Posted By

Tags

Reforms promise better field days in Fiji

Despite being blessed with rich agricultural land, good climate and a rich pool of great farmers, Fiji’s land has not been put to optimum use and its farmers have been estranged from getting access to long-term secure leases.

It has contributed to landowners, sitting on idle land, with the dog in the manger attitude. This did not benefit the landowners, as poverty stalked them while their Chiefs, in collusion with their political masters exploited them mercilessly.

Poverty afflicts Indo-Fijians, I-Taukeis and indeed the Nation itself. The blame lay with the I-Taukei leaders of the past and chiefs who destroyed not only the lives of Indo-Fijians but also that of their own people and the country’s democracy.

Indo-Fijian farmers are renowned tillers of land, but were deprived access on political grounds.

Sadly, through denial, Fiji may have brought about an irreversible change, as Indo-Fijians, are now engaged in other occupations, enjoying security and regular income.

However, there is hope that the Bainimarama Government may bring about the desired changes.

For the first time, land would be used for the benefit of the landowners, tenants and the nation. The Government would facilitate leasing of such land in consultation with the landowners and the I-Taukei Trust Board (formally Native Land Trust Board). Following the May 2000 Coup, Maika Qarikau, General Manager of the Board, encouraged landowners not to renew leases held by the Indo-Fijian tenants. He manipulated the minds of simple and gullible landowners, resulting in accrued loss of millions of dollars in rental income. Their land has reverted to bush and most live in abject poverty.

The new scheme, under consideration by the current Government would urge landowners to pledge their surplus land with the Land Bank, enabling the State to lease such land over a 99-year period to prospective tenants through the Ministry of Lands and Mineral Resources. It will ensure fair return of income to the landowners, prompt payment of rental income by the State, security of land tenure and productive use of land.

Sweeping changes

The Bainimarama Government has also made sweeping changes to the sharing of rental income by the landowners. In the past, the money was inequitably shared, as the Board deducted 25% for administrative costs, followed by 5% to the Chief who was the head of the vanua, 10% to the Chief of the yavusa and 15% to the head of the mataqali, leaving very little to be shared among the numerous landowners.

The Board and the Chiefs prospered and the ordinary I-Taukei became a prisoner to the customs and traditions that inhibited individual freedom and enterprise.

In 1958, the Spate Commission recommended that the heads of the vanua or yavusa should not share from the rental income, leaving a larger amount to the mataqali. The Chiefs rejected this proposal.

The landowners had no voice, as their Chiefs spoke for them and made all decisions

In this iniquitous system, created by the colonial Government, a community was severely disadvantaged, exploited and robbed of its freedom, rights and liberty.

Rising hope

There is however rising hope for the I-Taukei, with the Bainimarama Government initiating new legislation, which would ensure equal distribution of lease monies to all the members of the landowning units.

The poverty of the I-Taukei in Fiji is directly linked to the monumental failures of their leaders to protect and promote the interests of their people. They lied to their people, blaming Indo-Fijians for their plight.

In the past, the Methodist Church raised over $F 3 million each year at its Annual Bazaar. Its members were encouraged to compete with each other in fundraising and the Church benefited out of their poverty. Their leaders failed them, allowing their shepherds to exploit the poor.

The I-Taukei may finally be liberated from this systematic exploitation. The Government has stopped the annual fête, while the release of surplus land for productive use would accrue regular rental income to the I-Taukei landowners.

The new formula for sharing rental income, excluding any sharing by the chiefs would mean more money in the hands of the I-Taukei landowners.

The corrupt leaders and those who exploited the poor should be made to account for their deeds and publicly named, shamed and dismissed from their posts.

It is good to note that the US has finally seen the light and would engage with the Bainimarama Government in the restoration of democracy in Fiji.

China is already aligned with Fiji.

The Australian and New Zealand Governments are refusing to see the merit. They would not matter to Fiji but would remain alienated in the end.

Rajendra Prasad is our Columnist and author of Tears in Paradise (Suffering and Struggles of Indians in Fiji 1879-2004), now in its Third Edition.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Share this story

Related Stories

Indian Newslink

Previous slide
Next slide

Advertisement

Previous slide
Next slide

Advertisement

Previous slide
Next slide

Advertisement

Previous slide
Next slide

Advertisement

Previous slide
Next slide

Advertisement

Previous slide
Next slide

Advertisement

Previous slide
Next slide

Advertisement

Previous slide
Next slide

Advertisement

Previous slide
Next slide

Advertisement

Previous slide
Next slide

Advertisement