Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Bills good for Fijians: Ro Teimumu -Wednesday May 30, 2007
Ousted Education Minister Ro Teimumu Kepa maintains that the controversial 'Qoliqoli Bill' and other so-called pro indigenous Fijian Bills are "good for Fijians" and should be reintroduced. She said even though more consultation was needed on the Bills, the military should not have taken her Soqosoqo Duavata ni Lewenivanua-led Government by force.

"This was a major factor in the takeover of government," said Ro Teimumu, who is also the highest ranking chief in one of Fijis three confederacies.

"But this did not give the military powers to take over the government because we were in the process of holding more talks with them.

"It was the people's idea that such Bills be brought about after a survey was carried out by the SDL government and we were acting on the mandate of the people."

Ro Teimumu admits there were a few 'hitches' in the Qoliqoli Bill that could have been changed before consultation with other stakeholders was done.

"We had believed that what we were doing was good for the indigenous Fijians and that it would help them greatly."

However, the military says that such programmes would not benefit all races as it will benefit only the elite indigenous Fijians.

Military spokesman, Major Neumi Leweni had earlier said the SDL government was creating racial tension by introducing such Bills.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Fijian Lands Could be Under Threat

Land ownership questioned - May 28, 2007

THE claim that about 90 per cent of land in Fiji is native land is questionable, according to a paper presented by a lawyer at a seminar in Suva.

Ba lawyer Doctor Mohammed Shamsud Dean Sahu Khan said it raised important legal and constitutional issues which needed to be addressed.

"We should avoid unnecessary future scrutiny of such matters by the court or other authorities," Mr Sahu Khan said.

He had presented a paper earlier this month on the legal status of different types and/or ownership of land and status of sea, waters and reefs in Fiji from the Deed of Cession in 1874 to today.

"We must avoid matters arising out of any legislation such as the Qoliqoli Bill to be an international issue.

"We should nip it in the bud and take all precautions before a Bill is debated in Parliament and emotions overtake rationality."

Mr Sahu Khan said Clause Four of the Deed of Cession provided that "absolute proprietorship of all land not shown to be alienated so as to become bona fide property of Europeans or other foreigners or not in actual use or occupation of some chief or tribe or not actually required for probable future support and maintenance of some chief or tribe shall be and hereby declared to be vested in Her Majesty, her heirs and successors". He said it was important to note that the only land not vested in the Crown was land as at October 10, 1974 not alienated to Europeans or other foreigners and land which was as at that date not in actual use or occupation of some chief or tribe and land actually required for the probable future support and maintenance of a chief or tribe.

"It does not refer to any constructive use or occupation. This obviously refers to land close to villages, etc.

"Actual use or occupation must mean land literally occupied or used such as village and house sites, etc, and small farms or land used for teitei, etc. This must have been so in order that the users and occupiers of land were not deprived of the same."

Mr Sahu Khan cited as example Nailaga or Votua Village in Ba which definitely could not have included land at Maururu, Veisaru or Koronubu which were many kilometres away from the land which was used or occupied by some chief or tribe.

He said all bare, vacant and unoccupied land could not have been included in the exemption provision referred above by any interpretation.

"Everyone must address the above issues first before embarking on any radical legislations such as the Qoliqoli Bill," Dr Sahu Khan said.

Lawyer Kitione Vuataki said native land was intact and had not been threatened in any way.

He said native land was protected under the Native Lands Act, Constitution and judiciary.

Mr Vuataki said reports in the media quoting him as saying native land was under threat, was misleading and sensationalised.

