Saturday, September 09, 2006

Do We Need a Qoliqoli Trust Board?

<>By MAIKA BOLATIKI
Political Editor
www.sun.com.fj - 8 September 2006

The call by the Viti Land and Resources Owners Association for the Native Land Trust Board not to be involved in the Qoliqoli Bill is a twist in the whole submission. This is a slap in the face for the NLTB, especially when it comes from an indigenous organisation that claims to have the support of all Fijian chiefs. Be mindful of the fact that the NLTB was established under the Native Land Trust Act of 1940. It comprises the President of Fiji as president, the Minister for Fijian Affairs as chairman and a 10-member board of trustees. The board may delegate some of its powers to the general manager who with other officers carries out the board's plans and instructions. VRLOA president Ratu Osea Gavidi said in his submission to the joint parliamentary select committee on Economic Services and Natural Resources chaired by government backbencher Mitieli Bulanauca, that the NLTB lacked the capability to look after Fijian food resources (i kanakana)"The qoliqoli (fishing grounds) itself is a great revenue earner and qoliqoli owners are not ready to fully place it in the hands of the NLTB," said Ratu Osea.
He said the NLTB had not been able to successfully deal with Fijian land. It is sad that a group that is supposed to protect this Fijian institution had critically attacked the NLTB. But let's not forget that this group is practising its right enshrined under the 1997 Constitution. Ratu Osea's group has come up with a proposal to have a Qoliqoli Trust Board."We support the general idea of the Bill but we don't agree with the NLTB," Ratu Osea said."But we would want to make a recommendation to have a separate board to look after the interest of the qoliqoli owners." The VLROA says it just can't sit and watch the handover of a resource that is worth trillions of dollars to the NLTB. The NLTB, Ratu Osea says in the submission, cannot even collect land debt worth millions of dollars and this is a clear indication it cannot manage the land. We have to ask the VLORA whether it has lost all its confidence in how the NLTB operates. The primary role of the board is to administer native land for the benefit of the indigenous landowners.
As custodian of Fijian owned land, Native Land Trust Board recognises its responsibility to the indigenous landowners and the nation to ensure that land and natural resources are used and managed in a wise and sustainable manner. The board must also ensure that unique and important features of the Fijians' natural and cultural heritage are set aside and protected for the benefit of the current and future generations. Landowners can rest assured that the Native Land Trust Board is an institution specifically established for them.The NLTB had played its role since its establishment but the call by the VLROA should not be overlooked. However, the establishment of a Qoliqoli Trust Board will surely call for new legislation. The NLTB is established under the Native Land Trust Act. It seems the group is not happy with the benefits the qoliqoli owners will receive from the proposed legislation. Let us have a look at the protection benefits to the qoliqoli owners under the Bill.
According to the Minister for Fijian Affairs, Turaga Bale na Tui Cakau Ratu Naiqama Lalabalavu: l The financial benefits that will flow to the qoliqoli owners include all fishing licences, all monies payable to qoliqoli owners for non-fisheries commercial operation within the qoliqoli areas, all monies paid in respect of damages to or the use of the qoliqoli areas whether as a result of reclamation, commercial operation, or otherwise, and all other monies received or payable for the benefit of qoliqoli owners. l The Bill will establish Qoliqoli Trust Funds where all monies will be deposited and withdrawals strictly complying with the Regulations. The Trust Funds will be audited annually and Statement of Qoliqoli Funds will be published in the Na Mata, the Fijian publication annually. l In brief, the onus on accountability, transparency and responsibilities of funds will under the proposed Bill be entrusted to the qoliqoli owners themselves. This is a major shift from the current management of funds by institutions.
Landowners through the assistance of the Fijian Administration machinery, will be expected to consult with each other, draw up their development plans and link these to the use of their qoliqoli funds. l In another major shift the qoliqoli owners will be expected to take the leading role in the conservation of their fisheries resources.
The restriction on the use of fisheries resources will also apply to the qoliqoli owners themselves. That is, they are expected to prescribe quotas of fisheries resources for personal or home consumption, which can be taken from their qoliqoli areas, and such limitations set out by laws shall also be applied to qoliqoli owners themselves. Surely the benefits are well protected. Many are querying why the qoliqoli is to be administered by the NLTB when it is not part of the land. The minister says the legal position on the proprietary ownership of the land or sea-bed in qoliqoli areas is based on the English common law principal that the State's ownership of the foreshore up to the high water mark is vested in the Crown. This principle of English common law is codified in Fiji under section 2 of the Crown Lands Act which provides that:" 'Crown Land' means all public lands, including the foreshore and the soil under the waters in Fiji, which are for the time being subject to the control of Her Majesty by virtue of any treaty, cession or agreement.. ……"
Section 13(1) of the Fisheries Act, Cap. 158, confirms the usage rights already owned by qoliqoli owners as follows -
".. it shall be an offence for any person to take fish on any reef or any kai (cockle) or other shellfish bed in any area in respect of which the right of any Mataqali or other division or subdivision of the Fijian people have been registered by the Native Fisheries Commission in the Register of Native Customary Fishing Rights unless he shall be a member of such Mataqali, division or subdivision of the Fijian people who does not require a licence….".
It is clear in law then that two rights co-exist in respect of Fijian customary fishing areas: the State under section 2 of the Crown Lands Act enjoy the rights of ownership of the foreshores, reefs and the seabed; and the Fijians enjoy merely the right of usage as confirmed in section 13(I) of the Fisheries Act. Fijians continue to claim ownership of the reefs and foreshores as proclaimed by Governor William Des Voeux's statement at Nailaga, Ba in 1881. The NLTB has established the Native Lands and Fisheries Commission. Now a Qoliqoli Trust Board would be a financial burden to the Government. It will mean that the country will have another institution with its entire staff paid by the taxpayers. The proposed legislation will confer on qoliqoli owners proprietary ownership rights and interests in land within qoliqoli areas by transferring such rights and interests from the State to qoliqoli owners. It will reconfirm the ownership of usage rights previously enjoyed by qoliqoli owners over their respective qoliqoli areas. It will vest with the NLTB the power and functions to control all dealings in land over qoliqoli areas, in consultation with qoliqoli owners and the Qoliqoli Commission. It will reconstitute the Native Fisheries Commission (NFC) established under the Fisheries Act in terms of -
a) its composition;
b) its status as a Government Department as opposed to being a statutory body;
c) its powers, functions and procedures, to ensure that the new Commission should not be a means of reopening the inquiries already completed and adjudicated upon by the NFC; and,
d) its name which is to be changed to Qoliqoli Commission.
The Qoliqoli Commission will complete the survey and registration of the ownership and boundaries of qoliqoli areas. The Commission will have an appeals system from parties aggrieved by the decisions of the Qoliqoli Commission. Surely we have already a system in place within the NLTB to look after qoliqoli We have yet to know of how the Qoliqoli Trust Board will operate and look after the 410-qoliqoli areas throughout Fiji. The VLROA should also be mindful of the fact that the Bill has the support of the 14 provinces and the Bose Levu Vakaturaga and they have full confidence in the NLTB.