Rodney Cole on the iTaukei Administration
The Past and Future of the iTaukei
By Rodney Cole
Rodney Cole has a life-long association with Fiji and the Pacific Islands. He was born in Suva, educated at Suva Boys' Grammar School and was later District Officer in Lau, Lomaiviti, Navua and Suva, and Secretary for Finance in the colonial government. He was from time to time a member of the Legislative and Executive Councils and Council of Ministers, Financial Adviser to the Fijian Affairs Board, member of numerous boards and committees including Chairman of the Fiji National Provident Fund and Alternate Governor for Fiji of the Asian Development Bank, and he held a Commission in the Fiji Military Forces.
The Chairman of the Constitution Commission, Profesor Ghai, raised the question of the iTaukei Administration in a comment printed in a recent issue of the Fiji Times : ‘Fiji had paid a high price for the dominance of communalism in the public and private lives of its people, adopting uncritically the colonial policy of "divide and rule".’ While the creation of an administration to meet the particular needs of Fiji’s indigenous population, following the act of cession, provided the basis for the so called “dual mandate” or “divide and rule” form of governance later adopted in the former colonial territories of Uganda and Nigeria, what had induced Fiji’s first governor, Sir Arthur Gordon, to rely on traditional leaders as front line administrators had a different genesis. Prior to taking office Gordon was informed that Fiji was to be regarded as ‘a Crown Colony of a rather severe type” implying limited financial support on the part of the British Government. Faced with an irascible European planter community demanding increasing access to land and labour, as well as a restless indigenous population still shocked by the high measles death toll and uncertainty over the implications of cession, Gordon was obliged to take policy initiatives which to this day cast a shadow in Fiji.
In brief Gordon introduced migrant labour from India, a land policy that disallowed in perpetuity the alienation of some 87% of the land mass, and established a second tier form of national governance to serve a specific community, all this with the intent of preserving the long term future of the native Fijian people, the iTaukei. The native population was to be administered on the basis of a scheme initiated by Sir Hercules Robinson, the governor of New South Wales who had accepted the cession of the country from the high chiefs of Fiji. The immediate intent was to ensure the preservation of law and order based on the continuing authority of the chiefs : the country was divided into four regions to each of which was appointed a European stipendiary magistrate, twelve provinces based on tribal boundaries governed by a Roko with yet a further subdivision into eighty districts (tikina) for which a Buli was responsible. Gordon refined Robinson’s initiative by establishing a native affairs board comprising himself, European advisers and chiefs to exercise overall control based on codified responsibilities that were intended to follow traditional practices. He introduced a form of taxation that encouraged the growing and sale of agricultural produce and inaugurated a Great Council of Chiefs which would discuss issues and make resolutions affecting the native population.
It is clear from Gordon’s own written records that he had no fixed ideas as to how long a separate Fijian administration might last but academic Ian Heath in his article Towards a Reassessment of Gordon in Fiji ( JPH Vol 9 pps 81-92) seems to have summed the matter realistically: ‘He (Gordon) believed that “the more the native polity is retained, native agency employed, and changes avoided until naturally and spontaneously called for”, the less likely was the Fijian to “perish from off the face of the earth” He undoubtedly felt that the integration of native society would be upset by imposed change and sought to avoid this consequence. What he failed to understand was that his system was too easily institutionalized, and change therefore became impossible or at least difficult to achieve.’
As with all bureaucratic systems time exerts pressure for change and so it has been with the system of administration introduced originally to protect and support the future of Fiji’s indigenous population. Here is not the place to delve into the precise nature nor the reasons for change but simply to trace the evolution of a particular system of governance over 135 years. Change was inevitable and is outlined in the following paragraphs.
- The administrative structure developed by Gordon was followed faithfully by his successor as governor, one time Colonial Secretary Sir John Thurston but with the latter’s death, the departure of committed senior officials and the lack of competent chiefs to fill the posts of Roko, a decision was made in 1915 to involve more closely in native affairs, officials of the District Administration. The post of Secretary for Native Affairs was abolished and its functions transferred to the Colonial Secretary from 1921 to 1925.
- In 1937 a committee chaired by Colonial Secretary Juxton Barton led, inter alia, to structural changes in the Fijian administration including the down grading of the post of Secretary to Adviser on Native Affairs within the Colonial Secretary’s Office while Roko were to become responsible to District Commissioners.
- Partly as a consequence of World War 11, coupled with encouragement from the Department of Agriculture for replacement of subsistence agriculture by intensive small-holder development, it seemed by the 1940’s that the Fijian Administration was to become a thing of the past. But this was not to be as a result of the efforts of a high chief of Bau, the Tui Lau, Ratu Sir Lala Sukuna aided and abetted by the governor of the time Sir Philip Mitchell.
