A Most Curious Letter: Ro Teimumu to "I Voreqe", Part IV

Today's posting concludes my analysis of Ro Teimumu's letter to the Prime Minister on the abolition of the Great Council of Chiefs. It examines the 14 statements listed in her paragraph P12 as "major decisions" made by the GCC which she claims have contributed to the improved welfare of indigenous Fijians — and other races.

Quite obviously, the GCC is not without its achievements in its 136 year history. My argument is not with the achievements but ...
  • with their bold and benevolent interpretation by Ro Teimumu; 
  • with her constant blurring of the contributions of individual chiefs (whose traditional roles are not disputed or threatened by Bainimarama) with  the contributions of the GCC (that has constantly obstructed his policies),
  •  and with her assumption that all chiefs and, by extension, the vast majority of ethnic Fijians agree with her.
The major decisions (MD) she lists include historic (Cession and Independence) and economic (NLTB, ALTA) acts, or actions of value only to indigenous Fijians and Rotumans (schooling, scholarships, business). 

The business initiatives are important because they helped create an ethnic Fijian middle class that also included commoners. The businesses established are major players in Fiji's economy.  But a disproportionate share of their benefits have accrued to chiefs and a small, urban elite. Little trickles down to the urban or rural grassroots. And these businesses contribute nothing directly to the welfare of other races.

Of equal importance, in laying claim to these initiatives, Ro Teimumu gives no credit to successive governments for their part in the developments, and no credit for the cash contributions by soli and head tax of ordinary ethnic Fijians. Without these inputs few of the developments would have occurred. It should also be noted that national economic initiatives such as the NLTB and ALTA were acts of government or government officers. The GCC merely approved them.


In MD1 Ro Teimumu infers that the GCC organised and approved the Deed of Cession in 1874.
Comment. This was an action of chiefs, primarily Cakobau and Bauan chiefs and Ma'afu, on the urgings of Layard and Thurston. The GCC was not formed until two years later, in 1876.

In MD2 Ro Teimumu gives credit to the GCC for the establishment in 1940 of the Native Land Trust Board under which "native land [was leased] for the use of all communities to develop the nation."
Comment. The NLTB was the outstanding monument to the work of Ratu Sukuna in his official government capacity. He traipsed the country to win vanua support and the support of individual chiefs. The GCC, as advisers to the colonial government on native affairs, merely expressed support for government's introduction of the NLTB Act.

The Act gave the mostly Indo-Fijian tenant farmers security, which helped national economic productivity, but the mataqali owners of the land received only what was left over after the NLTB had taken 25% of rental money, and a hierarchy of chiefs took most of what was left.

In MD3 she correctly says the GCC supported the ALTA legislation in 1976 but this again was a government initiative. 
Comment. The long-term leases provided for under the 1976 Agricultural Landlord and Tenants Act (ALTA) began to expire in the late 1990s, and some indigenous landowners, prompted by ethno-nationalists and wayward members of the NLTB staff, declined to renew the leases of their land to others.
As a result, landlords lost their income, thousands of displaced Indo-Fijians moved to urban centres to look for jobs, and 35% of the land was taken out of production. The continued impasse over ALTA adversely affecting the sugar industry continues to this day. 

And the GCC did nothing to encourage lease renewals.

In MD4 she says the GCC established the Fijian Development Board which helped educate Fijians and improve their rural housing.
Comment. True, but mainly scholarships and not housing. Little to no GCC money was involved  and most iTaukei benefited not at all.

In MD5 Ro Teimumu says the GCC established Queen Victoria School and Adi Cakobau School as training grounds for indigenous leaders.
Comment. Yes. The leaders again. QVS was established in 1906 Adi Cakobau in 1948. For many years they admitted only the children of chiefs. Many of today's iTaukei leaders are alumni.

In MD6 she says GCC supported Independence in 1971.
Comment. True. The GCC and its members in Senate were important parties to the ultimate agreement between Ratu Kamisese's Alliance Party and S M Koya's Federation party that led to Independence.

In MD7 she says the GCC established Fijian Holdings Ltd "as a vehicle to allow indigenous Fijians to penetrate the commercial sector and benefit from investor earnings."
Comment. FHL was established in 1984 in response to a call by the GCC. It now owns and is involved in property, merchant banking, Telecom, Fiji TV,  Fiji Sugar Corporation and manufacturing. Shareholders include the provincial councils, NLTB, Fiji Affairs, tikina, families, cooperatives and individuals. Former PM Qarase and his family are shareholders — and the means by which he obtained shares is before the courts.

