The iTaukei Land Trust Board (TLTB) derives its existence from the iTaukei Trust Act of 1940. A brief history of the land in Fiji will assist us to understand the reason behind its creation.
At the time when Fiji was ceded to the British Crown in 1874, there were many foreign occupiers and claimants to areas of iTaukei land. These had come about through dealings between chiefs and European beachcombers, but resident Governor Sir Arthur Gordon stopped all land sales immediately after cession. In 1876, a commission under Victor Williamson was set up to investigate all claims to title to these lands. Many claims were refused many more reduced. Even so, some 400 000 acres of Fijian land were registered in freehold title as Crown Grants. These freehold lands represented a substantial proportion of the good agricultural land of Fiji. By 1880 it was realised that all land recognised to be owned by iTaukei would have to be recorded and registered and also that there would have to bean authority to settle boundaries and ownership disputes. The iTaukei Land & Fisheries Commission (TLFC) was established in 1880 to enquire and investigate claims to land by the indigenous landowner.
At the same time a leasehold system was created where land could be used on a 21-year lease. Negotiations were carried out directly between the iTaukei land owner and the prospective tenant. Apart from a brief period between 1905 and 1909 outright sales of iTaukei land have continued to be forbidden. However, as the plantations system declined and Europeans left agriculture, the land problem became peculiar to the Indians. Their need was different – they wanted small family farms. At this stage the land problem can be summarized as follows:
- Obtaining lease was cumbersome and expensive for the prospective lessee.
- The Indians were naturally choosing only the best land for their leases thus bring about the haphazard piecemeal pattern of land use.
So in 1916 a Native Lease Ordinance was passed which handed over all land available for leasing to the Government which would lease the land on the owner’s behalf and leases were now to be for a period of 21 years with a possible extension of 10 years.
Mounting Land Problems – 1916
The Ordinance failed to solve the difficulties as Indians still had to negotiate directly with the iTaukei owners for leases of better quality agricultural land. During this period the land problems in Fiji became more acute due to important developments in the country such as:
- Abolishment of the indenture system that led to large numbers of Indians becoming free settlers in Fiji which led to a sudden pressure for more farming land.
- Active encouragement by government and the Colonial Sugar Refining (CSR) Company to Indians to settle in Fiji and become agriculturists, especially cane farmers.
- Rapid growth of the Fijian population.
The iTaukei owners also had their grievances
- Under the 1916 legislation they were required to pay compensation to the lessee for improvements to the land in the event of non-renewal of a lease which would be very costly;
- Some iTaukei were becoming anxious to enter commercial agriculture for themselves; and,
- They were anxious to safeguard the availability of the land for themselves and their descendants.
There were many debates in the 1930’s about the land issue in the Legislative Council, in the Great Council of Chiefs meeting, in iTaukei villages and Indian settlements and in Government circles. The government held discussions with leading chiefs with the view to devising a better system of landlord and tenant relations. The leading figure in these discussions was the late Ratu Sir Lala Sukuna. In 1936, the Great Council of Chiefs resolved that it was in the best interest of the iTaukei race that all lands not required for the maintenance of iTaukei landowners be opened for national development.
iTaukei Land Trust Board (TLTB)
The Native Land Trust Ordinance of 1940 established a new base for the administration of iTaukei land. The main purpose was the creation of the iTaukei Land Trust Board. This is an independent body outside the control of government. It administers all iTaukei land “for the benefit of iTaukei landowners”. It makes general policy relating to administration of iTaukei land, approve new leases and renewal of leases, collect and distribute land rent, improve the pattern of land subdivision and help improve landlord and tenant relations. A large part of its work in leasing land involves the assessment, fixing, collection and distribution of rents on native land. In simple terms, the TLTB is the landlord in official dealings over all native land. The TLTB establishment has its Head Office in Suva. Also in Suva is the regional office responsible for the central and eastern division. The other regional offices are in Lautoka, Nadi and Labasa. Each of the regional office is responsible for an area of Fiji; the Lautoka office is responsible for western Viti Levu with the Yasawa and Mamanuca Islands groups, the Labasa office for Vanua Levu and Taveuni. The Suva office for central and eastern Viti Levu, Kadavu, Lomaiviti and the Lau group.