- In 1944, in his role of Advisor on Native Affairs, Ratu Sukuna introduced a Bill in the Legislative Council which had the effect of revitalising the Fijian system of governance. Aside from the restructuring of the Fijian Administration Ratu Sukuna made it clear that ‘The purpose of this Bill is to train Chiefs and the people in orderly, sound and progressive local government better to fit them eventually for the give and take of democratic institutions.’
- The post of Secretary for Fijian Affairs was re-established with a seat on the Executive Council, a Fijian Affairs Board (FAB) made up of Members of the Legislative Council together with Financial and Legal Advisers, had general oversight of matters relating to the Fijian people. A Central Fijian Treasury became responsible for provincial finances, to improve administrative efficiency the number of provinces was reduced from nineteen to fourteen, where practical tikina were amalgamated. Apart from District Commissioners the District Administration was no longer directly involved other than with some magisterial duties and to act as inspectors of accounts. The prime aims of these initiatives were to strengthen the relationship between the individual and the land, and improve the material conditions of village life.
- In the 1950’s, following the death of Ratu Sukuna, it became obvious that the Fijian Administration was not achieving the hoped for results. Professor Oscar Spate of the Australian National University was invited in 1959 ‘To consider how far the Fijians’ social organisation may be a limiting factor in their economic activity, and suggest in what ways changes in that organization might be desirable’. While Spate made a number of recommendations relating to his terms of reference that were endorsed by the FAB, and implemented later, he avoided any direct criticism of the Fijian Administration. However he was obviously seriously concerned at its lack of dynamism and in a confidential essay to the Colonial Office, published in the Journal of Pacific History in 1990, expressed concern over the unwillingness of the Administration ‘to allow anyone else to help the Fijians, while at the same time crying out for help from other agencies’.
- A Commission of Enquiry into the Natural Resources and Population Trends of Fiji (the Burns Commission ) was less diplomatic in its 1960 Report. On the matter of the economic development of the Fijians it observed ‘the policy of the Fijian Administration (which) preserves the communal organization of the Fijian people and retards their progress.’ And later ‘Where Local Government is set up in any area the Fijian Administration should cease to operate.’ (Recommendation 28).
- Following a meeting of the Great Council of Chiefs in 1962 a committee was set up and made recommendations that were eventually implemented. Among other things this resulted in the democratic election of provincial councilors, the abandonment of generally applied Fijian Regulations to be replaced by regulations made by provincial councils, the abandonment of tikina councils and Fijian courts. The post of Buli ceased to exist.
- By 1984 the situation regarding services offered at the village level by both province and tikina had further deteriorated to the extent that the Great Council of Chiefs recommended an independent report ‘To Review present arrangements pertaining to the functioning of the Provincial Administration’. The outcome was the Cole Report of 1984 which recommended, among other matters reversion to the old tikina boundaries, revival of the Tikina Council, remunerated employment of turaga ni koro (village managers) and the setting up of a tikina fund. It was agreed that such recommendations as were adopted should be carefully implemented, a serious omission in the case the previous review.
- Further reviews of the Fijian Administration were carried out in 2001 and 2006 : the outcome of these reviews are unclear.
To anyone concerned for the future well-being of the iTaukei, particularly those who live in the rural economy, it may seem that despite well meaning efforts there still remains a need to determine on the proper role and place of the Fijian Administration within the body politic of Fiji, or indeed whether it still has a role in safeguarding and promoting the needs and interests of the people it was established to serve. Is this a matter with which the present Constitution Commission should concern itself? I would venture to suggest ‘no’ given the many complex issues the Commission must confront. Should the present government take a bold stand as it did with Great Council of Chiefs, again I suggest ‘no’ as to unilaterally abandon the present arrangements would be untenable. In the course of preparing the Cole Report members of the team met with just on 3000 people representing 64 tikina cokovata. It was confidently expected that the outcome of this degree of consultation reflected the needs and aspirations of village communities. Perhaps the time is approaching to again canvass the rural community on the broader issue of whether the needs of iTaukei village dwellers are best served by a racially specific form of administration or whether a form of local government that catered for the needs of all races in rural areas could offer greater social and economic benefits and better serve the national interest. Without doubt such a review be a formidable task given the essentially different way of life of the two major rural communities, a task that would require long and rational consultation so that the outcome, effectively implemented, would ensure long term benefit for all citizens of Fiji but most importantly those living in the rural areas. .