22 Aug 2013

Academic says new Fiji constitution takes on board concern about land rights

3:51 pm on 22 August 2013

A New Zealand-based Fijian academic says the new constitution appears to have taken on board concern about land rights.

Steven Ratuva of Auckland University says several elements were retained from the Constitutional Commission whose draft the regime dumped half a year ago. He spoke to Jamie Tahana.

STEVEN RATUVA: Many provisions to do with the Bill of Rights, for instance, very much are replicas of the Yash Ghai constitution, including the preamble itself. The preamble was pretty mechanical and restricted in the previous draft. In the new one, a lot of it was taken from the Yash Ghai constitution to do with recognition of the iTaukei, for instance, as owners of the land. So that was not in the previous draft, but was in the Yash Ghai constitution. Now they've put it back.

JAMIE TAHANA: And does this go against what Bainimarama has been saying in regards to the land rights?

STEVEN RATUVA: Yes, the land rights issues are very, very interesting here, because in the previous constitution, or the previous draft, there was no explicit statement in relation to protection of the land rights of indigenous Fijians, the iTaukei. After a lot of criticisms and after they got the message that if they don't do anything they'll lose support amongst the Fijian population, or the indigenous Fijian population, in the next election, so they made sure that it's in this draft here. In fact, not only is it there, but it's quite comprehensive, as well. Not only does it contain protection of Fijian land rights, also they have provided provision for royalties for minerals and other things for the Fijian landowners, particularly for mining, because the state owns the minerals in the soil and previously that was not there. The other interesting bit was the mention of the rights of the minorities of the Rotumans and the Banaban community, in terms of the land riots. So those things were not there in the previous draft. So that's one of the reasons why I mentioned earlier that they're trying to please as many people as possible, fundamentally because they would use this constitution almost as an election manifesto. Very soon they will announce their political party. They'll have it formally registered and they will, in the course of the build-up to the election, use the constitution as a way of mobilising support.