He said he did not agree with Mr Sahu Khan's presentation but it did not mean native land was not threatened.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

The fear of losing the land


I had a disturbing call from home yesterday.
My uncle and head of our tokatoka (clan) was surprised by a news item he heard broadcast on Thursday night.
That news item was about some concerns that Fijians who own native land stand to lose their land if a current move being orchestrated by a prominent Indo-Fijian lawyer based in Ba is allowed to go ahead.
It quoted Fijian lawyer Kitione Vuataki, who had raised the concerns after he intercepted a circulated letter by Dr Sahu Khan calling for the setting up of a three-member committee to review legislations covering native land in Fiji.
I told my uncle that the news he heard was true – there’s concern being showed by prominent indigenous lawyers and some landowners on the issue.
I also told him that all Fijians who own land must now stand up and raise their concern about such a move happening.
The risk of losing the very thing that we can fall back on and is part of our livelihood is a reality – now that the only body that can ever oppose that move has been suspended.
Vuataki had raised the issue with the media on Thursday in Suva.
He also raised the concern in line with the current suspension of the Great Council of Chiefs (GCC) – drawing a comparison to what happened way back in 1904. Back then Governor Everard Ferdinand Imthurn suspended the GCC for six years.
That gave him time to amend the Native Lands Act which resulted in Fijians losing 200,000 acres of land.
“The law at that time was for him to call the GCC which he did not do for six years in which he amended the Native Lands Act from which the Fijian people lost 200 thousand acres of land,” Vuataki revealed on Thursday.
Vuataki said the fact that there was a similar move being orchestrated now was very worrying.
“Really worrying when you think about the fact that the GCC is now suspended,” he added.
Vuataki and fellow Fijian lawyer Ratu Save Komaisavai have gone to court to try to stop such a move happening.
A copy of the paper presented to the Fiji Law Society by Dr Sahu Khan clearly stated his belief that Fijians should not be deemed to own 85 per cent to 90 per cent of the lands in Fiji, which have been classified as native land.
Khan argued in his paper that Clause 4 of the Deed of Cession provided: “That the absolute proprietorship of all lands not shown to be alienated so as to have become bona fide property of Europeans or other foreigners or not in the actual use or occupation of some chief or tribe or not actually required for the probably future support and maintenance of some chief or tribe shall be and hereby declared to be vested in Her Majesty, her heirs and successors.”
Khan argued that the only land which was not vested in the Crown are:
* lands as at 10th October 1874 not alienated to the Europeans or other foreigners;
* lands which were as at 10th October, 1874, not in the actual use or occupation of some chiefs or tribe; and
* lands actually required for the probable support and maintenance of some chiefs or tribe.
Khan’s argument goes on to say that actual use or occupation must mean those lands which literally occupied or used such as villages and house sites and the small farms or teitei.
He argues that such lands included Nailaga village or Votua village in Ba. But lands in Maururu, Veisaru or Koronubu, which are many kilometres away from the lands which were actually used or occupied are not included in this, saying that all lands that are bare and unoccupied could not be included in the exemption provision.
Khan then further stated that it was important that a determination is made on which lands in Fiji came within the exemptions referred to in Clause 4 of the Deed of Cession before one could even think of determining who shall fall or qualify for the ownership of lands in Fiji.
Khan also slammed the Qoliqoli Bill pushed through by the deposed SDL government, saying that the Bill was discriminatory against foreigners and only favoured Fijians.
Vuataki and co believe that unless something is done now to stop the move proposed by Khan and his buddies, Fijians will lose more than just their land.
Now, what my uncle was worked up about is the fact that our Tokatoka Kabe and Mataqali Dromudromu of Tuatua Village in Koro own a lot of land.
Our family land in Kabe extends from the beachfront right up to the Kuitarua Peak, where a Telecom Fiji station is currently located.
Our tokatoka is quite large in number and our forefathers had ensured that all my uncles and aunties had their share of the land while they were growing up.
The land is used manily for farming, except for Kabe, where we had lived while I was growing up.
Over the years we had been planning to divert the land into a tourism spot since we have a beautiful beachfront, lush forest and water sources readily available.
What my uncle was concerned about was the news he had heard.
The fact that we might lose that land did not go down well with him.
That news brought out the nationalist within him.
The fact that an Indo-Fijian lawyer is behind the move that could see a repetition of what happened between 1904 and 1911 got him worked up.
He said that Fijians have been very accommodating. On our island we’ve lived with a number of Indo-Fijian families.
We treat them as members of our community, we help them out when they need help and they in turn assist us when we need their assistance.
My uncle also stated the fact that in the past Indo-Fijian leaders have always been respectful of Fijians, and this has been reciprocated.
But he feels that time is changing and there are many “foreigners” now trying to determine our future for us.
He said that people should refer to the Bible and follow tales passed down over the years.
Fiji was for Fijians to rule and decide and India was for Indians to live in.
The fact that Indo-Fijians are now a major race in the country does not give them the right to decide anything about the land that we hold dear to our hearts, my uncle said.
I tried to calm him down, told him that the news was just that and nothing had been decided as yet.
I also told him that Momo Frank no doubt would be weighing his options, especially about the land issue, knowing full well how sentimental and emotional Fijians are about their land.
And I also urged him to get the people back home to pray about the issue and ask God for divine intervention.
I said that I would keep him on tab and update him if something comes up.
After that long conversation on the phone, I sat back and reflected on my uncle’s worried tone.
It then hit me on the head – Fijians are really left bare without the GCC to protect them.
Trends now slowly materialising show that surprises will be part of Fiji’s future.
Good or bad we will just have to wait and see.
There’s one thing I can testify to though!
Now, more than ever before, I am starting to really appreciate God’s gift of land to my family.


