The NGO Coalition on Human Rights is calling on the Government to hold immediate consultations with all relevant stakeholders who may be impacted by the proposed changes in the iTaukei Land Trust Act and only after listening to its people, should the amendments proceed to Parliament.
The members of the NGO Coalition include the Fiji Women's Crisis Centre, Fiji Women's Rights Movement, Citizens Constitutional Forum, femLINKPacific, Social Empowerment and Education Program (SEEP), and Diverse Voices and Action (DIVA) for Equality Fiji.
The Coalition in a statement says they are demanding greater consultation and collaboration with all relevant stakeholders regarding any proposed changes to law affecting Fijians; especially laws relating to land dealings.
They say it is fundamental to keep within the principles of democracy, even during a pandemic.
They also say that the recent proposed changes to the iTaukei Lands Trust Act and the State Lands Act, due to be deliberated upon in Parliament, have had no consultation with the majority of ordinary Fijians except a few offices.
The NGO Coalition says no law is good enough if it is not a reflection of the will of the people and having consultations with lease holders, land owners, statutory bodies and any other party with a vested interest in native and state lands ensures that their voices are heard and decisions are being made collectively.
They add that not everyone is a property lawyer in Fiji, so knowing exactly what legislative amendments mean for everyday Fijians is a knowledge gap which needs to be addressed by the State as well.
The Coalition says as duty bearers, it is important to not only be consultative but also to ensure that the information on the proposed amendments is disseminated in a meaningful manner, allowing everyone, whether they are land owners, lease holders or statutory bodies such as the TLTB, the opportunity to have a comprehensive understanding of the proposed changes.
They say sudden announcements made in national spaces, without proper context or explanation of what the changes to the law would mean for ordinary Fijians are detrimental to fostering dialogue and understanding between citizens who have unique perspectives and interests in land dealings of any nature.
They have also highlighted that the existing process of obtaining consent from iTLTB has been crucial in safeguarding the interests of the landowners in ensuring that they have a say in who has the right to possession of their land.
They add the Government must elaborate clearly and transparently on the reasons as to why the proposal of the amendment is not being managed in a consultative way and pushed at a time when Fiji is struggling with COVID-19.
The NGO Coalition is also raising serious concerns about the manner in which Police acted last night, taking in and questioning politicians who have voiced their concerns on this amendment.
They say as hallmarks for democracy, those that speak their minds and challenge the processes must be allowed to do so without fear and intimidation.
The Bill is expected to be debated in Parliament this week.
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