11 Mar 2005

Fiji squatter patrol akin to fascist police squad

10:18 am on 11 March 2005

A church-sponsored NGO in Fiji has described the government's proposed squatter patrol unit as akin to a fascist police squad.

The government decided to set up the unit to curb the country's growing squatter problem by preventing people from settling in unauthorised areas.

It follows a shouting match between Fiji's assistant minister for squatter settlements, Jioji Banuve, and a squatter family living in a flimsy shack shown on Fiji Television earlier this week.

The social justice NGO, the Ecumenical Centre for Education, Research and Advocacy, says the squatter patrol unit is preposterous and forceful removal of squatters is not the answer.

Its director, Aisake Casimira, has also called on minister Banuve to stop using intimidating tactics against disadvantaged people.

Mr Casimira says the government is spending a lot of money on things which are not of high priority such as the 270-thousand US dollars on Prince Charles' current visit and another 1-point-5 million US dollars on an international conference later this year.

He says setting up the squatter patrol is not addressing the main causes of the problem which are unemployment and expiry of land leases.

Mr Casimira says the government should encourage more employment and make its decisions more people friendly.

About 90-thousand people, or more than 10% of Fiji's population, live in squatter settlements close to urban centres.