FIJI PRIME MINISTER SAYS LAND MATTERS NEED TO BE RESOLVED QUICKLY

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SUVA, Fiji Islands (July 16, 1999 – PACNEWS)---Fiji Cabinet ministers have been told by Prime Minister Mahendra Chaudhry of the magnitude of economic and social problems that could arise if the Agricultural Landlord and Tenants Act (ALTA) issue is not resolved quickly in an amicable way.

Speaking at a one-day workshop on ALTA, the Prime Minister blamed the previous Government of Sitiveni Rabuka for its inability to develop a national solution to resolve the issue of expiring land leases.

He said this was despite the fact that it had five years to resolve the matter before the first ALTA leases started expiring two years ago.

Chaudhry said the new Government is now faced with a serious situation, but it would not shirk its responsibility to the nation and would develop mutually acceptable solutions.

Since 1997, Chaudhry said, ALTA leases had begun to expire, with the largest number due to expire this year and in 2000.

He said the immediate concern now is to put in place contingency plans for farmers whose leases already have expired or which are about to expire.

Even though the resolution of ALTA needs to be approached with prudence and patience, the Prime Minister said he was confident all relevant issues would be dealt with amicably.

He also emphasized the role of Government and its responsibility to bring all parties together to devise mutually acceptable long term solutions that took full account of the interests of all stakeholders, especially the landowners, tenants, the sugar industry and the nation as a whole.

The workshop also heard presentations by the country’s Native Land Trust Board (NLTB) and the Land Development and Resettlement Unit.

After the workshop, Cabinet ministers agreed to set up a Joint Working Party between Government and the NLTB. It will be the main vehicle for consultation and consensus building on all ALTA issues.

Ministers also agreed to propose to the NLTB a two-level Joint Working Group.

At the officials’ level, there is to be a Joint Working Party comprised of the general manger of the NLTB and his officials, together with the permanent secretaries and other officials from the relevant Government ministries.

The Joint Working Party of officials would then report to a higher level Joint Working Party comprised of the Board of the NLTB Sub-Committee on ALTA and the Government ministers of the Cabinet Sub-Committee on ALTA.

The Sugar Industry is also to be represented in both Joint Working Parties.

Based on the ALTA leases that now are expiring, the Joint Working Parties are to discuss all specific issues that pertain to the resolution of these leases.

This will include the need to respond to and provide for the needs of the indigenous Fijian landowners.

It will also address the needs of the mostly Indo-Fijian tenants for secure, fair and stable land tenure.

The ministers agreed that an immediate issue that requires urgent attention by the Joint Working Parties is the need to streamline and clarify procedures related to the issuance of new land leases.

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