Land Bill debate – Naidu: Change the administration, don’t change the law

Munro Leys lawyer Richard Naidu outside the Suva High Court. Picture: JOVESA NAISUA/FILE

There is a big difference between State land and iTaukei land, says prominent Suva lawyer Richard Naidu.

During an online discussion on Thursday, he said Government’s main mistake in their proposed amendments to the State Lands Act and iTaukei Land Trust Act was treating the two different types of land with the same “fix”.

Mr Naidu said Bill No.16 dealt with a proposed amendment to the State Lands Act while Bill No.17 was a proposed amendment to the iTaukei Land Trust Act.

He said the suggestion that there were delays dealing with commercial leases at the iTaukei Land Trust Board was not correct and TLTB processed mortgage and other consents quickly.

However, he said it was a fact that dealing with State land was bureaucratic, slow and difficult, and asking for consent to a mortgage could take weeks or even months, and the Government could have received complaints about it.

“I think what the Government said was ‘let’s fix the (Department of Lands) problem, let’s change the law,” he said.

“My first problem with that is if there is a bureaucratic problem, go and fix that problem. Change the administration, don’t change the law.”

Mr Naidu said the laws pertaining to the two land types were different and Government had simply “copied and pasted” the law changes as if they were the same.

Mr Naidu said that unlike State land, which belonged to all Fiji citizens, iTaukei land did not belong to all indigenous people.

It belonged to a particular mataqali, yavusa or landowning unit and it was their land.

He said in one sense, the State Lands Act and the iTaukei Land Trust Act were the same when it came to requiring consent for leasing land.

However, he said, they each talked about consent in a different way.

“The TLTB Act states that a lessee can’t alienate or deal with a TLTB lease without consent.

“It also says that it is in the absolute discretion of TLTB, whether it consents or not.”

Mr Naidu said the State Land Act also required that permission but the words “absolute discretion” did not apply to State leases.

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