Cogito, ergo sum. I think, therefore I am. (René Descartes, mathematician and philosopher,1599-1650)

Saturday, 25 August 2012

Should the Constitutional Review Process be Looking at the Fijian (iTaukei) Administration?

Opinion by Crosbie Walsh

A drua (ocean-going canoe)
The itaukei administration is in several respects a government within a government that has a special role to serve the itaukei population.

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 .....
..... it could be time to re-examine these structures to avoid duplication and gaps in services, to ensure all Fijians are treated equally and fairly, and to make the Provincial Councils, at least, more inclusive.

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).


flyhalf said...

The i-Taukei will have to face the sad realities, that the parallel administration is in fact a 'state with a state'.

The parallel system of governance was designed during the colonial era and has been a stumbling block to the socioeconomic progress of i-Taukei towards the mainstream.

It also has created a dependency mentality among the grassroots, who have been paralyzed by shame and fear, to remain with their tribal enclaves and have become perpetually enslaved to the entitlement attitude among their Provincial chiefs.

The irony is, that most of these chiefs are enjoying the fruits and conveniences of modern living, at the expense of their subjects, who may never reach that socioeconomic status.
In a sense, the parallel governance system is the Stockholm syndrome, operating under the veneer of a cultural identity.

Ram Sami said...

I say remove these shackles.

However it really is a matter for the itaukei. If they want all these itaukei institutions, they should be prepared to fund them, and the funding should not come from the taxes of all of Fiji's people.

Cin Cin said...

...'•With itaukei women denied rights to land and little to no say in any of the Councils, unless they are chiefs;...'

Are you sure about that? The Fijian women I know enjoy all the rights and benefits that their native land provides and, heaven help us all, some of them are even registered in the VKB.

Anonymous said...

'None of this would necessarily involve the abolition or even major changes to itaukei structures. It is maninly a case of fine tuning.'
Scrap it!! It hasn't worked in the last 40 looooonnng years!That's a generation man. One set of rule for all.One for all - all for one!