Sunday, April 29, 2007

GCC and Fijians


A blogger writes...

It appears that whenever the indigenous cry out for what is their's, the rest label it an obstacle to progress/modernization/civilty.

The Great Council of Chiefs (GCC) are the voice of the Fiji landowners, the Fiji Indigenous people in whatever ruling body of the nation.

This heritage from the Fijian Chiefs that ensured this, cemented the indigenous rights to the governing of their land, their country and it consequences on their culture and future generations.

To hear that the illegal AG Kaiyum was quoted in Brussels as saying to the EU that "the GCC needed to be abolished because it served no purpose in the ruling of the nation", makes me very angry and sad. More sad then anything.

The anger stems from my deeply rooted cultural pride in my origins.The sadness, from the ignorance of a non-indigenous abolishing the most powerful traditional ruling body of my land, in front of a direct ancestor of one of the greatest indigenous leaders of our country.

That this was said in front of Epeli Nailatikau(not a ratu in my eyes) depicts a sad picture of the deep divide in our nation.Not just the racial divide between Indians and Fijians - a concept that has been raped and plundered by politicians from each side for their own personal benefit to no advantage to us the ordinary citiszens.

I'm referring to the invisible victims of this divide - the seemingly growing rift amongst the Indigenous Fijians.

Fijian culture is unique in the world, nowhere do you find a culture that is as rich and diverse as that of the indigenous Fijian culture.

It's many dialects is the best example of it's diversity, a diversity that was rightfully respected by the colonists. This very diversity meant that a group of leaders and advisors were required for the indigenous body to rule or be ruled harmoniously. It is my belief that this very reason is why the Bose Levu Vakaturaga needs to exist to be the voice of our indigenous people.

The Fijian's cultural perception of the pros and cons of the GCC has always been around, since I can remember. The fact that people were entitled to their own opinions of the greatest indigenous body without reprisal showed the democracy we had...then!

It appears that now, as a result of the racial influence on the perceptions of the GCC and it's need to exist, the indigenous Fijian is now going through a historic phase in its traditional history.No where in Fiji history has it's Great Council of Chiefs been publicly slated.

No where in it's short history has anyone been allowed to degrade this Council as much as this illegal regime has.With the Illegal Military regime publicly stating that they will abolish this Great Council and raking up support from various corners of the nation, the indigenous Fijian is now hard pressed to make a stand.

Either stand to protect their culture, their heritage and future representation in any governing body; or abolish this council because it stands in the way of the illegal military regime.There is really no other choice left for the indigenous Fijian.

And no other reason, no matter what vesumona the illegal military regime try to say regarding their reasons for abolishing the GCC, it's simply because the Great Council of Chiefs has acknowledged that the military regime is illegal and that this country should not be ruled by them.

So will you stand and protect the Great Council of Chiefs; or let people like Kaiyum, Chaudhry, Voreqe, Nailatikau, Epeli Ganilau take your traditional values apart and throw it back in the face of your ancestors.

Fiji Coup Culture - Where to from here?

Fiji – Where to from here?

Presentation to the Leadership Fiji program, 21 March, 2007

Sandra Tarte, University of the South Pacific.


First I would like to say that it is an honor to be talking to you today. I have heard a lot about Leadership Fiji over the past years and it is a special privilege to be invited to participate in this year’s program.

I have been given the challenging and I think unenviable task of looking ahead: to talk on the question ‘Where to from here?’ I believe the answer to that question will depend very much on the patterns that have shaped and continue to shape our nation. It is not that the future is already written, but our history and our recent past will have a lot to do with determining where we go from here.

My colleagues who have already spoken to you today have no doubt given you a good grounding in some of the main historical and political developments that have shaped Fiji. What I want to do in the limited time we have is to focus on just one aspect of our politics: what some have termed our ‘coup culture’. I would suggest that if there is one thing that will determine our future as a nation (one thing that is in our control that is) it is this.

By most counts, we have had four coups in the past 20 years: two coups in 1987; one civilian seizure of power followed by a military take-over in 2000 (a bit more complicated); and this coup at the end of 2006 (more complicated still). I want to, in the first part of this presentation, analyze our so-called coup culture by comparing and contrasting the December 2006 coup and the three previous ones. I will then use this to provide some discussion of the future directions for Fiji.

What was ‘different’ about the latest coup?

