THE GCC: THE WAY FORWARD
Much has been said about the pros and cons of Bainimarama’s action against the GCC. There is no question that the decision is undemocratic and un-chiefly but the onus is on the Fijians themselves to re-examine the role of chiefs in modern society. More importantly, where to from here? What are we going to do about it? And how the chiefs themselves can readjust their roles?
While I have nothing personal against the chiefly system I have reservations in their roles both pre and post-independence. In particular the recent trend of fighting over chiefly titles in what is obviously a grab for lease money. Like Rt Sukuna said years ago while advising the GCC (what irony); that the future of the chiefly system was in their (chiefs) hands and if they are not careful their role and place in Fijian society will become untenable.
It is worthwhile to reflect on how the chiefly system operated prior to colonisation. Academics like Durutalo believed that the system in Fiji (pre-colonial) operated under the big man system i.e. whoever was the strongest became chief. I believe this is supported by the fact that most chiefly families today were not originally from their domain. They either conquered (village or matanitu) their domain or were made chief by the people who went looking for one.
Early historians were impressed by the status of chiefs in Fijian society, the way people revered, and pampered them with respect, material goods etc. and in some sense they were treated like demigods. The question then is why?
Life where tribal warfare was a way of life, the chiefly system played a key role. A chief who was a warrior with the aura of wielding (mana/sau) some degree or spiritual powers would certainly be deified by the people to ensure their own safety and protection. So the system was built on reciprocity: the people pampering the chiefs and the chiefs guaranteeing their safety.
When Europeans arrived they were mostly from NZ where they had first-hand experience in colonisation. Apart from introducing firearms they also brought with them the concept of private property, trade, personal wealth/status and of course the ideal of inheritance. The structure of Fijian society then and the role of chiefs ensured that whites and chiefs became close associates for mutual benefits. That is why Cakobau attempted to proclaim himself King and formed a government which failed because whites refused to pay tax to a government controlled by so called black savages.
When the chiefs decided to cede Fiji to Britain it was not done for the Fijian people but for their own protection and benefits. Cakobau was caught between Maafu and the Americans and his closest advisers were Europeans from NZ, one of which later became Governor.
We all know how the colonial government utilised the chiefly system to keep the Fijian people under control. This was achieved by preferential education and employment plus the local taxation system in the form of goods/food (for chiefs) and the lease money distribution regime. It should be noted that in the advent of capitalism the chiefly system will need to wield power by some other means and that is by way of legal authority, education and money. Ironically if it was not for the VKB, which confirmed chiefly titles by inheritance, the big man system would basically, be ideal (the rich become chiefs).
In any event education and individual freedom spelt doom for the chiefly system and this is what Rt Sukuna (an Oxford graduate) foresaw. He tried everything to protect the chiefly system (his own peers and relatives) but he knew what was coming.
I am not condoning the actions of Bainimarama but I feel that Fijians as a people are now at the crossroad. They should now evaluate and re-examine the chiefly system and how they can adapt to current social norms. We need to realise that societies change and we cannot dwell on the past. We need to find ways to move forward and for the chiefs to identify their changing roles or how best they can preserve their status.
Democracy and individual rights are diametrically opposed to the GCC and Fijians might like to explore the possibility of electing members of the GCC (from amongst the chiefs of course).
Press Release – Fiji Club of New Zealand
Fiji Liberates Council of Chiefs
The Great Council of Chiefs a legacy of the British colonialism for the past 130 years has now been finally liberated by the Fijian Government last week.
“This liberation of the Great Council of Chiefs will enable the chiefs to spend more quality time with their families and our fellow Fijians as Fiji moves towards true democracy,” said Alton Shameem president of Fiji Club New Zealand (FCNZ).
“The Great Council of Chiefs is a product of our colonial past, and Fiji must now focus on a future in which all Fijians are represented on the same basis. “We must now look to our commonalities as citizens of the same nation, not to what separates us as individuals or groups,” the Prime Minister of Fiji Honorable Frank Bainimarama said. “By letting go of the infamous, devastating, elitist, divide and rule mantra and policy of their former world superpower colonial masters our fellow Fijians can now move forward together as one nation for the greater good, progress, peace, harmony and freedom of our country and all the peoples of Fiji, ” said Alton Shameem JP the New Zealander – native Fijian.
Call for UN to intervene in Fiji over indigenous rights
Posted at 02:39 on 16 March, 2012 UTC
The paramount chief of Fiji’s Rewa province is calling for the United Nations to intervene over what she describes as an erosion of democracy in her country.
Ro Teimumu Kepa says the decision by the interim prime minister to dissolve the Great Council of Chiefs, along with his assumption of responsibility for appointing chairs of provincial councils, contravene indigenous rights.
Ro Teimumu thinks there’ll be an acceleration of similar decisions, right down to village level, in the formulation of a new constitution.
“This is a case I believe that UN body should be looking into. It’s all part of the same thing that will determine their long life in their autocratic ways of dealing with people in Fiji.”
