Sunday, December 24, 2006

Chairman of Fiji's Great Council of Chiefs - Ratu Ovini Bokini

AMELIA VUNILEBA Sunday, December 24, 2006

THE Bose Levu Vakaturaga or Great Council of Chiefs is an important part of Fiji's society and has been so for quite some time now.
This is a body that is made up of chiefs from different districts and provinces and is often looked upon for wise counsel.
The position of GCC chairman could be considered as one that comes with a lot of power and demands a person who can rise to the challenge of whatever situation or issue is thrown his way.
The GCC was brought to the fore of the country's political spectrum recently during the impasse between the military and the Government.
And in the midst of all the furore, there stood the GCC chairman, Ratu Ovini Bokini in all his calmness.
Ratu Ovini holds the title of Tui Tavua of the district of Tavua which comes under the province of Ba in the Western Division.
Since his appointment to the GCC chairmanship and with all the issues the council has to deal with, Ratu Ovini always seems to maintain his composure no matter what the mood of the council or the country for that matter at that particular time.
You can't help but wonder if ever he raises his voice in anger because he is a very soft spoken person.
Such is his stature and such is his personality.
He is 62-years-old, having turned a year older just last month and he is the son of Ratu Etuate Bokini and Sereima Lalavanua.
He was born in Tavualevu and educated at Tavua District School, Marist Convent School, Ratu Kadavulevu School and Queen Victoria School.
Apart from that, he attended some management courses at the University of the South Pacific and worked firstly at the Colonial Sugar Refinery before it changed to the Fiji Sugar Corporation Limited.
He is married to Tavo Bokini and they have four children and it was his eldest son Ratu Inoke Bokini who shed a little light about Ratu Ovini.
"I may be a bit biased but he is a good father no, he is the best father," Ratu Inoke laughed.
"He was always firm and caring and always believed in sharing whatever we had with others," he said.
"We grew up with a lot of cousins because he wanted us all to have an education and for us his children, we had to go without some things so that there was enough for all of us."
"And that was not only for family members but for anyone who would come to him for help."
Ratu Inoke said although Ratu Ovini was well employed at FSC, the family didn't have much in terms of material things or that which many young people yearned for.
This, he said, was because his father centred his attention on education and would try and spread his earnings to cover for the educational costs of family members who came to stay with them.
"Now the FSC homes were big but our home was always full," he laughed.
Ratu Inoke said although there were four children, and they were a family of six (including Ratu Ovini and Tavo), this was extended by two members when Ratu Ovini took in two nephews who are now counted as part of the family.
He said one was named after Ratu Ovini and he works at the Tavua Water Supply while Nacanieli was considered the youngest and was presently a student at the Fiji Institute of Technology in Suva.
He said although these two cousins were registered in the Vola ni Kawa Bula under their father's name, Ratu Ovini took them in as his own sons and that was how things remained to date.
Apart from Ratu Inoke who is the Human Resources Manager at the Housing Authority, the other son is Ratu Totivi who works at Douglas Pharmaceuticals, Kelera Naborisi, a teacher at DAV Girls College in Samabula and Sereima Korosaya who works at the Bank of Baroda in Suva.
Altogether, Ratu Ovini has 13 grandchildren 10 from his four children and three from his namesake.
Ratu Inoke said because his father was very busy with his work and his traditional commitments when they were growing up, he didn't really have much time for them.
But, he says, that is a totally different story with his grandchildren.
"One woman who looked after us while we were younger and who passed away recently, used to tell us that when we were babies, he (Ratu Ovini) would hardly change our nappies or carry us when we cried," he said.
"But it is totally different with his grandchildren when one cries, he is there ready to carry them and he changes their nappies whenever he can," he laughed.
"Oh they are getting a lot of love and attention from him and when he's home, they get to choose what movies they watch at home and he sits and watches with them."
Ratu Inoke says his father is one person who doesn't really show much emotion but takes in whatever's happening and "keeps his cool".
He said Ratu Ovini was the kind of person who accepted other people's views but didn't make decisions straight away, rather, choosing to listen to everyone's views before he makes up his mind.