  1. Previous coups were carried out in the name of indigenous rights and were broadly popular among ethnic Fijians and the Fijian institutions (the Great Council of Chiefs, the Methodist Church etc). This coup has been carried out in the name of good governance and anti-corruption (like in Thailand last year). It hasn’t even been called a coup by the military. It has been called a ‘clean-up campaign’. Moreover it has expressly defied – if not ridiculed and marginalized – traditional Fijian institutions. The most compelling feature of this coup – and its greatest potential threat – lies in the resounding silence of Fijian nationalism. The nationalist voice has been shut down/shut out, but the question remains for how long. That may depend on how effective the army propaganda is in winning the hearts and minds of (mainly) rural Fijians.
  1. Previous coups put into office governments that were nationalist and pursued a nationalist (what some would label racist) agenda (eg affirmative action for indigenous Fijians, land reform for Fijians and so on). Indeed that was the problem with the previous government, according to the military commander, a problem which also fuelled a culture of corruption. This coup is – ostensibly – not only against nationalism, racism and affirmative action; it has also installed an interim government comprising people who have been the voice of multiculturalism and moderation; people who have promoted ethnic equality and liberal democratic politics.
  1. Previous coups led to the abrogation of the existing constitution – usually to allow for a more pro-indigenous, racially-based constitution. This happened in 1987 (October). It also happened in May 2000 although the Courts subsequently ruled that the Constitution then was not in fact abrogated but still existed. There was no legal basis for abrogating it. So it remained in place. This time the military has not attempted to abrogate the constitution, claiming (rather incredulously) that all their actions have in fact been about preserving the constitution. There has even been a legal document drawn up purporting that the coup was legal because it overthrew an illegal regime (ie events dating from 2000 were in violation of the constitution). It remains to be seen, however, whether it becomes necessary to abrogate the constitution sometime in the future when these arguments are no longer tenable and actions and policies begin to directly contradict the constitution. We are also to see the outcome of any court challenge to the take-over.
  1. Previous coups alienated the minority and non-indigenous races; in particular they were seen as ‘anti-Indian’ and they tended to unleash an anti-Indian backlash, manifesting at one level in attacks on rural Indian communities or on Indian businesses. This coup has not only silenced the nationalist Fijian elements (as noted above). It has been welcomed by many Indo-Fijians (grateful at least that this time they are not the targets). It is not that that this coup is seen as pro-Indian (although that is how some might see it); it is that this coup has been seen as redressing past injustices and grievances committed against Indo-Fijians in previous coups. And this somehow makes it right. But that does not mean the backlash won’t happen. As I mentioned earlier, the great concern now is that the Fijian nationalist elements that have been sidelined, represent a potentially dangerous and volatile force.
  1. Previous coups created what appeared to be a fairly clear – if false – dichotomy in Fiji’s political culture: between promoting indigenous rights on the one hand and the rule of the law on the other. There has been a strongly held view amongst Fijians that the government or the state should remain in indigenous Fijian control in order to safeguard Fijian interests and lift Fijian socio-economic standards (such as through affirmative action programs). That was the force and the rationale behind past coups: to put back into power a Fijian leadership that had been removed by the ballot box. The rule of law was secondary to Fijian rule. Moreover human rights were viewed as antithetical to traditional, Fijian authority. This coup has created a different – and rather ironic – dichotomy: between social justice and good governance on the one hand, and the rule of law on the other. Past anti-coup/ pro-democracy activists have become transformed into skeptics of the relevance and importance of democracy in Fiji.

The arguments that are being heard now include the following:

  • ‘It seems regrettable that those who have condemned the military takeover seem obsessed with the violation of democracy perspective and fail to recognize the anti-racist and pro-people aspects of the take-over, which could be termed the social justice perspective’. So this is seen as a ‘pro-people’ and ‘anti-racist’ coup, which makes it legitimate.
  • Furthermore it has been claimed that the previous government (the one overthrown) ‘clearly showed how democracy could be manipulated to serve the narrow Fijian nationalist interests’. In other words, our democracy was not real democracy. It was in fact deeply flawed, especially when measured against Western standards, and based on the criteria of ‘free and fair elections’. Such a flawed democracy is not as sacred or as worthy of protection. One person even argued that we need a ‘benevolent dictator’ in Fiji to solve our problems. Until then we are not ready for democracy.

These arguments, by the way, were made by the so-called progressive NGOs and clergy.

This leads me to the question: What was the ‘same’ about the latest coup? For all the differences, noted above, there are still some depressing parallels.

  1. The argument that Fiji was not ready for democracy has been heard each time we have had a coup. In 1987, the popular refrain of Fijian nationalists was ‘Democracy is a Foreign Flower’. What Fiji needed was a Fijian state, based on the prior rights of the indigenous Fijians, and elevating their institutions and their faith above others. Following the 2000 coup, the newly installed PM, Laisenia Qarase, suggested that Fiji was somewhere ‘in the middle of a journey between communal democracy’ (or traditional governance) and liberal democracy, adding that it would be better if Fiji never fully reached its destination. In the latest coup, people who had been outspoken critics of previous undemocratic overthrow of government started to make similar utterances: that Fiji was not a real democracy and perhaps we are not ready for democracy; perhaps what we need right now is a ‘benevolent dictator’ who will ‘heal the cancers of corruption and racialism’ so that ‘normal legalities can truly be reasserted’.
  1. Another parallel is of course the political role of the military. This is the obvious common thread throughout. Whether the military is acting for indigenous rights; or whether it is acting against the forces of indigenous rights; whether it is called a clean up campaign or a coup; the common element is that the military and its leaders have arrogated to themselves a political role, above and beyond that prescribed by law. This pattern began in 1987; it seemed to subside in the 1990s; but the events of 19 May 2000 catapulted the army back onto the political stage – however reluctantly. Since 2000, the military has not fully departed this stage. It has been a political force – sometimes at the forefront, sometimes in the background; but always calling the shots (or trying to). To understand why this is so, you need to understand that it was the army which stopped the country from teetering over the edge of anarchy in 2000. The army – and its commander in particular – also experienced a bloody wake-up call with the mutiny attempt in November. To them the enemy – the threat – is still out there (radical nationalists and corrupt chiefs). That is why they must now take power, to stamp out the threat once and for all.
  1. The third parallel relates to the human consequences of coups, whatever the cause they are promoting. You all are aware of the clampdown on certain freedoms (such as freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, freedom of movement). These almost always accompany a coup. In 2000 the crackdown on freedom of speech was perhaps less notable (because the army was seen as being on the ‘right’ side by most people). However there was widespread terrorizing of (mainly) Indo-Fijian rural communities by (Fijian) civilian groups (sometimes working with police collusion and protection). This time, the military is showing no tolerance for dissent. Critics – whether real or imagined – have been detained and ‘given a warning’ not to cause trouble. Two men, so far, have died as a result of this ‘warning’. Many have been intimidated (rather harshly) into silence. Human rights violations have been justified on the grounds of national security. This is a familiar catch-cry of military dictatorships that see any criticism as a potential threat to their control. More broadly, each of the coups we have experienced has created a new wave of injustice – people who have been wronged; people who have been victimized. This coup is no different. Injustices will breed resentments and conflicts and the need for yet another attempt at building reconciliation and peace and nation building.
  1. The fourth parallel is that this coup, like all others, has exposed the deep divisions within our society – and created new ones. The divisions are racial –which have always marked Fijian society; they are class; they are regional. But ultimately they are political and in a post-coup environment these political divisions run very deep. And what makes the situation so unstable – I guess – is the absence of any peaceful channel to resolve or bridge these divisions. One side holds the guns and that is why they have power. The other side must be silent. In the absence of democratic institutions, there are no obvious ways – short of violence – of redressing this situation. New divisions have also manifested themselves in this latest coup. I alluded to this earlier when I mentioned how some human rights and civil society activists who have traditionally stood against coups have come out in support of (or at least sympathetic to) this one. This is due to their animosity towards the deposed government (and its policies). Some members of the legal fraternity have also given their support to the new regime. As a result, the judiciary is divided; so is civil society – traditionally two of the most progressive forces in society.