Thursday, May 24, 2007

Fijian Land Under Threat

Native land under threat: GCC lawyers 25-May-2007

THE lawyers representing the Great Council of Chiefs (GCC), Kitione Vuataki, and Savenaca Komaisavai, have alleged that there are moves to amend entrenched legislations affecting the ownership lands in Fiji.

The two yesterday said that prominent Ba lawyer, Doctor Shamsud Dean Sahu Khan, presented a paper to the Fiji Law Society two weeks ago calling for a special committee to be formed to thoroughly examine the legislation affecting lands in Fiji.

Vuataki said that with the council suspended by the interim regime “the detriment faced now by Fijians is that the current situation is a parallel analogy of the time of Governor Everard Ferdinand imthurn, who suspend the GCC for six years from 1904 to 1911.”

“The law that time was for him to call the GCC which he did not do for six years in which he amended the Native Lands Act from which the Fijian people lost 200 thousand acres of land,” Vuataki said.

“Right now there is a paper being circulated in the Fiji Law Society that the lands Fijians are entitled to are those lands their villages and their plantation are located while the rest of the land should go to the State.”

Vuataki said that calls for the amendment of the Native Land Act were coming at a time when the GCC is not present to defend the rights of the Fijian people. Efforts to get comments from Dr Shamsud Dean Sahu Khan proved futile yesterday.

“We are going to court because we don’t want to lose any more land like the 200 thousand acres with the suspension of the GCC,” Ratu Kitione said.

Meanwhile, two more chiefs have joined as plaintiffs in challenging the suspension of the council.

Ratu Epenisa Cakobau and Ratu Ratavo Lalabalavu have joined with the lawyers acting for the chiefs citing Interim Prime Minister Commodore Frank Bainimarama as a defendant in their amended motion.

The lawyers filed their amended legal papers in court yesterday with the hearing to be held on June 29.

The two lawyers are representing suspended GCC chairman, Tui Tavua, Ratu Ovini Bokini, and Nadroga paramount chief, Na Kalevu Ratu Sakiusa Makutu, who are seeking an injunction to stop the Interim Fijian Affairs Minister, Ratu Epeli Ganilau, from reviewing the GCC membership following the suspension of the august body.


Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Fijians Stading Up for GCC Against Illegal Fiji regime

Lawyers file more papers in GCC case - Thursday May 24, 2007

A class action law suit between Fiji’s chiefs and the interim government will be called for hearing on June 29 after more papers were filed in the High Court today.

Lautoka lawyer, Kitione Vuetaki who will represent sacked members of the Great Council of Chiefs says the filling of papers was necessary to allow the chiefs to meet without any interference.

He said that the interim government had no right to terminate the august body because they had no authority.

He also claimed to have obtained a copy of a proposed paper written by Ba lawyer, Doctor Shamshud Dean Sahu Khan, where he has proposed to the Fiji Law Society to appoint a three member committee to recommend to the government to change the land legislation to ensure that anyone can utilise the idle native land.

"We need to get this case off the ground because the indigenous Fijians are loosing out in with the ‘current leadership’.

