THERE is no legal protection of national heritage spaces and sites in Fiji.
Department of National Heritage and Arts principal policy convention officer Sipiriano Nemani said this was especially for those that had been or were in the process of designation as a world heritage site.
This is one of the reasons, he said, the ministry was supporting the Heritage Bill 2016, saying the legislation was needed to facilitate the imposition of hefty penalties to perpetrators who destroyed or caused destruction on national sites of heritage significance.
“At present, the only legislation that imposes penalties to those who destroy heritage sites for the purpose of development among other things can be fined up to $200 only,” he said.
He said the Bill was a requirement under the 1972 UNESCO World Heritage Convention which Fiji ratified in 1990.
He said similarly, a requirement or condition set by UNESCO and the World Heritage Committee after it had designated Levuka as a World Heritage Site, was that Fiji would fulfil its obligations of inscription when it passed a specific legislation dedicated towards the protection of Levuka and other potential and designated world heritage sites in Fiji.
Mr Nemani said this assessment was put forth after the technical organisations and experts had examined current legislation in Fiji which fell short of protecting world heritage sites.
He said punishments and penalties were proportionate to the offence because any breach or destruction of a heritage site would decrease its value and its authenticity and integrity as a site of heritage significance would be lost and be irreplaceable.
The Department of Heritage and Arts was represented by Mr Nemani and director Lusiana Fotofili when they made their submissions before the Fiji Parliamentary Standing Committee on Social Affairs on Tuesday.
Ms Fotofili said Fiji, as a state party to the 1972 World Heritage Convention, had a tentative list of sites it saw or considered to be cultural and/or natural heritage of outstanding universal value and suitable for inscription in the world heritage list.
This article first appeared in The Fiji Times on June 17, 2016.