Members of Parliament have been told that they need to ensure there is justice, irrespective of whichever government is in power, and that justice should not only be restricted to a particular component in our national right, but must apply to and be available to everybody on equal terms.
The comment was made by acting Prime Minister and Attorney-General Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum yesterday when responding comments by SODELPA MP Niko Nawaikula on justice for landowners.
Mr Nawaikula spoke earlier on the rights of resource owners and sought what he called justice for the use of their resources and its return.
He gave several examples of the use of local resources, one being Fiji Pine Limited that started in 1973 with a promise by the late Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara that it was supposed to be a pot of gold for the resource owners. However, Mr Nawaikula said, the real worth of the pine was never recognised because the then Government then took total ownership.
“So any government, that government, this government will do justice to this people. Give back their ownership. Recognise that they own majority share of the pine,” he said.
Mr Nawaikula said for mahogany, ownership was not given to the landowners and asked the then government what had happened
“They passed laws to take away the ownership of mahogany and they denied them their right. It’s a problem of justice. Give the owners what they deserve,” he said.
“It is up to us, if we are responsible legislators we should give back to them, I’m not blaming anyone. Do justice.”
Mr Sayed-Khaiyum said Mr Nawaikula was right. However, he said, justice meant recognising what happened in the past.
“If we must talk about land ownership, we can go back into history and talk about the alienation of native land,” Mr Sayed-Khaiyum said. “We know that some native land during the colonial times was alienated and became freehold.”
He said despite this Fiji today was one of the very few countries which had had secular communities where 91 per cent of all the land was still iTaukei owned.
“This land cannot ever be sold and cannot be permanently alienated because this constitution protects that right,” Mr Sayed-Khaiyum said. He said prior to the 2013 Fijian Constitution, despite the so-called and entrenched provisions, iTaukei land was permanently alienated. He said examples were Momi Bay and Denarau. It was legally done, but it was to the detriment of iTaukei landowners.
“I agree with Mr Nawaikula when he said that previously what happened during the mahogany plantations that were put in place by the then colonial government then the Ministry for Forestry, then back in 1999 then we had the Fiji Hardwood Corporation Limited,” Mr Sayed-Khaiyum said.
He said the then SVT government, transferred mahogany plantations to Fiji Hardwood, which was a limited liability company.
Mr Sayed-Khaiyum said despite the fact that Fiji Hardwood had one of the largest planted non-indigenous mahogany in the world it still continued to make losses.
“It had a death stock in 2007 of $25 million. When the 1999 corporation was set up, a trust was set up for the landowners and they were given 10 per cent without much say, to make it superficially legitimate,” he said. As to why they did all this, Mr Sayed-Khaiyum said one could only speculate, but he would speculate that it was done because someone thought they could fill their pockets. He said in the past there was unhindered harvesting taking place of mahogany forests where logs were ripped up and sent to Guatemala and the Fijian mahogany planted on leased land was mixed with forest illegally harvested from the Amazon.
“Therefore the value of Fijian mahogany decreased. The Mahogany Act was put in place and saw the death stock reduced to about $5m-$6m,” Mr Sayed-Khaiyum said.
He said for the first time in Fiji’s history Fiji Pine paid $7m to the landowners and never in history had this been done.
“They have received such a huge payout,” Mr Sayed-Khaiyum said.