March 27, 2022
Draconian provisions in the Development of Informal Settlements Bill an example of “Corrupt law”
National Federation Party Leader Professor Biman Prasad has described the provisions in the Development of Informal Settlements Bill as “draconian and an example of corrupt law pushed through parliament by the Fiji First government under parliamentary Standing Order 51”.
He said the Bill’s intent was basically forcible eviction of tenants in informal settlements as well as imposing hefty fines and imprisonment terms if they refused to relocate from the settlements just because government had a development lease on them.
Professor Prasad said the Bill was part of 18 consequential legislations lumped together with the Revised 2021-22 Budget by the Attorney-General and Minister for Economy Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum and passed by Parliament late last Friday night together with the Budget”.
“Members of Parliament had 20 minutes each to scrutinise both the Budget and the Bills. A vast majority of MPs were under the impression that like before the Bills would be debated together separate from the Budget”.
The NFP Leader said he managed to briefly speak on two Bills, namely the Development of Informal Settlements and Citizenship Bills and pointed out the draconian provisions.
He said this Bill was not in any way a consequential legislation giving effect to budgetary provisions but was a substantive legislation that required extensive consultation”.
Professor Prasad said in parliament there should be clarification on the clauses of the Bill defining the developer, the lessee and why the need to impose hefty fines and jail terms for informal tenants breaching the bill.
He said the Bill, which is now an Act, empowers the lessee and the developer to compulsorily relocate informal tenants whose homes are likely to obstruct development or construction of infrastructure such as roads, power lines, water pipes and sewer lines”.
“Under the Act, if tenants refuse or unable to relocate themselves to other areas apparently selected for them by government, their homes will be demolished and they can be liable to a fine not exceeding $20,000 or imprisonment for a term not exceeding ten years or both”.
“In the case of a body corporate, which presumably could be a business operating in an informal settlement, the fine is $100,000.”
“How does government expect tenants of any informal settlement to relocate themselves when they are struggling to meet daily needs? It’s a costly affair to demolish one’s home and rebuild on an alternative site, unless of course government has alternative accommodation ready for them, which it clearly doesn’t”.
“The Act defines the lessee as the Minister responsible for Housing and Community Development or the Director of Lands”.
“The Minister for Housing and Community Development is Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum, who is also the Attorney-General and Minister for Economy. He was given this portfolio following the last Cabinet reshuffle in August 2021. “
“Interestingly, the Department of Town and Country Planning, traditionally reporting to the Ministry of Local Government, was shifted under Ministry of Trade and Tourism”.
“The Bill tabled in parliament stated that the Ministry of Housing and Community Development has acquired 40 development leases. But there is no information whatsoever on where these developments will be, how many informal settlements fall within these leases or the number of tenants to be displaced”.
“The NFP pointed out in parliament thrice before of government’s deviousness in bringing legislation to parliament and for it to act as merely a rubber-stamp under Standing Order 51 just to benefit someone”.
“This kind of lawmaking where government rides roughshod over the mandate of people and tramples parliamentary democracy produces a corrupt law”.
“And this latest Act is the latest example of government’s shenanigans where the victims will be the one of the poorest and most vulnerable segment of our population”.