So what of the future?

I have reluctantly come to the view that perhaps the best thing we can hope for (work towards) is that the current regime (however illegitimate it is) succeeds. And by succeed I mean that it safely steers the nation back to democratic rule. I don’t believe that the Commander will step aside voluntarily and perhaps there are dangers if he does. I believe the alternative to this regime succeeding (ie that it fails) is the far worse option because it suggests – most likely – a fragmentation of the military and a violent power struggle erupting within the country.

I also believe that two of the core policies of the Bainimarama regime hold the key to our future development as a nation. One is the campaign against corruption – corruption that in turn has been fostered by the mismanagement and abuse of affirmative action programs over the years. The failure to deliver on the part of our leaders because of corruption continues to fuel discontent and frustration, especially among our more marginalized Fijian communities who have been led to expect much more.

The other policy is the communal based electoral system which – as we have seen – has encouraged racial polarization in elections and has caused politicians to employ racially divisive and nationalistic tactics. I don’t believe we will ever progress politically if we continue to tied to the communal voting system; I don’t think we will see truly national leaders (as opposed to parochial, ethnic leaders) emerge within the confines of the current communal system.

But for change to come about – whether it is to eliminate corruption or to remove communal voting – there has to be acceptance and understanding of the need for change. There has to be consensus.

To conclude, my view of the future is a mixed one. On the positive side, we have always managed to muddle through and to find a way out of the political mess left by a coup. Sometimes it has taken years and the toll has been high (in economic terms, in brain drain terms etc). But there is a resilience about Fiji that defies the most pessimistic prognoses. There have been some hard lessons learnt but there have been some positive outcome as well. For example, in the wake of the 1987 coups – in the decade that followed – Fiji witnessed a flourishing of civil society organizations; stepping into the gaps left by a political establishment weakened and tainted by the military coups of 1987. These have, for the most part, been a positive force in Fijian society. The fact that they appear weakened by the latest coup is a cause for concern but this does not spell the end for civil society activism.

On the negative side, the outlook for a coup-free future does not look very promising. If anything, the latest coup has virtually sealed our fate as coup prone society. It would take a huge leap of faith to believe that somehow the coup ‘solution’ will never again be contemplated by a future military commander, or even his junior officers. Other countries in our wider neighborhood that share a similar fate seem to be the Philippines and Thailand.

The means to carry out a coup will always be there (so long as we have a military). So what needs to change is the notion that carrying out a coup is somehow right and a justifiable political option. I guess it is apparent by now that I am no supporter of military coups – this latest one being no exception. I believe we need to break out of this cycle. The way to do that is to somehow change the mindset. As the latest coup revealed, support (whether tacit or explicit) for a military takeover of a democratically elected government is widespread. It is evident within sections of the western educated elite, the intelligentsia, the business community, the urban middle class, the NGO community. This reveals the enormity of the challenge facing our society. Until we as a society – and our leaders in particular – can categorically renounce and reject the use of force in our political life – democracy has little hope of becoming an entrenched force in our lives. And we will never realize our full potential as a country.

Thank you.

