WHAT is going on between the Tailevu landowners and Fulton College? How can a sustained and presumably amicable 67-year-old relationship break down with such apparent bitterness and rancour? What is really behind this mess? Is it just about money? Perhaps that’s a silly question – land issues eventually devolve to being about money. But who is pushing for such an immediate, final and irrevocable financial end to the hitherto harmonious relationship? Is it the landowners alone – some of whom, are, or have been, members of the Seventh-day Adventist church which operates Fulton? Has something else untoward come between them and the Fulton people – something which is triggering such a land-slide of bad-will?
The college has been the beneficiary of a tenancy arrangement that may or may not have had the authority of past landlords and the legitimacy of NLTB stamps. There are always two sides to a land dispute. The High Court has made a ruling in the landowner’s favour which is being appealed. There is nothing unremarkable about that: legal matters always tend to longevity of process and that is one of the costs that all parties pay for going to court in the first place.
An eviction notice to a highly esteemed private college which has educationally served the public of Fiji in many long-term and deep-structural ways is a device that needs deconstructing. Is it really just a symptom of frustration? Or perhaps a cheap shot across the bows of an organisation already on the back-foot?
Justice is of utmost importance in land dealings. But reconciliation is its twin. There can be no final justice without reconciliation and there can be no lasting reconciliation without a just settlement. Our nation’s future is too often ripped apart on a failure to grasp this critical duality. Moreover, on land related issues, the relationship between tenant and landlord is always in process – as much as we may wish, it can never be taken for granted or filed away as ‘do not disturb’. In long-term leases, generations come and go. Each will have a new conception of what is owed and what is not. New pressures can intervene to make old arrangements seem unreasonable. New voices can come along to interpose themselves on so-called ‘settled’ claims.
All of which means simply that relationships must be massaged, rocked gently in the cradle of ongoing diplomacy. Only in this way can a win-win come out of contractual arrangements. As things stand, there is every prospect of parties to the dispute losing badly and of the nation losing overall the cultural capital of a valued educational asset.