Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase is being grossly dishonest by alleging that FLP is responsible for farmers not securing 50 year leases.
“Where are these leases? What conditions are attached to it and when and where were they offered to farmers?” asked Mr Chaudhry.
Indeed it is Mr Qarase who is sitting on the recommendations of the Talaona subcommittee on Land that the land leases issue be dealt with by a joint parliamentary select committee of both Houses.
The subcommittee to which the matter was referred early this year concluded its deliberations and reported its findings to both Mr Qarase and myself in June. The report contains various recommendations which the subcommittee suggested be dealt with through the parliamentary process.
“I accepted the recommendation of the subcommittee and requested Mr Qarase to take action to have a parliamentary committee appointed. He has, however, done nothing to move the matter forward.
“Mr Qarase should answer to the NLTB and the landowners as to why he has not taken any action in the matter,” said Mr Chaudhry.
It is well known that NLTB is under pressure from landowners to renew leases as many farms taken over have reverted to bush, depriving landowners of rental income from these lots. As a result NLTB has begun issuing leases under ALTA.
However, a matter of concern to farmers is the high premiums they are being asked to pay for renewal of their leases. Most farmers are facing serious financial difficulties made worse by the current drought and are in no position to front up with the huge sums required as premium.
“Government should make provision in the 2004 Budget for funds from which the premium requirements should be met. Farmers are in no position to borrow from the banks for such payments,” Mr Chaudhry said.
Mr Chaudhry said leases granted should provide long term security of tenure for farmers otherwise they will simply move away from the sugar industry. NLTB should be particularly mindful when assessing rental for new leases.
It should be kept in mind that the future of the sugar industry is intricately intertwined with security of tenure for cane farmers, he said.