Friday, April 27, 2007

Looking back at the GCC -Friday, April 27, 2007
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President Ratu Josefa Iloilo, right, arrives at the recent Great Council of Chiefs meeting in Suva
The following is a paper prepared by RATU FILIMONE RALOGAIVAU, a member of the Great Council of Chiefs from Bua, on the history and role of the chiefs' council.
THE Bose Levu Vakaturaga (Great Council of Chiefs) comprises 56 members.
They are the President, Vice-President, Prime Minister, six chiefs, 42 provincial council members, three Rotuma Island Council members and the sole life member Sitiveni Rabuka.
The quorum for a meeting is two-thirds of the council's membership.
As for the Fijian Affairs Board, it was resolved by the BLV in April 2000 that it comprise seven chiefs' council members, five parliamentarians, the Minister for Fijian Affairs and the chairman of the BLV.
Total membership is 14 and the meeting is to be chaired by the Minister for Fijian Affairs.
In 1876, when the Fijian administration was established, two opposing views were seriously considered.
One was the private enterprise point of view according to the capitalistic concept of self-reliance and self seeking with the notion of ultimately developing independent individuals as in democratic societies.
Two, to avoid social disruptions, Fijians must be ruled according to their social/cultural and traditional systems as was promised to them before Cession.
This second option was considered best because it augured well with existing customs of the land.
In 1915, the colonial administration was dissatisfied. The natives had lost the respect their forefathers had for the Government of the colony. Fijians must be given the opportunity to adapt before being inducted to changes taking place. Any form of administration under the chiefs was no longer desirable by the colonial administrator.
The Fijian administrator as a separate entity was then abolished.
District commissioners and stipendiary magistrates ruled over the people but communalism proved difficult to break.
In 1944, Sir Philp Mitchell, the then Governor, examined the Fijian administration and concluded that those running it had no authority to do so.
Together with Ratu Sir Lala Sukuna, they put forward bills with proposals considered beneficial to the Fijian people.
Various regulations put in place during between 1944 and 1967 caused the emergence of a golden era in the annals of the Fijian society. Significant features in the change included:
Law and order prevailed in Fijian villages;
Poverty was non-existence
People live in beautifully thatched traditional houses with secure food supply and unity in socialising with neighbours;
General respect for the institution was realised;
Appointment of district administrators (Buli) provided solid leadership.
In 1965, the Fijian court system and various regulations were abolished.
People were free from the yoke of communal work. As a result, sharp increases in lawlessness were realised widely.
In 1975, the central Government was very concerned and the Royal Commission of Inquiry into Crime was appointed.
Governor Sir Grant, a former Chief Justice of Fiji, observed that "the abolition of the bulk of the Fijian Affairs regulations led to the lack of control in the villages and an alarming decline in village discipline".
In 1981 the Royal Commission on the Treatment of Offenders was appointed and was very specific on certain parts of the Fijian Court:
Re-introduction of the Fijian Court set-up to be incorporated into the centralised court system;
Desirability of incorporating customary laws;
In 1984, the Cole Review. Re-instituted the tikina and village councils and appointed the turaga ni koro (village headman).
This was the beginning of the district and provincial administrative system still in use today.
Roles of the GCC
It is clear from the analysis of the GCC's history that its establishment was associated with the various attempts at the formation of governments in Fiji.
The Cession of the Fiji Islands in 1874 bears testimony to the desire of the chiefs for the creation of a confederacy of native states under Queen Victoria. Fiji was united in peace under British protection and rule.
Past roles of GCC
In 1875, the Colonial Government took steps to build into the political structure of the colony a system of Fijian administration based on existing organisations.
Such a step provided for the improvement of the existing institutions so that natives could manage their own affairs without exciting any suspicion or destroying their self respect.
The apex of the colonial Fijian administration was the Native Council, (the forerunner of the GCC) which saw the linkage between the village authority to the Governor himself. Notwithstanding the council's absence of legislative powers, (as its resolutions are mere recommendations) Governor Gordon saw the Council's influence in the following light:
"But though not possessing no direct legislative authority, it is impossible not to see such a body wield far more influence on the course of legislation than can be enjoyed by a half dozen natives sitting as members of the legislature otherwise composed wholly of white men, as is the case in New Zealand and other states.''
Present role
While the constitutional role of the GCC is to appoint the President, Vice-President and 14 members of the Senate, its primary function as an advisory body, is to submit to the President such recommendations and proposal as it may deem for the benefit of the Fijian people. It also considers such questions relating to the good governance and well being of the Fijian people as the president or the Board may from time to time submit to the GCC and to take decision or make appropriate recommendations as stipulated under the Fijian Affairs Act.
GCC secretariat
The secretariat of the GCC was established in September 1998, with the view of facilitating the transition of the GCC to a fully independent and autonomous body. The GCC elects its own chairperson and deputy.
The function of the secretariat is to administer council meetings and to provide necessary information on social, economic and cultural issues considered to be for the welfare and good governance of the Fijian people, for the Great Council of Chiefs to deliberate and decide upon.
In this respect the council through its secretariat has shifted from a passive institution to a proactive one, where it initiates researches and subcommittees to conduct investigations and report on issues that are or may be in the interest of the Fijians.
The council's resolutions and recommendations since 1876 are beyond the capacity of this paper, suffice for the purpose of the same to highlight a few:
Recommendation on the proprietary unit of native land to be the mataqali (clan/tribe);
Recommendations to establish the Native Land Trust Board;
Role after the two coups of 1987;
Role in severing its ties to one political party so as to embrace all Fijian political parties to foster Fijian political unity and paramountcy.
In view of the enormity of the task that the Council and its secretariat had been asked to perform, its efforts has been impeded by the lack of funds and the imposition of certain restrictions preventing it from acting independently especially with regards to staffing and other administrative functions which has to be sanctioned by the Ministry and the Board.
Future role of GCC
It is evident from the 1987 and 2000 political turmoil that the GCC has had to change from an advisory body to an executive one when there is a political vacuum.
The future direction and role of the Great Council of Chiefs can thus best be summed: " the maintenance of the GCC is a necessity, if the system of government through natives is to be kept up. It acts as a safety valve to many grievances that might otherwise rankle and swell to dangerous proposition, as a touchstone of feeling of the utmost value in gauging the tendencies of the natives and as the most powerful auxillary in carrying out the wishes of government.
"With the aid of the Bose Vakaturaga the Governor can without effort do in native matters whatever he pleases.
Without it the management of those affairs would be a matter of extreme difficulty."
It is respectfully submitted that the above quoted observations of former governor Sir Arthur Gordon is, with modifications, a true body as it was in 1875, some 126 years later, and will hold true for a lot of years to come for as long as there exist a bona fide indigenous Fijian race.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Chiefs there for the people

Vereniasi Raicola -Thursday, April 26, 2007

There are 14 provincial councils in Fiji that make bylaws and impose local taxes, subject to the approval of the Fijian Affairs Board.

The Fijian Affairs Board approves the appointment of the Roko Tui or executive head of the provincial councils, who is usually a high-ranking chief.

The provinces have direct input into national affairs through the Great Council of Chiefs.

The Great Council of Chiefs is a traditional body which advises the government on indigenous affairs and functions as an electoral college for the election of the President and Vice-President of Fiji.

There are 55 members of the GCC chosen by the provincial councils.

Each province is allowed three representatives.

