Fiji’s progress into one of the most economically-developed countries among the Pacific Islands is underpinned by what the late Ratu Sir Lala Sukuna put in place all those years ago, says Prime Minister Sitiveni Rabuka.
In his Ratu Sukuna Day celebration speech, Rabuka highlighted that roads, housing, urban and city developments, industrial estates, manufacturing enterprises and other businesses, hotels and resorts and agricultural ventures, are established on native land through the system he conceived and brought to reality.
He said the system of leasing out native land was often chaotic, haphazard and corrupt and Ratu Sukuna started talking to the colonial Government hierarchy and a plan took shape.
“It was innovative and unique and won the backing of the Council of Chiefs. Ratu Sukuna then began what was to become a mighty effort to achieve community-wide agreement on a critical national issue. Nothing like it had ever been attempted in Fiji or the British Empire.”
“The high chief embarked on a campaign to visit all the Fijian provinces, convening meetings in village after village. Sometimes he travelled by road. But more often he ventured by foot along tracks and pathways. Punts or horses were used when necessary.”
“Ratu Sukuna talked to the villagers, sometimes long into the night, about surrendering control of their land to a new board to be formed by the Government.”
“It would take responsibility, on their behalf, for leasing and managing the land. He spoke with calm deliberation and patience.”
“On occasion he would make return visits to certain villages where doubts persisted and go over the same issues again and again. Then, finally, it was done. He had negotiated a consensus that applied to every landowning unit.”
“It was a monumental accomplishment.”
“In 1940 the Legislative Council approved the Native Land Trust Board Act. Authority for dealing with native land was to be vested in the new Native Land Trust Board (NLTB). This would create greater efficiency, transparency and legal certainty over leases.”
“Governor Sir Phillip Mitchell hailed the decision of the indigenous people to give up direct control of their land as “one of the greatest acts of faith and trust in colonial history”.
“It was also a landmark in governance in the vast British Empire. Ratu Sukuna reportedly spoke of unmatched acts of goodwill and cooperation.”
Rabuka said the NLTB (now iTaukei Land Trust Board) is presently going through a process of reform and improvement.
“The objective is to further lift its efficiency, especially in services to landowners, tenants and investors.”
Rabuka added that Ratu Sukuna’s inherent intelligence and abilities came with all the mana and authority of those born into the ranks of chiefly leadership.
“He was widely respected and revered. To some he was a virtual demigod.”