Sunday, November 19, 2006

Great Council of Chiefs (GCC) a colonial invention

By VICTOR LAL, - 19 November 2006

‘Wherever I go now,’ the first British colonial governor Sir Arthur Hamilton Gordon wrote, ‘the natives shout Woh! and crouch down, as before their own great chiefs, and they admit and understand that I am their master’. His house was declared tabu: all persons passing it on the road or sailing before it in canoes, gave the tama, or shout of respect to a high chief. The people had no choice, for it was Gordon who had created the Bose Levu Vakaturaga or the Great Council of Chiefs, and had come to see himself as chief of the Fijian chiefs.
The GCC is, therefore, merely a colonial invention, which Gordon had created in order to rule Fiji through the chiefs. In fact, there was nothing new about Gordon’s invention, for the British had devised similar institutions, to rule Africa through the African chiefs on that continent.
The British also introduced the African native system of government into Fiji. In other words, the British were not treating the Fijian chiefs as special although they couched their policies in that term.
However, Gordon mixed and matched titles to create Fijian customs, traditions, and institutions. He borrowed the title ‘Buli’ from Bua, where it applied to a minor chief, and that of ‘Roko Tui’ from the head of the priestly clan in Tailevu and Rewa.
It was not long before the Fijian chiefs began to accept the institution and the paraphernalia and the inventions that went with it as uniquely Fijian. They also swore to obey everything that Governor commanded them to perform during the long years of British colonialism.
As historians of Fiji have argued, there is no evidence that the councils set up by Gordon were ‘purely native and of spontaneous growth’.
The chiefs rarely met in Council until the imported institutions of government required them to do so.
In 1875 the Government interpreter David Wilkinson refused to accept that the GCC was a body based on Fijian tradition: ‘The Fijian custom being that high Chiefs seldom, if ever, meet each other in Council.’
The GCC was directly subject to Gordon’s authority, the regulation that provided for its establishment stating: ‘The Governor is the originator of the Council and he alone can open its proceedings’.
The power Gordon held over the GCC was manifestly demonstrated when he threatened to abolish it on finding out that some of its chiefly members were drunk.
He recorded his dealings with the chiefs in his personal diaries that he published in four volumes between 1897 and 1912.
The disputes over chiefly successions, which are still prevalent today, were rampant.
Ratu Bonaveidogo of Macuata, giving evidence on the position of Tui Macuata when asked to explain the customs of his tribe in the matter of chiefly succession replied that the custom was to fight about it.
Another contentious issue was the ownership of land, which has again reared its ugly head following the introduction of the Indigenous Lands Claims Tribunal and the Qoliqoli Bills.
The Bua Government was the earliest in the country to have taken the effective measure to control the sale of land in Fiji, passing, in 1866, an ‘Act to regulate the sale and leasing of lands within the kingdom and state of Bua’.
The Act stripped the power of the chiefs to sell or lease land and vested it to the Government, which fixed the price and shared the profits with the landowners. However, any rebellious tribe who did not conform to Tui Bua or conspired against him, faced expulsion, as the Korovatu people found to their cost in 1866.
The Yasawa islands, conquered by Ma’afu on behalf of Tui Bua, was not spared - the rebellious chiefs of Nacula and Tavewa found their islands sold to planter Hennings as a punishment for supporting Bau.
Other chiefs, especially Ratu Seru Cakobau and the Tui Cakau were equally ruthless. A year before the Deed of Cession was signed, as historian Peter France and others have demonstrated, the survivors from the vanua of Magodro, Qaliyalatina, and Naloto, following the outbreak of war in Ba, were deported from their lands and offered for sale to white settlers, their lands being confiscated and included in the offer of cession to British Crown.
The Lovoni people, who had revolted against Cakobau, had their lands mortgaged and sold by auction, and they themselves were sold as plantation labour at three ponds a head.
Cakobau also gave away 200,000 acres of land to the Polynesian Company, including the Suva Harbour, in exchange for the payment of debts to the Americans.
King Cakobau’s son Ratu Epeli, on being appointed as Lieutenant-Governor of Ba and Yasawa sold most of the northern islands to European settlers.
Commenting on the deeds of sale in Nasarawaqa, Bua, the Lands Commission noted that ‘they bear the signature of an extravagant of chiefs, most of whom had very little to do with the lands sold, culminating with the name of Ratu Epeli of Bau, who had about as much authority at that time, and in that part of Fiji as the Emperor of China’. Chief Ritova had alienated over 100,000 acres of land along the coast of Vanuabalavu.
The Tui Cakau had even given away the rights of levy over Cicia to Ma’afu in exchange for the Tongan chief’s canoes. Ma’afu had also taken up residence at Lomaloma after putting down a rebellion on Vanuabalavu and assuming control over the islands. The Tui Cakau had also given away a coastal stretch on Natewa Bay to planter Hennings, and also sold Natasa in Natewa, without informing its occupants. The lists are endless.
The missionaries were not behind - they appropriated huge tracts of land in the name of Christianity and civilisation.
It was against that background that Governor Gordon finally summoned the chiefs in 1876 to outline the traditionally recognised rights to land so that legislation could framed.
The chiefs were not sure of the immemorial traditions to land rights. The Land Commissioners equally struggled, with Basil Thomson concluding as follows: ‘The Fijians had no territorial roots. It is not too much to say that no tribe now occupies the land held by its fathers two centuries ago.’
In the end the present system of land ownership was devised, with the Native Lands Trust Board as the guardian of land rights in Fiji. Those championing for the introduction of the Qoliqoli and Indigenous Lands Claims Bill have, as I have written elsewhere, law on their side. However, the whole land debate and legislation of the old was framed in the aftermath of native and settler disputes over land rights in Fiji.
Sir Arthur Gordon had never factored into his policy the likelihood of Fijians refusing to share with other fellow Fijians the proceeds of their tribal lands, seas, and foreshores in the 21st Century. Commodore Voreqe Bainimarama and other interior Fijians have nothing to benefit from the Qoliqoli Bill, and it is this that I suspect that is driving him and others to oppose it to the bitter end. He even went to the extent of claiming that the Lauans pushing for the Bill will not be affected from its fall out. After all, the Lauan chief Ma’afu was not even a signatory to the Deed of Cession, which had unconditionally ceded Fiji to Queen Victoria in 1874.
The question that follows is who should be held accountable for the wanton loss of Fijian lands? Who should pay compensation?
It is quite clear that it should be the descendants of the chiefs and the churches in Fiji. It is wrong, especially for the present chiefs and the Government, to blame only the colonialists and white settlers.
It was the present chiefs ancestors who are the real culprits, for it was they who sold the lands or sold lands over which they had little claim in the first instance to white settlers, planters, and missionaries.
The Governor Sir Arthur Gordon had come up with a land policy in the 19th Century to ensure that Fiji survived under his governorship.
According to one of his successors, Im Thurn, ‘It is too true that all Sir Arthur Gordon’s successors as Governors of Fiji have unquestionably followed him into the pit which he first dug. We-for I am a culprit too-followed his lead in thinking that the Fijians had good claims to the surplus land’.
It should not come as any surprise that in 1907 Gordon, by now Lord Stanmore, supported his land policy in the British House of Lords, for the chiefs had also given away two islands to him as a gift from the Fijian people. Which Fijian people? And who owned those two lands to which Gordon had become the turaga taukei - a land owning chief in the country?
Sadly the Fiji of 1876 is very different from the Fiji of 2006. The current stand-off between the Prime Minister and the Commodore on the Qoliqoli Bill is a testimony to that fact.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