"More than 200,000 acres of indigenous land will be lost due to the sacking of the GCC and there is no law to stop this because the interim government is having their own way."

He said the GCC will not be there to protect the people’s interest after the august body was suspended two months ago.

"Right now the chiefs cannot stand up to protect the interest and rights of the people after they were humiliated by the interim government."

"The protection of the land is at stake and we must do something to see that this is not lost," Vuetaki said.

He said that the Interim Fijian Affairs Minister, Ratu Epeli Ganilau had no right to terminate the chiefs because they were serving the people.

"It’s a disgrace that this has happened and this is the first time ever that a government has sacked members of the GCC."

Vuetaki will be representing Ratu Apenisa Cakobau, Ratu Ovini Bokini, Ratu Ratavo Lalabalavu and Ratu Sakiusa Makutu.

He also said that more chiefs will be joining soon.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Truth About Qoliqoli & Indigenous Claims Tribunal Bills

Qoliqoli Bill to be tabled in Parliament

Fiji’s Cabinet has approved the Qoliqoli (traditional fishing ground) Bill for tabling in Parliament.

In his submission, Minister for Fijians Affairs, Lands and Provincial Development, Ratu Naiqama Lalabalavu told Cabinet that the Bill marked the culmination of about 125 years of preparations and expectations by the Fijian chiefs and their tribes over their traditional customary qoliqoli rights.

"The Bill reconfirms the ownership of usage rights previously enjoyed by qoliqoli owners over their respective qoliqoli areas."

Ratu Naiqama said the principal objective of the legislation was to transfer to qoliqoli owners from the State, the proprietary ownership of their respective qoliqoli areas which are currently owned by the State. "The transfer will be by operation of law and not through ordinary conveyance.

A Cabinet statement said Ratu Naiqama explained that claims for compensation for past use of qoliqoli areas would be disallowed. "This is because currently all land that is to be transferred to the qoliqoli owners is owned by the State, and as such, the qoliqoli owners cannot claim for land that they do not currently own." Ratu Naiqama said that under the legislation, land within qoliqoli areas would be deemed to be native reserve and may only be de-reserved through declaration by the Minister upon the request of the qoliqoli owners.

A major feature of the Bill is the establishment of the Qoliqoli Commission through the reconstitution of the Native Fisheries Commission (NFC). "The Qoliqoli Commission will issue licences to undertake commercial fishing in any qoliqoli area, and will also appoint qoliqoli guardians to see that provisions of the Act are enforced in the qoliqoli areas. Ratu Naiqama said no commercial fishing licence issued for operation within qoliqoli waters would be issued without prior consultations with the Qoliqoli Commission which would insist on certain conditions. "No commercial operation can be undertaken within qoliqoli areas without prior approval of the NLTB after consultations with the Qoliqoli Commission and the qoliqoli owners."

He explained that in cases where commercial operation was approved, income from the operations would be paid into a trust fund for the benefit of qoliqoli owners. Ratu Naiqama emphasised that ownership rights being conferred do not include and are subject to: the right of public access to the foreshores; the right of passage recognised and guaranteed under international law; any legal interests, including leases and licences granted over such qoliqoli areas; and, the right to the use of the waters within qoliqoli boundaries.

"Fears that transferring the proprietary rights to qoliqoli owners might affect the free passages of boats/vessels in Fiji waters are ill-founded. "This is because firstly hardly any vessel covered by this protective principle needs passage over qoliqoli areas, and, secondly, because this right is especially preserved in this proposed legislation." The legislation will come into force when preparations of all subsidiary laws and resourcing requirements are completed.

Indigenous Claims Tribunal Bill goes to Parliament
www. Thursday August 03, 2006

The Indigenous Claims Tribunal (ICT) Bill that seeks to address long standing grievances of native landowners has been given the go ahead for tabling in Parliament.

Attorney General and Minister for Justice, Senator Qoriniasi Bale in his submission to Cabinet said native landowners claimed that part of their land had been acquired by early settlers through means which were fraudulent, dubious or unjust.

"These are the grievances which native landowners have requested successive administrations to address and resolve.

