Sakoca Settlement groundbreaking triggers mixed reaction

Minister for Housing and Community Development Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum today officiated at the ground-breaking ceremony signaling the start of the $5 million-plus worth of works to subdivide Sakoca Settlement, in an occasion that was met with mixed emotions.

Widower Ms. Laisani Ravaya from Navuaso in Gau, who has called the settlement home over the past 12 years was elated by today’s proceedings, but not so for fellow resident, Mr. Avtar Singh, who was skeptical about whether the Fijian Government will see it through.

The subdivision of the settlement, which comes five years after the development lease was issued, is expected to take up to 24 months paving the way for the issuance of 99-year leases to 200-plus households in the area including Ms. Ravaya’s.

Prior to the government’s intervention in mid-2017, two land developers were reportedly given development leases separately by Itltb, to develop the land. Neither completed the subdivision and many residents lost substantial amounts of money, resulting in the termination of both leases. The Government stepped in and took over the responsibility to develop Sakoca, acquiring the development lease for the works in July 2017 for 10 years.

Ms. Ravaya who resides with her children and grandchildren in the more-than-15-acre land area that will be subdivided did not appear affected by the delay.

“Although it has been delayed, the Fijian Government has been visiting us, updating us on the progress. In addition, we have benefitted from the social welfare schemes, and various other development works including the access roads, making it easier for us residents,” she said.

Mr. Singh, however, was not impressed and told Mr. Sayed-Khaiyum so during a QnA session after the formalities that he was not happy with the delay, suggesting as well that today’s event was only happening “because the election is around the corner.”

“And now you are coming here and saying Housing will develop this, if we haven’t got this, then what happens? We want the lease.”

In response, Mr. Sayed-Khaiyum said: “I can’t address the issue of the past, I can only offer you solutions going forward. You can’t live in the past.”

Mr. Eparama Turaganivalu, the Turaga ni Mataqali Nawavatu, who owns the land to be subdivided was pleased with the progress made today, particularly for residents who have lived in the area for generations.

His other concern was about the benefits that his landowning unit will derive from the subdivision of the land, waiting on developers and iTLTB to advise them.

On this, Mr. Sayed-Khaiyum said: “Obviously when the lease is sold, whoever is going to pay for the lease, you get that through TLTB. And of course, the yearly rental that will be paid, you also get that. You get the premium and the yearly rental.”

The development lease also means the government pays the residents’ monthly rental, payable to the landowners through iTLTB, during the period of the development.

Residents were also advised that they may need to adjust the spaces they currently occupy, with the government’s assistance, to allow for proper subdivision works including the construction of proper roads for buses to pass through, footpaths, and streetlights, in view of the 99-year lease that they will be issued.

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