The commander and his advisers

At a joint conference on professional ethics attended by special advisers to military commanders at Springfield, Virgnia, in January 1999 Dr Michael O Wheeler (Strategic Group) said: “The decisions reached by commanders and the positions they adopt may or may not be influenced by what they hear. Special advisers should have a healthy perspective on this matter. Presumably, however, commanders retain the types of special advisers because they value their opinions and the information they provide which, even when not accepted, may help them sharpen the commanders’ own thinking, focus comprehensively as well as in great detail on the important considerations, and inform judgments on critical issues. The advisers, while not responsible for the final decisions, have a special responsibility to offer advice as carefully and soundly as possible.”

The conflict between the Government and the Republic of Fiji Military Forces is directly linked to the advice given to the commander, Commodore Voreqe Bainimarama. The Minister for Home Affairs, Josefa Vosanibola, speaking in support of the 2007 Budget said in parliament: “The Government sees the impasse and the stand off as arising directly from the continuing assertion of the commander, founded as the Government believes on erroneous advice, that the army has an extensive role to play in the political life of the nation.”

“The assertion of such role by the commander threatens to undermine the rule of law, as do the continuing threats by the commander against the democratically elected government.”The continuous outburst from the camp against the Government raises the question of the quality and qualification of the advisers to the commander. I am not degrading those advisers.I know the advisers to the commander are well qualified and have experience. However, I believe they should do a lot of research before preparing the final draft of advice for the commander. For the advice given to him on the role of the military is the cause of the entire problem. Let us have a look at the role of the military as outlined by the solicitor general Nainendra Singh, one of the legal advisers to the Government, early this year.

“The establishment of the Republic of the Fiji Military Forces is outlined in section 112 of the Constitution. Section 112(1) states that the RFMF as established by the Constitution of 1990 continues in existence. The 1990 Constitution outlined in section 94 the military’s establishment, the appointment of the commander, and the fact that the military has the overall responsibility to ensure the security, defence and well being of Fiji and its people at all times. Much controversy surrounds the interpretation of section 112(1) and whether this section can be construed to mean that section 94 is incorporated into section 112. “Of course, the short answer is that section 94 of the 1990 Constitution has been repealed in its entirety. Therefore essentially, section 94 is not incorporated into section 112 of the 1997 Constitution.

“The provision “….Military Forces established by the Constitution of 1990” could be interpreted as `the retention of the armed forces as an institution’. “Moreover, the provision for the existence of the RFMF lies in Acts of Parliament, and not in the Constitution [as per section 112(4) of the 1997 Constitution].” The commander’s advisers think otherwise.

Because of the advice given to him, the Commander had continuously issued statements against the Government that have threatened the stability of the nation. The Minister of Home Affairs says it has already had disastrous consequences in terms of the international perception of Fiji and in respect of the tourism industry and the economy, which have continued to deteriorate as a consequence of the stand off.

In the tourism industry, as confirmed by the Minister responsible, Tomasi Vuetilovoni, there is a 40 per cent reduction in new bookings. “We run the risk of new bookings virtually drying up, leaving 2007 as one of the worst ever for Fiji tourism - quite a turn around from our target of becoming a billion dollar industry in 2007,” Mr Vuetilovoni told parliament while supporting the 2007 Budget. “Air Pacific, which is already experiencing challenges highlighted earlier, will limp more badly from the 40 per cent reduction in bookings. Forty nine percent or so of foreign exchange contributed by tourism will drastically reduced. The employment of some 45,000 people becomes jeopardised. The millions of dollars of huge investments we have been experiencing are at risk.”

This is another negative impact of the advice given to the commander.Another piece of questionable advice is contained in the documents handed to the Prime Minister. The demands include that the Police Commissioner Andrew Hughes be removed, all the government members involved in the 2000 coup be removed, the Police Tactical Response Team be disbanded and the Reconciliation, Qoliqoli and Land Claims Tribunal Bills be dropped. Did the advisers look at the legal implications of these demands, especially the ones that involve the police? Did they seek advice from outside? Did they feel they were correctly advising the commander to make such demands on the Prime Minister? Did they know that the office of the Commissioner of Police is a constitutional office?

The demands are outside the constitution and surely the Prime Minister is fully aware of this.
On the removal of all government members involved in the 2000 coup, why? The people referred to by the military had been investigated and cleared. Time and again, the military has been harping about some in parliament who were imprisoned for their involvement in 2000, but regained their seat after the releaseAdvisers should be mindful of the fact that the constitution clearly states that an MP who has been sentenced to more than 12 months in prison loses his right to vote and consequently his place in the House of Representatives. Less than 12 months, they did not lose their seatThe two involved here are Ratu Naiqama Lalabalavu and Ratu Josefa Dimuri.

