Sunday, October 18, 2015

I'Taukei History

OPINION: Cleaning Up Our History – A Way Forward For ITaukei

OPINION: Cleaning Up Our history – A Way Forward For iTaukei
October 10
Mosese Bulitavu is a lawyer and a SODELPA MP
The abolishment of the Great Council of Chiefs has become a subject of political debate. Whilst the Bainimarama Government is firm that the Great Council of Chiefs was politicised, on the contrary Indigenous rights groups claim that native legislations which were entrenched under the 1997 Constitution are no longer protected.
Given the differing views the writer is of the idea that iTaukei people need to revitalise their history and transmit to the future generations the correct systems and identity that makes iTaukei people unique as a tribal unit.
The writer is of the view that indigenous rights must not be used as the reason to restore the Great Council of Chiefs by advocating the group rights that make tribes fall under the Confederation of KubunaBurebasaga and Tovata which recognizes the Vunivalu kei Bau as the supreme chief of the iTaukei people because of the following recorded evidence:
  1. Colonel W.J. Smythe’s report presented to the British parliament in 1862 confirming that Cakobau did not have the authority to cede the Fiji Islands after having meetings with Salabogi and nine other chiefs of Nakorotubu.
  2. G.V. Maxwell the Commissioner of the Native Land Commission, recorded on Legislative Council Paper No.27 of 1915 to the Colonial Secretary stated that:
“The conspiracies and perjury (lying under oath/false swearing) that stand revealed from time to time is simply appalling…”
  1. The exclusion of the Ratu Mai Verata to be a party to the signing of the Deed of Cession in 1874 supported by the statement given under oath by Ratu Penioni Ravoka, the Ratu Mai Verata dated 21st April 1915 at the Maxwell Commission held at Bau which is clearly recorded at the iTaukei Land Commission.
  2. Tukutuku Raraba ni Yavusa Kubuna, Bau (sworn statement) by Ratu Isoa Natuituba the representative of the Vunivalu kei Bau dated 21st April 1915 at the Maxwell Commission held at Bau recorded at the iTaukei Land Commission confirms that the Vunivalu kei Bau a “Kai Dewala” are descendants of Dauwala the fifth child of Maseinawa of Verata.
  3. The statement given under oath by by Ratu mai Verata Ratu Penioni Ravoka dated 21st April 1915 before the Maxwell Commission at Bau recorded at the iTaukei Land Commission established that Verata was not conquered by Bau in any war nor Verata was part of the Matanitu ko Bau and he stated that Verata was an independentvanua. During the proceedings Ratu Savenaca Seniloli of Bau in response to Ratu Penioni Ravoka’s statement could not provide any evidence that Bau conquered Verata in war nor did he give any evidence to prove that Verata was not an independent vanua and neither did he prove that Verata came under the Matanitu ko Bau.
6.Evidence recorded within the iTaukei Native Land Commission from Nayau and Ono-i-Lau proves that Banuve the father of Ratu Tanoa Visawaqa (father of Ratu Cakobau) was not the son of Nadurocoko. The evidence suggests that Banuve was the son of Niumataiwalu of Yavusa Vuanirewa, Lau with Adi Davila of Nairai while Nadurucoko was away in Vuna, Taveuni. This is why Nadurucoko sent a tabua to Ono-i-Lau for the murder of Niumataiwalu.
Therefore, Banuve’s descendants through his son Vuibureta who was the father of Ratu Mara Kapaiwai who begat Ratu Joni Madraiwiwi I who begat Ratu Sir Lala Sukuna, Adi Temumu Vuikaba, Ratu Jale Vuiyasawa, Adi Kacaraini Loaloakubou, Adi Salote Mokoiwaqa and Ratu Dovi (father of Ratu Joni Madraiwiwi II current Roko Tui Bau) are of Yavusa Vuanirewa and not of Vusaratu, Yavusa Kubuna. Similarly, Banuve’s descendants through his son Ratu Tanoa Visawaqa who was the father of Ratu Seru Cakobau who begat Ratu Josefa Celua who begat Ratu Popi Epeli Seniloli (the father of Ratu Sir George K. Cakobau, the late Vunivalu kei Bau) are of Yavusa Vuanirewa and not of Mataqali Tuikaba, Tokatoka Vunivalu, Yavusa Kubuna.