"With passage of time, other legal doctrines such as time bar and indefeasibility of title have made this problem increasingly difficult to resolve."

Senator Bale said the ICT Bill was, therefore, an enabling legislation to provide a firm legal foundation for Government’s core objective of providing a legal forum to which aggrieved claimants may refer their claims and grievances for formal enquiry and rulings on whether or not they were justified as a matter of fact. "Where such claims are established, and where so recommended by the Tribunal, then the claimants may under the process of negotiated settlements provided in the legislation, agree on a fair and equitable redress. "This will undoubtedly be a major consideration given that the time of the alleged wrong was more than 100 years ago. "If, after careful analysis, the original transaction is proven deficient, then a practical and holistic solution must be recommended by the Tribunal to address the claimant’s grievances, while at the same time not disturbing the indefeasible title to the current proprietor. "If the current title holder is interested in offering the property for sale voluntarily, then the claimant ought to be given the right of first refusal through a buy-back scheme assisted by Government based on sale on open market value." Senator Bale said that should compensation be the only redress available to a successful claimant, the usual practice which was also recognised in this legislation was that the party whose action/inaction was the cause of the original defect paid the compensation. "If it can be shown that the Government, for example, was at fault then convention dictates that it should pay accordingly. "The question of how this figure is arrived at and whether the amount is justifiable and can be met will be carefully reflected in subsidiary legislation mainly dealing with negotiated settlements between Government through the State Law Office and the claimants concerned." Senator Bale said currently, the NLTB was the main institution, by virtue of statute, that received and recorded the schedules of all claims. "However, given the inadequacy of the current legal provisions and structure to address the grievances already submitted to the NLTB, the Indigenous Claims Tribunal under the Bill is the ideal option."

Senator Bale said that although the Bill covers only land claims, it was cited as the Indigenous Claims Tribunal Bill because it was envisaged that the legislation would be used in future to include processes for addressing and removing indigenous grievances which have caused justifiable discontent and instability amongst Fijians for far too long. The Tribunal will be chaired by a retired Judge or a person qualified as a judge under the Constitution. Senator Bale said the Tribunal’s recommendations were not mandatory orders or directions such as those given by the Courts, but were solutions which were subject to amicable negotiations and settlements aimed at rectifying injustices of the past. He further said the Tribunal would also be empowered to assume powers, with necessary modifications, given to Commissions of Inquiries under the Commission of Inquires Act.

Monday, May 7, 2007

Fiji Deed of Cession to Great Britain


10TH OCTOBER, 1874

Note. - One original of the Deed of Cession was retained in Fiji, and until the late thirties of the present century was in the archives of the Colonial Government. It began to show signs of wear, however; and photostat facsimiles - from one of which the following text is taken - were made for local use, the original being placed in safe keeping.

The two interlineations, referred to in the Interpreter's certificate, initialled by him in the margin, and indicated below by asterisks, were as follows: (1) in Sir Hercules Robinson's title, the adjective honorable, used for the Order of Saint Michael and Saint George, was altered to distinguished; (2) the article the was transposed from a position before bona fide to that given in the text. The only other alterations were the correction of certain individual letters, and the deletion of the phrase and the laws, which had been duplicated in copying.

Instrument of Cession of the Islands of Fiji by Thakombau, styled Tui Viti and Vuni Valu, and by the other high Chiefs of the said islands to Her Most gracious Majesty Victoria, by the grace of God, of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland Queen, Defender of the Faith, &c &c &c:

