On 06 March 2020, Al Jazeera’s TV network aired a 25-minute documentary in its ongoing program, 101 East, that investigates a Chinese developer, Freesoul Real Estate, accused of ruining land and intimidating locals as it builds Fiji’s biggest resort, a 350 bure resort on Malolo Island near a world-famous surf break. This tourism development was being promoted as part of the Chinese government’s Belt and Road policy. Malolo is a tiny volcanic island in the Mamanuca Island chain off the west coast of Viti Levu.
Landowners claim that without any permits or permission, the company has ripped up 5,000 square metres (53,820 square feet) of the ancient reef, ploughed through a mangrove forest used by locals to source food, and illegally encroached on their property. The story unfolds as a grim struggle of wills between the local landowners and the developer until Al Jazeera’s documentary team comes to the attention of the Prime Minister of Fiji, Josaia Voreqe (Frank) Bainimarama. He has recently gone on record as a champion of Fiji’s environment saying that any developer who destroys its nation’s environment is not welcome. Legislation is on the books for violators with large fines and even jail time up to 10 years in prison.
The good news is that the government has now cancelled all that developer’s building permits and decreed that it must return the land to its original condition which many express doubts will actually be able to happen. While this story is ongoing, it offers hopeful signs that developers should beware of thinking they can do as they please with even the smallest islands that the Fijians call their paradise. This documentary is well worth watching.
Prepared by Alison Gardner, Editor, Pasifik Currents