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.

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