A group of young professionals from Bua in Fiji are worried about provisions in the new constitution which affect the rights of indigenous landowners.
The Bua Urban Youth Network have written to the Chairman of the iTaukei Affairs Board expressing dismay that the new constitution appears to give the government more of a say in development matters than landowners.
A spokesperson for the group, Vani Catanasiga, tells Bruce Hill the issue of land rights is a very sensitive one for all Fijians.
Presenter: Bruce Hill
Speaker:Vani Catanasiga, a spokesperson for the Bua Urban Youth Network
CATANASIGA: Our network started in 2007, we’re just a group of young professionals that work in Suva, but are originally from the province in Bua. And if you know about Bua, basically there’s a mining boom in our province right now and we’re concerned about that, because we have relatives that live in the villages and reported that to us about what’s happening and because we kept hearing stories about this. We did do a base line survey where the mine site is at right now in 2012 and basically we just started working from there. So our network evolved from a social network into something more meaningful, trying to do work to get our people in the villages to understand the impacts of mining, yeah.
HILL: Well, these sections in the Constitution 27 to 30, talk about land rights, royalties and the Fijian peoples rights to control their own land. What is it in these parts of the new Constitution that you have problems with?
CATANASIGA: We’ve heard about the promise of royalty, that’s going to be paid out to people, if they’re land is being mined, they get to share in the royalties and they also. I mean for us, the Constitution, when they first announced it, it was a bit of sort of we were curious, because the issues that we had concerns about were seemingly being dealt with effectively in this Constitution. But we’ve had a read of it and from our understanding, we’ve decided it’s of concern, because even though it promises the ability for customary landowners to have, it protects their right and interest. I mean if you read further into the document, it’s concerning, because one, the issue of land bank. We’ve had some experiences of the land bank in our province, not so good, and what it basically says is that it’s prioritised, for us we read it as state in these sections of the Constitution, it’s prioritising the economic interests, rather than our ability to decide how we use that land.
HILL: I suppose in every Pacific country though, the governments have to make a trade off between the rights of landowners and the country’s need for economic development?
CATANASIGA: Well, I think for us it’s because, for us it’s easy, we see that more as the easy option, that this is an easier option to take. But in reality, for the long run, it costs more to people to give up something like land for mining, because in the end future generations will have to pay twice as much or even more for the loss of their livelihoods, their ability to practice their culture, things like this we have to take into consideration and not just short term economic benefits. For us, it’s more the issue of, OK if you’re interested in developing, but developing meaning fully for the long term, then we have to be able to research what kind of developments are effective, but also protects the interest of future generations.
HILL: So what would the Bua Urban Youth Network want the government to change about these elements in the Constitution, what kind of changes are you looking for?
CATANASIGA: Well, when we had done our Constitution submissions last year when government was accepting submissions. What we particularly asked for was to build into the Constitution, a clause that allows, that makes it mandatory that free prior informed consent of landowners are sought before they’re natural resources are used for development programs and that’s not something that appears in this Constitution and something that we’re really concerned about, which is why we’ve written to the Chairman of the iTaukei Affairs Board.