www.fijitimes.com -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.''
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.
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.