In the debate on the 2006 Budget on November 19, 2005 the Turaga Bale and Tui Cakau said as prisoner number LB3205, he did not regret his actions in assembling with his people of Cakaudrove at the army’s Sukanaivalu Barracks during the 2000 upheavals. “I will live with it without regret or shame because I do not only believe, but I know, I know, I know that what I did then was right because if I did not do anything, then part of my people, who were soldiers at Sukanaivalu Barracks would have been dead,” said Ratu Naiqama. The paramount chief had served his sentence and is now free.

Other advice given to the commander that he can just walk into the Prime Minister’s office and ask him to step aside and for the military to take over is laughable. Did the advisers tell the commander of the legal repercussions of such a move? These advisers are actually working out a ploy for the removal of their own boss through legal means where the blame will not be theirs but the Government’s.The commander should be reminded that his enemies are not outside but within.The commander has worked hard through the ranks to occupy the highest office of the RFMF.

In 2000 his leadership was tested, but his advisers at that time helped him to save the nation and the institution. They have all gone.The advisers should be mindful of the fact that the commander must have a knowledge of, and appreciation for, the legal aspects of the conduct of operations. The commander must be reminded by the advisers that breaches of the law during operations at even the lowest level have the potential to be placed under public scrutiny.They should be reminded that in the modern political and legal environment in which military forces are required to operate the military commander is confronted with an increasing number of legal issues that can affect the successful completion of the military mission.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Poll on Military Stance - Friday, November 17, 2006

The prolonged stand-off between the Government and the military has reinforced the racial polarisation of the nation, according to the results of an exclusive Tebbutt-Times poll.

Overall, 45 per cent of those polled supported the Government and 36 per cent the military.

However, it was in the ethnic breakdown that the differences were most apparent and followed the trend set in the May general election, where the vote was divided along racial lines.

Conducted this week, the poll found that 67 per cent of Fijians backed Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase and 54 per cent of Indians supported army chief Commodore Voreqe Bainimarama.

The poll asked more than 1000 adults who they believed was in the right in the stand-off that raised fears of a coup and heavily affected tourist bookings.

Just 6 per cent said both were right, 4 per cent said neither was right, 8 per cent were not sure and 1 per cent refused to answer the question.

Only 18 per cent of Fijians polled supported the military, raising doubts about claims by Commodore Bainimarama that the indigenous community is deeply split over the controversial Qoliqoli and Reconciliation Bills.

However, only 24 per cent of Indians support the Government, indicating the majority see its determination to push the pro-Fijian legislation through Parliament as not being in their best interests.

Other races tended to support the Government, although the split was not as well defined.

Overall, 47 per cent of "Other" races backed Mr Qarase and 29 per cent supported Commodore Bainimarama.

Interestingly, the "Other" races group had the highest incidence of those unsure who was in the right - 13 per cent. Surprisingly, there was also solid support for the Government in the West, with 51 per cent people polled there in support, compared to 31 per cent in favour of the military's stand.

In Suva, the difference was much closer 42 per cent of people supported the Government and 38 per cent the military.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

NLTB Changes Tune

The Native Land Trust Board has found a new solution to the Agricultural, Landlord and Tenants Act (ALTA) problem. We all know that the NLTB with the support of the Bose Levu Vakaturaga wants ALTA abolished and all transferred leases to be governed under the Native Land Trust Act (NLTA). The NLTB has changed it’s tune now. The Minister for Fijian Affairs Ratu Naiqama Lalabalavu, speaking in support of the 2007 Budget said: “I am pleased to announce that the Native Land Trust Board in their vision and humility have put forward positive options for changes to their initial stand on the NLTA, ALTA debate.”
While the Minister did not elaborate on the options, we can safely say that the land problem should be resolved as early as next year. Both institutions are concerned that ALTA has many provisions that are prejudicial to the proprietary rights and interests of native landowners. The NLTB has publicly explained why it feels very strongly that the proprietary rights and interests of native landowners would be best served if native land were removed from ALTA and returned to NLTA.
Essentially, by the provision of section 59 (2) of ALTA and by the operation of certain other ALTA provisions, native landowners are seriously concerned that their rights and interests in maintaining effective control of their land have been undermined and breached. Although ALTA leases on native land began expiring in 1997, governments and parliaments before that and immediately after were not able to each an agreement on a solution. Let us look at the stand taken by the Laisenia Qarase-led Coalition Government last year.
Details of the Government’s proposals are as follows:
1) All agricultural leases on native land are to be issued under NLTA rather than ALTA. This is to respect the wishes of Fijian landowners as expressed through the Native Land Trust Board and the Great Council of Chiefs. They want all leases on native land, including agricultural leases, to be brought under one law, the Native Land Trust Act.
2) On the consent of the landowners through the NLTB, agricultural leases under NLTA will generally be for 50 years. The land needs of the landowners must always take precedence on the use of their land. But with their consent, land surplus to their needs may be leased by the NLTB for the benefit of tenants and of Fiji as a whole. The NLTB will seek their consent to grant 50-year leases, in the first instance.
3) Only if the landowners cannot agree to a 50-year lease, will shorter leases be issued. These leases may be for 30 or 40 years, but none will be shorter than 20 years. In explaining this in Parliament, the Prime Minister also supported another possibility. This is for the Government and the Parliamentary Opposition to present a joint submission to the NLTB and the GCC for this minimum tenure of 20 years to be raised to 30 years.
4) These leases under NLTA will be renewable, subject only to the consent of the landowners as required by law. If the landowners agree to allow the renewal of a lease on their land, the renewal will be for a period of not shorter than 20 years. The Government recognises that any extension shorter than 20 years will make it very hard for a tenant to borrow funds for farm improvement.
5) To further assist the tenants, the determination of the renewal of the lease will be made well before expiry. For 50-year leases, for e.g., the determination for renewal will be made by the NLTB in consultation with the landowners between the 37th and 40th year of the lease. For shorter agricultural leases, the determination of the lease for renewal will be made at least three years before the expiry of the lease. This will remove the uncertainty of leases under ALTA where there is no provision for renewal.
6) Rent under the new arrangement will be a flat 10 per cent of the UCV of the land. The existing arrangement under ALTA is for rent of up to 6 per cent of UCV. This has created a lot of uncertainties because in most cases, actual rent levied is only between 2 and 4 per cent of UCV. Setting the rent at 10 per cent is to more accurately reflect current land values.
According to the Coalition Government the new leasing arrangements under NLTA will have fair and equitable arrangements for compensation both for the farmers and for the landowners. The Fiji Labour Party wants ALTA retained and any amendments must be within the ambit of ALTA. The revelation by the Minster for Fijian Affairs is quite interesting, especially when the BLV had made its stand clear on the issue. This stand was taken after it was briefed by the NLTB.
Surely, the NLTB has to seek the support of the BLV and it is only proper that the august body was briefed on the options in its last meeting at Levuka, Ovalau next month. The multi party government is committed to finding a solution to this problem. The issue of land reform has remained unresolved for many years. Yet it affects the lives of many of our people and also contributes to the growth of the national economy. According to the Minister for Finance, Ratu Jone Kubuabola: “With the establishment of this partnership approach through the multi party government, I believe that we are in a good position to resolve the land lease issue for the betterment of our people and the entire nation.”
The Minister for Commerce and Industry, Adi Sivia Qoro, yesterday said in parliament: “Issues associated with the land tenure system under ALTA must also be resolved. The assurance given by the Prime Minister and the leader of the Fiji Labour Party that they are committed to resolve issues relating to land by first half of next year is a clear signal that an amicable solution will be found in the near future for the benefit of all, particularly landowners as well as the tenants.”
We all want to see an end to the land impasse. For this to happen, politics must not be involved. With the NLTB now changing its tune, we all hope the options provided would be agreed upon by the FLP. I mention this because ALTA is entrenched legislation and will require two thirds of the support in parliament to be amended.
Prime Minister Qarase had tabled a Bill to amend the ALTA Act but was not passed because it did not have the support of two thirds of the members in parliament. Associate Professor Biman Prasad, of the University of the South Pacific and Head of School of Economics said, “The debate on agricultural leases has created more instability in the country and a permanent solution will have a positive impact on agricultural productivity and indirectly on investment and the macro economy.”
Let us all hope that the new options now with the NLTB will put an end to the land impasse in the country. In a new twist the Prime Minister had confirmed that the FLP had suspended all talks with him on national issues and the land impasse is included. The FLP leader said the land issue could only be solved when the ground rules for the multi party Cabinet are established. Whatever happens, the people want a solution.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Fijian State versus Fijian Army

