Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Fijian Landowners Not Obliged to the State but to Members

The story below is another healthy illustration that native Fijians are not obliged to the State and they are asserting their rights to ensure their self sufficiency. I have often written about this continuing trend as a reflection of Fijians recasting their relationship with the State. This is as a result of the ongoing assault by the State and its organs on Fijian institutions, practices and governance structures that have been part of the State since the 1874 Cession and Independence in 1970. For me it is a sign of maturity on Fijians and it is to be welcomed. I note my Turaga Bale Tui Cakau, in last week's Cakaudrove Provincial Council meeting, called on the province not to be dependent on government for its development. Yes, work with the State in true partnership but never again in a subservient relationship where we are held hostage to those in power, especially those that don't have the mandate to rule over us.

The decision by Savusavu landowners to consider first their livelihood over the use of a key resource for them is only to be expected for a growing township in the north. As they reminded, they are not doing this to stop development but to ensure members can use the land for their livelihood. Fijians with land close to urban centres and those with minerals should expect ongoing approach by developers and the State for the use of their land. It is therefore critical landowners have the capability to negotiate a good deal for the use of their natural resources. The ability of landowners to properly value, assess and decide on the worth of making their resources available to the State or developers will require careful attention and support. This task just cannot be left to the State. After all, as Turaga Bale Tui Cakau correctly stated at the Cakaudrove council meeting, government also have others to consider.

This is an area where the State could pitch in to develop landowners' capability and to empower them. I have also suggested that each province could partner with a Maori tribe in New Zealand based on similar asset base to gain insight, knowledge and develop capability on how Maori have recast their relationship with the State. Again the State could facilitate this through the NZAid programme to Fiji, something I have raised with authorities here on a number of occasions. Having worked with Maori over many years, I know Maori will be keen on it by virtue of the cultural ties and links with fellow indigenous peoples of the Pacific. On this note, Maori have developed this type of partnerships with indigenous peoples of Canada and America and no doubt will jump at the opportunity to engage with their Pacific cousins for development purposes.

Fijians must also be wary of the State's response when it does not get its way, especially under a regime that has no popular mandate. Under a fair and just legal environment, landowners can resort to the courts for redress. This week, the Maori Council began its case in the NZ High Court challenging the National government decision to sell state assets without first settling the question of Maori rights over those assets. At the moment, courts in Fiji just cannot be trusted. 

With its resources and power, the State could regard any non-cooperation by landowners as indication of dissent and deprive it of development opportunities. While this could be extreme behaviour under normal situations, it nevertheless can happen under dictatorships. Denial of opportunities have often been used by authoritarian regimes to punish opponents. The Bainimarama regime is an authoritarian one and its record of going after opponents is becoming legend.

Fiji Times News

Request denied

by Salaseini Vosamana
Tui Nasavusavu - Ratu Suliano Naulu

A LANDOWNING unit in Cakaudrove has rejected a Water Authority of Fiji's (WAF) request to lease a piece of land belonging to them for the construction of a sewerage plant.

Tui Nasavusavu and head of the mataqali Valelevu, Ratu Suliano Naulu confirmed that the request by WAF had been turned down.

He said the land belonging to the mataqali at Lesiaceva Point in Savusavu would now be reserved for the mataqali members.

Ratu Suliano said the decision by the mataqali did not mean they disagreed with having development in Savusavu. The only reason for not agreeing to the proposal, he said was because they wanted the mataqali members to make use of the land because of its small size.

Ratu Suliano said the piece of land wanted by WAF was not sufficient for such development as it was less than an acre and would be suitable for usage by members of the mataqali.

Ratu Suliano said his vanua of Nasavusavu would continue to support government and its initiatives of development in the area if other pieces of land belonging to the mataqali were available and identified for possible development. WAF chief executive officer Opetaia Ravai could not be reached for a comment.

Acting roko tui Cakaudrove Bulutani Matai confirmed that his team approached the mataqali on behalf of WAF. He said the mataqali stood firm on their decision not to lease the land to WAF.

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