Fiji Times

SUVA. Fiji (May 30) – When the chairman of the Great Council of Chiefs, Ratu Ovini Bokini, presides over Ratu Sir Lala Sukuna Day celebrations in Suva today, you have to wonder what will be crossing his mind — or the minds of other chiefs in his midst.

Ratu Sukuna lived in a time of great change. He learned to adapt and was confident enough in his abilities and training to be able to ensure that his vision of secure native land ownership was realised.

Indeed, he took to that task so well that no-one can ever alienate native land from its owners, with the set up proving an inspiration to other native communities worldwide.

He did that to ensure that generations of Fijians coming after him would have access to their ancestral lands and a means to share in its bounty.

That involved the setting up of the Native Land Trust Board to manage the land for native people who — at the time — were not ready to effectively deal with tenants.

It was a vision that continues to pay dividends for the Fijian people.

It was a vision that was so watertight that it would be political suicide to even consider changing it.

Yet today misconceptions persist about the nature of the security of native land.

These misconceptions are passed around during political campaigns as a ticking timebomb designed to scare Fijians into believing that their land can be taken from them.

If Ratu Sukuna were watching such scare-mongering, he would most probably be very disappointed that such tactics exist or that Fijians were being hoodwinked.

The NLTB was a novel way to keep land in the pockets of Fijians while still allowing them to rent it out for income.

If Ratu Sukuna were looking in today, what he would probably see is rising discontent with NLTB — most often because of the way that the NLTB splits such income among members of the mataqali with claims to the land.

During his time, Ratu Sukuna broke convention, was innovative and proposed novel solutions.

What is needed is another man (or woman) of that calibre who can tackle such loaded issues — including that of just how little income ends up with mataqali members.

In a time of growing population, that pressure will only increase.

It calls for a novel solution — an equitable split.

May 31, 2005

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