Let’s give credit where credit is due
One of Bainimarama’s stunt visits with his propaganda team trying to look like he listens to the people actually paid off. He uncovered a Crown land scam.
Our self-appointed Man of the People was shocked to find that tenants on Crown land had been illegally sub-dividing and selling parts of their leases, as if they owned it. Lands Permanent Secretary Tevita Boseiwaqa has warned that all tenants who’ve done this will be evicted but the victims who’ve paid for the titles they don’t have will be looked after.
At last it seems the Government has actually done something about land, after talking about it, putting it in the Charter, and then doing nothing for six years.
But think again. What they’ve shown is that they could have been sub-dividing Crown land near towns if they were a government in touch with people’s needs. They might have had to share some of the profits with the existing Crown tenants. They might even have needed to pass legislation to facilitate it (but when has legislation been a problem for the Khaiyum decree factory) but over six years, if they were in touch with the people they would have known more about the real problems of land use.
Putting a completely unqualified military man like Leweni in as Permanent Head of Lands after he stuffed every other job given to him, didn’t help. Lumping the Lands Department with responsibility for the native land in the Land Bank didn’t help. It’s clear they weren’t properly managing Crown Land competently, so how could they manage a lot of new land? But there’s another reason why Bainimarama has done nothing about land.
Ever since the Charter farce Bainimarama has been toying with the idea of handing out 99 year leases. The only thing that’s held him back is fear that it will incite landowners. If he knew anything about the land he’d know that there are many alternatives to 99 year leases. What’s needed is more flexibility and realistic rents. Good farmers are using native land all over the place without 99 year leases. Some are using land without any formal lease. Of course it’s illegal, but it works and what it proves is that we need a lot more flexibility. Share-farming isn’t allowed under ALTA, but it happens and why not? It provides a better return to landowners than ALTA rents, and a better return to farmers than idle land.