FIJI GOVERNMENT SHELVES LAND LEASE REPORT

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Controversial plan would "de-reserve" native land

SUVA. Fiji (Fiji Times, March 3, 2008) – The Fiji Government will not go ahead with a report by an independent consultant on sugar recommending the de-reservation of all native land, says the interim Finance and Sugar Minister.

This follows the rejection of the report by the Native Land Trust Board.

Last week, the NLTB said the report was sent to interim Sugar Minister Mahendra Chaudhry with the recommendation for an in-depth research done on the recommendations.

Mr Chaudhry said yesterday the report would be filed away.

"It will be another report filed away and we are not going further with it," Mr Chaudhry said.

NLTB lawyer and spokesman Ro Alipate Mataitini said they had returned the report. A former minister in the Qarase-led multi-party Cabinet, Krishna Datt, said the NLTB was a body responsible for land and it was the landowners who should have a decision on the de-reservation of their land.

Mr Datt said Dr Krishnamurthi "went a little bit ahead in recommending that they should look into wholesale de-reservation".

"This is the problem of getting people to work on something when the person does not live here and has lost touch with the country. What is a recommendation when you know the acceptance of the report is little," Mr Datt queried.

The report said the first step to salvaging the sugar industry was to de-reserve all native land.

"It is obvious that four hectare farms are uneconomical," the report said. "Thus, lots of 40 to 400 hectares are to be created and leased to one individual or company without affecting land ownership."

The report said to:

Provide guidance for the rehabilitation of the sugar industry and elsewhere where Fiji may have an interest;

Offer solutions for maximising land use, especially native reserves,

Help improve sugar production over the next four years, and

Diversify farmers' income through relay crops.

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