There is a lot to the stand-off between the Government and the military. From what that has transpired we can easily conclude that someone is trying to portray a picture to the public that one is Mr Clean and is after the dirty rats in the country
Some others are of the view that Mr Clean should clean his backyard first before policing other people's compounds. The military's plate is full of all sorts of allegations against the Government and had been released for public consumption without proof.
But this battle is far from over.
The military is firm on its stand for the Government to withdraw the three proposed lawss - Reconciliation, Tolerance and Unity Bill, Qoliqoli Bill and the Land Claims Tribunal Bill.
However, Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase has confirmed to the Bose Levu Vakaturaga that his government will not in any way withdraw the Bills that the military is saying are very controversial.
The Government has followed all the democratic processes in the preparation of its proposed legislation.
But the military is applying warfare tactics to pressure the Government to withdraw the Bills.
On Wednesday, Prime Minister received a document setting out matters the army wished to discuss.
Prime Minster Qarase immediately replied with an assurance that the Government was ready to meet with the commander, Commodore Voreqe Bainimarama, and his senior officers for consultations.
However, the commander called a press conference a little later and again attacked the Government saying the Prime Minister had lied to the people on many occasions.
We now wonder about the contents of the documents handed to the Prime Minister.
Reading through the press release handed out to the media on Wednesday, I suspect the military wants to discuss the investigation into the deaths of the some of the soldiers at the height of the political upheaval in 2000.
In the release the Commander said: "The RFMF has stated from the outset that the events of 2000 were wrong and all that is happening now is an overflow of that event. Whilst the RFMF agrees that we all want to move forward there is an urgent need to effectively address the past to be able to move forward without having to commit the same mistake again.
"Firstly the death of soldiers in the events of 2000 must never be forgotten. They sacrificed their lives to rid the lies and corruption that a lot of people in the position of leadership were identified with in 2000. We will not let them die in vain. Defending the sovereignty and the well being of every citizen of this country is of paramount importance to the RFMF To date there has never been any public declaration of those who are currently in government that the 2000 crisis was wrong. The introduction of the Reconciliation Bill is seen by the RFMF as an endorsement of the 2000 crisis and a means of trying to escape from the long arm of the law."
There were also some members of the counter revolutionary warfare (CRW) group that died and the police are still investigating. No one can interfere with their work. I'm sure the investigation will reveal the real truth behind the killing of the soldiers. No one can escape from the long arm of the law.
Who gave the orders for the killing?
Another issue I suspect that is in the document is the Commissioner of Police.
In his release Cdre Bainimarama said: "I am somewhat surprised at the Commissioner of Police's recent change in attitude towards the RFMF and towards the general security situation in Fiji. The commissioner's outburst on the RFMF's importation of ammunition has caused unnecessary tension between the two forces, a rift that does not augur well for the relations between the police and military and the decision to investigate me is not in the interest of crime prevention and investigation but to remove me from office a result of political pressure on the Police Commissioner to silence the RFMF.'
The Acting Commander who wrote a letter to Commissioner Hughes calling for his resignation presented the document to the Prime Minister.
With the Prime Minister now ready to talk with the military on what is in the document, it will be better not to talk on things that involve the police.
Prime Minister Qarase has assured the country that he is not passing the buck to the Bose Levu Vakaturaga (BLV) to solve the impasse between the Government and the military.
"I come here in accordance with the law and out of respect for your chiefly authority. I do not wish to pass to you a problem the Government must solve," the Prime Minister said in his presentation at the BLV meeting.
It was very unfortunate for the commander of the Republic of Fiji Military Forces, Commodore Voreqe Bainiamarama, to be absent.
This special GCC meeting was called at the request of the Prime Minister to help bring to an end the fear and uncertainty that hangs over our country.
It is a fact that the absence of the Commander will be viewed by many as very disrespectful.
We should be mindful of the fact that the commander has sent his apology to the BLV chairman and Tavua high chief Ratu Ovini Bokini.
I'll come back to that later.
The Prime Minister in his presentation to the BLV said the solution to the problem was clear. And that is: "We need to put right the relationship between the Government elected by the people and the state institution of the army, charged with responsibility for national security."
So from what had transpired yesterday, the Prime Minister had clearly told the BLV on the stand of the government.
In his opening address the BLV chairman said the main object was to find a solution to the conflict.
The Prime Minister would inform the BLV on the problems the Government was facing and the Commander was expected to tell the BLV why the military was against the Government.
And after hearing both sides of the story the members would exchange views in the chiefly manner and come up with recommendations on how the impasse would be solved.
From the military's side, the members of the BLV had to go to the camp to traditionally ask the commander to attend the second day of the meeting.
However, while he agreed without condition, he later set out his own condition through the media for public consumption and that its for the BLV to back off from the impasse.
It seems we are back to square one.
Who will now back down?
The commander has gone out of his own way to criticise the Prime Minister.
I know this is his right but the military must remember that the Prime Minister is the head of the government and must be respected.
The Land Claims Tribunal and the Qoliqoli Bill had been endorsed by the commander when he was the Head of State and Prime Minister Qarase the Interim Prime Minister, in July 13, 2000 at the BLV meeting.
Now he has taken huge turn and is totally against the two Bills.
The impasse has set a totally new scenario that Prime Minister Qarase has correctly said- "At one level, the current crisis is between a government and a institution of the state. But when we look deeply into it, we see that this concern the relationship between a Fijian-led government and a Fijian-led army."
The Government and the military will only solve the impasse.
However, this can only happen if the military shelves its demands.
The military's action borders on dictatorship and this is undemocratic.
Let the Government exercise its duties freely and let the people decide for themselves in the next general elections on its performance.
What had happened in 2000 is now history but we have to support the police investigation to bring to rest once and for all the undemocratic event that resulted in the unlawful abrogation of the constitution by the military.
There is always a way out of the crisis and it is out there.

