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'Come clean' over land

'Come clean' over land

2 February 2001

USP Pacific Journalism Online:
USP Pasifik Nius:

Have your say:


* See Pasifik Nius item 3185

SUVA (Pasifik Nius): A development economist has appealed to Fiji's
Native Land Trust Board to "come clean" on its real motives if a
long-lasting solution to the land problem is to be found for the

Condemning some landowners and the NLTB over "exploitation and
intimidation" of mainly Indo-Fijian tenant farmers, University of the
South Pacific's Dr Mahendra Reddy said the girmit era of indentured
labour may return to Fiji.

Writing in the Daily Post today, Dr Reddy said: "While tenant farmers
remain the descendants of the indentured labourers, the masters are no
longer the whites, but the indigenous community aided by their trustees
[the NLTB]."

Exploitation by landowners and the NLTB had taken various forms and he
cited examples such as:

* Raising rent levels without a proper rent-fixing formula or mechanism.

* Asking for "exorbitant premiums", ranging from F$6000 to $15,000 a
lease upon renewal of leases under the term "consideration for new

* Asking the tenant to get a consent form signed where the tenant was
"deliberately exposed for exploitation" by landowners.

* Writing intimidating letters of non-renewal of leases and asking for
compensation to be paid to the NLTB for "dilapidation, deterioration or
damages" for an amount of $1000 an acre.

Dr Reddy wrote that as the NLTB had a monopoly power over land, the
"vulnerable community" could be exploited to its maximum, particularly
when other institutions such as the state were turning a blind eye to
this issue.

"It is in the national interest that Indo-Fijian farmers leave
agricultural land and this just cannot happen overnight," said Dr Reddy.

"Rather, it is a gradual process and it requires a transition period.

"The first best solution is to permanently resettle the tenant farmers
on freehold land. However, this may be possible for only a small
proportion of the farmers.

"The second best solution is to provide separate residential and
agricultural leases."

Residential leases should be offered for 99 years, Dr Reddy wrote.

As farmers became ready to leave agriculture, they would not have to
dismantle their home and become homeless.

They would only have to give up agricultural leases which would be
returned to their rightful owners.

"To arrive at a solution that is acceptable to all, we will have to
remove our political hat and open our eyes to issues that concern all
the stakeholders, the nation, indigenous Fijians and the tenant
community," Dr Reddy said.

"Can we begin with the NLTB?"



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