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TLTB management endorses proposed Land Bill

July 25, 2021 4:33 pm
TLTB chief executive, Tevita Kuruvakadua [left] and SODELPA MP Lynda Tabuya

A proposed amendment to the iTaukei Land Trust Act 1940 has come under false and inflammatory attacks by some politicians says the iTaukei Lands Trust Board.

TLTB chief executive, Tevita Kuruvakadua says based on the quality of contributions by SODELPA MP Lynda Tabuya, Leader Bill Gavoka, and some others they are deeply concerned they have not read Bill No. 17 at all.

Kuruvakadua says the Bill proposes that consent of the TLTB is no longer required for any mortgage, charge, pledge, or caveat, as well as development, like water and electricity access, on registered leases that are properly issued by the TLTB.

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He adds this applies for leases initiated with the agreement of landowning communities.

The chief executive says the Bill is fully endorsed by TLTB Management and it does not take away land from landowners, it upholds all constitutional protections.

He says the Bill does not lower the value of iTaukei land, it raises it and it does not reduce lease payments to landowners, it increases them.

Kuruvakadua says they public interest in the administrative workings of the TLTB, but those discussions must always be based on truth.

MP Tabuya has claimed that iTaukei landowners will no longer have a say over their land if Bill No. 17 is passed.

Kuruvakadua says the truth is that iTaukei land ownership is secure and safe.

The Board’s mandate under section 4 of the iTaukei Land Trust Act 1940 to administer land for the benefit of the iTaukei landowners remains intact.

He stresses that before dealing with iTaukei land, whether within reserve or outside of reserve, the Board is still required to consult with the iTaukei landowners as required under section 9.

The chief executive says when dealing with the de-reservation of iTaukei land, the Board is still required to obtain the majority consent of the iTaukei landowners as required under section 17 of the said Act.

Bill No. 17 will not take away the ability of the iTaukei landowners to determine what happens on their land. It is their land and their decision.

MP Tabuya claims iTaukei landowners might not be able to enjoy the same amount of money they are receiving right now after Bill No. 17 is passed.

Kuruvakadua says the truth is that landowners will continue to receive full rent and premiums under leases of iTaukei land. In fact, these rents and premiums are likely to increase.

He adds the amount of money received by landowners or which they will continue to receive under leases of iTaukei land are therefore NOT affected by the removal of the consent requirement to mortgages, charges, pledges and/or caveats.

However, iTaukei land will become more marketable under the amendment, attracting higher lease payments for landowners.

Kuruvakadua says thanks to the equal distribution of lease monies measure, all iTaukei landowners will continue to receive a fair share of lease monies regardless of their status within the landowning unit.

Under the 2013 Fijian Constitution, iTaukei land cannot be converted to freehold title.

iTaukei landowners also receive 80% of royalties derived from the extraction of minerals from iTaukei land as set out in the Fair Share of Mineral Royalties Act 2018.

This benefit is not impacted by the amendment proposed by Bill No. 17 of 2021.

MP Tabuya claims that if the consent of TLTB is no longer required, there is no control over what a lessee can do with the land.

Kuruvakadua says Bill No 17 only proposes that the Board’s consent is no longer required in respect of mortgages, charges, pledges and caveats.

Lessees are still required to apply to the Board for all other dealings such as sales, transfers, assignments, subleases and developments over iTaukei lease land.

This consent requirement remains intact under section 12 of the iTaukei Land Trust Act 1940 and its regulations, and as entrenched in a tenant’s lease.

The TLTB now manages around 48,000 leases compared to 33,394 in 2006, and collects and distributes over $100 million in rents and premiums on an annual basis compared to $37 million in 2008.

MP Tabuya claims that landowners will have no recourse to the courts of law if they are unhappy with the terms of leases and/or actions of the Board or tenants.

Kuruvakadua says all Fijians, including landowners, have a constitutionally protected right to have access to justice, including seeking redress from the courts of law. Bill No. 17 will not remove this right.

He says Bill No. 17 will not stop the TLTB from continuing with the current system they have in place of monitoring compliance of lease terms and conditions.

The proposed amendment does not hinder the process and the right of forfeiture and/or re-entry should TLTB lessees breach their lease conditions.

He says the State may acquire freehold and iTaukei land for public purposes provided the State pays fair market compensation.

This has been the case since colonial times and ensuing constitutions and laws of the country to now. This is not new.

However, he adds unlike freehold land paid for by the State, the State –– under the 2013 Fijian Constitution –– must return land to the iTaukei landowners if it is no longer required for the original public purpose it was alienated for.

MP Tabuya claims that consultations were not held on Bill No. 17.

Kuruvakadua says the Solicitor General’s Office consulted with the TLTB Management who is the manager of all iTaukei land in Fiji to garner constructive feedback on the Bill.

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