Wednesday, November 8, 2006

Fiji and Great Council of Chiefs

BLV needs more powers

The Bose Levu Vakaturaga (BLV) must be given more powers under the constitution. As it stands, the august body is toothless. It is toothless in the sense that under the 1997 Constitution section 116 clarifies its role as:
(1) The Bose Levu Vakaturaga established under the Fijian Affairs Act continues in existence and its membership, functions, operations and procedures are as prescribed from time to time by or under that Act.
(2) The Bose Levu Vakaturaga has, in addition to the functions set out in the Fijian Affairs Act, the functions conferred on it under this Constitution
The BLV is established under section 3 of the Fijian Affairs Act. This section is the shortest in the 1997 Constitution. The BLV, also known as the Great Council of Chiefs, has its roots in the chiefly councils established by Ratu Epenisa Cakobau in the 1800s.
During the colonial rule the BLV was retained as a consultative body.
It had no formal political role, however, until Fiji became independent in 1970.
Under the independence constitution, it gained the authority to nominate eight of the then 22 Senators In the 1997 constitution the BLV nominates 14 Senators out of 32, and also chooses the President and the Vice President.
Though the BLV is enshrined in the1997 Constitution, it does not have enough powers.
As already mentioned the BLV is established under the Fijian Affairs Act but we should be mindful the fact that the Act is merely a legal document that could be amended at the whim of politicians. S3 (1) of the Fijian Affairs Act states: “There shall be in respect of the Fijian people a council called the Great Council of Chiefs which shall consist of such number of appointed, elected and nominated persons as the Governor General may by regulation prescribe.”
S3 (2) “It shall be the duty of the council, in addition to any powers or duties especially conferred upon it, to submit to the Governor General such recommendations and proposals as it may deem to be for the benefit of the Fijian people as the Governor General or the board may from time to time submit to the council and to take decisions or make recommendations thereon.”
Let us look at some recommendations made by the Reeves Commission Report.
l The constitution should provide that the functions of the Bose Levu Vakaturaga are to advise the Government of the Republic of the Fiji Islands principally on any matter relating to the well-being of the Fijian people but also matters affecting the nation as a whole, whether referred to it by the Minister or the Fijian Affairs Board, or taken up by the Bose Levu Vakaturaga on its own initiative.
l The Bose Levu Vakaturaga should also have the functions later recommended concerning the nomination of candidates for the office of the President and the approval of Bills altering the entrenched legislation relating to Fijians, Rotumans and the Banaban community or any other Bill certified by the Attorney General as affecting Fijian land or customary rights.
l The constitution should authorise parliament to confer additional functions on the Bose Levu Vakaturaga by Act, so far as those functions are consistent with its recommended duty to act independently.
The Reeves Commission in its submission said the BLV must act independently.
It says this implies an independence not only from government but also from any political party. Submissions from some Fijians expressed concern abut the identification of the Bose Levu Vakaturaga with party politics.
That development was a product of its time.
The conferment of additional constitutional responsibilities on the Bose Levu Vakaturaga and explicit recognition of its duty to act independently and will give it the opportunity to distance itself from party politics, though the BLV will continue to be involved in politics in the broader sense.
Also the Commission considers that, as facet of its independence from government, arrangements should be made for the Bose Levu Vakaturaga to have reasonable autonomy in matters relating to its secretariat and its funding. Because the BLV meets only at intervals, it might be necessary for both to continue to be provided through the Ministry of Fijian Affairs Board.
However, the BLV should have delegated authority to approve expenditure within the limits of the amount appropriated for its use by parliament and the members of the secretariat should be answerable to the BLV and its chairperson.
On the function of the BLV the Commission submits that many submissions urged that alterations to the entrenched legislation and other matters affecting Fijian land or other customary rights should be taken out of the hands of parliament, so that they no longer appear to be at the mercy of political process.
The Commission agrees with this approach. Parliament will still need to be involved in any proposals to change the existing law, but as proposed in Chapter 20, the Bose Levu Vakaturaga will have the veto power.
This should reassure indigenous Fijians that the proposed changes in the composition of parliament and the encouragement of multi-ethnic government would not put their land and other customary rights at risk.
Well we all know that all the Reeves Commission’s proposals above were not taken on board by the parliamentary select committee that made the final decision on the 1997 Constitution before it was enacted.
Now the BLV has been summoned to meet tomorrow to look into the impasse between the commander of the army and the Government.
We all know that during the crises of 1987 and 2000, the nation looked up to the BLV to make decisions for the benefit of the people and the nation and it worked in both cases.
We must take heed of the Vice President, Ratu Joni Madraiwuiwi’s advice.
The Bau high chief says while there has been some criticism of the decision to summon the Bose Levu Vakaturaga to discuss the relationship between the Government and the military we have to be aware that just as the military is a player in our affairs, so is the Bose Levu Vakaturaga.
“It is the highest advisory body of Fijian opinion. Given the composition of our population as well as the two institutions in conflict, it is only appropriate that the Bose Levu Vakaturaga be consulted. Dialogue and communication are critical at this time.
Where that can be pursued in furthering the national agenda, that is all to the good.
We owe it to those who gave their lives for this country to do everything possible to retreat from the abyss.”
This is an opportunity for both Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase and Commodore Voreqe Bainimarama to state their case.
As the Vice President said: “It reminds us first of the biblical passage from Ecclesiastes.
There is a time and place for everything and that life goes on.”
Life has to go on here in Fiji and we need an institution like the BLV to intervene and give that chiefly advice that will act as the beacon for the way forward.
Though many will question its constitutional duty, at this time what the nation needs is a recognised body that has the national interest at heart to give advice.
As the Vic President said: “The overwhelming consideration must be the national interest, and a spirit of compromise that allows the country to move forward.”
He said the wider role the military sees for itself is a matter for further reflection and debate.
According to Prime Minister Qarase our present constitution legitimises the existence of the RFMF, but not the broadened responsibilities given to it in the 1990 Constitution.
In other words, the constitutional and statutory authority of the RFMF is strictly confined to maintaining and safeguarding national security within a democracy.
What transpired in the last few weeks was a move to derail our democratic system and let our ship sail into unchartered waters.
When this happened in 1987 and 2000 it was the BLV that guided the nation back into charted waters.
We have to honour the sacrifice made by the BLV.
Now that it is called to convene an urgent meeting to solve the impasse, it will surely be successful.
However, the concern that we should really look into now is that the BLV must be given more powers in the constitution.
These powers must be written in the constitution and not under an Act.

