NEW CLAIMS BY FIJI LANDOWNERS; CRITICISM OF NEW ZEALAND'S GOFF

SUVA, Fiji Islands (September 8, 2000 - Fiji's Daily Post/PINA Nius Online)---The settlement of the Monasavu land issue will determine how two similar compensation claims in the Northern Division, worth more than F$ 10 million (US$ 4,620,000), will be settled.

Landowners of the Wainiqeu Mini-Hydro Scheme outside Labasa want the Fiji Electricity Authority to pay F$ 7,302,880 (US$ 3,373,931) as compensation for the hydro's water catchment area.

A similar claim has been made by landowners of the Navau water catchment area, who are demanding that government pay them F$ 2,851,680 (US$ 1,317,476). Native Land Trust Board officials in Labasa met with landowners during the week and held discussions on the issue. Wainiqeu is in Wailevu East in Cakaudrove province.

The claims follow the takeover of the Monasavu hydroelectric facilities by rebel supporters and indigenous Fijian landowners amidst the unrest following the May 19 coup and the deposing of the coalition government led by Prime Minister Mahendra Chaudhry. The closedown of Monasavu caused a major power crisis on Fiji's main island, Viti Levu. There were regular power cuts in Suva as the Fiji Electricity Authority tried to maintain supplies with standby diesel generators.

The land in question in Wainiqeu near Labasa, the main town on Fiji's second biggest island, Vanua Levu, totals 3,511 acres and is used by the FEA as a water catchment area for the hydro scheme. However, it was not leased by the authority when the project started in 1992. Claims of compensation for this land have been made by the mataqali Wainunu, Namasusu and Nakoka.

A joint statement to this effect was made by Josefa Rakaidawa, Lepani Veitebe and Pita Tamaidroge, the respective heads of these mataqali, stating that they had been informed by the NLTB of a lease offer made to FEA, which has not paid.

They stated that since FEA agreed to pay Monasavu landowners the sum of F$ 52.8 million (US$ 24,393,600), they as landowners of the hydro scheme are "accordingly demanding FEA to pay us the sum of F$ 7,302,880 (US$ 3,373,931) goodwill as well." The goodwill, they said, is totally separate from whatever NLTB has advised FEA to pay with regard to the lease.

FEA chief executive Nizzam-ud-Dean said he was not aware of claims and his office has not received anything in writing. However, he said there is still more work to be done on the Monasavu claim.

Solomone Bogileka, spokesman for mataqali Korobugani, which owns the Navau water catchment area, said their land was leased last year but they want the government to make goodwill payments on it. With a total area of 1,371 acres, the catchment area is at Dogoru, Wailevu, in Macuata province.

It is used by the Public Works Department to supply water to Labasa Town and surrounding areas. NLTB Labasa deputy manager Aca Buadromo said the area had to be leased after the town suffered a massive drought in 1987.

He said landowners are closely following the discussions on the Monasavu compensation issue on which both claims are based. "We have been holding discussions with landowners who are demanding that goodwill payments be made by the tenants," he said.

In other developments yesterday:

* The People's Coalition no longer exists, said the Interim Government's Minister for Information, Ratu Inoke Kubuabola.

The Interim Government, he said, has two former Coalition Ministers, Ratu Tevita Momoedonu and Mrs. Marieta Rigamoto, parliamentarians from parties who were part of the Chaudhry-led Coalition as well as others with links to it.

Ratu Inoke was reacting to New Zealand Foreign Minister Phil Goff's planned meeting and briefing with some anti-Interim Government politicians in his 12-hour stop over in Fiji. "Mr. Goff should be advised that the former Coalition no longer exists," Ratu Inoke said.

"The Christian Democratic Party now fully supports the Interim administration as does a large group of the Fijian Association Party." He said that within the Fiji Labour Party are different groups, pursuing different objectives for the return to power. He reiterated that Fiji's return to democracy needs no foreign intervention.

According to the Minister, while government welcomes Mr. Goff's stop over in Fiji, he should not tell us how we should proceed to govern our country.

"While Mr. Goff was free to talk to our politicians and in fact meddle with our internal affairs, Fiji citizens need a visa before they can buy a ticket to travel to New Zealand but they cannot make political statements while in there."

He said Mr. Goff usually talks about equality and fair play "but he should ask himself if he's abiding by it. Many things have been said about Fiji's political situation but the reality that Mr. Goff must face is that indigenous Fijians want the 1997 Constitution amended.

"A review committee will include FLP people who are strong supporters of Mr. Goff. They have been invited and are welcome to join."

Ratu Inoke said the legality of the Great Council of Chiefs' role after the abrogation of the 1997 Constitution (GCC) had been questioned by Mr. Goff so many times.

The legality of the GCC, Ratu Inoke said, derived from history and was not dependent on any Constitution. "Customary law, which is accepted as legitimate internationally, gives authority to our chiefly system. It has the sovereign right to decide for us." He reminded Mr. Goff that he needed to recognize our sovereignty and to treat us as equals.

* Interim Agriculture Minister Apisai Tora has no authority to touch any legislation as it exceeds the role of the interim administration, ousted Deputy Prime Minister Dr. Tupeni Baba said. He was reacting to Mr. Tora's plan to scrap the Agricultural Landlord and Tenants Act (ALTA).

ALTA governs the leasing of indigenous Fijian owned land to mainly ethnic Indian sugarcane farmers.

Dr. Baba said the interim administration was in place solely for the purpose of maintaining and running the machinery of government. He said they should desist from embarking on any major new policies.

He said: "Mr. Tora's statements to scrap ALTA in the absence of an elected Parliament and the suspension of the Senate shows his disrespect for the people and the Great Council of Chiefs. This move will have a major impact on the national economy and national reconciliation."

Dr. Baba said the People's Coalition Government had earlier started delicate negotiations with the Native Land Trust Board and the GCC and this needs to be continued. "The Interim Ministers unlawful acts will abandon all these."

Dr. Baba said ALTA was constituted through an act of Parliament and affects the lives of all who are engaged in agriculture.

For additional reports from Fiji’s Daily Post, go to PACIFIC ISLANDS REPORT News/Information Links: Other News Resources/Fijilive.

Pacific Islands News Association (PINA) Website: http://www.pinanius.org 

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