3 Mar 2003

Fiji Native Land Board begins court action

4:53 pm on 3 March 2003

Fiji's Native Land Trust Board has begun High court action to try and overturn the Agricultural Landlord and Tenant Act (ALTA) which governs the leasing of all farming land in the country.

The NLTB 's general manager, Kalavati Bakani, says the board is hiring a senior Queen's Counsel from Australia to argue its case that the ALTA law is contrary to the provisions of the 1997 Constitution.

Mr Bakani says the board is going for an overseas lawyer because local legal opinion on the issue is widely varied.

He says even though the Great Council of Chiefs and the Fijian Affairs Board want the ALTA law scrapped, the matter has to be referred to parliament and passed because the legislation is entrenched.

Such legislation requires a two-thirds majority in Parliament for any change, which is not possible without Labour Party support, but its leader, Mahendra Chaudhry, has refused to attend any meetings on land.

Mr Bakani says indigenous landowners have agreed that ALTA be scrapped and the NLTB, as custodian of their land, has supported them.

He says any leases recently renewed under ALTA would be governed by the Native Land Trust Act once the former law was scrapped.