Province won’t back commander

The Tailevu Provincial Council cannot support Army Commander Commodore Voreqe Bainimarama at the Great Council of Chiefs meeting tomorrow as the nation tries to solve the difference between the Government and the military. “In the GCC meeting, there is a time where the participants have to break up into confederacies,” said council chairman Josefa Seruilagilagi.
It was there that the participants had to discuss and agree together. He said if there was anything their representative had to raise in the meeting, it must first have to be approved in the provincial council meeting.
“They can not just form their own agenda while on their way to the meeting,” he said.
Mr Seruilagilagi said the council could not afford to support the commander as everyone was trying to find a solution to the standoff. He said Ratu Timoci Vesikula, Ratu Semi Seruvakula and Ratu Epenisa Cakobau would represent the province tomorrow.
Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase had called for this urgent meeting to help address the impasse between Government and the Republic of Fiji Military Forces.
Mr Qarase said it was crucially important for us to seek the advice of the GCC because the legislative measures the commander said he was opposed to were being undertaken with the specific authorisation of the council.
“Furthermore, the GCC is a repository of chiefly wisdom and authority. And there is a role for it in assisting to resolve the crisis,” said Mr Qarase.

Do not be used, chiefs urged

Maintain your integrity and do not be manipulated, Fijian institutions have been advised.
Referring to the Great Council of Chiefs and other institutions that had “fallen victim to the Government’s manipulative tactics”, former secretariat member Kini Rarubi said the Government had always used the GCC and the church in cases where there were disagreements.
Mr Rarubi said the meeting between the Government and the GCC tomorrow would not help resolve the impasse with the military.
“Our concern is the influence on the chiefs,” said Mr Rarubi.
“They will only get the discussion paper, read through it and be expected to make a decision. I think this is unfair to the chiefs and it is unfortunate that they have to be dragged into all this.
“The sanctity of any institution must be preserved and in this case it is the GCC.”
He said the GCC, being a non-political body, would lose its reverence and respect if it chose to involve itself in the Government and military conflict.
“It should maintain its independence and shouldn’t allow itself to be manipulated or else it could drive a wedge between the military and the Fijians,” he said.
Government, said Mr Rarubi, was fond of employing this strategy and when people criticised it for its actions, it always had the tendency to fall back on the GCC or the church.
“It is deceptive, misrepresentative and downright fraud to use these bodies.”
He said people would also later question the GCC’s involvement in matters that were not for it to decide on.

GCC a ‘toothless tiger’

The Great Council of Chiefs is a toothless tiger, says Vanua Levu Forest Owners Association secretary Posiano Nauku.
He told the Fiji Sun yesterday the chiefly institution would not solve the dispute between the Government and the army because of the existence of some members who did not qualify to be part of the institution in the first place.
“There are real chiefs who are not members of the GCC but the educated commoners are,” he said.
“If it is the GCC, then the real chiefs are supposed to be there and there should be no room for commoners.
“There will be no mana because the divinely-appointed chiefs are not there to make such an important decision for the nation.
“Surely, there are certain chiefs at the Great Council of Chiefs whose presence are not questionable but what we fear is the presence of commoners who got their way in through their educational qualifications. These people are not chiefs.”
Mr Nauku said it would hard for the Great Council of Chiefs to convince Army Commander Commodore Voreqe Bainimarama because it had betrayed his trust before.
“They shook his hands and clapped when the army made its presentation to the GCC on why they were against the Reconciliation Bill but when it came to the show of hands, the result was totally different,” he said.
“This is simply because some of the Great Council of Chiefs members were openly supporting the rebels in Parliament.
“So it will be a tough time for them to win his confidence.”
Mr Nauku also called on Home Affairs Minister Josefa Vosanibola to come out of hiding and try to solve the differences between the army and the police.
“Why is Vosanibola hiding?” said Mr Nauku.
“He is the minister responsible for the two forces and I don’t understand why he is keeping quiet when he is supposed to be intervening out there.”

