Should the Constitutional Review Process be Looking at the Fijian (iTaukei) Administration?
Opinion by Crosbie Walsh
|A drua (ocean-going canoe)|
It may be compared to an outrigger to the main Government hull, comprised the Bose Levu Vakaturaga (Great Council of Chiefs), Bose ni Turaga (all chiefs), 14 Provincial Councils, and further down, Tikina (district) Councils, the Turaga-ni-koro and village (koro) councils.
The platform linking the hull and outrigger comprises the Ministry of iTaukei Affairs, the iTaukei Lands Trust Board, four Divisional Commissioners, and the government-appointed Roko Tui who generally serve as the CEO's of the 14 provincial councils. Provincial Councils are partly elected and partly appointed. Their most important member is usually the most senior traditional chief. Hence Tui Namosi, Tui Serua, Marama Roko Tui Dreketi (Rewa) who often chair the Council meetings.
Most Provincial Councils have business arms such as Yasana Holdings and Lomaiviti Holdings, funded mainly by provincial fundraising but often, in the past, by lump payments from government. The Councils also raise funds, to supplement government funding, with a levy, usually $10, on all adult males. Membership usually includes urban representatives thereby giving migrants to urban areas a say in their provinces of origin.
The island of Rotuma, some 500km north of Viti Levu, is administered by its own Council of Rotuma that comprises the traditional chief and two elected representatives from each of the island's seven districts.
In colonial days the role of the Great Council of Chiefs (GCC) was limited to advising government on native affairs. Since Independence, however, its role greatly increased and, under the 1997 Constitution no president or vice-president could be appointed without its approval. Since 1987 it has periodically openly engaged in national politics, adopting one party as its own, and instructed ethnic Fijians for which party they should vote.
Prior to its suspension and later abolition by the Bainimarama government, the GCC consisted of 55 members. Three each were nominated from the 14 provinces, three by the Council of Rotuma, and six by the Minister for Fijian affairs in consultation with the President. The Prime Minister, President and Vice-President were members, and 1987 coup leader Sitiveni Rabuka was a life member.
Fourteen members of the 32 members of Senate were appointed by the GCC, one by the Council of Rotuma, 9 by the Prime Minister and 8 by the Leader of the Opposition. It was unclear whether the two latter nominations were supposed to represent all parties in Parliament and at the time of the 2006 Coup the matter had been taken to Court. Nor was it clear whether the political appointees were independent or expected to toe a party line. But either way, Senate, as constituted, was merely an overlay of Parliament and seemed to add little to Fiji's good governance.
The opposition of Senate —or, more accurately, the opposition of some of its senior members— was instrumental in the overthrow of the Bavadra government, deposed by the 1987 Rabuka Coup, and the Chaudhry government, deposed by the Speight Coup of 2000. The Bainimarama coup of 2006 is the only coup they have actively opposed.
- With most itaukei now living in towns and away from their traditional villages (and with many never having visited their 'home' villages);
- With many chiefs now also living in towns;
- With itaukei women denied rights to land and little to no say in any of the Councils, unless they are chiefs;
- With the offspring of mixed marriages where, if the man is non-itaukei, the children are denied their part itaukei identity and its accompanying rights;
- With the gaps and overlaps inevitable to a "dual" system of governance;
- And, most importantly, with Indo-Fijians, Kailoma, Kai Solomoni, local Europeans and others not part of the system, and with government's intention to abolish institutional racism .....
Consideration could also be given to the status of iTaukei urban villages, all but one of which is located adjacent to cities and towns. The exception is Namoli which is administratively part of Lautoka City although it has never paid rates. The Local Government Act of 2006 released urban non-leased native land from paying rates, but villages may be charged for services such as rubbish collection. Elsewhere —and most obviously in Nadi, Lami and Tamavua—town boundaries "perform miraculous loops to exclude urban villages" (Walsh 2006).
A government policy paper published in 1992 referred to the urban villages as a "continuing enigma" and nothing has been done to change this situation over the past 20 years. A review of the relationship between the urban villages, municipalities and provincial councils is long overdue.
The same may be said of rural Indo-Fijian settlements that, although geographically located in the domain of provincial councils, are none of their responsibility.
None of this would necessarily involve the abolition or even major changes to itaukei structures. It is maninly a case of fine tuning. What is suggested is a re-examination of their roles, functions, memberships and relationships with the intention of making them more representative of today's demographics, more efficient, more conducive to the tasks of nation building, and just as sensitive to iTaukei concerns as they always have been.
The Constitution Commission, of course, is not mandated to do more than make recommendations to the Constitution Assembly, and the the Assembly will have insufficient time to do much more than put ticks or crosses against the recommendations. The "real" work will come afterwards with the government elected in 2014 left to set up other commissions and committees to consider in detail the adoption or modification of a mountain of Assembly recommendations.
I think a strong case can be made to the Commission for it to set one of it many balls in motion by recommending a review of iTaukei administration.
Walsh, Crosbie 2006: Fiji: and Encyclopaedic Atlas, USP, Suva. My immediate sources are sections on urbanization (p.84), iTaukei administration (pp.106-107); the parliamentary system (p.361); and municipal administration (p.384).