Prime Minister, Voreqe Bainimarama has stressed that the Bill to amend the iTaukei Land Trust Act will never steal or change the decision making of the iTaukei landowners, and the Opposition members taken in for questioning by Police should find out what happened in Lautoka with the Taukei Movement last Saturday.
While speaking on Bill No.17, Bainimarama says we have to speak the truth about the Bill as there is nothing wrong with it.
He says he was also worried because it looked like SODELPA Leader, Viliame Gavoka was threatening the FijiFirst Government while speaking in parliament today.
Bainimarama says it has never been the policy of the iTaukei Land Trust Board to alert the landowners when the lessee wants to change who they bank with, when they want access to power and water or any other developments.
The Prime Minister says they are not taking away the rights of the iTaukei landowners.
He says it is a lie to claim that the landowners have a role in the process as it is an administrative matter.
Bainimarama says if a lessee steps out of line, they will be held accountable.
He stresses that TLTB will still evict a lessee who does not pay the lease monies or breach the fundamental terms and conditions and TLTB will also manage the leasing of the land itself after the landowner has agreed to lease the land.
The Prime Minister says that is the case today and tomorrow after the Bill becomes a law.
He says they are just reforming a broken time wasting and piece meal process in favour of the process that empowers the TLTB to focus on improving the value of iTaukei land and making a more strategic approach to ensure long term prosperity for iTaukei landowners.
Bainimarama says he supports what MP, Mosese Bulitavu has said, not because he is a member of SODELPA but because he supports the fact that he is a young man with land and he wants to do development for his people and this is a Bill that will help him.
According to the bill, Section 12 of the iTaukei Land Trust Act states that it is unlawful for a lessee under the Act to alienate or deal with the land comprised in the lease, whether by sale, transfer or sublease or in any other manner without the consent of the iTaukei Land Trust Board.
The iTaukei Land Trust (Budget Amendment) Bill 2021 seeks to amend the Act to remove the requirement of obtaining the consent of the iTaukei Land Trust Board for any mortgage, charge, pledge or caveat on a lease under the Act or for any such lease to be dealt with by any court of law or under the process of any court of law.
The Bill has been passed and the amending legislation will come into force from Sunday.
The Act comes under the responsibility of the Minister responsible for iTaukei Affairs.
Attorney General, Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum says any dealing with the lease does not in any way affect the land rent or premium which are to be paid by the lessee to the iTaukei Land Trust Board for the benefit of the iTaukei land owners.
He highlighted this while tabling the iTaukei Land Trust Budget Amendment Bill 2021.
Sayed-Khaiyum says a mortgage does not also prevent a reassessment of the rent to be carried out over all iTaukei leases pursuant to the terms and conditions of the lease and the iTaukei Land Trust.
The Minister says a lessee is still bound by the terms and conditions of the lease.
He says a mortgage over any iTaukei lease does not change the amount of lease monies which are currently received by the TLTB on behalf of the landowning units and they will continue to receive lease monies in accordance to the lease regardless of any change on the lease or the mortgagee.
The Attorney General says it is totally absurd that SODELPA MP, Lynda Tabuya suggested that landowners will have no control over what a lessee can do with the landowners land if they no longer need consent for mortgage.
Sayed-Khaiyum adds iTaukei leases have been mortgaged well before these amendments have been proposed and none of these mortgages have taken away the control of TLTB over such leases.
The Minister has reiterated that ownership of iTaukei land is and will always be protected both under the 2013 Constitution and the iTaukei Land Trust Act.
Sayed-Khaiyum says any person with the basic knowledge of conveyancing of land law will know that a mortgage only deals with the lease and not the ownership of such land.
Debate on all 2021-2022 Budget Amendment Bills continues in Parliament.
SODELPA MP, Ro Teimumu Kepa has opposed the Bill to amend the iTaukei Land Trust Act, saying that the Government and the iTaukei Land Trust Board has not consulted with the iTaukei landowners.
