addition to this, five new development leases have been acquired for the following:

Tagalevu and Tovilala which cost the Government $164,267 to acquire;

Keni costing $60,472;

Tuatua $87,020; and

Qelewaqa, for which the development lease cost $83,993.

Acquiring the development lease in the first step in the regularisation process.

History of our squatter problems

Squatter problems existed before Fiji gained independence, but some events during 1998 and 1999 made things worse.

To solve a number of these issues, we need people to stand up in Parliament and take responsibility and tell the nation the role they played in 1998 and 1999, which led to the formation of a number of squatter settlements along the Suva-Nausori corridor.

Many of those who initially came to settle in squatter settlements were farmers. These farmers were victims of dirty politics against the Mahendra Chaudhry-led Government.

Mr Chaudhry is well aware of this, but he is keeping quiet. Why? Perhaps because it will show the present Government in a good light.

There was a concerted effort by some employees of the then Native Land Trust Board (NLTB) to encourage landowners not to renew the leases of those who farmed on their land. Social Democratic Liberal Party (SODELPA) Member of Parliament Niko Nawaikula worked for the then NLTB. Can he stand in Parliament and deny that there was no such effort by some NTLB staff?

But that was in 1999.

What has been done since?

A lot was done by the Bainimarama and the FijiFirst Governments.

Those who had to leave their homes behind 21 years ago were the real victims. But since then, many people gravitated towards these settlements, with the hope that they will be handed land leases and land free of cost.

It does not help when SODELPA’s Lynda Tabuya, attempts to twist things around in Parliament.

People may have heard Housing and Community Development Minister, Premila Kumar, talking about green fields. What does that mean? The Minister cannot send in a bulldozer to bulldoze the land, make it flat. She cannot then send in surveyors to quickly survey the land. Why? Because there are people living on the land, there are houses already built and this makes things extremely tricky.

Not only that, the Government cannot get the land subdivided and leased without the green light from the landowners. That’s a fact. Sixty per cent of the landowning unit have to give the okay before a development lease is given.

In many cases, the internal bickering and fighting among those living in these settlements have led to delays as well.

Like sugar, squatters are not a political football. Leave the experts to do their work. Grandstanding in Parliament helps no one.

Edited by Naisa Koroi

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