1 Mar 2019

Villagers in dispute over Malolo resort land

11:21 am on 1 March 2019

Some villagers on Fiji's Malolo Island want land earmarked for a tourism development surveyed to determine its rightful owner.

Solevu Village on Malolo

Solevu Village on Malolo Photo: Supplied

The development has been the centre of controversy after locals complained construction work underway is damaging the reef and foreshore.

The villagers' lawyer Saimoni Nacolawa said they had sought legal action and a magistrate will hear the case in Nadi next month.

He said other villagers, who gave Freesoul Real Estate permission to build a resort, do not even own the land.

Mr Nacolawa criticised the Lands Department for not consulting his clients on Freesoul's proposal to build the resort.

"This land has not been surveyed. We have only got traditional boundaries. From that traditional boundaries, we cannot determine the area or the acreage - acreage can only be determined when you have extended boundaries.

"Even though they have this traditional allotment for the dependents, they do not have the registered native land title."

Mr Nacolawa said the landowners were not happy that roughshod construction and poor environmental management by Freesoul had killed fish, destroyed mangroves and reefs, and led to exotic trees being felled on Malolo.

The Lands Department did not respond to questions on the rightful owner of the disputed site.

Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama, this month, issued a warning to foreign developers who plan to do business in the country, saying "If you break our laws, you will be punished".

Any development must not come at the expense of the health of Fiji's people or its natural environment, he said.

Freesoul, in a statement, denied it had breached Fiji's environmental laws on Malolo.

It said during a visit to China, Mr Bainimarama invited business houses to invest in Fiji.

Freesoul said it had invested $US500 million in the Malolo resort and had received support from key stakeholders.

Freesoul says its project was approved by the lands department with the issuance of approriate leases and approvals by the town and country planning office.

The company says landowners and fishing rights holders were consulted and consented to the development.

But some villagers say construction should cease because they want the land surveyed to determine its rightful owner.

Legal action has been launched and a magistrate will hear the case later this month.

The villagers are also upset that raw sewage from construction camps are entering fishing grounds.

The government said it had not given any approval to Freesoul for development of the foreshore.

Lands Minister Ashneel Sudhakar told local media an impact assessment by the Environment Ministry in December last year was only conducted for land-based activities and not the foreshore.

The government said it would prosecute Freesoul for breaching environmental conditions for its project.

The office of the Director of Public Prosecutions has sanctioned charges against Freesoul under the Environment Management Act.

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