Managing customary land in Fiji – Ulai Baya and Spike Boydell ask ‘is the current trust structure fit for purpose?’

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Speaking at the Fiji Institute of Valuation and Estate Management Conference on 30 November 2013, Ulai Baya presented a paper that questioned if the current trust structure is fit for purpose in managing customary land in Fiji.  Drawing on research that Ulai conducted with Spike Boydell, he highlighted that the good governance of customary land remains central to all aspects of life in contemporary Fiji.  Fiji has recorded genealogies since the 1880s and is arguably better placed than its Melanesian neighbours to deal with external influences seeking access to customary land for commercial gain (including mineral exploration, forestry, palm oil, agriculture and tourism).  Commercially, Fiji has benefited from the establishment of the Native Land Trust Board (NLTB) in the 1940s as a quasi-governmental body that has administered all customary land in Fiji on behalf of indigenous groups and changed its name to the iTaukei Land Trust Board (iTLTB) in 2011.

The iTLTB has demonstrated in Fiji that leasing is an instrument that can render the freedom of doing business on customary owned land.  Our research identifies that there is a need to review the lease management functions of the iTLTB to align it to contemporary land based development in Fiji.  There is a need to balance the land based economic drivers of the national economy on one hand with the needs and aspirations of registered landowning units on the other.

This paper critically examines the progressive approach towards the administration and control of customary land in Fiji given the “all and inclusive” sui generis nature of customary property.  After discussion how iTLTB is adapting to operational changes we proffer recommendations for the reform of lease terms, management and ownership of improvements on customary land, the rental basis and valuation models, to ensure that it remains a viable institution to protect customary interests into the future.

A PDF copy of the presentation is available here.

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