Plot to remove President, says party

The Great Council of Chiefs meeting could be an attempt to traditionally request the President to step down, says the National Alliance Party.
Spokesman Kini Rarubi said the Government had adopted the same tactic for years.
“The question here would be: Does the Prime Minister still have confidence in the President’s ability to lead the nation?” said Mr Rarubi. “Nowhere has he stated this and so the decision to call a meeting with the GCC is to attempt to oust the President.”
Mr Rarubi said it was difficult for indigenous people to refuse a traditional request and as the President was present at every GCC meeting, it would also be difficult for him.
“How is the GCC expected to solve the impasse between the Government and the military?” he said. “They may be using this as an excuse to call for a meeting with the GCC but there could be other motives like trying to ask the President to step down.”
Mr Rarubi said the SDL Government had a habit of using the President to push its agenda and referred to a case in 2001.
“The Attorney-General, Qoroniasi Bale, had presented a paper to the GCC, saying the President had reserved powers that could be applied to the situation then,” he said.
“So even after the Court of Appeal had ruled that the FLP be reinstated, the AG and PM addressed the President via the GCC.” He said earlier this year, prior to the re-election of the President, there had been moves to discourage his nomination.

Fiji Politics -October 2006 Crisis Background

Background on the stand-off between Fiji Military Forces and the Government of Fiji
By Sanjay Ramesh

A political scientist based in Sydney and writes for the World Press, Pacific Island Report, and Sydney Fiji Times.

The stand off between the Government of Fiji and the Fiji Military Forces has been going on since the Interim Government was formed in Fiji, following the coup attempt by the George Speight Group (GSG) in May 2000. In November 2000, members of the Counter Revolutionary Warfare Unit (CRWU) regrouped and attacked the Fiji Military Forces base at Nabua with an intent to assassinate the Commander of the FMF, Commodore Frank Bainimarama. After killing seven soldiers, the CRWU, under the command of Captain Shane Stevens, was subdued by the Third Fiji Infantry Regiment (3FIR) led by Colonel Seruvakula, who is currently a colonel in the Royal New Zealand Armed Forces.

In 2001, the High Court of Fiji declared that the Constitution of Fiji was still valid. Following this decision, the Interim Government disbanded and launched a political party: Soqosoqo ni Duavata ni Leweni Vanua (SDL). In August 2000, Fiji went to the polls among allegations from the embittered Fiji Labour Party (FLP) that the election was a “fraud.” Before the election, members of the Interim Government gave $30 million dollars of farm equipments to areas, where support for the Speight coup was the greatest.

In 2003, the situation between the government of Fiji and Commander started to seriously deteriorate after rumors that a foreign national was ear marked to take over as the chief of the Fiji Military Forces. Hardliners and supporters of the Speight coup in the SDL Government started courting senior army officers to rebel against the Commander. In one such incident in December 2003, some senior officers of the army accused Bainimarama of plotting to overthrow the government. Bainimarama and his loyal officers responded that the allegations of a coup were an attempt by the SDL to replace Bainimarama.

After a brief public altercation between the army and the government, the Ministry of Home Affairs renewed Bainimarama’s appointment, but shortly after, the army and the government clashed again as one of the major supporter of the SDL was convicted of inciting mutiny in the Fiji army and imprisoned. During the trial of high profile Naitasiri chief, Ratu Inoke Takeiveikata, names of a number of instigators in government were revealed.

Next on the list was the Bauan chief and Vice President Ratu Jope Seniloli. He was convicted of providing support to the Speight government that was sworn in at the height of the crisis in 2000. The Government of Fiji intervened following the conviction and had Seniloli released on Compulsory Supervision Order (CSO). The military went ballistic over his release and accused the government of undermining the judiciary and the rule of law. The Attorney General of Fiji, Qoriniasi Bale, justified the release on medical grounds.

Two other high chiefs were convicted in 2005. Among them were the Minister in the Fiji Government, Ratu Naiqama Lalabalavu, and Government appointed Senator, Ratu Josefa Dimuri. The Prime Minister of Fiji, Laisania Qarase, visited Ratu Naiqama in the prison shortly after his conviction, justifying his visit to the media as fulfilling his “traditional” obligation as Ratu Naiqama was his chief. Not soon after the PM’s visit, both convicts were released on CSO. Non Government Organisations (NGOs) questioned why the same provision of CSO was not extended to other indigenous Fijians in prison for petty offences.

The army accused the Fiji Government of supporting coup conspirators and warned that it was closely watching political interventions in support of coup convicts. In June 2005, the Government made public the Racial Tolerance and Unity Bill (RTU), which among other things provided immunity to the perpetrators of the May 2000 coup. The military criticized the government for legalizing the release of the coup ringleaders. Not only the army but NGOs, Indo-Fijian organizations and segments of the indigenous Fijian community criticized the RTU Bill.

Those opposed to the bill argued that the bill had no provision for “truth telling”, an essential component in starting the healing process. The Fiji Law Society condemned the bill outright suggesting that the legislation would “legalise” a coup culture. The army in its submission to the Committee on the RTU Bill argued that coup leaders released on amnesty could re-group and stage even a more spectacular coup. The Government, meanwhile, strenuously defended the bill emphasising that the bill was based on the traditional Fijian concept of forgiveness called “matanigasau”.

Due to both domestic and international outcry, the government set aside the bill. Meanwhile, another government Senator was charged and convicted on coup related offences. Apisai Tora, the nationalist politician, involved in both 1987 and 200 coups, was convicted by the Lautoka High Court for setting up a road block in Sabeto Nadi, after the Speight takeover.

By the end of 2005, the government decided that it would not renew the contract of star coup prosecutor, Peter Ridgeway. This was seen by the army as an attempt by the government to scuttle coup prosecutions. Soon after Ridgeway’s non renewal of his contract, another Government MP, convicted of coup related charges, Simione Kaitani, was discharged by the courts.

In January 2006, lieutenant colonel Baledrokadroka requested that Bainimarama stand down due to his continued public attack against the government. Baledrokadroka was subsequently detained and evicted from the armed forces. Court martial for insubordination against Baledrokadroka is still pending.

The other issue that came head on in January was the refusal by the Home Ministry to appoint Fiji Law Society Chairman Graham Leung as the Judge Advocate for the court martial of CRWU officers, involved in the 2000 mutiny. Bainimarama lashed out at the Ministry for deliberately delaying the appointment to ferment division within the army.

After a number of threats by Bainimarama, the SDL requested the acting Vice President, Ratu Joni Madraiwiwi to mediate. Following a short meeting, it was agreed that the army would not publicly criticize the government.

