Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Fijian Affairs minister gathers more power

Fijian Affairs minister gathers more power - 7/1/2008

The Fijian Affairs Great Council of Chiefs) Regulations 2008 has conferred more powers on the Minister for Fijian Affairs.

This new regulation will create more crises for the high Fijian institution.

This will be in regard to the appointment of its membership.

According to section 3 (5) of the new regulations: "The Minister shall be the Chairperson of the Council."

Interim Prime Minister Commodore Voreqe Bainimarama who is also the Minister for Fijian Affairs will be the chairperson of the new look Great Council of Chiefs (GCC) or the Bose Levu Vakaturaga (BLV).that will sit next month.

Section 3 (1) (a), (b), (c) and (d) deal with membership.

This particular section provides overall power of appointment to the Minister for Fijian Affairs.

S3 (1) (b) states: "the 42 persons who are prescribed by regulations 2 (b) of the Composition Regulations to be members representing the chiefs of the 14 provinces shall comprise of 3 chiefs from each of the 14 provinces, each of whom shall have demonstrated exemplary leadership in Vanua and in the community at large, and shall be appointed by the Minister."

Section 6 deals with the disqualification of members.

"A person shall not be eligible to be appointed as a member of the Council under regulation (3) (1) (b), (c) or (d) if the person: -

(a) is an undischarged bankrupt;

(b) is under a sentence of imprisonment (by whatever named called);

(c) has, within the 10 years immediately proceeding his appointment -

(i) been released from prison after serving a term of imprisonment of more than six months, whether as an inmate or extra mural prisoner; or

(ii) completed serving/performing a community service order;

(d) has at any time during the immediately preceding 7 years, been,

(i) a member of the House of Representative (s); or

(ii) a Senator other than a Senator nominated from the Great Council of Chiefs;

(e) is the holder of a public office;

(f) has at any time during the immediately preceding 7 years has been -

(i) a candidate for election to the House of Representative; or

(ii) an office bearer of a political party;

(g) is a person of unsound mind within the meaning of the Mental Treatment Act (Cap 113); or

(h) is by virtue of his own act under any acknowledgement of allegiance, obedience or adherence to a power or State outside Fiji, including being a citizen or resident of another country.

The new regulations have given the power to the Minister for Fijian Affairs to discipline any member.

Delivering the keynote address at the 2008 Fiji Teachers Association (FTA) annual general meeting former Vice President Turaga na Roko Tui Bau, Ratu Joni Madraiwiwi said: "There is a feeling among many Fijians that their rights as indigenous peoples are under siege. Whether by the marginalisation of their elected representatives and preferred political party, the reversal of affirmative action programmes, arbitrary changes to Fijian institutions such as the Bose Levu Vakaturaga and the perceived targeting of the Fijian elite: "something is rotten in the state of Denmark," to quote from Shakespeare's Hamlet."

The new GCC regulations has taken away the power from the people to select their provincial representatives and conferred it on the Minister to totally have the overall power in the appointment of the new GCC members.

Is this fair?

We must be mindful of the fact that the United Nations General Assembly in its 61st session on 7th September 2007 adopted the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (the 'Declaration').

Article 18 of the Declaration concerns the right to participation in matters affecting the rights of indigenous people through representatives chosen by them.

The new GCC regulations have raised concerns on the power conferred to the Minister for Fijian Affairs in regard t the appointment of members.

The former Vice President raised his concern on the matter too.

He said at the FTA annual general meeting: "The Minister has aroused much debate by the changes he made.

He now appoints all 51 members of the Bose Levu Vakaturaga: the 42 provincial representatives (3 per province), the 3 representatives of the Rotuma Council and the 6 high chiefs appointed at large. The 42 provincial appointees must not only be title holders but are required to be installed as well. These amendments narrow the pool considerably from which provincial appointees can be drawn."

Citing an example he said: "The effect can readily be seen by taking Bau as an example. I would be eligible as an installed title holder, but my close cousins from the chiefly households of Mataiwelagi, Naisogolaca and Muaidule would not qualify for the three Tailevu seats. Neither would anyone else from the Yavusa Kubuna of Bau. Secondly, the requirement takes no account of the vanua throughout Fiji where there is no installation. A successor assumes the title as next in line or by validation from the king makers. These chiefs would not be eligible either."

The installed chiefs will be a very sensitive issue.

For Lau, the nominee from Cicia and Vanuabalavu, Turaga na Sau Mai Mualevu Ratu Josefa Basulu had not been installed.

However he claimed in accordance with the records at the Native Lands Commission (Veitarogi Vanua) the Sau Mai Mualevu is not installed but the next in line takes over when the reigning chiefs dies. So he had just taken over from the late Sau Mai Mualevu.

The nominee from Yasayasa Moala is also not an installed chief. The third nominee will be for the paramount chief of Lau, Turaga na Tui Nayau. Again, since the passing away of the late Turaga na Tui Nayau Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara, no installation had been made.

In the case of the chiefs who just took over the reign without any installation, will the new regulation allow for this?

Many other provinces will have the same problem.

It will be interesting to see the decision by the Minister on such a case.

The chair of the GCC Task Force team, Ratu Josefa Nawalowalo has warned the provinces that had not submitted the three names that the Minister for Fijian Affairs will make the appointments in accordance to the powers conferred on him from the new regulations.

Such appointments would surely be against the people's will.

The change in the regulations may be in breach of the recently adopted Indigenous Rights Declaration.

Ratu Joni said: "To be fair to the Minister, the structure of the Bose Levu Vakaturaga has always been determined by the government of the day. What is controversial is the circumstances in which these amendments were made and their arbitrary nature. They came almost ten months after the Bose Levu Vakaturaga was dissolved or suspended for ostensibly performing its constitutional role. It reversed the practice of several decades where the provincial councils have appointed nominees to the BLV.

Formerly, the Minister only appointed the six members of high chiefly rank. In the last decade, the Chair was appointed from within the BLV with the President, Vice President, Prime Minister and Minister being ex officio members. The Minister's actions do not appear to offend Article 18. But they are inconsistent with its spirit. There was no consultation with the provincial councils, the tikina councils or the constituent vanua. It behoved the Minister or his predecessor to have done so, given the regard with which the BLV is held. This followed some considerable time after the BLV's suspension for its apparent defiance of the interim regime's wishes by vetoing its nominee for Vice President. Moreover, the concentration of powers in the Minister with respect is inconsistent with the more flexible method of appointment that existed previously. It confers on one person despotic powers inconsistent with the more egalitarian nature of our times."

Ratu Nawalowalo has also said the six appointments to be made by the Minister would be at his own discretion and would not require to be in line with the criteria set by the new regulations.

Surely this is not fair as rules are made to be followed and the Minister should set the example.

It will be interesting to see the developments as we come close to the opening of the GCC meeting in August.

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