Commodore Bainimarama suspended the GCC after it rejected the President's nomination on interim Foreign Affairs Minister Ratu Epeli Nailatikau for Vice-President.

Interim Fijian Affairs Minister Ratu Epeli Ganilau said the provisions of the GCC therefore became null and void.

Ratu Epeli said as minister he would also review the council provisions that involved exploring if the GCC membership should be retained.

He said it would be an extensive exercise and the 14 provinces would be consulted on the matter.

Roko Tui Dreketi, the head of the Burebasaga confederacy, Ro Teimumu Kepa, said provincial councils were an important forum for grassroots Fijians, particularly in the rural areas.

She said in Rewa, for example, the members of the provincial councils were made up of tikina members who lived in the village.

Issues brought to the provincial councils were raised from the village level forums.

"It is really a bottom up approach and works both ways, because whatever is decided at the GCC or the Fijian Affairs Board is filtered through this forum to villagers," she said.

Ro Teimumu said Fijians thrashed out issues that concerned their health, education and developments at provincial councils, the tikina councils or the village council where villagers openly discussed their grievances and concerns.

She said if the provincial council was to be taken away for some reason, it would be difficult to gauge what was happening at the grassroot level because there would be no forum.

In a year the provincial council sits twice unless there is a need for a special sitting.

Council members in Rewa last December had a special sitting after the overthrow of the Soqosoqo Duavata ni Lewenivanua Laisenia Qarase-led government. Ro Teimumu said in a provincial meeting on December 14 the villagers of Rewa were advised to be careful in the way they spent money and utilised electricity and water to avoid unnecessary bills during these unpredictable political times.

Speaking at a follow-up provincial council meeting yesterday in the chiefly Burenivudi meeting house at Lomanikoro, Rewa, Ro Teimumu said the province prepared villagers for the tough times that would follow.

Ro Teimumu said the vanua needed to take a firm stand on issues that had legal implications.

"We need to teach our people the right way to go so that we are not questioned later and as chiefs or commoners we always need to be on the right side of the law," she said.

Ro Teimumu said Fijians needed to work within the rule of law and that judging by the recent events, it could be said that "we have learnt from past coups".

"We cannot be condoning something different from the law, or not within the Constitution.

"Having legal opinions on some of these issues makes it easier to decide and agree together on matters concerning Fiji," she said.

Ro Teimumu said the stand taken by the GCC in not condoning Ratu Epeli Nailatikau as the Vice-President indicated the chiefs wanted to follow the rule of law because they did not condone the appointment of someone involved with the interim administration.

She said many people, especially Fijian families, had suffered since the events of December.

She cautioned Fijians to be mindful of the law and that they needed to plant more food and sell their produce in order to supplement their family income.

"Some people are on reduced pay and even if it is $10 less this is a lot of money for some families," she said.

"Some people have as a result of the military takeover lost their jobs and others are working reduced hours, while some simply do not know what tomorrow would bring and that is why we need to remind people to look at income generating projects so their families can survive. At the end of the day it is usually the women that have to juggle to make ends meet in the home, so people need to be sensible."

Ro Teimumu said the interim Minister for Fijian Affairs, Ratu Epeli Ganilau, could not change the membership of the GCC as clearly stipulated in the 1997 Constitution, even though he had threatened to after the council did not condone Ratu Epeli Nailatikau's nomination.

She said although members of the GCC were supporting different political parties, their personal agenda was placed aside whenever they met.

"These chiefs are not in the GCC for themselves," she said.

"They are there to represent their people, even though some people think otherwise."

Ro Teimumu said it was sad some people thought some chiefs took their own personal agendas to the GCC, because that never happened.

She said the GCC was not about politics. It was about the people and the vanua.

Ro Teimumu said the chiefs did not know who was nominated by the President for the position of Vice-President until the meeting day on April 11.

"All we wanted was to be on the right side of the law.

"That was why we wanted the next VP not to be involved with the interim administration. There were no politics involved.

"We, the members of the GCC, are all related through our ancestors but we do not want to condone an appointment that would later take us to a court of law and make us look silly to everyone.

"We do not want the people outside Fiji to point a finger at our wrong judgment this time around.

"The GCC is not about individual chiefs. It is about wise decisions for the sake of our beloved country Fiji," she said.

Ro Teimumu said there were several categories of chiefs and people needed to be careful when taking advice from members of the Council.

"True chiefs have their people (tamata), their fishing grounds (qoliqoli), their village and their land.

"Then there are others who have chiefly blood ties but are not equal to chiefs," she said.

Ro Teimumu, who was speaking about her province, said decisions were easily made together in Burebasaga because all their chiefly titles had been filled.

"For Kubuna, there is no Vunivalu and there is no Ratu from Verata.

"For Tovata there is no Tui Bua and no Tui Nayau and this is why it is difficult to gauge the feed back from these areas, whereas in Burebasaga we have installed all the chiefs," she said.

Ro Teimumu said some people were fond of speaking on behalf of some provinces, even though they did not have the mandate to.

"We need to be careful of such people, because at the end of the day they may just be pushing for their own agendas, as they are speaking on no-one's behalf," she said.

Monday, April 23, 2007


FIJIANS need to sit down, be united and constructively talk about what they want after the elections and the type of democracy they want Fiji to have.

Fijian academic Doctor Steve Ratuva said this was important if the country was to move away from the coup culture.

Dr Ratuva made the comments while speaking on a Fijian radio talkback show yesterday.
He said that Fiji was in turmoil, especially after the events of December 5, 2006, and the suspension of the Great Council of Chiefs meeting by the Interim Government.

The fact that the military has been involved in all the three coups has compounded matters.

“What happened in 1987 and 2000 is totally different from what happened in 2006,” Dr Ratuva said.

