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Loopholes in current Surfing Areas Act: AG

Attorney-General Siromi Turaga says Government recognises that a working legal framework which is clear and transparent can achieve shared goals of economic development, intergenerational wealth and minimize conflicts, particularly for the benefit of the tourism sector and resource owners.

He said this has led to the approval by Cabinet for the ‘Review of the Regulation of Surfing Areas Act 2010’.

Turaga said in this review, the Government aims to continue promoting Fiji as a premier surf and adventure tourism destination whilst ensuring protection and equitable compensation to landowners for the use of their natural resources.

Turaga said prior to the Act, arrangement for the use of marine areas were informally made between surf, water sports, other users (such as tourist resorts and other marine related businesses) and locals.

He said that these arrangements were not formalized in the way that land based activities on customary land are managed – As a result, certain areas were effectively privatised for the benefit of international tourism interests and landowners, at the expense of the wider traditional resource owners.

“The Government intends to balance the liberalisation with the protection of the rights and interests of registered proprietors of land as per the established protocols of the i-Taukei Lands and Fisheries Commission.”

“With this review, the Government aims to provide clarity on the resource users and other beneficiaries such as extractive industries developers and investors that benefit from unfettered access for reaction and or competitive foreshore and marine-based activities.”

“Also providing an equitable and transparent compensation arrangement that ensures intergenerational equity,” Turaga said.

He also stated that since the passing of the Act in 2012, Fiji has expressed its intention to adopt the United Nations Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous People (UNDRIP, 2007), which calls for transparency in all dealings over customary rights and interests, including equitable compensation and free prior informed consent.

In reviewing the 2010 Act, the Government recognises other interest which needs to be considered, such as valorising the rights and interests impacted by surfing, water sports and other tourist-related activities in marine areas, which requires developing a transparent and equitable compensation mechanism that can be applied by all government ministries when dealing with customary fishing grounds.

Issues:

The Attorney-General said the definition of surfing areas in the 2010 Act applies to the reefs or other foreshore or offshore areas, together with surrounding areas, that are used for surfing or any water sport.

Turaga said there is no provision to declare a specific area as a ‘surfing area’.

“The 2010 Act effectively overrides all other rights in the ‘surfing area’ without any documentation to demarcate the area, including on the face of it, any traditional rights, vesting the interest in and ownership of a ‘surfing area’ in the Director of Lands on behalf of the State, with no compensation payable to the right holders.”

“The Act also overrides other legislations and overrides and nullifies any ‘other interest under any written law’ which may conflict with the provision of the Act,” he added.

The public consultation is being conducted in a series of public meetings in Viti Levu, Vanua Levu and Taveuni until September 8.

Ilaitia Ravuwai
Ilaitia Ravuwai
Journalist | news@fijilive.com

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