Whereas divers of the subjects of Her Majesty the Queen of Great Britain and Ireland have from time to time settled in the Fijian group of islands and have acquired property or certain pecuniary interests therein; And Whereas the Fijian Chief Thakombau styled Tui Viti and Vuni Valu and the other high native chiefs of the said islands are desirious [sic] of securing the promotion of civilization and Christianity and of increasing trade and industry within the said islands; And Whereas it is obviously desirable, in the interests as well of the native as of the white population, that order and good government should be established therein; And Whereas the said Tui Viti and other high chiefs have conjointly and severally requested Her Majesty the Queen of Great Britain and Ireland aforesaid to undertake the government of the said islands henceforth; And Whereas in order to the establishment of British government within the said islands the said Tui Viti and other the several high chiefs thereof for themselves and their respective tribes have agreed to cede the possession of and the dominion and sovereignty over the whole of the said islands and over the inhabitants thereof and have requested Her said Majesty to accept such cession,- which cession the said Tui Viti and other high chiefs, relying upon the justice and generosity of Her said Majesty, have determined to tender unconditionally,- and which cession on the part of the said Tui Viti and other high chiefs is witnessed by their execution of these presents and by the formal surrender of the said territory to Her said Majesty; And Whereas His Excellency Sir Hercules George Robert Robinson, Knight Commander of the most distinguished* order of Saint Michael and Saint George, Governor Commander in Chief and Vice Admiral of The British Colony of New South Wales and its dependencies, and Governor of Norfolk Island, hath been authorised and deputed by Her said Majesty to accept on Her behalf the said Cession:

Now These Presents Witness,

1. That the possession of and full sovereignty and dominion over the whole of the group of islands in the South Pacific Ocean known as the Fijis (and lying between the parallels of latitude of fifteen degrees South and twenty two degrees South of the Equator and between the Meridians of longitude of one hundred and seventy seven degrees West and one hundred and seventy five degrees East of the meridian of Greenwich) and over the inhabitants thereof, together with the possession of and sovereignty over the waters adjacent thereto and of and over all ports harbours havens roadsteads rivers estuaries and other waters and all reefs and foreshores within or adjacent thereto, are hereby ceded to and accepted on behalf of Her said Majesty the Queen of Great Britain and Ireland her heirs and successors, to the intent that from this time forth the said islands and the waters reefs and other places as aforesaid lying within or adjacent thereto may be annexed to and be a possession and dependency of the British Crown.

2. That the form or constitution of government, the means of the maintenance thereof, and the laws* and regulations to be administered within the said islands shall be such as Her Majesty shall prescribe and determine.

3. That, pending the making by Her Majesty as aforesaid of some more permanent provision for the government of the said islands His Excellency Sir Hercules George Robert Robinson, in pursuance of the powers in him vested and with the consent and at the request of the said Tui Viti and other high Chiefs the ceding parties hereto, shall establish such temporary or provisional government as to him may seem meet.

4. That the absolute proprietorship of all lands not shown to be now alienated so as to have become bona fide the* property of Europeans or other foreigners or not now in the actual use or occupation of some Chief or tribe or not actually required for the probable future support and maintenance of some chief or tribe shall be and is hereby declared to be vested in Her said Majesty her heirs and successors.

5. That Her Majesty shall have power, whenever it shall be deemed necessary for public purposes, to take any lands upon payment to the proprietor of a reasonable sum by way of compensation for the deprivation thereof.

6. That all now existing public buildings houses and offices, all enclosures and other pieces or parcels of land now set apart or being used for public purposes, and all stores fittings and other articles now being used in connection with such purposes are hereby assigned transferred and made over to Her said Majesty.

7. That on behalf of Her Majesty His Excellency Sir Hercules George Robert Robinson promises (1.) that the rights and interests of the said Tui Viti and other high chiefs the ceding parties hereto shall be recognised so far as is and shall be consistent with British Sovereignty and Colonial form of government, (2.) that all questions of financial liabilities and engagements shall be carefully scrutinized and dealt with upon principles of justice and sound public policy, (3.) that all claims to title to land by whomsoever preferred and all claims to pensions or allowances whether on the part of the said Tui Viti and other high chiefs or of persons now holding office under them or any of them shall in due course be fully investigated and equitably adjusted.

In Witness whereof, the whole of the contents of this instrument of Cession having been, previously to the execution of the same, interpreted and explained to the ceding parties hereto by David Wilkinson Esquire, the interpreter nominated by the said Tui Viti and the other high chiefs and accepted as such interpreter by the said Sir Hercules George Robert Robinson, the respective parties hereto have hereunto set their hands and seals.

Done at Levuka this tenth day of October, in the year of Our Lord one thousand eight hundred and seventy four.