And in the recent weeks with what has transpired in the country, Ratu Inoke says Ratu Ovini's grandchildren provided a welcome distraction for him when he would get home as he would sit and talk with them and would end up laughing with them.
"He hardly loses his temper but I suppose he has a good 2IC in our mother," he laughed.
Ratu Inoke says his brothers and sisters talk with Ratu Ovini frequently and this has become a daily thing since the impasse started.
Daily Routine
Ratu Ovini has maintained a similar routine for a number of years now where he wakes up at 3am everyday and has his morning devotion.
"So when we get a call at around 4am, we know that its him because that is a time when he makes some calls," said Ratu Inoke.
At around 5am, the family is woken up and a family devotion follows suit.
Following that, Ratu Inoke says the village elders or qase ni vanua would come for a meeting at his home and they would then plan what sort of work is to be done in the village on that particular day.
"They would discuss developments that are useful like plans for planting crops that could earn cash for the villagers or things that would ultimately eradicate poverty," said Ratu Inoke.
He said these developments would also include discussions like getting computers for the village or getting youths and villagers to learn courses that would enhance their knowledge.
Also, this included discussions that could get women involved in cooking courses that were on offer.
Ratu Ovini was one who believed in mixing with other cultures and sent his children to Drasa Indian School.
"He wanted us to mix with other races and encouraged us to learn Hindi and we speak it fluently now," he said.
Ratu Inoke says his father is a spirited and firm person and a disciplinarian but was very patient.
He said his father would never forget being asked to serve in the government that was formed following the 1987 coup by then prime minister Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara.
"All his life he has worked for the FSC and when he was called by Ratu Mara to serve in the interim government, he had some second thoughts at first but these were quashed when Ratu Mara told him it was an opportunity to expose himself and his talents which would help in nation building.
"He was still working at FSC then and was receiving more money but decided to resign and join the interim council.
"He thought the call of duty was more important than the money he would have received and that's why he accepted.
"It was a call of duty and when he finished off from there, he was the general manager of the Rarawai Mill.
And just like that time, Ratu Ovini Bokini is now served with the task of heeding the call to duty. Ratu Inoke says the family has rallied behind their father/ grandfather during this time.
And he would like to thank all those who've prayed in ernest for Ratu Ovini and asked them to keep praying and remain calm even.
And just like his nature, Ratu Inoke says his father has remained calm throughout this ordeal between the military and the Government.
"Basically I know he's a person who speaks from the heart and I suppose that is why he's penniless," Ratu Inoke joked.
Career Brief
Apart from being a member and chairman of the GCC, Ratu Ovini held previous positions in various boards and committees like the Fiji Development Board, the Liqour Tribunal in the Western Division.
He has held senior managerial positions at both the Fiji Sugar Corporation Limited and the Penang Mill in Rakiraki.
While his hobbies were gardening and fishing before, his eldest son Ratu Inoke says that has changed to spending time with his grandchildren.
Ratu Ovini became the chairman of the GCC in 2004 and was re-elected to the position in 2005 for a term of three years.
Ratu Ovini became chairman after his predecessor Ratu Epeli Ganilau was not re-elected by the GCC.
This was in July of 2004, after the GCC decided that the position of chairman should go to a chief from either the Kubuna or Burebasaga confederacies since Ratu Epeli was from the Tovata confederacy.
Last year when the Promotion of Reconciliation, Tolerance and Unity Bill was introduced by the Laisenia Qarase led government, Ratu Ovini said the council was not consulted and their attempts to get a copy of the controversial Bill was futile.
And during Ratu Sir Lala Sukuna Day celebrations, he stated in his speech that reconciliation was not something that could be forced or was one sided.
Ratu Ovini also holds the position of chairman in the Ba provincial Council in his capacity as the Tui Tavua.
He was a member of Parliament in the 1990s during the Soqosoqo Vakavulewa ni Taukei government's term in power and also held Cabinet positions.
He contested the Tavua open seat in the 2001 general elections but failed to win the seat and he stayed in his village, involving himself in various activities in his village of Tavualevu.

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