Mahendra Chaudhry the parliamentary leader of Fiji Labour Party and Laisenia Qarase the Prime Minister met on 14-15 April for the Seventh Talanoa since this dialogue series began in late 2000.
Sugar industry reform and land were on the agenda for the meeting.
Sugar Industry Reform
The Leaders invited Dr. J.J Bhagat, Team Leader, Mission Director, Sugar Technology Mission, Government of India to make a presentation on the Mission’s Report on Revival Of Sugar Industry in Fiji. Dr. Bhagat formally presented the final written report to the Leaders and made a detailed and clear presentation highlighting the key findings of the Mission.
While there were some reservations expressed, especially with regard to the transportation options and Quality Assurance Assessments, it was generally agreed that the recommendations made by the team from India were the most viable options, out of all reports prepared so far, for Fiji to pursue.
As such the Leaders jointly agreed to introduce the following Motion at the next Parliamentary sitting:
Recognising the importance of the sugar industry to all stakeholders, the national economy, employment, and livelihoods;
Bearing in mind the problems and challenges currently prevailing in the industry and requiring urgent attention;
Acknowledging the challenge and desirability of ensuring a vibrant self-sustaining, equitable and socially responsible sugar industry; and
Realising that our global competitiveness and the welfare of all our stakeholders can be improved by the reform of the sugar industry:
This House agrees to establish an ad hoc Select Committee on Sugar Industry Reform to consider the Indian Government Technical and Finance Mission report of March 2004 for the reform of the Sugar Industry, and other associated issues, and after wide consultation with all stakeholders, to report back to the House as soon as possible with recommendations, including proposed legislative changes, to implement these recommendations.
Following on the Talanoa VI Leaders’ request that the Talanoa Sub-Committee prepare a Terms of Reference (TOR) for a Parliamentary Select Committee on land, The Sub- committee presented the Plenary with the draft TOR. It was acknowledged that the issue of land is highly controversial and sensitive to everyone in Fiji, so the Talanoa re-emphasised the need for building and maintaining trust and confidence in order to create a sense of partnership in reaching collaborative solutions to this difficult issue. The Talanoa examined the draft TOR with this spirit in mind.
The members of the Talanoa Sub-committee, in presenting their report, emphasised its holistic approach and the common values of building trust and confidence, creating fairness and equity, providing best possible security, and giving optimum terms and conditions with a vision to foster the social and economic advancement of landowner and tenant communities, needed to underpin any resolutions on land.
In discussing the Sub-committee’s report, the Leaders put considerable emphasis on their collective effort to find political consensus on the key land issues and the form in which they will be taken to the next sitting of Parliament.
They jointly agreed to the following motion, which will be introduced at the next sitting of Parliament:
This House, relying on the frank and open -minded approach taken by the members of the bi-partisan Talanoa Sub- Committee in their collective effort to identify and build mutual understanding around the crucial issues on land contained in their progressive report to the Leaders;
Recognizing the basic values, principles, and objectives of building trust and confidence, creating fairness and equity, providing best possible security, and giving optimum terms and conditions which underpin the land issues that emerged from the discussions in the Talanoa talks;
Acknowledging the efforts made in the past to establish a sound basis for legislating landlord and tenant relationship based on the understanding and appreciation of the significance of land to culture, livelihoods, and the national economy;
Realising the urgent need to arrive at the resolutions to the land issues to meet the overarching vision of fostering the social and economic advancement of the landowner and tenant communities;
Mindful of the values and vision stated above;
Agrees to establish a Joint Parliamentary Select Committee to make recommendations on the land issues with specific reference to the following:
(1) The Joint Parliamentary Select Committee shall continue with the frank and open-minded approach of the Talanoa talks with a sense of urgency to arrive at the most satisfactory outcome for all, and adopt as its guiding principles the values of building trust and confidence; creating fairness and equity, providing best possible security; and giving optimum terms and conditions with the view to fulfilling the overarching vision of fostering the social and economic advancement of landowner and tenant communities, and shall:
(2) Scrutinize and consider the important aspects of the issues on land relating to the: tenure, rental, rental fixing mechanisms, rental assessment mechanisms, premium considerations, compensation on improvements, arbitration on disputes, good husbandry and any other related matters.
(3) Ascertain the practicality and suitability of ALTA or NLTA with possible amendments
(4) Ensure that either option adopted incorporates the needs of landowners and tenants as currently safeguarded in ALTA and NLTA, and also satisfies the values and fulfils the vision stated in the guiding principles.
(5) Commission a committee of legal experts to give advice, through a report, on legislative options referred to in (3) above.
(6) Report fully on all above matters and the proposed suitable legislation or amendments designed to achieve the present and future objectives as set out in the guiding principles.
(7) Submit their full report and recommendations by September 2004 at the latest.
It was also agreed that the Joint Parliamentary Select Committee would have the following composition (with membership being permanent and no substitution to be made): 8 Government Members, 6 Fiji Labour Party Members, 1 Leader of the Opposition and 2 Members of the Senate.
It was agreed that the next Talanoa session will take place on Saturday, 1 May 2004.