Ro Teimumu is calling on the Prime Minister and the Attorney General to withdraw the Bill and to please consult with the indigenous Fijians.
She says this is not a racist concern as they see themselves as guardians and custodians over anything that is indigenous because they have to safeguard it for the future generations.
Ro Teimumu says other groups also have their entitlements and benefits and they as the iTaukei are not here to take over anybody’s rights.
She says the main architect of the principal act was Ratu Sir Lala Sukuna who went throughout Fiji in the 1930s.
Ro Teimumu says Fiji has always had the three legged stool – the vanua, the lotu and the matanitu. She says the vanua is the first people to have arrived here who are the indigenous Fijians which dates back to 3,500 years ago.
She says the lotu arrived in the early 1800s with the Methodists arriving first, and then the Catholics and others.
Ro Teimumu says the Deed of Cession was signed by the chiefs in 1874.
She says from that time onwards, each Government has recognized the importance of the vanua and the lotu and consulted with them on a regular basis. She says from the Alliance, the SVT, Fiji Labour Party, the SDL and all the political parties – they recognize the importance of the vanua, the lotu and matanitu so that it could stand with stability.
Ro Teimumu says each of these legs looked after one another.
She says the Opposition wants consultation with the iTaukei landowners on this Bill and it should be withdrawn for now.
“Please withdraw this bill and let’s have a thorough discussion.”
Opposition Leader, Ratu Naiqama Lalabalavu made this plea to the Prime Minister and Minister for iTaukei Affairs, Voreqe Bainimarama and Attorney General, Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum while debating on the Bill to amend the iTaukei Land Trust Act.
Ratu Naiqama asked Bainimarama and Sayed-Khaiyum to listen to the plea of the landowners and all they need is to go back to them and update them on the proposed changes.
He says there should be a thorough discussion on this Bill even though the General Manager of the iTaukei Land Trust Board has stated that they are in full support of the Bill.
While not supporting the Bill, the Opposition Leader says they spent many years working in the TLTB and know inside and out on how the organisation operated.
Ratu Naiqama says with this amendment, i-Taukei landowners would not know what is happening on their land.
Minister for Lands Jone Usamate says State Lands Budget Amendment Bill does two things, it benefits the Government and it benefits the lessee by allowing a shorter time for them to process their dealings and also reduces backlogs.
Usamate adds Bill 16 proposes that the Director of Lands is not longer required for any mortgage, charge, pledge or caveat or for any court proceedings.
He says leasees are still required to apply to the Director of Lands for all other dealings such as sales, transfers, assignments, and leases and other developments.
Usamate stresses that these consents still remain intact.
He says Bill 16 will not stop the Ministry of Lands from continuing with the current system of monitoring compliance of lease terms and conditions.
He says a lot of the arguments that have been made about Bill 16 also apply to Bill 17 which is the Bill to amend the iTaukei Land Trust Act.
Usamate says it is not true that the authority of the TLTB to award leases has been removed.
He further says it is also not true that there will be a reduction in amount of money landowners will earn.
Usamate says NFP Leader Professor Biman Prasad said what Government has been doing has created instability.
He says what Government has been doing is not creating instability and it is false statements and misinterpretations that are creating instability.
Leader of the National Federation Party Professor Biman Prasad says it is arrogant and disrespectful for Government not to accept the fact that they need to consult widely on the Bill to amend the iTaukei Land Trust Act.
Profesor Prasad highlighted this while opposing Bill No.17 in parliament.
He says both Bill No.16 and 17 are really not Consequential Bills and he cannot understand why these Bills are consequential.
Prasad says we all know in this country that any changes to the iTaukei Land Trust Act has always been a sensitive issue and have always involved different interpretations and fears.
He says the Government itself is creating fear by attacking Opposition leaders, by getting police to take them in and get their statements of this Bill No.17.
Prasad says this Bill should be withdrawn.