MD8 states that the GCC created Yasana Holdings Ltd to support FHL in ensuring wealth for indigenous Fijians and Rotumans.
Comment. True, but this initiative also favoured some iTaukei more than others. 

MD9 states the GCC constructed the Bose Vakaturaga (Great Council Chiefs) Complex as the "emblem of the unique role of chiefs in bringing civilisation to Fiji."
Comment. Completed in 2008, the Complex was financed by a levy of $10 on all iTaukei and with contributions from Government. As for bringing civilization to Fiji, history shows that others were at least equally important. And this, again, was a contribution of individual chiefs, not the GCC.

MD10 states the GCC created the Fijian Trust Fund to "support Fijian matters and aspirations."

MD11 states the GCC established Ratu Sukuna Memorial School in 1958, with a one shilling levy on all indigenous Fijians, at a time  when only 28,000 attended primary schools and 439 secondary schools. Indo-Fijian school enrolments were hardly better. Education at that time was mainly available to the children of Europeans and Part-Europeans.

MD12 says the GCC supported the establishment of a scholarship fund for indigenous Fijians.
Comment.  Yes. And questions were often raised about how they were awarded. This fund has been replaced by a fund available to all citizens.

In MD13 Ro Teimumu says the GCC has supported government by relaying its policies to the indigenous population.
Comment. This was the other half of their mandate, the first being to advise governments on native affairs.  They did not, however, follow up on the implementation of these policies, and after the 2006 Coup no government policies were conveyed. Since 1987  the GCC often exceeded their brief in trying to exert political influence on government, and in influencing electoral and other political outcomes. The SVT and SDL were GCC-supported parties. There is some truth in the claims of their detractors that the GCC had almost become a "parallel government."

Finally, in MD14 Ro Teimumu claims the GCC supported amendments to the draft 1997 Constitution.
Comment. This is true but the amendments increased the importance of race and race-based parties by reducing the number of open seats and increasing the number of communal seats based on race.  (See P7 in Part II). The Reeves Commission recommended the progressive increase of open seats but in the 19 years between 1997 and 2006 no action was taken  by governments and there were no recommendations by the GCC to increase the number of open electorates,  or even to make the Fijian communal fairer to Western and urban iTaukei.

It is expected the 2014 national elections will be held under a system of proportional representation that gives no place to race. This will be no threat to iTaukei. Each of their votes will be of equal value. But it will threaten the dominance of those who benefited from some provinces having more than their fair share of seats in Parliament.

Comments

Anonymous said…
'whose traditional roles are not disputed or threatened by Bainimarama', YET, the GCC wasn't abolished either only months ago and who would have thought? It is very clear anyone who disagrees or criticises the regime will pay, even the regime suggests that.These are contsantly changing sands on the whim of a military regime and none of us appears to have any say, including you Croz.The difference is some us don't have any inclination to interpret and explain the actions of this regime that has no credibility or mandate to change anything. You can stick your 'realities', I have to live with it every day.
Phantom said…
The distinction between the Chiefly System and the GCC is central to the argument being made here. There have been concerns about the influence being wielded in the GCC by vested interests especially after 1987 - some have referred to this as the "politicization" of the GCC.

I commend Croz for raising these most pertinent issues on a subject that has been left untouched (and therefore, open to increasing exploitation by a handful of the hungry) because of the taboo that is supposed to surround it.

It is this very taboo that allows manipulation behind the scenes; and it is this that has given the GCC a bad name over time. How do we weed out the chaff from the body is the question. The alternative is to simply zap off the institution and that is what Bainimarama has done. Just rewards for bad outcomes for the country via commission as well as omission!

The good Ro Teimumu therefore, has a lot to answer for. Having said that, I love the jaba she is wearing in that photo - lagakali looks good on her even though it's a colour that belongs to another confederacy.

One last point, I don't think she was out of line when she addressed the PM as "Voreqe", she was merely using her rank; in the traditional hierarchy the Commodore is merely Voreqe to her. I'm sure he would not really have been offended by that.
Anonymous said…
Yes and exactly the same comments can be made about the army in Fiji. Taboo too?

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