Demand for fair lease payment

Mataqali Tibitibi member Ivamere Ganilau. Picture: SERAFINA SILAITOGA

WHILE the Water Authority of Fiji billed about 1000 customers for water supplied from a rainforest area owned by mataqali Tibitibi in Macuata, the landowners received a mere $12 in weekly wages since the establishment of the catchment in 1970.
Suliasi Bakea, 84, the oldest member of the mataqali and the first to be employed by the then Public Works Department’s water and sewerage section (now WAF). He said his boss was “a European man” he only remembers as Mr Reach.
“I started with $12 for many years and by the time I retired, I was receiving $80 a week,” he said.
“I didn’t complain because we thought of the people drinking from our source.”
For 53 years, the landowners have been pleading for lease payments which they believe have fallen on deaf ears forcing them to take stringent measures – including closing off the catchment area last week, leaving many in Wainikoro, Taganikula and nearby areas without water.
Although the mataqali opened the catchment area last Friday after meeting with WAF and iTaukei Lands Trust Board officials, their demand for proper lease payment remains and they want it finalised by next month.
Mataqali member Iva Ganilau said they have development plans for their children and grandchildren and the lease payment would aid them in their efforts to achieve this.

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