A Most Curious Letter: Ro Teimumu to "I Voreqe", Part I
|Ro Teimumu Kepa|
Opinion by Crosbie Walsh
Prior to reading Ro Temumu's letter to the Prime Minister on the Great Council of Chiefs I scribbled some question to assist my analysis: What does she want? What are her claims? What did she not say that should have been said? What could she have said that might help favourable outcomes?
Briefly, she wants the Great Council of Chiefs restored with its previous powers. She claims the support of the GCC is essential for any viable changes, and for peace and harmony in Fiji. She makes a number of claims about the past contributions of the GCC. She makes no mention of any GCC shortcomings or need for reform. She offers no new ideas to produce favourable outcomes. And she makes this appeal as Fiji is about the consider a new constitution in which she could be involved and which conceivably could recommend the reinstatement of a modified GCC. Why then did she write this letter? And why now?
Her letter was addressed rather disrespectfully to "Voqere", and not the PM or Commodore Voqere Baininamarama, but I think it was really addressed to her supporters and the wider public. She thinks Bainimarama has made a "serious error" in abolishing the GCC.
She could be right. I previously argued the move was unnecessary and the future of the GCC should be left to the Constitution Assembly. But she also could have miscalculated the degree of support for an unchanged GCC. At least one prominent chief and a number of commoners have applauded its abolition. And by further distancing herself from Government, she has lost an important opportunity to influence events. Unless, of course, she wishes to see a different order of events. In which case her letter is a call for unrest, instability and a stalled Constitution dialogue process. It is her third anti-Government statement, one calling for UN intervention, in almost as many days.
She was, however, a little disingenuous in treating chiefs and the GCC as if they were the same which, of course, they are not. She wants people to believe Bainimarama has as good as abolished the chiefs, which is not so. Bainimarama is himself a chief and he has constantly acknowledged the important role chiefs play in modern Fiji. It is the politicing of the GCC that led first to its suspension and then abolition.
She claims many things for the GCC over the past 140 years but most should be credited to Fiji's governments and individual chiefs, pre and post Independence, . In most cases, the GCC merely endorsed the initiatives of others.
She speaks as if she is speaking for all iTaukei, failing to recognize that the nation is divided with many iTaukei supporting a Government comprised mainly of iTaukei. Chiefs and people are close but they are not the same. Many still do as the chief asks but a growing number are independent thinkers.
She speaks also as if she is the GCC, although it has not met for over two years, and, as noted, several prominent chiefs are on record supporting its reform or abolition. Many would agree it should not engage in national politics as it has done in recent years.
She speaks also as if the GCC belongs exclusively to its chiefly members, failing to acknowledge that it is a Government-sponsored and financed body with a significant number of government appointees.
In the absence of any suggestions for changes in the GCC, either in it membership or functions, one can only conclude it is a call to turn the clock back to the days when she was a Minister in Qarase's SDL government and the GCC was actively engaged in national politics.
The letter merely reinforces views she has previously expressed. It is certainly not a call for democracy, multi-culturalism or grassroots participation.
One might have thought there are more pressing matters to be concerned about, that affect all iTaukei and all other Fiji citizens, other than an unchanged role for the Great Council of Chiefs, whose actions and inactions, if we examine them clearly, have contributed to all of Fiji's coups.
Some will see it be disrespectful to say so, not just from a vulagi but from anyone in Fiji, but this is an arrogant, uncompromising letter written by someone who sees herself as someone born to rule. The letter is an important document because it shows us quite clearly how chiefs like Ro Teimumu see themselves, how they view commoner Fijians, how they see history and their contribution to modern Fiji, and why they will do all they can to obstruct changes make since 2006 and the forthcoming dialogues on constitutional and electoral reform. Thankfully, Fiji has chiefs who are more concerned about their people's welfare.
There can be little doubt that Ro Teimumu's letter it is an attempt to rally support against the Bainimarama government, but those who would follow her should read the letter carefully. There is nothing in the document for ordinary iTaukei, for other races, for democracy or equal citizenship. The letter is only concerned with the maintenance of chiefly power or, more specifically, the reinstatement of the powers of the Great Council of Chiefs.
I will support these claims in Parts II-IV of this article later in the week.
* Readers wishing to read the a copy of the original letter are referred to Coup4.5, FijiToday and Graham Davis's Grubsheet. I was unable to copy a clear version but in succeeding articles there are summaries of each paragraph.