Parliament has passed the State Lands (Amendment) Bill 2023 which deals with the administration of State Land under the State Lands Act 1945.
Speaking on his motion, Attorney-General Siromi Turaga said Section 13 of the Act deals with protection leases and this should be a clear indication of the sensitivities surrounding leases under the Act.
Turaga said the Bill sought to remove the requirement of obtaining consent from the Director of Lands for any mortgage, charge, pledge, caveat or for any such lease to be dealt with by any court of law or under the process of any court of law with the least amount of consultation ought not to have been done.
He said the 2021 Amendment Act also amended Section 13 of the Act to provide the consent of the Director can only be refused where there is a breach of any lease condition or where such application to deal with the land is not in accordance with the law.
He said in 2022, Section 16 of the Act was amended to deal with who may now be the lessee or lessor –The State Lands (Amendment) Act 2022 amended the Act to empower the Director to re-enter land to cancel any lease, licence or approval notice of lease in instances where occupants of the land have as a result of dispossession of land or due to political upheaval or cancellation or non-renewal of their leases or licenses resorted to seek refuge on the land for which they were not lessees under the Act.
“In these instances, the lessees permitted such persons to use the land it did not obtain the consent of the Director, making the arrangement unlawful under the Act. In effect, this amendment in a way regularises what in fact were illegal arrangements by allowing the Director to re-enter land and cancel the lease licence or approve the notice of lease.”
“This Bill sought to seek to ensure that the amendment made in 2021 and 2022 are removed to respect the status quo that existed prior to these amendments,” Turaga said.
Contributing to the motion, Opposition MP Faiyaz Koya said amendments made in 2021 and 2022 were borne out of the proposition that a lot of people were dispossessed off their land whose leases were not renewed and essentially, they became refugees.
“What this amendment had done or sorts to do were; for example, give the Director of Lands the ability to cancel the head lease or the lease itself to be able to issue separate leases for those people who had been living there bona fide since the land was given to them.”
“Once they established this in a particular area and sold off the land to these people, albeit illegally under the law as technically speaking, they had been occupying this particular piece of land for maybe 30 or 40 years, they will then be able to cancel the original lease and be able to issue these leases with the Director of Lands. He or she will be able to do that, so it is being facilitated to those that were actually living on the land,” Koya said.
In his Right of Reply, Turaga said Fiji being a small island State cannot have two jurisprudence or two types of land dealings.
Turaga added this Act has to be amended and this is what they campaigned for and are doing it today.