September 10, 2013

Concern over government powers in Fiji constitution

Updated Fri 30 Aug 2013, 10:27pm AEST

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.

Spokeswoman Vani Catanasiga has told Radio Australia's Pacific Beat the issue of land rights is a very sensitive one for all Fijians.

"What we particularly asked for was to build into the constitution a clause that makes it mandatory that...consent of landowners is sought before their natural resources are used for development programs, and that's not something that appears in this constitution."

Ms Catanasiga says sections of the new constitution prioritises economic interests rather than Fijians' right to decide how to best use their land.

"We see that more as the easy option," she said.

"But in reality it costs more for 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...developing meaningfully 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."

In January Fiji's military-backed regime scrapped the Yash Ghai draft constitution written after national consultations, saying it was not suitable.

Last week Fiji's interim Attorney General, Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum, released the final version of the country's new constitution.

The interim government says the new document will pave the way for elections by the end of September 2014.

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