The legality of granting agricultural leases of 50 years is doubtful if not approved by Parliament, says ousted Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase.
He was reacting to a statement by the interim Sugar Minister Mahendra Chaudhry that the Native Land Trust Board was considering extending the term for agricultural leases to 50 years.
“Agricultural leases are essentially governed by the Agricultural Landlord and Tenant Act,’’ he said .
“ ALTA is entrenched legislation and provides for agricultural leases of 30 years only. Sp extending the lease period to 50 years will require an amendment to ALTA through a specific majority in parliament.”
He said Mr Chaudhry had continued to ignore the interests of landowners when it came to the land issue.
He said ALTA provided for agricultural land rent of up to 6 per cent of the Unimproved Capital Value of land.
He said this land rent was one of the lowest in the world and he questioned Mr Chaudhry’s intention of opposing an increase to 10 per cent of UCV.
Mr Qarase said Mr Chaudhry wanted to continue to marginalise landowners while favouring the tenant community which comprised his political power base.
“Mr Chaudhry may argue that government has agreed to subsidise land rent by 4 per cent of the UCV of land, thus increasing rent income to 10 per cent of the UCV land,” said Mr Qarase.
“This is fine but it is only a temporary solution. The long term solution would be to amend ALTA to increase rent to 10 per cent of UCV.”
Mr Qarase said the public should know that in 2005, the Soqosoqo Duvata ni Lewenivanua government had introduced an ALTA Amendment Bill to extend agricultural lease terms to not less than 50 years and increase rent to 10 per cent of UCV.
This Bill was strongly opposed by Mr Chaudhry and his Fiji Labour Party.
“Given his latest assurances to canefarmers in the North, he has already started his campaign for the next general elections at the expense of taxpayers,’’ he said.
“Apart from this promise of 50-year leases he has also promised massive government assistance to cane farmers. In doing so Mr Chaudhry has marginalised the interest of landowners.”