Fiji's military regime halted all land sales yesterday and threatened to stamp out property speculation following a surge in sales to mainly foreign investors that the interim president suggested was taking advantage of indigenous Fijians.
Military strongman Commodore Frank Bainimarama ordered the sales suspension following what he called "allegations and complaints" over the high level of recent transactions - 23 in the 10 days that ended December 28.
Some land owned collectively by indigenous Fijian tribes has been transferred to the state and sold "to nonresidents," Bainimarama told reporters.
"I also have been told that (some) land is bought for thousands of dollars, the land is developed and then sold for millions of dollars," he said. "The (original) land owner is forgotten in the latter stages of this process - a practice we intend to change."
He did not say who had changed the status of the formerly tribal-owned land or who had complained about the transactions.
More than 90 percent of all land in Fiji is owned by indigenous Fijians, and most sugar cane farms and many tourist developments are on leasehold land.
Bainimarama, who took power in a military coup on December 5, said he would establish a special land sales review committee to "recommend a way forward, to ensure landowners are not disadvantaged in the process."
He did not elaborate on whether the most recent 23 sales, which still have to be approved by a government agency, would be affected by the sales clampdown.
After 20 months of rowing with the government over alleged corruption and racist policies aimed at benefiting indigenous Fijians, Bainimarama ousted the government on December 5, disbanding the Cabinet and banishing Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase to his home island 300 kilometers north of the capital, Suva.
He also suspended Parliament and dismissed the president and vice president - naming himself as president and advertising in newspapers for candidates to join an interim government.
Bainimarama said this week that the ruling military council had chosen a short list of 31 candidates from some 400 who applied to be part of the caretaker administration, which could be in place before the end of January.
The December coup was Fiji's fourth in 20 years.