Monday, April 08, 2013

Qarase Response to Lies by Khaiyum on Momi Bay Land Swap

Qarase responds to lies by Khaiyum and Bainimarama



PRESS RELEASE

The Attorney – General, Mr. Aiyaz Sayed Khaiyum’s recent comments on the Momi Bay Land transaction do not reflect the full facts of the case.  Now, the Prime Minister, Commodore Voreqe Bainimarama, has issued a statement on the same subject and other matters aimed at discrediting the elected Government which I led at the time of the transaction.

This statement is issued in response to the comments made by both the Prime Minister and his Attorney General.  It is important that the facts relating to the land transaction be stated clearly, so that people may be able to form their own informed opinions on the criticisms leveled against the SDL Government.

The land transaction in question involved the swap or exchange of 68.7 hectares of native land owned by Tokatoka Nasau with freehold land of equivalent value owned by Matapo Limited, the developer of Momi Bay Resort Project.

Upon exchange the native land was to be converted to freehold and the Matapo freehold was to be converted to native land and registered under Tokatoka Nasau.  There was no “loss” of native land in the transaction because of the equivalent freehold land and other benefits in exchange.

My information is that the conversion of native land to freehold was completed.  But the conversion of freehold to native land has yet to be completed, due to interference by the present Government following the Military Coup on 5th December, 2006.

The transaction was made with the voluntary agreement of the two parties involved, Matapo Limited and Tokatoka Nasau.  The NLTB gave its approval to the deal and the Government of the day sanctioned the land swap under the Land Transfer Act.  The terms and conditions of the land swap are recorded in an Agreement between the two parties dated 31st May, 2005.

The landowners were obviously satisfied and happy with the benefits they received then, and the benefits they will receive in the future if the project is successful.

Unfortunately for the landowners they have suffered because of the effects of the military coup of 5th December, 2006.  The overthrow of a democratically elected Government has effectively “killed” the Momi Bay Resort Project.  The Momi Bay Resort development would have been completed by now if there was no illegal take-over of the Government.

Mr. Khaiyum’s reference to the provisions of the law relating to this transaction is also misleading.  As Chief Legal Officer of the Government he should at least be completely honest with his explanation.  The transaction was completed within the relevant laws with voluntary participation of all parties involved.

The bottom line is that the landowners, as owners of the land agreed to exchange their asset with a similar  asset of equivalent value.  It was a voluntary act on their part, and they were satisfied and happy with what they received.

The conversion of native land to freehold land was never the policy of the SDL Government.  The Momi Land transaction was an isolated case which all parties concerned approved and came away satisfied with the outcome.  The transaction was carried out within the Land Transfer Act and completed in good faith.

Both Commodore Voreqe Bainimarama and Mr. Khaiyum appear confused about the entrenched legislation in the 1997 Constitution relating to native land.  The entrenchment of the Native Land Trust Act means that any amendment of that Act would require a higher and more difficult Parliamentary votes for approval.  This has protected native land from possible attempts to alienate such land.

It is no secret that the SDL Government would like all native legislation remain entrenched in the Constitution.  It is almost certain that the successor to the SDL would like to maintain this as a key policy issue.

The present Government’s draft Constitution does not provide for entrenched native legislation.  This means that any amendment to the Native Land Trust Act, for example, would require a simple majority in Parliament.  Furthermore, without entrenchment in the Constitution, it will become much easier to alienate native land, the issue that both the Prime Minister and Attorney General appear confused.

There are two precedents for similar land transactions.  In the Hyatt Hotel and Denarau development projects there were similar land exchange transactions, both during the SVT Government.  In those two cases and in the Momi Bay project the benefits to landowners have been substantial.

L. QARASE



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