HON. PREMILA KUMAR BRIEF TO THE PARLIAMENT ON INFORMAL SETTLEMENT UPGRADE
Parliamentary Oral Question for Thursday 19 August 2021
Question 178/2021: Hon George Vegnathan to ask the Minister for Local Government, Housing and Community Development
Can the Minister inform Parliament on the informal settlement upgrades that will be covered using the $2 million allocated for the programme in the new financial year?
Mr. Speaker Sir, I thank the Hon Member for the question but before I respond to this question I need to correct certain irresponsible comments made by some members of the Opposition in this August House on informal settlement upgrade.
2. Mr. Speaker Sir, yesterday, Hon. Lynda Tabuya said and I quote “the explosion of the informal squatter settlements in our cities and towns around the country, it has exploded under this Government and yet this is not being a priority for Govt to provide affordable housing for our people and its so many times before, 15 years, 16 years” unquote.
3. Mr. Speaker Sir, let me inform the Hon. Member and indeed the opposition that the explosion of informal settlements in our cities and towns did not happen under this Government.
4. History will tell us that expiry of leases was a significant contributor to the growth of informal settlements in Fiji1 . I still remember thousands of our people were made homeless with the non- renewal of sugar cane leases.
5. Thousands of families from Vanua Levu and from the Western Division moved out when their lease expired2 . Majority settled in the Suva -Nausori corridor mainly in the Nasinu area.
6. Mr. Speaker Sir, informal settlements had increased by 73% by 2003 when farmers were made homeless. That was under the leadership of several members sitting on the other side of the house.
7. Now they are donning sheep’s clothing, playing the part of saviour and painting the picture as if this government has done nothing in the housing sector. But they know, it was the past governments poor policy decisions that resulted in the influx of people moving into informal settlements in the urban and peri urban areas.
8. Mr. Speaker Sir, just one bad decision led to a massive housing demand we see today-- a demand this government is now addressing. We’re not just cleaning up the mess but at the same time introducing new programmes and initiatives in housing sector for our people. It is highly irresponsible behaviour on the part of the opposition to ignore these facts.
9. Mr. Speaker Sir, how can any government upgrade informal settlements on freehold and TLTB land? Currently, there are 26 informal settlements on private land and 123 settlements on i-taukei land. Government can only upgrade any settlement after obtaining a development lease. The Ministry has acquired development lease for 46 informal settlements around the country and 42 of these settlements are on iTaukei Land.
10. To address housing issue and particularly scarcity of land, the Ministry is working with IFC to develop strata units.
11. Hon. Tabuya also said that it takes 16 or 15 years. She had previously said “what is the point when the upgrade of informal settlements takes so long?” There are reasons why it takes time, Mr Speaker Sir.
12. The upgrade of informal settlements are not taking place on a green field where there is no human settlement. Such development can be faster.
13. Our Informal Settlement Upgrade Programme as the name suggests is an in-situ programme where people are already living. Planning and documentation takes time. The upgrade includes all aspects of sub-division such as roads, drains, sewerage, electricity and water supply. We have to consult with the settlers as well.
14. Mr. Speaker Sir, in such situations contractors have to carry out work with minimum disturbance to the settlers. Heavy machinery move within the settlement that can cause serious injuries or fatalities if not handled with extreme care.
15. Mr. Speaker Sir, residents also pick up arguments and dispute with the contractor on their arbitrary land boundaries and sometimes we have land-owner disputes as well.
16. These issues cause delays to the upgrade programme, which is time consuming as well as costly. My Ministry had to cancel a contract for an upgrade programme in Caubati. The Contractor had started work and unfortunately, few settlers had built new homes or extended homes outside the approved scheme plan. The Contractor was threatened and he pulled out after 3 years. Planning and execution is extremely difficult when residents do not cooperate. These settlers forget that the land on which they are staying are not their’s until proper leases or titles are issued.
17. Mr. Speaker Sir, despite these problems, it is this government under the able leadership of our Prime Minister that started upgrading settlements on i-taukei Land. In reality, when the Government acquires a development lease, the land premium and yearly ground rent is paid to iTLTB by the Ministry in full.
18. We have paid over $3million in lease premiums for these leases. And we continue to pay yearly rentals to TLTB. Both the landowners and settlers living in these settlements directly benefit from the lease arrangements.
19. Hon Lenora Qereqeretabua had raised her concern about the oldest Tomuka settlement and she questioned why it is still not developed?
20. Mr. Speaker Sir, if it’s the oldest settlement then it should have been developed by the past governments. She would have got her response from long-serving Parliamentarians sitting on the other side.
21. Mr. Speaker Sir, the past Governments carried out basic upgrade of informal settlements only on State land and not on land owned by the iTaukei Landowners and Tomuka is owned by the landowners. My Ministry paid the development lease for Tomuka but development could not proceed because of a dispute.
22. Mr. Speaker Sir, Fiji First Government is the first Government in Fiji that made huge capital commitments and investments to improve the livelihood of informal settlers.
23. Mr Speaker Sir, a number of informal settlements now have roads for their vehicles, footpaths, water, electricity and even streetlights to make their quality of life better while waiting for the settlements to be upgraded. This is a bold step taken by the Fiji First Government.
24. Mr. Speaker Sir, Hon Lynda Tabuya is blaming the Government for certain families living in Tuirara Farm Road, Padam Lala and Salato Road for not having access to water and electricity.
