iTaukei Land Trust Budget Amendment Act repealed without any contribution from Opposition during debate

iTaukei Land Trust Budget Amendment Act repealed without any contribution from Opposition during debate

By Mosese Raqio , Rashika Kumar
Thursday 06/04/2023
Attorney General Siromi Turaga and Attorney General, Leader of Opposition Inia Seruiratu

The iTaukei Land Trust Budget Amendment Act commonly known as Bill 17 has been repealed in parliament today without any contribution from the Opposition during the debate.

The Opposition also did not vote.

The iTaukei Land Trust (Budget Amendment) Act that removed 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, was passed by the previous parliament under Standing Orders 51.

Following the tabling of the motion by the Attorney General, Leader of Opposition Inia Seruiratu raised a point of order stating that the iTaukei Land Trust Budget Amendment Act is subject to pending litigation before the High Court in the Niko Nawaikula versus the Government, Attorney General and the iTaukei Affairs Trust Board case.

He says the hearing was conducted on the 23rd of December and the decision is on notice.

Seruiratu says Nawaikula wants to declare that the iTaukei Land Trust Budget Amendment Act of 2021 is null and void.

He says attempting to preempt the decision of the High Court is not only irregular but is in fact setting a dangerous precedent which undermines the separation of powers and can lead to corruption.

Seruiratu says Parliamentary Standing Order 61 states that a member must not refer to judicial proceedings and when speaking, a member must not refer to any matter in relation to which a judicial matter is pending.

He assured the government that this is not an attempt from the Opposition to be a hindrance to the legislative agenda however this is a matter of principle.

While delivering his ruling, Speaker of Parliament, Ratu Naiqama Lalabalavu says the parliament resolved on Monday that this Bill be debated upon, voted and be passed today and pursuant to resolution of parliament and in the absence of the full details, he needs to be given supportive evidence so that he can make the decision, seek advice from the Office of the Solicitor General.

He says in the absence of that, parliament will continue with its business accordingly however, allowed the Attorney General to present his views.

While responding to Seruiratu, Attorney General Siromi Turaga says this is shameful and the Act will be repealed.

He says Section 46(1) of the Constitution states that the authority and power to make laws for the State is vested in parliament consisting of the Members of Parliament and the President and is exercised through the enactment of Bills which they are deliberating today.

While speaking on the Motion, Turaga says consultation with land owning units and relevant stakeholders were not conducted in a proper manner in 2021 and it was thrust through during the parliamentary process.

He says consultation on the Bill to repeal the amendment to Act were held with the Ministry of iTaukei Affairs, iTaukei Affairs Board, Office of the Solicitor General, TLTB and the Vanua through all the 14 provincial councils.

Turaga says the Association of Banks were also consulted and they are supportive of the Bill.

While speaking in support of the motion, Minister for Home Affairs, Pio Tikoduadua says this has been a long time coming, and there was hardly any consultations made on this matter, so he believes the people have the right to say what they want to say about their land.

He further says it was quite unfortunate that he and a few others were taken in by the Police for voicing their concerns and it was not only once but several times and he found this to be concerning.

Tikoduadua says the people do not need to agree with the Government and that is why there is Opposition.

He says when the people oppose the government of the day in terms of their concerns, that is healthy for democracy.

Minister for i-Taukei Affairs Ifereimi Vasu says today is the day of celebration for the i-taukei landowners and Fiji as a whole.

He says it is also the day to correct the wrong on the administration for the i-taukei land.

He says the Act was something the landowners were against because there were no consultations done before it was passed.

Vasu says the landowners wanted the Act to be changed because it weakened their decision-making on their lands. Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Finance, Professor Biman Prasad says the then government railroaded this amendment under Parliamentary Standing Order 51 with no consultation whatsoever with primary stakeholders who are the i-taukei customary landowners.

He adds how could they forget yet another dark stain of draconian political intimidation and persecution of dissenting voices such as many of theirs now sitting in government, when they were hauled up by CID police for repeated questioning about this law when they made public statements against it.

fijivillage Straight Talk with Vijay Narayan
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