“They involved the military but in different ways. In 1987 the military was used to take over the Bavadra Government. In 2000 the military was used to reclaim the government. But in 2006 the military led the takeover of government.”

Dr Ratuva said Fijians now seemed divided between allegiance and support for the military-led government and the GCC.

“There is a definite split and it is time that Fijians sit down and talk together,” he said.

“We need to be united because there is no use trying to rush into another election without dealing with the probem first.”

He said efforts to try and get Fiji back to an election were commendable but there needed to be some serious thinking on the part of the indigenous people.

“We really need to think hard about what we want. The democracy we have here in Fiji is different from the type of democracy practised in the United States of America or Australia for that matter,” he said on the Viti FM Vakaribamalamala show.

“It is time that Fijians talk about what type of democracy they want. Otherwise everything will just break down again after the elections if we rush into it without trying to first solve the problem we have.”

Dr Ratuva said he told the United Nations Special Mission to Fiji in Suva yesterday that there was a real need for dialogue between the major players in the current political crisis.

He said the big gap that exists in the relationship between the interim administration and the GCC also needs to be rectified.

“It is time that they sit down and talk also. Now there is a big, deep pit between the two, the Interim Government and the GCC. Now it is time for a bridge to be built across it and talks to begin for the future of this country,” Dr Ratuva said.

Meanwhile, Dr Ratuva said he did not see any reason why there should not be a fourth confederacy formed by the people of Ba.

“I don’t see why they should be stopped. There might be some traditional Fijian understanding and relationship but otherwise I don’t see any reason why they can’t form their own confederacy,” he added.


Monday, April 16, 2007

The GCC and the winds of change -12-Apr-2007

THE Great Council of Chiefs (Bose Levu Vakaturaga) meeting yesterday appears to be part of the process of the now familiar talk about a return to normalcy. It also can be interpreted as an attempt by this high house of Fijian chieftains to regain its status as an important player in national politics and governance.

On December 5, 2006 and days after the military takeover of the SDL-led multiparty government, this august body came under intense pressure and scrutiny for all sections of society.

In those days of political turmoil and uncertainty, many in the citizenry looked towards the GCC as the last bastion of hope for the rule of law.

It’s ironic that the Council, a non-democratic body composed of hereditary chiefs or individuals from the upper echelons of ethnic Fijian society, was relied upon for some measure of constitutional control.

The GCC has evolved to become a potent force in Fiji’s national political environment, while maintaining much influence and control within Fijian society.

The GCC was established in 1876 under the governorship of Sir Arthur Gordon as an advisory body for the newly established British colony.

Apart from being part of overall British colonial policy of indirect rule, it was a necessary buffer to cushion any wave of discontent or indigenous opposition to what was effectively foreign rule.

Interestingly the Council came into being after the rebellious tribes of Western/Central Viti Levu had been subdued either by sheer musket power or measles. On October 28, 1876 Sir Arthur Gordon issued a proclamation pardoning all hill tribes and ending all wars (or rebellions!) in Viti Levu.
The Great Council of Chiefs came into being after the promulgation of the Native Ordinance 1876 which also set in motion a series of measures to set up and consolidate a Fijian administrative system.

The Council today has been transformed from having purely advisory role for the colonial administrators and a proxy for indigenous Fijian representation, to a legal entity.

The Constitution has formalised and codified this body of indigenous tribal leaders bringing it to the level of national government as evident in its function to select the post of President and Vice-President.

While we move towards the end of the first decade of the 21st century, it is important to re-examine the role of this august body a modern society addicted to democracy, free speech, social mobility and the information communication technology (ICT) revolution.

As the permanent home of the GCC takes shape to dominate a leafy Nasese waterfront, it is necessary to ask questions on the role of the council in the new millennium.

We need to ask whether our young liberalised, highly literate and socially mobile ethnic Fijian generation is in tune with what the GCC is all about?

Will the power and political clout of the GGC and other colonially-constructed quasi Fijian administrative institutions weather the test of social, economic and political evolution?

To gain the hearts, minds and attention of the younger generation of not only indigenous Fijians but other ethnic groups too, the GCC needs to realign itself to the demands of modernity.

This is a challenge for the Bose Levu Vakaturaga to seriously consider instead of being grossly engaged in the furtherance of its own institutional survival.

The relevance, moral clout and political influence of this Great Council depends not on the Council itself and who strolls the corridors of its power, but on the grassroots who matter.

In a world defined by the realities of globalisation, consumerism and the upsetting of tradition, it is time for change for the better.

The GCC must work harder to find its place among the masses and realities they face each day, whether in the village or in our ever-grown slums of squatter settlements.
That is the challenge for this august house.