Cakobau R. Tui Viti and Vunivalu




Hercules Robinson


Tui Cakau


Ratu Epeli


Vakawalitabua Tui Bua






B. V. Tui Dreketi






Ratu Kini






I hereby certify that, prior to the execution of the above Instrument of Cession - which execution I do hereby attest - I fully and faithfully interpreted and explained to the ceding parties the whole of the contents of the said document, the interlineations appearing on line 33 of page 1 and on line 30 of page 2 having been first made, and that such contents were fully understood and assented to by the said ceding parties. Prior to the execution of the said instrument of Cession I wrote out an interpretation of the same in the Fijian language, which interpretation I read to the Tui Viti and other high chiefs the ceding parties, who one and all approved thereof. A copy of such interpretation is hereto annexed marked A. Dated this tenth day of October, A.D. 1874.


Chief Interpreter

The interpreter named in the foregoing instrument of Cession

Democracy: Which Model? - 8 May 2007 - By Suresh Prasad

There seems to be a mystifying euphoria among the vocal pro-democracy individuals within the NGO circles in direct proportion to the blatant international arm twisting and economic aid blackmail being applied to Fiji's Interim Government to hold national elections sooner than later as a step towards democracy. It's as though the next election would be a panacea and a hasty return to the much touted democracy, a remedy to widespread and entrenched corruption and ineffective racist governance. These individuals, who incidentally were conspicuously silent during the turmoil caused by the 1987 Rabuka coup and the siege and hostage taking of the entire Chaudhry government in 2000 by Speight, have yet to clearly articulate what brand of democracy is being flaunted this time around. Are we talking about a full and fair parliamentary democracy of one person-one vote or a restoration of the biased and divisive model of democracy that has spawned corruption and racism to the benefit of a handful of individuals behind the fa├žade of 'Fijian interest'. Perhaps those individuals and 'friendly' nations that are shouting the loudest for a quick pathway to democracy need to pause and examine what is their understanding of democracy in Fiji given that Mr Qarase and others labelled it a 'foreign bird' quite some time ago.
Is it the same model that has entrenched racial divides? And is it now is being brought back to perpetuate the politics of race? Or perhaps this time around we will have a brand of democracy that the 'big brother' nations have themselves strived over the years. It is ironic that the very vociferous pro-democracy advocates in Fiji, including the 'purists' within the legal fraternity and those shouting over the fence from our neighbouring nations, have not spouted their views on which model of democracy they contemplate imposing on Fiji. It is equally ironic that the same self-styled bastions of democracy, Australia, New Zealand and the United States, while on one hand want a quick restoration of this rather elusive democracy but on the other hand have adopted obstructionist positions, under the guise of smart sanctions, to block the very public service and statutory appointments that will propel Fiji towards true democracy in the fullness of time. What ought to be paramount for Fiji to survive and become self-reliant is to guarantee good governance based on fundamental rule of law and popular sovereignty. Any impetuous and ill-considered return to parliamentary democracy will continue to entrench Fiji as a subservient nation despite our gaining independence almost four decades ago.
We haven't, it seems, learned from other hasty returns to democracy after the previous coups. The apologists of the 'friendly' nations within the NGOs in Fiji are gearing up once again to appease the 'big brother' nations under the guise of getting the aid tap running again; not realising that this perpetual 'kere-kere' will forever condemn Fiji to the vicious cycle of foreign aid dependency and thus prevent it from becoming a truly self -sufficient sovereign nation. An effective democracy sits on the platform of grass-root consultations, if need be through the tried and tested process of national referendum. Should this not be the process that we should subscribe to in order to bring back a meaningful model of democracy in Fiji? The gullible foreign media it seems has fallen into the trap of hypocritical cry for freedom from a handful of NGO employees living the high life on the funds of equally gullible overseas donor governments. Shouldn't there be a referendum to seek the view of the silent majority who are after all are the ones who once again will endure the pain of this jaundiced democracy that is being shoved down Fiji's rather sore throat as if this so called to return to democracy will resolve and clean all that Bainimarama and his team have set out to do.
