"COME CLEAN" OVER LAND, FIJI’S LAND TRUST TOLD

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SUVA, Fiji Islands (February 2, 2001 – Fiji’s Daily Post/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 country.

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 labor may return to Fiji.

Writing in the Daily Post today, Dr. Reddy said, "While tenant farmers remain the descendants of the indentured laborers, 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$ 6,000 to F$ 15,000 (US$ 2,772 to US$ 6,930) a lease upon renewal of leases under the term "consideration for new lease."

* 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 F$ 1,000 (US$ 462) 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?"

Title -- 3186 FIJI: 'Come clean' over land, NLTB told Date -- 2 February 2001 Byline – None Origin -- Pasifik Nius Source -- PN/Daily Post, 2/2/1 Copyright -- PN/DP Status -- Unabridged

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