GCC - The last vestige of Fijian identity 14-Apr-2007

Commodore Frank Bainimarama’s bold move to suspend the Great Council of Chiefs is a serious matter that needs careful consideration, especially by indigenous Fijians.
The GCC is a constitutional body with its functions clearly outlined - that is to appoint a President and Vice President.
This announcement by Commodore Bainimarama is now another Constitutional issue and it would be up to the courts of law to determine whether the GCC as a constitutional body has been forcefully undermined.
The declared suspension of the council by Commodore Bainimarama is another step in the ‘clean-up’ campaign being conducted in the Fijian administrative system.
The GCC is not simply a constitutional body.
It also plays a symbolic unifying role for Fiji’s once-fragmented tribal groups and vanua.
It is the head of the Fijian people.
It is what makes, defines and distinguishes them from other ethnic groups, not only in Fiji but overseas.
Whilst many ethnic Fijians do have pertinent questions to raise about the relevance of the GCC, its functions and its role in modern society, it nevertheless is a very important unifying body.
Fiji’s first British governor, Sir Arthur Gordon, saw the Bose Levu Vaka Turaga as a necessary institution not only for colonial administrative purposes but also in the best interest of the indigenous tribes.
Some commentators have agreed that the GCC was a necessary evil when taking into account that colonial rule and Europeans were bringing new forms of governance and foreign customs.
The 18th and 19th centuries were times of change as small-scale indigenous societies became swallowed up by European colonial expansion, international trade and commerce.
The option for Fiji’s indigenous tribes was either to unite or wither away.
We fear that the GCC’s demise may not be good for the indigenous people.
In fact it may be the beginning of the end of Fijian unity and cohesiveness.
And we cannot blame Commodore Bainimarama and Interim Government for this.
The GCC and all other Fijian institutions are themselves to blame for not being tactful enough to change, adapt and step into the 21st century where daily realities are not about tradition or customs but development and better livelihoods.
The GCC is not only a symbol of Fijian solidity, but a living institution of leaders of people.
Amongst former colonies in the developing world Fiji has been spared of the violence and gross human rights violations evident in coup-afflicted African countries.
Conflict in those countries have a tribalistic or inter-ethnic character and we are quite lucky that so far we have not gone down this dreadful path.
The reason perhaps lies in the fact that Fiji’s fragmented indigenous tribes have been successfully integrated into an ethnic construct.
And it’s such quasi-traditional institutions like the Great Council of Chiefs which have been duly codified under our laws and Constitution to neutralise, albeit in an undemocratic way, any likelihood of inter-tribal conflicts.
We hope that the events of the past two days will open the eyes of traditional Fijian leaders in the council to realise a time for change.
We hope that the GCC is not totally disbanded but maintained and reformed so that its roles and functions are in tandem with modern Fijian society.

Chiefs have people at heart -Monday, April 16, 2007

MAJOR developments have taken place over the past week.

The first being the meeting of the Great Council of Chiefs.

The second was the Council rejecting President Ratu Josefa Iloilo's nomination of interim Foreign Affairs Minister Ratu Epeli Nailatikau for Vice President.

The final bombshell was the order given by interim Prime Minister Commodore Voreqe Bainimarama to suspend all GCC meetings until such time he deemed it was appropriate to resume.

The Fiji Times spoke to the paramount chief of Rewa and the Burebasaga Confederacy, Ro Teimumu Kepa on her thoughts on the matter.

Times: In The Sunday Times, former Prime Minister Sitiveni Rabuka said the suspension of the GCC meant Fiji was now a chiefless Fijian society. What is your response to this?

Ro Teimumu: Our provinces have their own chiefs, so that does not mean that because this government is suspending the GCC there are no more chiefs. It just means that forum is not available to us. But there are other areas that we meet. We meet at provincial council level. There are other committees that we meet in and we meet at the Burebasaga Confederacy, which is made up of Rewa, Kadavu, Namosi, Serua, Nadroga/Navosa and parts of Ba. So I would just state, not strongly deny or refute that claim, that we have other areas and other forums that we meet in besides the GCC. So the suspension of the GCC just means that we're suspended, the chiefs remain chiefs and we go about our own duties and responsibilities.

Times: Mr Rabuka also questioned how far do we go into not recognising the GCC and the chiefs and whether the people will also be allowed to not recognise their chiefs. What are your comments on this matter?

Ro Teimumu: I think it will be good to ask people what their comments would be on this. I wouldn't go so far into saying that.

Times: With the suspension, do you know whether the chiefs are still united?

Ro Teimumu: Very much so. I would say Burebasaga, very much so. We've never at any time not been in a position where we are not on the same page basically. We have our own different ways of thinking, different ways of working but when it comes to the greater good, the bigger picture, we are all on the same page. That's Burebasaga. I wouldn't want to talk on Kubuna because the Kubuna people have their own representative, so I am not in a position to speak on Kubuna. Neither am I in a position to speak for Tovata but I would speak for Burebasaga.

Times: Do you think the people are still united despite this?

Ro Teimumu: I think the people are not stupid. People are enlightened, the grassroots people know what is happening. Many of our ordinary people are educated, some not in the formal sense, but they have been educated in the informal sector; they can make decisions on their own. They know very well what is happening in the country. So for him to suspend the GCC, I'm sure people know what is behind it.

Times: Interim Fijian Affairs Minister Ratu Epeli Ganilau says the suspension of the GCC is not the first of its kind. He says this first happened in 1904 when the then Governor Sir Everett Imthurn suspended the GCC. Is this not a concern that the suspension would set a precedent for those in power to resort to this move whenever a decision does not favour them?

Ro Teimumu: What he has to understand is at that time there was no Constitution as such, no form of constitution. That was during colonial days and now we are independent and the 1997 Constitution is in place, so what he is talking about has very little relevance to where we are now. What he is quoting or commenting on here is redundant, it has no relevance on where we are now. First of all, it's an illegal government. You know a legal government, they have a higher sense of responsibility, they are rational people, they have been put in place by people who have voted them in, they are responsible for the greater good of many more people. So, we are talking about two different groups. We are talking about a legal government and an illegal one.

Times: Where do you see the status of "revered chiefly leadership" heading to now?

Ro Teimumu: In Fijian society everyone has a place in the hierarchy of things. You have chiefs and you have the structure where there's a place for everyone. The people look up to their chiefs and the chiefs generally on the whole look after the people. Now having said that, people have a responsibility to their chiefs and chiefs have a responsibility to their people. So it works both ways. You can see this more clearly when you're in a Fijian set-up. In the Fijian village, people know what their responsibility is and the chiefs know what their responsibility is towards their people and it works very well. We're in harmony with one another, we look after one another and that's the way it has been designed and I think that's the way we would be going generally. This is a very unusual and abnormal situation that we're talking about here.

Times: Do you think the political situation, higher education and globalisation play a part in such decisions (suspending an august body) in the country?

