Landowners raise concern over land ‘sale’

Tui Vitogo Ratu Wiliame Sovasova during an interview at Vitogo village in Lautoka. Picture: BALJEET SINGH

A LAUTOKA landowning unit has expressed serious concerns about the “sale” of 700 acres of leased mataqali land without their knowledge or consent. The land located at Buabua, on the outskirts of Lautoka, belongs to the mataqali Vanuakula of Vitogo Village.

Tui Vitogo Ratu Wiliame Sovasova said he had been trying to get a response on the issue from the iTLTB for the past four years but to no avail.

“We had leased this mataqali land to a group — made up mostly of sugar cane farmers who formed a cooperative in Buabua — and they used it for grazing their animals,” he said.

“In 2014, the lease expired and most of their agricultural leases also expired and they returned the land to us.

“We had a mataqali meeting straight after that and decided to develop the land by planting sandalwood and using it to graze our animals.”

However, Ratu Wiliame claimed when they attempted to begin work on the land, they discovered it had been “sold”.

“I found out about the land (lease) had been sold when I visited the site in 2014 and saw a ‘No Trespass’ sign.

“I had a talk with iTLTB west manager and she said that a iTLTB Nadi employee had ‘sold’ the land without their knowledge.

“I expressed my disappointment and said they should have sold 10 acres and not 700 and she told me the land had already been tendered.

“This is what we landowners face, we are not consulted and I am so disappointed.

“I keep following up with iTLTB and they say they have been working on the issue for four years now.”

Ratu Wiliame said he was told to pay $30,000 to iTLTB for the return of the land because the tenant had paid that as a deposit.

“Our population is growing and we fear such dealings will just take our resources away from us.

“I did not even know who the tenant is and we hope something will be done about this issue urgently.”

When the claims made by Ratu Wiliame was put to iTLTB general manager Tevita Kuruvakadua, he said he was aware of the concerns raised by the Vitogo villagers.

“The lease was applied for, processed and issued in the normal manner,” he said.

“The lease applied for is outside the reserve land area of the mataqali and the landowners are concerned that iTLTB did not consult them during the lease application process.”

Mr Kuruvakadua said the iTLTB Board has undertaken a number of meetings with the mataqali to see how their concerns could be addressed and had also explained the process that was followed based on how the lease was issued.

“A formal lease has been issued on the area. If iTLTB was to revoke the lease, then the existing tenant would have to agree and surrender the area back to mataqali.

“However, since the existing tenant has already paid a premium and annual rentals to the mataqali since 2014, then the mataqali will have to repay that back to the tenant.

“The issue of the refund to the tenant is a sticking point and the members of the mataqali are refusing to repay this back so that it can be paid back to the tenant.”

Mr Kuruvakadua added that the tenant was paying lease rentals and had not breached any lease conditions.

“The mataqali has not made any confirmed arrangements to refund the premiums and rentals so that tenant can at least be convinced to surrender the lease back to mataqali.

“However,TLTB will continue to consult both the mataqali and the tenant to see how best both their interest and concerns can be addressed and resolved.”

When informed of the iTLTB’s response, Ratu Wiliame maintained the mataqali was not aware of how the lease was ‘sold’ and that they had not received any money for the land in question.