On 28 April, 2022, Fiji's High Court (Hon. Mr Justice Gounder) passed sentence on a Fiji Company: Freesoul Real Estate Development (Fiji) PTE Limited fining it FJ$1m for two counts of carrying out unauthorised development contrary to Fiji's Environment Management Act, 2005 (EMA). The sentence is in Criminal Case No. HAC 282 of 2021 in State V Freesoul Real Estate Development (Fiji) PTE Limited ("Sentence").
The legal requirement for Environmental Impact Assessments (EIAs) for certain development activity has been in place in Fiji from 2008, and this Sentence is a timely reminder of the serious criminal penalties that will apply to developers who are found by Fiji's courts not to have followed the requirements of EMA.
This case may be the subject of an appeal - however, the Sentence sends a message in support of environmental law and standards for Fiji, and in this update we provide a summary of the Sentence and note the requirements for EIAs in Fiji and the Pacific.
Oceans Governance is a 3rd year undergraduate course offered by the School of Marine Studies, within the University of the South Pacific (USP).
Oceans Governance attracts a number of motivated students from a variety of Pacific Island Countries who frequently bring years of professional work experience to compliment their future careers as marine managers and decision makers. Oceans Governance complements the 2nd year undergraduate course in “Law of the Sea”. Both courses are designed by the highly regarded law of the sea and fisheries legal expert, Mr Pio Manoa who is currently working with the Forum Fisheries Agency.
While our firm has been privileged to coordinate and teach Oceans Governance and Law of the Sea for the last 3 years - to reflect the multi-disciplinary nature and broad topic that is Oceans Governance - a variety of guest lecturers have complimented the course. As well as adding interest and providing inspirational talks for the students this demonstrates the depth of knowledge and expertise in the Pacific. In this brief overview of the course we draw specific attention to the expertise of the visiting lecturers and the efforts made by the talented students of USP and how we think this bodes well for the Pacific region in the future.
In common with other common law jurisdictions, Fiji exercises State control over land including but not limited to how it may be developed. The regulation of development falls within the domain of planning and environmental law.
The government has announced that in the public interest it is in the process of updating its Town Planning Schemes for Suva, Lautoka and Nadi. This is an important nation building initiative because a Town Planning Scheme will shape future development in all these cities. But, it is also a significant undertaking that provides an opportunity for, and in our view, requires - wide consultation. If this consultative process is successful it will result in better planned development that along with the effective regulation of environmental standards, is essential to create sustainable and resilient cities and towns for Fiji’s future and its citizens' well-being.
In this update, we take a look at Fiji’s planning law framework and set out various reasons why it is vital for Fiji’s citizens to become involved in the consultation process that is being led by the Ministry for Industry, Trade, Tourism, Local Government, Housing and Community Development to create and adopt new Town Planning Schemes.
The reasons that public involvement is vital include but are not limited to:
The major threats to our oceans are well understood, and include pollution from land based sources.
For a full list of the major threats to our oceans the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) sets them out here and also explains that:
Untreated sewage, garbage, fertilizers, pesticides, industrial chemicals, plastics ... most of the pollutants on land eventually make their way into the ocean, either deliberately dumped there or entering from water run-off and the atmosphere. Not surprisingly, this pollution is harming the entire marine food chain - all the way up to humans.
In this second legal bulletin in the Fiji Marine Pollution Law Series, we consider Fiji’s legal and regulatory framework in relation to marine pollution from land based industrial or commercial activities. For those interested in this area, it should be noted that Mr Filimone Tuivanualevu who is admitted as a barrister and solicitor of the High Court of Fiji, has also published a legal bulletin entitled "How does the law protect rivers in Fiji from pollution?" which can be found here.
In further planned legal bulletins in this series we will consider Fiji's laws in relation to marine pollution from household waste and the potential civil liability that polluters who cause harm may incur based on common law negligence.
Access to clean water for drinking and bathing, and clean oceans and rivers are essential for Pacific Islanders. Pollution of our water and oceans can take away the basis of people’s livelihood, survival, and lifestyle. The negative cost of industrialisation, modernisation and unsustainable development has resulted in pollutants being deposited into our rivers and coastal areas.
In this legal bulletin we discuss the serious question of river pollution and how, in Fiji, pollution is regulated by legislation, the penalties and solutions available. We draw on the well known example from the Qawa river located in Labasa to illustrate the importance of this issue for all Fiji citizens, the traditional fishing rights holders, and the natural resources that we depend on.
Finally we consider New Zealand's recent and exciting legal development of granting the Whanganui river its own legal rights.
Mangroves, like the ocean and the reefs, surround or should surround Fiji. They are a hardy species that inhabits the intertidal zone, on State “land”, and if they are left alone or lightly managed they regenerate. Despite the many benefits that accompany mangroves, they are vulnerable in the face of development pressures including pollution, and their fate rests in the hands of our decision makers.
Mangroves and development is a topical issue that concerns many in Fiji. For example at the recent Parliamentary Speaker’s Debate held in Suva on 1 February 2017, the Honourable Minister for Fisheries, Mr Semi Koroilavesau noted the importance of mangrove stands and stated that he is considering a recommendation that any coastal development in Fiji must include preservation of mangrove. The Honourable Minister was responding to a question from a concerned citizen who had noted to her despair that there had been a recent increase in clearing of Fiji’s mangrove stands for development purposes.
In this legal bulletin, we briefly consider how Fiji law protects mangroves, who in Fiji’s complex governance system decides whether they should be cleared in the face of development and consider ways to improve decision-making in relation to mangroves which should follow an approach that involves multiple government agencies and views from various stakeholders.