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SUVA, Fiji Islands (July 9, 2002 – Daily Post)---The Native Land Trust Board is now looking at a 30-year lease under the Native Land Trust Act (NLTA) with a 15 percent rent calculated on the Unimproved Capital Value.

This was part of a proposal discussed at the Talanoa session yesterday attended by the Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase with his government representatives and Labour leader Mahendra Chaudhry and his colleagues.

The discussion was aimed at resolving the longstanding problems of ALTA (Agricultural Landlord And Tenants Act) and the 1997 Constitution.

A source said NLTB is looking at a rental value of 15 percent, which is two and a half times more than the current rent of 6 percent paid by the tenant community.

"The NLTB is proposing a 30-year lease under NLTA and it will be reviewed on the 25th year with a 15 percent rent. The arrangement would require that every fifth year, land is reassessed," the source said

The source said another special condition attached to the lease would be that farmers won’t be permitted to burn their cane and would be charged heavy penalties if they supplied burned cane to the mills.

A special land court is also proposed to be set up to deal with the landowner-tenant dispute.

However, these proposals on lease arrangements presented at the Talanoa session could derail the talks on finding a solution on ALTA.

Both leaders yesterday remained silent on the specifics of what was discussed.

The Prime Minister said the meeting "looked good" and promising.

"The atmosphere was good. The purpose was to identify the main issues that we are going to discuss and also to agree on procedures that we are going to adopt in the Talanoa sessions that are going to follow. We also agreed on some selected publications or reports that have been completed on the land issue over the last few years as background," he said

"Those reports will be distributed as soon as possible. We have agreed to have the next meeting in the first week of August."

Labour leader Mahendra Chaudhry said, "We saw some reports. One was on the ALTA Review and Research Unit which goes back to 1996; then there was the NLTB’s own report and a statement on the ALTA Review and Research Unit and a report on legislation."

Both Mr. Qarase and Mr. Chaudhry said there was no need for the Leader of the Opposition, Prem Singh, to "jump up and down" on the discussions, as these were just preliminary ones. Mr. Singh would be given a chance to express his views on both ALTA and the 1997 Constitution once the bills to amend the two are taken to Parliament.

Mr. Singh had earlier questioned the underlying motive of the Talanoa talks between Mr. Qarase and Mr. Chaudhry.

He had instead asked that the talks on ALTA and the Constitution be facilitated through a Parliamentary Joint Sector Committee.

Mr. Qarase said that whatever was agreed on in the Talanoa session would go to Parliament for further debate and that is where the minority parties in Parliament would have their say.

"I do not see any good reason why he is jumping up and down. He is a one-member party. It is not that their views are not important but their views will be heard in the due course," Mr. Qarase said.

"We are talking with the Fiji Labour Party now because any changes to ALTA or to the 1997 Constitution must have the agreement of the Labour party and no other party. It is important that the Talanoa is with the party but I am concerned for the minorities as well and I will hear their views at the right time."

Mr. Chaudhry described Mr. Singh’s statements as "utter rubbish."

"My political record speaks for itself and it does not have to be commented on for people like Prem Singh.

"If there is an agreement to pursue a particular line then it will have to be dealt with in Parliament and not outside.

"What we are having now are exploratory talks at this point in time. We may reach an agreement and we may not reach an agreement. That is not to be assumed. I do not see what the fuss is all about," Mr. Chaudhry said.

A sub-committee on the Constitution meets today to continue with talks on the 1997 Constitution.

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



SUVA, Fiji Islands (July 8, 2002 – Radio New Zealand International)---Fiji Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase says the country's sugar industry is doomed to collapse because it is run on political lines rather than good business practices.

Radio Fiji says Mr. Qarase made the comment at today's informal Talanoa talks between the ruling SDL and the Fiji Labour Party, which are being mediated by Dr. Sitiveni Halapua, Director of the Pacific Islands Development Program at Hawaii's East-West Center.

The current talks are focusing on Fiji's land lease problems, particularly in the sugar industry, and changes to the 1997 constitution.

Mr. Qarase says politics is the biggest problem facing the sugar industry. He says the land issue is only a part of the complex problems facing sugar.

Mr. Qarase says that had it not been for the preferential prices paid by the European Union, Fiji's sugar industry would have collapsed a long time ago.

Unless the sugar industry operates along good business practice lines, he says, it will be very difficult to resurrect it from its present position.

For additional reports from Radio New Zealand International, go to PACIFIC ISLANDS REPORT News/Information Links: Radio/TV News/Radio New Zealand International.

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