Prasad says presenting the Bill as a substantive and not consequential and referring it to the relevant Parliamentary Standing Committee for a scrutiny is the right thing for the Government to do.
He says all the experienced lawyers that he has spoken to have said that same things and that is, if it is an administrative and efficiency issue, then why not deal with that particular issue. Prasad says these lawyers are also saying that the Bill is poorly drafted and if it was drafted properly, it might have removed interpretations and fears.
He says everyone has the right to interpret the law and make their views known.
Minister for Health Doctor Ifereimi Waqainabete says people need to understand that the section of Bill 17 that says the one who is leasing cannot alienate, sale or transfer land without the TLTB Board's consent has not been removed.
He says he is stressing this because there is a lot of discussion on social media that the landowner has lost that prerogative.
Doctor Waqainabete says the amendment does not compromise the status of the iTaukei as a landowner.
He says the amendment is for streamlining the administration of the land that has already been legally leased.
Doctor Waqainabete says a lot of people especially the iTaukei stand to benefit from this change.
Minister for Commerce, Trade, Tourism and Transport, Faiyaz Koya says it is very mischievous of the Opposition to say that landowners will lose their land or lose their land rent or premium because of amendments to the iTaukei Land Trust Act.
While speaking in support of the 2021-2022 Budget Amendment Bills, Koya says he is urging and pleading to the Members of the Opposition to please read the Constitution to all members of the public, not just the iTaukei so that everybody in Fiji understands and they do not use it to sway political opinion.
He says all Bill 17 is proposing to do is to remove administrative burdens to enable a legal lessee to continue with his or her investment.
Koya adds these processes are actually cumbersome and now irrelevant procedures, but it does not take away iTaukei land and it also does not affect the ownership.
SODELPA Leader Viliame Gavoka says the Tui Cakau and Leader of Opposition, Ratu Naiqama Lalabalavu and then Na Marama Bale Na Roko Tui Dreketi and SODELPA MP Ro Teimumu Kepa spoke in the tone they thought would help convince Government to help withdraw Bill No.17.
While opposing the Bill to amend the iTaukei Land Trust Act, Gavoka says the message was in the highest form of respect with our people, and pleading with the Prime Minister and the Attorney General to do the right thing and listen and without immunity withdraw the Bill and take it for consultation.
Gavoka says he wishes that during the course of the debate, they could convince the Government to withdraw Bill No.17.
He further says he should not be interrogated by Police.
Gavoka says the 30,000 signatures on the petition to withdraw the Bill were collected over 5 days.
He says if the Prime Minister does not change his mind, the people are saying it is time for a change.
The SODELPA Leader also says you do not change legislation just to improve administrative issues.
FijiFirst MP and former Minister for Forestry Osea Naiqamu is pleading to the Opposition not to politicize Bill No.17 but look at it as an opportunity, not only for landowners but for Fiji as a whole.
While supporting the Bill to amend the iTaukei Land Trust Act, Naiqamu told the Opposition to stop misleading landowners, especially the people in the Western Division.
He says Members of Parliament should remember the events of 1987 and 2000, where the people were being used and misguided with falsehood by the failed politicians.
Naiqamu adds the amendment can create value for landowners and business opportunities for their land.
The former Minister for Forestry says this amendment is basically streamlining the processes of doing business on iTaukei land and it does not take away the right of ownership as stated in the 2013 Constitution.
SODELPA MP, Ro Filipe Tuisawau says for indigenous Fijians, iTaukei land is not so much a commercial proposition but something that is passed from generation to generation and the present generation does not own it but are the temporary custodians for the future of their people.
Ro Filipe says the Attorney General, Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum should take this into account when discussing changes regarding iTaukei land.
He says the problem with the Government is that they seem to believe their view is the gospel truth and this is not only regarding Bill No. 17 but also with reference to the economy.
Ro Filipe says the Government has a lack of ability to listen to other points of views.