GOVERNOR GENERAL & PRESIDENT
RATU JOSEFA ILOILO
2000 – 2009
RATU SIR KAMISESE
1993 – 2000
RATU SIR PENAIA K.GANILAU
1983 – 1987
GOVERNORS OF FIJI – PRESIDENTS OF TLTB – 1940 – 1987
RATU SIR GEORGE
1972 – 1983
1968 – 1970
SIR FRANCIS DEREK
1964 – 1968
SIR KENNETH PHIPSON
1958 – 1963
SIR RONALD HERBERT
1952 – 1958
SIR LESLIE BRAIN FREESTON
1948 – 1952
SIR ALEXANDER WILLIAM
1945 – 1947
SIR PHILIP EVEN MITCHELL
1942 – 1944
SIR HARRY CHARLES LUKE
1938 – 1942
GOVERNORS – THE ROOT AND SEED OF TLTB
SIR ARTHUR RICHARDS
1936 – 1938
SIR ARTHUR GORDON
1875 – 1879
SIR HERCULES ROBINSON
1874 – 1875
The Founding Vision
It was one of the wisest of Fiji’s colonial Governors, Sir Arthur Richards (later Lord Milverton) who first offered to Ratu Sir Lala Sukuna the seed of an idea that produced the iTaukei Land Trust Board (TLTB). But it was Ratu Sukuna who planted the seed, nourished it and gave the resulting plant sturdy growth and permanent form. Until 1940, iTaukei landowners, mataqali by mataqali, negotiated the leasing of their land, which they chose to make available. They dealt with competing tenants and lease terms varied from contract to contract. As the amount of land owned by an individual mataqali is usually small there was little chance under such a system of organizing large-scale development. There were echoes of biblical story of the sale of a birthright for a mess of pottage.
For the sake of immediate gain in the form of cash in hand for a long term lease, the needs of future generations could be sacrificed or endangered. So a national requirement was pressing. The need to provide land for a growing Indian farming population was clear. Ratu Sukuna told the Council of Chiefs, “We regard the Indian desire for more permanent tenancy as a natural and legitimate consequence of an agricultural community settling in any country. But how was this desire to be reconciled with the need to protect the interests of present and future iTaukei landowners? The iTaukei Land Trust Board scheme emerged as an answer to what Ratu Sukuna had been imagining. He later referred to this piece of history as one that is unique in the entire history of British Crown colony government. But its uniqueness was a problem. The idea of asking landowners to surrender forever the control of their land and to entrust its administration in the national as well as the owners interest to a central body was intially misunderstood and opposed. But the proposal was so novel that it took some careful explanation and analysis before being accepted.
Ratu Sukuna took upon himself the formidable task of making that explanation to every yavusa and mataqali in Fiji, seeking their acceptance. The way he did it is a model in political and social persuasion. He did not rely on printed pamphlets or newspapers advertisements or radio broadcasts. He visited all landowners, village after village and attended districts and provincial councils one after the other, unhurriedly but carefully and patiently he explained the details and purpose of the scheme. Then he went away leaving the idea to ferment before he returned to answer more questions and give more explanations. If necessary he visited them again and gradually acceptance grew, though there were still some pockets of doubt. Then came the moment for the Bose Levu Vakaturaga (Great Council of Chiefs) to make their decision and after long and earnest discussion the scheme was accepted and approved. Then Governor, Sir Philip Mitchell, described it as one of the greatest acts of faith and trust in colonial history.
The decision of chiefs have to be translated into law and in a speech during the Legislative Council debate on the iTaukei Land Trust Bill, Ratu Sukuna said: “When passed, the legislation will be a monument of trust in British rule, of confidence in its honesty and hope for the future.
The hope that the seed of disruption will disappear and all people (Europeans, Indians and iTaukei) will settle down to labour for the benefit of all.”
Creating the iTaukei Land Trust Board as a legal entity was only a first step. Officers had to be recruited and administrative machinery established and there was even an important matter in which Ratu Sukuna was called upon once more to play a leading role in. From soon after the Cession the work of investigating, defining and recording the boundaries of Fijian landholdings had been carried out by various able and distinguished iTaukei Lands Commissioners of which Ratu Sukuna was the first iTaukei. He was now given the task of examining each holding and deciding what portion was to be reserved for the present and foreseeable future needs of the mataqali members and their descendants. The rest of the land would be placed in the hands of the iTaukei Land Trust Board to develop or lease on terms, which would ensure that the productivity of the land was preserved. The Board would collect and distribute rent on behalf of the landowner. Ratu Sukuna and his assistants had only just started the massive job of defining reserves when World War II spread to the Pacific creating more urgent needs. For many months, Ratu Sukuna gave most of his time recruiting iTaukei men for the armed forces and the Labour Corp and it was not until the end of the war that he was able to continue with the work of demarcating land reserves.
Once again he travelled throughout Fiji – wherever possible by vehicle or ship but more often walking over hills and tracking from village to village. Towards the end of his work he discovered himself another talent, and he began to illustrate his reports with sketches of geographical features and drawings of landscapes to amplify his findings and decisions. Travel is easier now but it is doubtful if anyone will ever match the detailed first hand knowledge of Fiji and its people that Ratu Sukuna gained, first in the years as a iTaukei Lands Commissioner that as he accumulated and recorded the facts and made the decisions which are the foundation of the unique system of land administration which he helped in a great measure to create for his fellow iTaukei. They and all citizens of Fiji will have cause for generations to remember with gratitude the fruit of his incomparable leadership and foresight.