Or is there yet another agenda being followed by our big brother nations with the support of their well-paid stooges within the well-endowed NGO ranks of keeping Fiji racially polarised by bringing back the Qarase brand of democracy. Is there a hidden agenda to perpetually keep this fledging nation in a kind of economic subservience to be exploited at whim by our suddenly concerned neighbours? Does this agenda include creative and systematic destabilisation of Fiji to warrant foreign military intervention, perhaps by RAMSI, to bring back a semblance of hypocritical civil order and to restore democracy…the Qarase brand? A good example is the hastily drafted and adopted constitution which elevated the chiefs from their traditional advisory roles to matters pertaining to native welfare. Instead the Reeves Constitution burdened them with an ill-conceived responsibility of a constitutional role within the modern parliamentary apparatus. With all due respect to the traditional collective wisdom the chiefs might have, it was quite an inappropriate constitutional step to have dragged them into a national legislative role. Was the constitutional agenda then surreptitiously high-jacked by a select few racists with corrupt parallel agendas of their own or was it done to appease the chiefs and further entrench the politics of race, once again, to suit their own egotistical racist- personal agendas?
There seems to be a symbiotic link between individual wealth creation in Fiji albeit by corrupt means, and the politics of race. We can now only speculate and contemplate on the reasoning behind the haste with Fiji is being urged to embrace the previous model of divisive democracy at the insistence of other nations. The elevation of an unrepresentative and unelected group of chiefs to this national constitutional role is quite unique to Fiji, given that this elitist organisation, the Council of Chiefs, does not represent the other half of Fiji's population comprising significantly of Indo-Fijians and other minority races. It is debateable whether individually or collectively the chiefs, unrepresentative and unelected as they are, have the capacity to even represent effectively the native interests in the context of internationally accepted democratic practices and protocols. The chiefs have repeatedly found themselves lacking in an array of modern competencies and capacities to grapple with complex issues emanating out of democratic model of governance that was so hastily thrust upon us. It is farcical to even consider the notion by the architects of this constitution that a wide-ranging, full and fair consultation took place before its adoption by the parliament.
It is quite evident that the unscrupulous and corrupt Qarase government effectively utilised the lack of capacities within the chiefly ranks to push its own agenda under the guise of traditional consultative protocols. This dichotomy between the traditional chiefly role, responsibilities and popular political sovereignty needs to be resolved; possibly through a review of the constitution. I am not suggesting an abrogation of the constitution in its entirety but a meaningful and constructive review. Any constitutional document needs to be regularly reviewed, hence in modern democracies the appointment of various parliamentary review committees as a fairly standard process of updating and making it appropriately relevant to the ever changing needs of an evolving society. The constitutional weaknesses and oversights cannot be allowed to be exploited by charlatans to the detriment of the nation. The so-called road map to democracy, in its final form, must delineate not only existing political constraints to good governance but also provide appropriate remedies for their resolution. Post-1987 coups have corrupted the rule of law in Fiji and previous ill-considered returns to the same divisive brand of democracy haven't assisted Fiji in moving forward.
Fiji's vulnerability and exposure in this context is akin to a wrecked ship that needs to be refitted to sail once again the treacherous sea of democracy; particularly treacherous, if we allow our big brother nations control of the tiller. That's the commander's dilemma. He's to prove his government's collective mettle in the full glare of rather unhelpful big brother scrutiny and amidst equally unhelpful court challenges seeking an examination of the legality or otherwise of his December 5 takeover and subsequent actions by his government. I am sure the learned judges adjudicating on these matters will be familiar with this Latin saying by Publilius Syrus: "Honesta turpitude est pro causa bona" meaning for a 'good cause, wrongdoing is virtuous'. It also goes without saying that in attempting to tread a path of justice and fairness one must be able to distinguish between the venial and the venal - between ordinary wrong and outsized wrongdoings. And here I contend that laws have very little, if anything, to do with justice. Bainimarama has an amply qualified, experienced and committed team of eminent persons in his government. This group has decades of experience in effective political governance. Invariably, with such an august team to assist and support him, the commander, we hope, will exercise sound, objective and mature judgement in all matters pertaining to restoration of democracy in Fiji. Dr Prasad, a career academic, is engaged in community capacity building and regeneration projects both in Australia and overseas.