Ro Teimumu Kepa says the Great Council of Chiefs has stood all of Fiji’s people – not just the indigenous Fijians – in good stead.
She also says the 2006 coup has only lasted so long because the regime suspended the council shortly after it took power.
News Content © Radio New Zealand International PO Box 123, Wellington, New Zealand
Abilition of Fiji chiefs’ council UN contravention says solicitor
Posted at 02:03 on 15 March, 2012 UTC
A Fiji solicitor who has addressed the United Nations on the erosion of indigenous rights in his country says the abolition of the Great Council of Chiefs is a contravention of UN law.
The interim prime minister’s announcement yesterday of the Council’s disestablishment follows changes in 2008 to the regulations governing it, which was preceded by its suspension after the 2006 military coup.
Nikolau Nawaikula says under UN indigenous rights law, amending legislation to get rid of the GCC requires the consent of Fiji’s indigenous people.
“You can already see the motives behind that. The motive behind that is because when you bring in a new constitution, you want to have a consensus of the population. Now this government will not have the consensus of the population unless it has in place people who are sympathetic to it.”
Nikolau Nawaikula says he hopes the international community will react strongly to the Council’s abolition.
News Content © Radio New Zealand International PO Box 123, Wellington, New Zealand
The Great Council of Chiefs
For a PDF copy of the media release please visit this link.
Nukua’lofa, Tonga: Wednesday 14th March 2012
The Council for a Democratic Fiji (CDFiji) denounces in the strongest possible terms the decision by Fiji’s military dictatorship to virtually abolish the Great Council of Chiefs (GCC).
This is a direct assault on the culture and traditions of the indigenous people of Fiji. The GCC, and the traditional system of authority it represents, are an important part of the indigenous identity.
The sudden decision to get rid of the GCC is calculated to culturally disenfranchise the Fijians. It is further evidence of the appalling double standards of Fiji’s military regime. While it preaches to others about the needs for respect and fairness, it has failed to apply these principles to its treatment of Fiji’s indigenous community.
At a time when Fiji needs a calm environment for crucial constitutional discussions, the regime appears to have made a deliberate decision to raise tensions.
Although the announcement by the GCC was made by the head of the military government Commodore Voreqe Bainimarama, he was clearly acting in accordance with the wishes of his Attorney General Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum.
Mr Sayed-Khaiyum’s negative attitude to Fijian culture is expressed in an academic thesis he prepared when he was at university. This was supervised by Professor Yash Ghai, who was recently appointed by Commodore Bainimarama as chair of a new Constitutional Commission.
Mr Sayed-Khaiyum’s position of power has enabled him over the last five years to implement as government policy the criticism of Fijian tradition contained in his thesis.
Commodore Bainimarama and Mr Khaiyum between them have contemptuously tossed aside the legacy of leadership and national achievement left by some of the great chiefly leaders.
Their actions are also a direct attack on the Constitution of Fiji which is still in existence. The Constitution provides a special role for the GCC. It is not for two coup-makers and illegal usurpers to try to take away the power given to the GCC in Fiji’s supreme law. By attempting to do this they are committing treason.
What they have done is also a slap in the face for the European Union. The EU had asked that the independence of the GCC should be substantially maintained as one of the conditions for the full resumption of aid. Commodore Bainimarama and Mr Sayed-Khaiyum have completely ignored this in their ill-timed and arrogant move to put the GCC onto the trash heap of history.
Ratu Tevita Uluilakeba Mara
For the Council for a Democratic Fiji
Sad day for Fiji says chief
Taken from/By: Report by: Epeli Tukuwasa
Revoking the Great Council of Chiefs is an unwise decision says the Paramount Chief of Cakaudrove and former member of the GCC Ratu Naiqama Lalabalavu.
Ratu Naiqama says this is a sad day not only for i-Taukei, but for Fiji as a whole as one of its highly regarded institutions has been abrogated from its laws.
He says the Great Council of Chiefs has been in existence for more than a century and it even existed before Fiji was ceded to Great Britain.
He adds it was the GCC that planned and ceded Fiji.
Ratu Naiqama says the Government should reconsider its decision as the Council plays an integral role in the running of the country.
Attempts are now underway to get the governments comment.
Taken from/By: Report by: Edwin Nand
The Great Council of Chiefs has been revoked.
The iTaukei Affairs (Great Council of Chiefs) Revocation Regulation was gazetted on Friday.
In 2008 – the government introduced new regulations governing the GCC, eligibility of chiefs and the sole powers of the Minister to appoint members to the Council.
That regulation has now been repealed.
iTaukei Minister Commodore Voreqe Bainimarama has invoked his powers under Section 5 of the iTaukei Affairs Act.
It states the Minister decides the constitution of the GCC, its powers, duties and functions.
All related regulations and decrees have also been amended.
These include the iTaukei Land Trust Decree and the iTaukei Trust Fund Decree.
All references to the Great Council of Chiefs or the Bose Levu Vakaturaga have been removed and substituted with iTaukei Affairs Board.