PM Straight Talking on Land Policies and Reforms
Address to the
Annual TLTB Strategic Corporate Planning WorkshopWarwick Fiji Resort, Monday 22th Oct., 2012
Members of the Board of Trustees;
Senior management and Staff of the iTaukei Land Trust Board;
Permanent Secretaries and CEOs;
Ladies and Gentlemen.
Bula Vinaka and a very good morning to you.
As Chairman of the Board and Minister for iTaukei Affairs, I’m pleased to have the opportunity to address this most important of our nation’s institutions and its staff.
Since 1940, the TLTB has been entrusted with the task of administering and managing iTaukei lands- to lease them, to collect and distribute rent, and above all to maintain the integrity of those holdings to benefit the landowners.
As landlord of at least 90% of the land in Fiji, the TLTB is also responsible for ensuring that iTaukei lands are accessible for development purposes: that they are used as productively as possible. It is no exaggeration to say that the success of the Fijian economy is dependent on the success and modernisation of the TLTB.
The TLTB provides leases for agriculture, housing, tourism, education, health services and industry. This plays a major role in growing our economy. And that development benefits not only the iTaukei, but every Fijian.
When I announced the Government’s Strategic Framework for Change in 2009, I said what I will repeat today; that the landownership system will remain as it is and native title of lands will not be converted to any other form of ownership.
I also say now what I said back then – that more land needs to be made available for productive use. More potential needs to be developed for agriculture, industry, commerce, infrastructure development, and social projects.
I pledged that my Government would work with iTaukei landowners to ensure that they get a fair return on their land when they lease it; that the distribution of the lease monies was carried out on an equitable basis so that all iTaukei benefit, not just a select few.
And our reforms in the sugar industry have been and continue to be especially important. Thousands of farmers rely on sugar cane farming for their survival. Thousands of landowners and their families rely on the rents they receive from those farmers. A viable sugar industry is essential for them and for the nation as a whole. It is a major source of export revenue and one of the main planks of our economy. There are no if, buts or maybes when it comes to sugar. We have no choice but to get the arrangements right, especially as relates to land leases.
Today, some three years down the track, I am happy to state that the Government has kept its word. Our reforms are delivering better outcomes for the nation and for those we serve.
And we will continue to reform. Today, I can announce that the administrative fees charged by TLTB will be reduced 2.5%, effective January 1, 2013. It is expected that these will be reduced a further 2.5% later in the year, equalling an effective 5% drop in 2013. This will mean more lease money in the hands of all landowners.
But we must not forget that there is a responsibility on everyone – landowners and lessees – to make sure that the system works. Landowners must make land available, and those who lease the land must make sure that they pay their rent on time.
We cannot allow a vicious cycle to continue in which- landowners are reluctant to renew leases because they cannot extract their rents. And tenants are reluctant to pay rent because there is uncertainty.
But we are also plagued by in-house problems that we must rectify as soon as possible.
The database of landowners is woefully out of date and has not yet been fully computerised.
In some areas there is a continuing lack of understanding of the mission of the TLTB and a lack of willingness to work to further the development of land usage in Fiji.
The TLTB itself must improve its services and standards.
As we turn our attention to developing a strategic plan for 2013 through to 2015, I would urge a more responsible attitude on the part of the employees of TLTB.
We all know that in some areas we’ve fallen short of our obligation to our people to discharge our duties with the highest level of honesty and integrity.
Some individuals have let the team down.
We hear cases of abuse of office by TLTB staff out in the field. Cases of extortion; Of making promises to lessees that the TLTB staff know they cannot or will not fulfil; Of giving encouragement to landowners that they know is false; Of depriving the very people they serve, the landowners, of their just dues.
In fact, staff members have recently been fired because they breached their fiduciary duty to the landowners.
On Friday night, I told our civil servants what I’ll repeat here. That we expect the highest standards of performance and probity.
We will not tolerate laziness or incompetence and anyone who is corrupt will be found out and dealt with.
But it is not only corruption that we must keep a watchful eye on. The TLTB must also fight against the plague of an unresponsive and uncaring bureaucracy. The TLTB must adhere to good corporate governance. And the TLTB must modernise.
As your Prime Minister and Chairman of the Board, I urge each of you to reflect on how you can do your jobs better, not just for yourselves, but for the people you serve.
In order to encourage this, the TLTB will be reviewing the Terms and Conditions of all employees’ contracts and employee rules.
Now, promotion will be given on merit, initiative will be rewarded, and additional benefits will be reserved for those whose performance has set them apart.
You will be judged by current market and industry standards, not by who you know or how long you have been with the TLTB.
This is one the very basic reforms we are looking to implement across Government bodies. We want to put our best foot forward. We need to put ordinary people first. We don’t want to tie them up in red tape, delay services to them because of incompetence, or place unnecessary hurdles in their way.
We must always look for ways to make the system more simple and accessible, to enable and facilitate, not confuse and obstruct.
You need to be more responsive to the people’s needs, especially for the poorer and less educated.
As the largest landlord in Fiji, the TLTB has a huge amount of responsibility: responsibility to the land owners, who rely on honest and competent delivery of service and payment; responsibility to the tenants, who rely on advocacy to ensure security and sustainability; and finally, responsibility to the Fijian people, who rely on the thoughtful and progressive allocation of land and an understanding of the economic and financial imperatives to support social projects and private sector investment that will grow our economy.
That is the big picture. But I want to stress today that it is the little person we stand for – and stand by - most of all.
Empathy, compassion and kindness are as important as lists, graphs and charts.
Yes, we must always observe proper procedure and strive for maximum efficiency.
But we must never forget that we are servants with a mission to serve the people of Fiji.
Good luck with your deliberations. After this workshop, I look forward to improved service delivery by a modern, efficient, and competent TLTB.
Thank you. Vinaka vakalevu.
COMMODORE JOSAIA VOREQE BAINIMARAMA, CF(Mil), OStJ, MSD, jssc, psc
Prime Minister and Minister for Finance, Strategic Planning, National Development and Statistics, Public Service, Peoples Charter for Change and Progress, Information, iTaukei Affairs, Provincial Development, Sugar Industry, Lands and Mineral Resources