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By Mesake Koroi

SUVA, Fiji Islands (April 14, 2000 - Fiji’s Daily Post/Pasifik Nius/Niuswire)---The controversial Agricultural Landlord and Tenant Act (ALTA) issue is expected to be resolved sooner than expected, the Fiji Islands government said. In fact, a compromise solution is being pursued by the government and the Native Land Trust Board.

ALTA has been the worst nightmare for Prime Minister Mahendra Chaudhry’s government since it came to power 10 months ago.

The Deputy Prime Minister, Dr. Tupeni Baba, indicated at a Fiji Labour Party rally at Nausori on Wednesday night that there is light already at the end of the tunnel.

"We should have a permanent solution in place before the end of the year," he said. "But we do not want to push the issue because it is very sensitive."

He did not elaborate.

However, an investigation has revealed that a "modified" version of ALTA is being worked out.

Unconfirmed reports said the move followed suggestions from the NLTB President, Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara.

It is understood that the strategy is to look at the provisions of both ALTA and the Native Land Trust Act (NLTA), pick out the best parts, and incorporate them into a modified version of ALTA.

Once the framework of the new ALTA is in place, it will go before the Great Council of Chiefs for ratification. This, sources said, can be done before the end of the year.

The government, the NLTB and the GCC have deadlocked on the land issue for months.

The government wants to retain ALTA while the NLTB and the GCC want to scrap it. The board and the council want all native land to be administered under NLTB instead.

However, following a presentation to the GCC meeting last year, the government was given the green light to return with its own submission. Since then, an ALTA Cabinet sub-committee has been meeting with an NLTB committee to work out a solution.

Meanwhile, Dr. Baba has clarified that the Land Use Commission proposed by the government will not be imposed on landowners as claimed by critics. "It will be entirely up to individual landowners," he said.

"If they want their land to be used under the scheme, then and only then will we move in to develop the land. That should bring some return to them, the tenant and the country as a whole."

"If the landowners do not want their land to be cultivated under the Land Use Commission, it’s their decision. The government will move out and not touch that land."

"Let it be clear that there is no question about land ownership. Native lands belong to the indigenous landowners and that will remain so."

"The government will only move in to develop unused land under the LUC if it is the wish of the landowners," Dr. Baba said.

Title -- 2664 DEVELOPMENT: Fiji land solution "near" Date -- 14 April 2000 Byline -- Mesake Koroi Origin -- Pasifik Nius Source – Fiji’s Daily Post, 14/4/00 Copyright – DP Status – Unabridged

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