January 18, 2008

Resolve Fiji's land problems first: Qarase

www.fijilive.com - 17 JAN 2008

Fiji’s land problems should all be resolved first before improved utilisation of land occurs, says ousted Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase.

He said landowners need to be given a fair go via improved land rentals and longer and secure land tenure – the two major problems.

“Problems of agricultural land in Fiji will continue unless and until the two problems are resolved,” Qarase said.

His comments followed a recent Cabinet decision to establish a committee on better utilisation of land (CBUL).

He said both these issues were provided for under the Agricultural Landlord Tenants Act (ALTA), and this legislation could only be amended by a special majority vote in Parliament.

“For two decades now, successive governments have failed to resolve the land problems,” Qarase said.

He said a lot of independent studies had been carried out on agricultural land rent in Fiji and the general conclusion was that Fiji had one of the lowest in the world.

“In fact, it was found that even though ALTA sets the rent formula at up to 6 per cent of unimproved capital value (UCV), the actual rent income received by landowners has been around only 2 per cent of UCV,’ Qarase said.

“On this basis, it has been calculated that Fijian owners of leased agricultural land have been denied additional income of over $1 billion since 1976, because 2 per cent UCV is well below a fair market rent,” he said.

Qarase suggested that the interim Government subsidise the land rent to a fair market rate as a temporary measure until both legislation are amended by Parliament.

He said it would be better for landowners to secure a fair market rent on their land, rather than talking about its utilisation. Utilisation of land will come naturally once the basic land problems have been resolved.

Bainimarama had said the proposed establishment of a CBUL had no intention to alter land ownership but only improve land utilisation.

“The CBUL would oversee consultations on this issue with landowners,” he said.

He said the reluctance of Fijian landowners largely resulted from the absolute misadvise, lies and political manipulation espoused by narrow minded politicians and other individuals.

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