Ro Teimumu: I really like that question because while we're living in a very small dot in the Pacific Ocean, we are still part of the globalised world and whatever we do has an impact on our position

in that globalised world. Some of the agreements we have signed with other countries, you know charters and regulations we gave signed for example, human rights, we are part of the Human Rights community and as such we have to work with what we have agreed to under the Human Rights Charter. Also we're signatories and have to work with the European Union, the World Trade Organisation. They are part of the globalised community. So in Fiji, the decisions that we made for example, in the Great Council of Chiefs on Wednesday and Thursday, we had to confirm that we will work with the 1997 Constitution and all its laws and regulations and when the chiefs feel in light of what is happening in the globalised world, I think people can understand where we are coming from. There's just a few people who are saying that we had our own agenda.

The chiefs in the GCC belong to different political parties, some of them are SVT, some of them belong to the Fiji Labour Party, some of them are SDL and some of them are from the Vanua Tako Lavo Party, so we all come under different parties.

So when they say we have a political agenda I would say that our political agenda is to look at what is acceptable to the globalised community and that's what we have to work with and that's what we had agreed in December and we have to be consistent. We can't be doing something in December, changing our tune suddenly in April, and then next month something else comes in front of the GCC on the table and then we're changing our tune again.

We have to be consistent and when you work within the law, it assists you in seeing what is the right way to go.

Because anything that we do, if it is illegal, it will come before the courts and we do not want that to happen. It's a body that's there to look after the interests of the Fijian people.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

A Chiefless Fijian Society


Sunday, April 15, 2007
NI sa bula. In 1988, I became very unpopular with the two great chiefs I was working with in the interim government of Fiji for advocating the slow demise of the traditional Fijian aristocracy and the steady ascendancy of the new indigenous elite heralding the new indigenous meritocracy.
Ratu Sir Penaia Ganilau was more diplomatic about his rejection of my views while Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara called me "just an angry young man".
Last year during the public discussions about the Qoliqoli Bill, I mentioned during casual conversations after a presentation I made to a group of concerned environmental experts, the Kenyan experiment when they got their independence and what their first President did about the dismantling of their customary social set up and their tribal landholding.
I was asked then about nationalising the traditionally indigenous land, and I said it was possible but perhaps too late because our chiefly institutions and land were all part and parcel of the indigenous society.
The only way possible was, perhaps, to abolish the chiefly system, and that would free up Fijian ownership for the nationalisation of land, qoliqoli etc.
The first to criticise that view was Ratu Epeli Ganilau, our current Minister for Fijian Affairs in the interim Government, who so vehemently condemned the Council of Chiefs this week for its decision not to endorse the President's nominee, Ratu Epeli Nailatikau, for Vice President.
Am I now wrong and likely to be accused by our Prime Minister for countermanding his decision to "suspend" the Great Council of Chiefs and "not recognise" chiefs by still calling these men Ratu?
How far do we go in "not recognising" the Great Council of Chiefs and the chiefs?
Will the people be allowed to "not recognise" their chiefs?
Can I "not recognise" and no longer respect my paramount chief that I am so accustomed and have been time and custom bound to call Na Gone Turaga na Ai Sokula, Na Turaga Bale na Tui Cakau?
Am I now redundant as chairman of the Cakaudrove Provincial Council?
Are the provincial councils now purely a part of the Regional Development Department of government and no longer part of "Fijian" Affairs? What aspects of Fijian Affairs retain their status and roles?
It will be interesting to watch how quickly we can dismantle the old Fijian system and begin to replace it with a system that draws its strength and powers from Central Administration, rather than the inherent "mana" in our indigenous society.
About 1000 people belong to my village of Drekeniwai.
The village is home to the people of Yavusa Navatu and Yavusa Loa in the Vanua of Navatu.
Our chiefs (probably until Thursday this week), Tui Navatu and Tui Loa, have always understood their role of vakarorogo vakavanua vua na Turaga na Tui Cakau, as passed down from generation to generation and codified in the Tukutuku Raraba during the Veitarogi Vanua of 1926-1928.
Will my village be now authorised by an interim Government decree to elect a village commander or have one appointed (equivalent to a battalion commander) who will be commissioned to organise, administer and provide for the people of Drekeniwai using all the resources available to the village by decree?
It would not be too difficult because we already have the infrastructure the mataqali can have a platoon commander equivalent, the groupings of the mataqali can have a company commander equivalent, the I liuliu ni Tokatoka can have a section commander equivalent etc.
Village, district, provinces and divisions can have commanders who are politically appointed by and owe allegiance to the national political leaders not too different from the "political commissars" that came out of the great cultural revolutions of Russia and China.
And like those revolutions, we would have to totally remove and cease to recognise or acknowledge the former tsars and the dynasties so that we can proceed with the new order.
The interim Government has taken the next step, after no longer recognising the Council of Chiefs, by removing the secretariat of that council from their premises in Draiba.
The oldest and perhaps last bastion of Fijian dominance in the affairs of state in Fiji and the government should now retire the name to Ovalau and call that new ownerless complex by its original name of Naiqasiqasi.
The rest are easy:
n Cancel the appointments of the members of the Fijian Affairs Board and Native Land Trust Board because they are joint committees of government and the Council of Chiefs, and
n Abolish the provinces and their councils, tikinas and their councils, villages and their councils as they all are but instruments and subordinate organisations of the Fijian affairs.
So, we may now be well on our way in our march towards a classless Fiji with its own chiefless indigenous race where we will have a level playing field for all and there may be hope for meritocracy in Fiji if the army will allow it.
And the military, as they believe they are doing by their campaign to free the people from old bonds and customary shackles, may want to change their title to the "Peoples' Liberation Army".
Have a very peaceful Sunday.