The NGO Coalition on Human Rights (NGOCHR) demands greater consultation and collaboration with all relevant stakeholders regarding any proposed changes to law affecting Fijians in their day to day lives; especially laws relating to land dealings that have implications on how land tenure is held, owned and leased by citizens of Fiji. It is fundamental to keep within the principles of democracy even during a pandemic.
The recent proposed changes to the iTaukei Lands Trust Act and the State Lands Act (Bill No. 17), due to be deliberated upon in Parliament today, have had no consultation with the majority of ordinary Fijians except a few offices. No law is good enough if it is not a reflection of the will of the people.
Having consultations with lease holders, land owners, statutory bodies and any other party with a vested interest in native and state lands ensures that their voices are heard and decisions are being made collectively. Not everyone is a property lawyer in Fiji, thus knowing exactly what legislative amendments mean for everyday Fijians is a knowledge gap which needs to be addressed by the State.
As duty bearers it is important to not only be consultative but also to ensure that the information on the proposed amendments is disseminated in a meaningful manner, allowing everyone, whether they are land owners, lease holders or statutory bodies such as the iTLTB/ Lands Department, the opportunity to have a comprehensive understanding of the proposed changes.
Sudden announcements made in national spaces, without proper context or explanation of what the changes to the law would mean for ordinary Fijians are detrimental to fostering dialogue and understanding between citizens who have unique perspectives and interests in land dealings of any nature.
The existing process of obtaining consent from iTLTB has been crucial in safeguarding the interests of the landowners in ensuring that they have a say in who has the right to possession of their land. The Government must elaborate clearly and transparently on the reasons as to why the proposal of the amendment is not being managed in a consultative way and pushed at a time when Fiji is struggling with COVID-19.
The NGOCHR calls upon the Government to hold immediate consultations with all relevant stakeholders who may be impacted by the proposed changes, and only after listening to its people, should the amendments proceed to Parliament.
Finally, the NGOCHR is seriously concerned with the manner in which Police acted last night taking in and questioning 6 politicians who have voiced their concerns on this amendment. As hallmarks for democracy, those that speak their minds and challenge the processes must be allowed to do so without fear and intimidation.
For media queries please contact firstname.lastname@example.org The Members of the NGOCHR include the Fiji Women’s Crisis Centre (FWCC), Fiji Women’s Rights Movement, Citizens’ Constitutional Forum – CCF, femLINKpacific, Social Empowerment and Education Program- SEEP and DIVA for Equality FIJI (DIVA). Pacific Network on Globalisation (PANG) and Haus of Khameleon (HoK) are observers.