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By Margaret Wise

SUVA, Fiji Islands (April 11, 2000 - The Fiji Times/PINA Nius Online)---Landowners have been selling themselves short for too long and the time has come for them to stand up and demand a fairer share of the economic cake.

That was the message Native Land Trust Board general manager Maika Qarikau conveyed to the Nadroga Provincial Council last week.

He said a large part of the Government's earnings was derived from income generated "through the goodness of the landowner."

"The Government and the tenants like to boast about the substantial contribution the sugar industry makes to the economic life of this country,'' Mr. Qarikau said.

"The sugar industry actually is a lucrative industry. It supports the operations of the Government. And those that are boasting about it should not forget that this would not have been possible if the Fijian landowners had not given up their land.

"And not only has this sacrifice helped the Government, it has also given employment and a place to live for the thousands of tenants and laborers who otherwise would be struggling to survive under harsher conditions. This sacrifice has also seen hundreds of tenants better their lives because of earning eked out from the use of land, owned by an indigenous who gets peanuts out of the rentals.''

Remarking on permanent secretary Luke Ratuvuki's statements that landowners will not be given cash grants, Mr. Qarikau said landowners were right to be concerned about the F$ 28,000 (US$ 13,793) government was dishing out to displaced tenants.

He said Fijian landowners deserved the same kind of cash assistance, if not more.

"The explanation given is that the F$ 28,000 is to help exiting tenants start a new life. That is the very same thing that is happening to the landowner. He is starting a new life as a farmer. Government says it will help, but so far nothing has been finalized. Leases continue to expire and the landowners continue to wait,'' he said.

"The question that landowners should be asking, and rightfully too, is whether they are getting a fair share of the economic cake. The time has come for them to start thinking of themselves and future generations.''

For additional reports from the Fiji Times, go to PACIFIC ISLANDS REPORT News/Information Links: Newspapers/Fiji Times.

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