While opposing the iTaukei Land Trust Budget Amendment Bill 2021, Ro Filipe adds there is now a need to review the 2013 constitution and various iTaukei governance structures and legislations.
Meanwhile, Ro Filipe has also stressed in parliament the land swap during the Qarase Government was done in consultation and with the consent of the landowners where the Tokatoka Nasau in Momi opted to swap their 68.7 acres of native land with the freehold land of equivalent value owned by Matapo Limited.
He says this was also done in Denarau and all these land swaps were done with the consent of landowners.
Ro Filipe says the Government parliamentarians have continuously been harping that these land swaps were done illegally.
Minister for Defence and National Security Inia Seruiratu says he is sorry that some people are being interviewed but Police are just doing their job.
Seruiratu says this is because of what has happened in the past and they do not want Suva to be burned again.
While supporting the Bill to amend the iTaukei Land Trust Act, he says we should look at the facts and as politicians they have a responsibility to inform the people.
The Minister says Bill No 17 is here as a consequential bill because of the situation we are in.
Seruiratu says during a crisis, the primary industry such as agriculture, fisheries and forestry are very important for the economy to grow and all this is dependent on the land.
He says if we want to diversify based on the current situation, then such amendments are necessary.
Seruiratu says Government respects the landowners and he does not know how many people that signed the petition to withdraw Bill No 17 actually read the Bill, let alone fully understood it.
He says this has been an issue in the past where people are being used by politicians and they come to Parliament without even knowing why they are there.
Attorney General and Minister for Economy Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum says Bill No.17 does not in anyway derogate, water down or limit the rights of i-taukei landowners.
While giving his Right of Reply on the debate of Consequential Bills, Sayed-Khaiyum says what it does is remove an administrative blockage, does not in anyway affect the existing rights of the landowners but fundamentally improves the value of their land.
He says SODELPA MP Ro Teimumu Kepa earlier in the day gave a sanitized view of Fijian history adding that Ro Teimumu has never done this before and why is she doing it now.
Sayed-Khaiyum says Ro Teimumu has only done it to raise emotions, sensationalize the issue as to somehow or the other this Bill is a threat to indigenous culture and land.
He says on the one hand the Opposition is talking about not alienating iTaukei land yet they try to justify the alienation of land in Denarau and Momi.
Sayed-Khaiyum says the FijiFirst Government has never justified the permanent alienation of land for economic development.
He adds the philosophy is that you can have economic development even with the iTaukei land title intact.
Sayed-Khaiyum says they are empowering iTaukei landowners so they benefit directly from their land. The Attorney General further says NFP Leader, Professor Biman Prasad says the Government is giving a racial overtone but he does not have the gumption to stand up to SODLEPA’s racism and Prasad will only have a go at the Prime Minister and FijiFirst.
He also says these people have a political agenda and it is how can they get more votes.
There was exchange of words between the President of the National Federation Party, Pio Tikoduadua and Prime Minister Voreqe Bainimarama after Tikoduadua asked why the Police Commissioner has not taken the Prime Minister for questioning for calling the Attorney General a Kai Idia.
While opposing the Bill to amend the iTaukei Land Trust Act, Tikoduadua says none of the Opposition members ever referred to the AG that way, but the Prime Minister did.
Tikoduadua adds he has been questioned by police on a video he had put up speaking on the Bill and the only thing that he shared in this video was their position and his call for calm.
Tikoduadua says in his video, the Prime Minister referred to them as sheep herd mentality and he does not agree with that.
He also called on the Prime Minister and the Attorney General to consult the landowners and then bring this Bill back to parliament after consultation.
Tikoduadua says it is also significant to understand how the Government during the Denarau land switch, spoke to the landowners with regards to their land and the risks and benefits of what was done.
He says it is just not about alienation as the Government talks about today.
He says landowners, the vanua of Nadi and the whole of Fiji have benefitted from that through the tourism industry today.
Tikoduadua says this was a good investment that has held Fiji today and this is the benefit of consultation with landowners.
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