The FLP is concerned that two highly contentious Bills the Qoliqoli Bill and the Land Claims Tribunal Bill were tabled in the House of Representatives today without any discussions on them with the Fiji Labour Party.
Labour Leader Mahendra Chaudhry said the Prime minister has declined his request to defer the tabling of the Bills to allow for inter-party talks on matters of concern to the FLP. Instead, the Bills were read in the House by abridging parliamentary procedures for the tabling of legislation.
Pre-consultations between the two parties on contentious issues and legislation should be an essential feature of the multi-party cabinet arrangement. The Prime Minister takes umberage to public criticisms of the government by the FLP. He can avoid this, if he engages in regular consultations with the Labour Leader on important national issues.
Mr Chaudhry warned that government’s failure to consult on issues of national interest such as the two Bills could put the Multi-Party Cabinet arrangement to serious test.
The Fiji Labour Party had consistently expressed reservations on the two Bills in question when they were first mooted. They deal with sensitive, contentious issues and carry the danger of creating greater apprehension and insecurity among our people as well as investors.
The Qoliqoli Bill has the potential to impede, obstruct and interfere with the free passage of people through our foreshores and coastal waters as well as our inland waterways.
It has the potential to impinge on or adversely affect the full enjoyment of ownership rights of owners of freehold land, and lessees of agricultural land as well as those with agricultural, residential, commercial or industrial leases.
State holders in the tourism industry have already expressed anxiety that certain provisions of the Bill could pose a serious threat to tourism. It could also undermine commercial fishing. As it is, fishermen are facing serious problems with access to fishing waters. The proposed legislation, if passed, will only aggravate the situation.
Furthermore, the Bill could seriously contravene the constitutional rights of our people. It has the potential to curtail the right to freedom of movement of people who want to enjoy the rivers and the ocean for recreational purposes.
The Bills, paraded as being of benefit to the indigenous community, has the potential to create serious conflicts between them, as was experienced in an incident last year where a life was lost.
The Bill to establish a Land Claims Tribunal is equally controversial. It will arouse undue apprehension in the minds of developers and owners of freehold property, particularly at a time when the land question is already a vexed national issue.
“Both the Bills are reactionary. We can’t be putting the clock back in an effort to rewrite history,” Mr Chaudhry said.
“At a time when Fiji is going through a serious economic and financial crisis and desperately needs to attract private investment, both local and foreign, these two Bills will only pose a greater deterrent to rebuilding public confidence,” he warned.