Fiji’s cabinet this week approved seven bills, for tabling in parliament, among these the State Lands (Amendment) Bill 2023 and the High Court (Amendment) Bill 2023.
The former effectively nullifies changes that were made to the State Lands Act 1945 in 2021 and 2022, and the latter repeals the establishment of special anti-corruption courts.
The proposed State Lands (Amendment) Bill 2023 reinstates the Director of Lands authority that was removed in 2021 and allowed lessees to use their lease as security for borrowing from lending institutions without the approval of the Director of Lands. Bringing back these powers also restores revenue for the department via the payment of consent application fees, which were reduced ‘drastically” via the changes.
The High Court (Amendment) Bill 2023 proposes the abolishment of the anti-corruption divisions within the high and magistrates courts. In 2021, the former FijiFirst Government introduced and implemented the concept of special anti-corruption courts. This initiative aimed to enhance the handling of anti-corruption cases brought forward by FICAC, an institution also established by the previous government. The intention was to ensure efficient and prompt proceedings, along with consistent application of anti-corruption laws. This approach was based on the idea that designated local judges and magistrates would gain expertise in presiding over cases related to corruption.
These changes, cabinet said follows consultations with stakeholders, and these proposed bills outlining these changes are expected to be tabled in parliament. Parliament does not still until September 11.
The other bills approved by the cabinet include the Higher Salaries Commission Bill 2023, the Legal Professions and Practice Bill, the Drainage Bill, the Heritage Bill, and the 𝐋𝐨𝐜𝐚𝐥 𝐆𝐨𝐯𝐞𝐫𝐧𝐦𝐞𝐧𝐭 (𝐀𝐦𝐞𝐧𝐝𝐦𝐞𝐧𝐭) 𝐁𝐢𝐥𝐥 𝟐𝟎𝟐𝟑.
𝐇𝐢𝐠𝐡𝐞𝐫 𝐒𝐚𝐥𝐚𝐫𝐢𝐞𝐬 𝐂𝐨𝐦𝐦𝐢𝐬𝐬𝐢𝐨𝐧 𝐁𝐢𝐥𝐥 𝟐𝟎𝟐𝟑
The Bill re-establishes the Higher Salaries Commission.
The Higher Salaries Commission will act as an independent central coordination mechanism for the determination of salaries of top executive positions in government controlled companies, statutory organisations, and authorities. Cabinet approved the Bill subject to a few amendments to be undertaken by the Office of the Solicitor General before it is tabled in Parliament.
𝐋𝐞𝐠𝐚𝐥 𝐏𝐫𝐨𝐟𝐞𝐬𝐬𝐢𝐨𝐧 𝐚𝐧𝐝 𝐏𝐫𝐚𝐜𝐭𝐢𝐜𝐞 𝐁𝐢𝐥𝐥 𝟐𝟎𝟐𝟑
The Bill is the outcome of the review of the Legal Practitioners Act 2009.
The Bill proposes to align the regulation of legal services to that of international best practice for the legal profession in Fiji.
𝐃𝐫𝐚𝐢𝐧𝐚𝐠𝐞 (𝐀𝐦𝐞𝐧𝐝𝐦𝐞𝐧𝐭) 𝐁𝐢𝐥𝐥 𝟐𝟎𝟐𝟑
The Bill re-establishes drainage boards under the Drainage Act 1961.
Drainage boards will ensure that drains in the central, western and northern divisions perform to their design capacity to allow for the free flow of water during peak discharge period.
This, the cabinet says will allow for better management and maintenance of current drainage systems, minimise flooding and help safeguard people, property and infrastructure.
𝐇𝐞𝐫𝐢𝐭𝐚𝐠𝐞 𝐁𝐢𝐥𝐥 𝟐𝟎𝟐𝟑
The Bill has been developed to give local application in domestic law to the UNESCO Convention and to provide systematic protection to Fiji’s natural and cultural heritage.
Despite the existence of some laws that protect Fiji’s natural and cultural heritage, there is no law that recognises World Heritage pursuant to the UNESCO Convention. Additionally, there are no laws to protect places that have the potential to be nominated to the World Heritage List.
The Bill aims to provide for:
(i) the recognition and management of places with potential and actual world heritage values,
(ii) establish the Fiji Heritage Council,
(iii) establish the Fiji Heritage Register,
(iv) provide for the management and operating trust funds for places registered under the Fiji Heritage Register and
(v) provide for other matters necessary for the administration of the new legislation.
𝐋𝐨𝐜𝐚𝐥 𝐆𝐨𝐯𝐞𝐫𝐧𝐦𝐞𝐧𝐭 (𝐀𝐦𝐞𝐧𝐝𝐦𝐞𝐧𝐭) 𝐁𝐢𝐥𝐥 𝟐𝟎𝟐𝟑 𝐭𝐨 𝐫𝐞𝐢𝐧𝐬𝐭𝐚𝐭𝐞 𝐫𝐞𝐭𝐢𝐫𝐞𝐦𝐞𝐧𝐭 𝐚𝐠𝐞 𝐨𝐟 𝟔𝟎 𝐲𝐞𝐚𝐫𝐬 𝐟𝐨𝐫 𝐦𝐮𝐧𝐢𝐜𝐢𝐩𝐚𝐥 𝐰𝐨𝐫𝐤𝐞𝐫𝐬
The Bill proposes to amend section 35 of the Local Government Act 1972 in relation to the retirement age of officers and servants of municipal councils. The Bill proposes to amend the retirement age to 60 years by deleting “55” and substituting it with “60” in section 35 of the Act. The Bill also proposes to amend section 78 of the Local Government Act 1972 to change the form of interest from compound interest on overdue rates to simple interest and for the rate of interest to be prescribed by regulations. The proposed amendment to Section 78 of the Act will reflect the change from compound to simple interest and overdue rates shall bear interest of 5% instead of 11%. This is to match the interest charged on loans by banks in Fiji.
The rationale for reducing interest rates and making it simple, cabinet says is for better collection of rates.
At present, a number of Councils are reliant on the National Budget for funding capital projects, Special Administrator Allowances, and the Chief Executive Officer’s salary. It is anticipated that improvement in rate collection will improve revenue collection and eventually reduce dependency on the National Budget.