(B) Land, The Emotive Issue
So, the government is now going to change the existing land lease law to ensure the NLTB Act doesn’t apply if it is seen to be getting in the way.
There’s the usual justification for this selective abuse of process, ignoring a law which, despite some faults, has worked pretty well for the past 70 years and which has prevented the undoubted anarchy that would have prevailed if developers had been allowed to do their own negotiations with landowners in the past.
That justification is ‘Change the law to allow for the landowners to reap the best possible benefit from the land that belongs to them.’ This is laudable in principle but will, I’m sure, be shown to be derisible in practice since it potentially throws open the gate to anyone (or is it only government ones …?) to negotiate direct with landowners.
Land is the most emotive subject in Fiji and the obvious end result of selectively ignoring the law or rewriting it to suit certain circumstances at certain times is going to be the anarchy that has been staved off by general regard for the sanctity of NLTB leases.
As an example, in the late 80’s the developers of Denarau Island (EIE and its contractors) tried to ignore the law and, in negotiating terms for land fill with very willing landowners, sidelined the NLTB. Several months later this was rectified but by then the landowners (who had pocketed some of the 25% administration fee that would otherwise have been paid to NLTB) found that they had lost huge amounts of topsoil since no EIA had been carried out. Short term gain for long term pain.
If the laws which were enacted to safeguard the landowners in the first place are now selectively ignored, landowners run the risk of being done down in future negotiations. Equally, the more militant landowner units, advised by bush lawyers will cause untold grief for developers, resort owners and private householders to the long term benefit of no one.
By all means streamline the NLTB, investigate and prosecute corrupt practices that its officers might have been guilty of, but don’t throw the baby out with the bath water.
It’s all very well to try to set the stage for the FMF political party to successfully stand for election in 2014, but the misguided and ultimately ignorant comment about law change made by Tikoduadua is going to resonate far beyond an immediate populist appeal to landowners.
It could well put further doubt in the minds of potential investors of the security of leasehold land and that will kill any future gold egg-laying geese.