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SUVA, Fiji (Fijilive, Nov. 19) - Indigenous Fijian landowners will be free to negotiate rent for land outside the Agricultural Landlord Tenant Act at market rates, in a breakthrough announced today.

While opening a workshop by stakeholders and officials of the Native Lands Trust Board held at the Tradewinds Hotel in Lami today, Ratu Epeli said all native land outside the Agriculture Landlord and Tenant Act (ALTA) will be open for negotiation.

As it is, land under ALTA have a fixed rate, which do not give satisfactory returns to the landowner.

"All land outside of ALTA will be valued at market rent thus NLTB and landowners are free to negotiate rental with the interested tenant/investor," said Ratu Epeli. "The second aspect which will have a profound bearing on the leasing of reserved land is a valuation formula that recognizes and accounts for intangible values of land, and these include culturaly significant and other non-economic attributes."

Ratu Epeli said the initiative, recommended by the independent investigation team headed by Colonel Apakuki Kurusiga, "should provide the platform and prepare both NLTB and landowners for the transition from a passive relationship of trustee/beneficiary to a more active and participatory relationship pf agent/principal."

"This would herald an era of a new partnership. A partnership founded on a common objective that will be mutually beneficial to all."

Close to 90 percent of land in Fiji is reserved native land, and is generally available for long-term lease purposes of up to 99 years.

The NLTB currently administers 28,701 leases on native land. Of these, 50 percent are agricultural leases.

Ratu Epeli says that 23 percent of the agricultural leases is under ALTA while the rest comes under the Native Land Truct Act (NLTA).

The native leases also consist of residential leases (38 percent), educational, recreational and religious leases (6 percent), commercial leases (5 percent) and industrial leases (1 percent).

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