Before the May 2006 elections, the SDL absorbed its coalition partner Conservative Alliance Matanitu Vanua (CAMV). The CAMV was a party that lobbied hard for the release of the coup convict, George Speight. The military saw the merger as evidence of the SDL’s association with the coup plotters.

Just before the election, FMF Commander Bainimarama ordered the army chaplain to conduct a “truth” campaign in the villager. The objective of the campaign was to inform the indigenous Fijians that they had been misled by the SDL party on important national issues. The military argued that the release of the draft Qoliqoli bill by the SDL to return indigenous foreshore resources to its rightful owners was a smokescreen to mystify gullible Fijians. Furthermore, the army argued that the bill would fuel a culture of lawlessness among foreshore owners as they assert their rights without due consideration for the rule law. This according to the army would have grave consequences for foreign investment, particularly in the hotel industry in Fiji.

The SDL Government protested to the army against its “truth” campaign as a breach of an earlier understanding and further requested that the Fiji army stay out of Fiji politics.

In the May 2006 elections, the SDL won some 85 per cent of indigenous Fijian votes to form a government with the help of two independent candidates. The Fiji Labour Party members were invited to join a multiparty cabinet. These developments were largely welcomed by the army but soon after this cordial relationship turned sour.

The Government brought back the Qoliqoli bill and argued that it had the revised RTU Bill as well after taking into consideration a number of submissions from the civil society and the army. Bainimarama was not convinced and when the Qoliqoli bill in its final form became public, Bainimarama was disappointed and angry.

In October 2006, the frustrations of the Commander exploded as he gave the SDL three weeks to shelf the Qoliqoli and the revised RTU bills. Furthermore, Bainimarama requested that coup sympathizers within the government be sacked forth with. After making these statements, the Commander went to Sinai and Iraq to visit Fiji troops. Public relations at the Queen Elizabeth Barracks at Nabua was left to military spokesperson, Captain Leumeni.

Some months back, the Fiji military had ordered seven tonnes of bullets for its machine guns. In the middle of the row with the government, the bullets arrived at Suva wharf. Andrew Hughes, Fiji’s Police Commissioner since 2003, refused to authorize its release, arguing that the bullets may be used to depose the government. The army, however, went ahead and took custody of the ammunitions.

Before the 2006 elections, the army had accused the police of acting as an agent for the government when police acquired automatic weapons for its Police Tactical Unit (PTU).

Even when Bainimarama was overseas, he continued attacking the government. On Tuesday 31 October, Prime Minister went to see President Ratu Iloilo and requested that he sack Bainimarama. The President acquiesced but Bainimarama’s replacement refused to accept the offer.

The government of Fiji was getting nowhere. On Wednesday 1 October, Qarase went on Fiji Television at 7 pm and advised the nation that he will not resign and would start a dialogue with the army. Furthermore, Qarase requested Fiji’s hereditary chiefs, the Great Council of Chiefs (GCC) to act as mediators in the stand off between the government and the army.

The situation in Fiji is described as a “Mexican stand off”. Meanwhile the army accepted the offer from Qarase to open dialogue on contentious issues. In addition the army wants police to investigate the role of Australian con man Peter Foster in rigging the 2006 elections by printing extra ballots. The army also wants Fiji’s Ambassador designate to the United Nations, Tupeni Baba, be investigated for his association with Peter Foster since 2001 general elections along with former SDL party secretary, Jale Baba.

From the Middle East, Bainimarama continued to verbally attack the government and has stated that the move to bring in the GCC as mediators will cause further instability. Bainimarama is on record for saying that the GCC has been compromised because it has members who are sympathetic to the George Speight coup.

Foreign governments including Australia, United States and New Zealand have criticized Bainimarama. The European Union and the Commonwealth have reiterated that military intervention in a democracy is clearly unacceptable. Fiji’s leader of opposition, Mick Beddoes, has lashed out at the army for creating fear and instability.

On 4 November, Fiji’s Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase revealed that the amnesty provision in the Racial Tolerance and Unity Bill was entirely removed and that the future of the Qoliqoli and the Land Claims Tribunal Bills remained uncertain.

The military received the announcement on the RTU Bill with cautious optimism and was further buoyed by the additional $10 million, announced by the Minister of Finance in the 3 November 2006 Fiji Budget.

As the dust settles slightly on the latest tussle, both the army and the government are claiming victory, and with the return to Fiji of Commander Bainimarama on 4 November, there will undoubtedly be further discussions and negotiations. Meanwhile, the threat of an imminent coup in Fiji seems all but over.

Tuesday, November 7, 2006

Tui Bua Funeral

Province mourns paramount chief

From PAULA TAGIVETAUA in Bua Village, Bua Wednesday, November 08, 2006

The body of the late Turaga na Tui Bua, Ratu Isikeli Nagagavoka, arrived for the last time at his royal residence at Cakaunitabua yesterday.

The masi-draped hearse arrived from Nabouwalu Hospital, escorted by police and vehicles with relatives who accompanied the body from Nabouwalu to Bua.

When the party arrived in Bua Village, the Tui Bua's traditional handlers, Navunievu Village men dressed in traditional attire, then escorted the hearse through the village to Cakaunitabua, where he will lie in state.

There was a heavy rain when the body arrived over the village for 30 minutes before the sun returned.

Women in black sat down when the hearse arrived and lined the path from the roadside to the chiefly home.

The three villages of Bua, Dalomo and Tiliva have been catering for delegates from all over the country since Wednesday last week.

Delegations at the village included the chiefly household of Verata who wore white shirts while the rest of the village wore all black outfit, the Tui Macuata, Ratu Aisea Katonivere, the chiefly household of Vidilo and the Methodist Church in Fiji.

The funeral church service will be held in the Peceliema Church at 10am today with Bua Divisional Superintendent, Reverend Peceli Tubalili leading the church service.

The late paramount chief will be buried in the chiefly burial grounds. His traditional warriors from Navunievu are guarding his body.

The late Ratu Isikeli died last Tuesday at Nabouwalu Hospital after a long illness. He was 87 years old.

He is survived by his wife Salote, daughter Adi Ane Lagamu, son Ratu Makutu Nagagavoka and four grandchildren.