Wednesday, August 2, 2006

Fiji Indigenous Claims Tribunal Thursday August 03, 2006

Attorney General Senator Qoriniasi Bale
The Indigenous Claims Tribunal (ICT) Bill that seeks to address long standing grievances of native landowners has been given the go ahead for tabling in Parliament.

Attorney General and Minister for Justice, Senator Qoriniasi Bale in his submission to Cabinet said native landowners claimed that part of their land had been acquired by early settlers through means which were fraudulent, dubious or unjust.

"These are the grievances which native landowners have requested successive administrations to address and resolve.

"With passage of time, other legal doctrines such as time bar and indefeasibility of title have made this problem increasingly difficult to resolve."

Senator Bale said the ICT Bill was, therefore, an enabling legislation to provide a firm legal foundation for Government’s core objective of providing a legal forum to which aggrieved claimants may refer their claims and grievances for formal enquiry and rulings on whether or not they were justified as a matter of fact.

"Where such claims are established, and where so recommended by the Tribunal, then the claimants may under the process of negotiated settlements provided in the legislation, agree on a fair and equitable redress.

"This will undoubtedly be a major consideration given that the time of the alleged wrong was more than 100 years ago.

"If, after careful analysis, the original transaction is proven deficient, then a practical and holistic solution must be recommended by the Tribunal to address the claimant’s grievances, while at the same time not disturbing the indefeasible title to the current proprietor.

"If the current title holder is interested in offering the property for sale voluntarily, then the claimant ought to be given the right of first refusal through a buy-back scheme assisted by Government based on sale on open market value."

Senator Bale said that should compensation be the only redress available to a successful claimant, the usual practice which was also recognised in this legislation was that the party whose action/inaction was the cause of the original defect paid the compensation.

"If it can be shown that the Government, for example, was at fault then convention dictates that it should pay accordingly.

"The question of how this figure is arrived at and whether the amount is justifiable and can be met will be carefully reflected in subsidiary legislation mainly dealing with negotiated settlements between Government through the State Law Office and the claimants concerned."

Senator Bale said currently, the NLTB was the main institution, by virtue of statute, that received and recorded the schedules of all claims.

"However, given the inadequacy of the current legal provisions and structure to address the grievances already submitted to the NLTB, the Indigenous Claims Tribunal under the Bill is the ideal option."

Senator Bale said that although the Bill covers only land claims, it was cited as the Indigenous Claims Tribunal Bill because it was envisaged that the legislation would be used in future to include processes for addressing and removing indigenous grievances which have caused justifiable discontent and instability amongst Fijians for far too long.

The Tribunal will be chaired by a retired Judge or a person qualified as a judge under the Constitution.

Senator Bale said the Tribunal’s recommendations were not mandatory orders or directions such as those given by the Courts, but were solutions which were subject to amicable negotiations and settlements aimed at rectifying injustices of the past.

He further said the Tribunal would also be empowered to assume powers, with necessary modifications, given to Commissions of Inquiries under the Commission of Inquires Act.

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