25. Mr. Speaker Sir, it is important for the opposition to understand and note that it is the owners of I-Taukei and freehold land who can give consent for informal settlers occupying their land for these utilities – not the Government.
26. Unfortunately, the Ministry does not hold development leases of the areas mentioned by the Hon Tabuya. Tuirara Farm Road comes under TLTB and informal settlement in Padam Lala and Salato Road have vakavanua arrangement with landowners.
27. Mr. Speaker Sir, the opposition members should not assume that the Government can upgrade or give consent for utilities in all informal settlements in Fiji.
28. Let me clarify once more that for ITaukei land, Government can acquire development leases only when 60% of landowners give their consent.
29. Mr. Speaker Sir, in the last financial year, we completed capital works for three projects – Ledrusasa, Cuvu and Waidamudamu. Ledrusasa and Cuvu projects have been on hold since 2017 due to landowner disputes and disagreements with developers.
30. Mr. Speaker Sir, I am pleased to inform that the Ministry has successfully navigated its way through these issues to complete these projects.
31. Four hundred and fifty-one (451) households eligible for land lots in these settlements will receive their lease this year after final survey.
32. Mr. Speaker Sir, the Ministry has been working simultaneously on the preparatory work for ten (10) other settlements.
33. By the end of last financial year, six (6) settlements have reached to the tender document stage – after completing initial Topographic Surveys, Scheme Plans, Environment Impact Assessment Consultations, Geo-Tech Surveys and Engineering Plans.
These settlements are Sakoca, Wakanisila, Tore, Tavela, Caubati and Field Four.
34. Mr. Speaker Sir, Sakoca and Wakanisila are earmarked for commencement of civil works in this financial year.
35. The other four (4) settlements that is Lovu Seaside, Nabare, Tavuvegavega and Vunika are in the preparatory stage. We have completed scheme plans and in this financial year, we intend to complete the engineering plans.
36. Mr. Speaker Sir, to keep proper records, my Ministry now has a database for all informal settlements in Fiji. The next step is to collect household data. This year, the Ministry will carry out socioeconomic survey for twenty (20) settlements under Ministry’s development leases. This will be followed by similar data collection for all other settlements in Fiji so that we have a complete database on all informal settlements around Fiji.
37. Mr. Speaker Sir, all in all, work is progressing well in thirteen informal settlements and yet Hon Tabuya was commenting yesterday that this Government has not done enough for informal settlers just for political gain.
38. Thank you Mr. Speaker Sir for giving me this opportunity.
Supplementary Question 1
Can the Hon. Minister update Parliament on other programmes managed by the Ministry to complement the Informal Settlement Upgrading Programme?
Mr. Speaker Sir, the Ministry is also working in collaboration with the UN-Habitat on two informal settlement upgrade programmes. These programmes are the Fiji Resilient Informal Settlement (FRIS) Programme and the Participatory Slum Upgrading Programme (PSUP).
Mr. Speaker Sir, the FRIS programme aims to increase resilience in informal urban settlements in Fiji that are highly vulnerable to climate change and disaster risks. This programme recently had the funding increased to US$3.1million out of which $US$2.3million will be utilized for capital works.
Mr. Speaker Sir, Sixteen (16) settlements have been earmarked under the FRIS programme which will have upgrade work undertaken such as storm water drainage, improved sanitation for those in flood prone areas, retaining structures, improved footpaths, road improvement, rainwater harvesting, adequate rubbish containers and coastal protection.
Mr. Speaker Sir, in addition to the FRIS programme, the Ministry is also collaborating with UN-Habitat on the Participatory Slum Upgrade Programme (PSUP) Phase Three. PSUP focuses on improving the living standards for informal settlements in alignment with the Fijian Government’s existing policy and strategic direction.
Mr. Speaker Sir, PSUP Phases One and Two have been completed. Phase one identified the most pressing needs at all levels, spotting regulatory, legal, institutional and financial gaps. Phase Two was the first assessment on the overall informal settlement situation in Fiji.
Mr. Speaker Sir, PSUP Phase Three is currently in progress and aims to strengthen global partnerships and policy dialogue for participatory slum upgrading and prevention. Thirty Two (32) informal settlements in Lami have been identified for this study.
Mr. Speaker Sir, programmes like PSUP assists us in developing long term policies and strategies to curb the increase in informal settlements. They also help in securing much needed partnerships and funding to expedite implementation of these policies and strategies.
Thank you Mr. Speaker Sir.
Supplementary Question 2
Can the Hon. Minister update Parliament on the projects completed?
Mr. Speaker Sir, the Informal Settlement Upgrade Programme (ISUP) aims to improve the livelihood of those living in informal settlement by providing access to basic utilities such as water, sewerage, drainage, roads and electricity and also issuing long term tenure of 99-year leases.
Mr. Speaker Sir, since 2011, Five (5) informal settlements have been upgraded through this programme. These settlements are Badrau in Ba (60 Households), Bangladesh in Nakasi (60 Households), Vatoa in Nasinu (105 Households), Lakena Hill in Nausori (143 Households) and Omkar in Nasinu (83 Households). First four settlements were completed in 2011 and Omkar was completed in 2017. Government has invested $4.6million in upgrading above five informal settlements.
Mr. Speaker Sir, a total of Four Hundred and Fifty One (451) households benefitted from the upgrade of these five (5) informal settlements and now have access to basic utilities and 99 year leases.
Thank you Mr. Speaker Sir