Monday, May 21, 2007

Truth About Qoliqoli & Indigenous Claims Tribunal Bills

Qoliqoli Bill to be tabled in Parliament

Fiji’s Cabinet has approved the Qoliqoli (traditional fishing ground) Bill for tabling in Parliament.

In his submission, Minister for Fijians Affairs, Lands and Provincial Development, Ratu Naiqama Lalabalavu told Cabinet that the Bill marked the culmination of about 125 years of preparations and expectations by the Fijian chiefs and their tribes over their traditional customary qoliqoli rights.

"The Bill reconfirms the ownership of usage rights previously enjoyed by qoliqoli owners over their respective qoliqoli areas."

Ratu Naiqama said the principal objective of the legislation was to transfer to qoliqoli owners from the State, the proprietary ownership of their respective qoliqoli areas which are currently owned by the State. "The transfer will be by operation of law and not through ordinary conveyance.

A Cabinet statement said Ratu Naiqama explained that claims for compensation for past use of qoliqoli areas would be disallowed. "This is because currently all land that is to be transferred to the qoliqoli owners is owned by the State, and as such, the qoliqoli owners cannot claim for land that they do not currently own." Ratu Naiqama said that under the legislation, land within qoliqoli areas would be deemed to be native reserve and may only be de-reserved through declaration by the Minister upon the request of the qoliqoli owners.

A major feature of the Bill is the establishment of the Qoliqoli Commission through the reconstitution of the Native Fisheries Commission (NFC). "The Qoliqoli Commission will issue licences to undertake commercial fishing in any qoliqoli area, and will also appoint qoliqoli guardians to see that provisions of the Act are enforced in the qoliqoli areas. Ratu Naiqama said no commercial fishing licence issued for operation within qoliqoli waters would be issued without prior consultations with the Qoliqoli Commission which would insist on certain conditions. "No commercial operation can be undertaken within qoliqoli areas without prior approval of the NLTB after consultations with the Qoliqoli Commission and the qoliqoli owners."

He explained that in cases where commercial operation was approved, income from the operations would be paid into a trust fund for the benefit of qoliqoli owners. Ratu Naiqama emphasised that ownership rights being conferred do not include and are subject to: the right of public access to the foreshores; the right of passage recognised and guaranteed under international law; any legal interests, including leases and licences granted over such qoliqoli areas; and, the right to the use of the waters within qoliqoli boundaries.

"Fears that transferring the proprietary rights to qoliqoli owners might affect the free passages of boats/vessels in Fiji waters are ill-founded. "This is because firstly hardly any vessel covered by this protective principle needs passage over qoliqoli areas, and, secondly, because this right is especially preserved in this proposed legislation." The legislation will come into force when preparations of all subsidiary laws and resourcing requirements are completed.

Indigenous Claims Tribunal Bill goes to Parliament
www. Thursday August 03, 2006

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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