  1. The influence of Ratu Savenaca Seniloli of Mataqali Tuikaba an assessor at the Maxwell Commission held at Bau, was evident when Nadurucoko’s elder brother Raivalita’s descendants were labelled (unknown). Later, the fifth descendant of Raivalita, Kuliniasi Malani was registered in Mataqali Burelevu (Navakawaluwalu), Tokatoka 935, Nabukadra, Nakorotubu, Ra in 1918. Evidence recorded at the iTaukei Land Commission suggests that Ratu Seniloli and the representatives of Mataqali Burelevu and Mataqali Navokavoka’s carefully prearranged statements to suppress inconvenient truths used by Ratu Seniloli a member the Maxwell Commission to fabricate palpable untruths to conceal Kuliniasi Malani as the descendant of Raivalita, the elder lineage of the Vunivalu kei Bau. The statements recorded showed that the greater part of the evidence given by Yavusa Burelevu was fabricated because it contradicted the evidences under oath by Kinitioti Nauluna of the Yavusa Sau, Nayavuira. The result of this conspiracy caused the death of Ratu Seniloli when he was bitten to death by an army of rats the same night. When Boyd another member of the Maxwell Commission continued the proceedings after the death of Ratu Seniloli, Kinitioti Nauluna gave on oath of a family tree to displace the position of Mataqali Navokavoka as previously endorsed by Ratu Seniloli.
The evidence recorded proved that Dewalarua was the son of Salabogi and Salabogi was the son of Nabukavou and Nabukavou was the son of Nainimatabua and Nainimatabua was the son of Naucabalavu. Naucabalavu was the son of Raivalita, the elder brother of Nadurucoko. Ratu Savenaca Seniloli’s conspiracy with Mataqali Navokavoka recorded that Meli Salabogi was the son of Josua Mara and Josua Mara was the son of Dewalarua and Dewalarua was the son of Nabukavou. Evidence from Kinitioti Nauluna of Yavusa Sau, Nayavuira, Vilikesa Vatuwaliwali of Yavusa Naqeledamu (Vusaratu) and Alipate Gonerogo of Yavusa Dewala, at the NLC hearing at Nagigi, Nasavusavu in 1928 as an evidence under oath state that Meli Salabogi of Mataqali Navokavoka is the son of Josua Mara and Josua Mara’s father is Dewalarua the son of Ravulo Nauluna and not Dewalarua the son of Salabogi. The evidence confirmed that Meli Salabogi of Mataqali Navokavoka is a descendant of Nataka and not a descendant of Nabukavou. Nataka is the father of Ravulo Nauluna. Kuliniasi Malani’s death certificate proved that his father was Dewalarua the son of Salabogi. Salabogi spelt Salabogee in Colonel W.J. Smythe’s report was one of the chiefs of Nakorotubu present at the 1859 discussions with fellow chiefs Nacamavuto, Daunibau and Ratu Isikeli Komaisavai on Cakobau’s first offer for cession. Despite, the conspiracy to label the descendants of Raivalita (unknown) by NLC hearing of 1915, on September 18, 1959, during the installation of the last Vunivalu of Bau, Kuliniasi Roko Malani II of Nabukadra, Ra grandson of Kuniniasi Malani (who was concealed by Ratu Seniloli in 1918) traditionally endorsed the installation of Ratu George Cakobau as the Vunivalu of Bau and escorted Ratu George Cakobau to the Roko Tui Bau after they had spent the previous night at the Vatanitawake before the ceremony.
  1. The Ratu Mai Verata in1931 at the Naimasimasi NLC hearing questioned the Ratu Sukuna Commission on the title of Tui Viti and despite the evidences recorded by the G.V. Maxwell Commission 1915 in Bau, Ratu Sukuna deliberately concealed the Ratu Mai Verata and recorded Mataqali Naisanokonoko under the tribal name Yavusa ko Vunivalu (Verata) and introduced a iTokatoka Natarakeibau which did not reflect the Yavusa Ratu tribe identity.
The fabricated palpable untruths to improve the position of Bau over Verata by recording a Yavusa ko Vunivalu (Verata) on 7/7/1931surrendering the Ratu Mai Verata by a stroke of a pen in classifying Mataqali Naisanokonoko to an unknown Yavusa ko Vunivalu (Verata) to be brought under the Tokatoka Vunivalu of Mataqali Tuikaba, Yavusa ko Kubuna which was recorded on 3/7/1931.
The Verata records were entered four days after the Bau record was finalised proves Bau’s determination to reduce the power of Verata in the politics of Fiji by bringing the Tikina of Verata under the Yasana of Tailevu which the Vunivalu kei Bau was the supreme chief of Kubuna. This is where the Yavusa Ratu tribal identity was completely removed by Ratu Sukuna so that the confederacy system within the Great Council of Chiefs will always uphold and protect the supremacy of the Vunivalu kei Bau over the Ratu Mai Verata.
ITaukei people need to remove the culture of corruption and clean up the existing traditional systems by correcting that which will transmit to the future generations their true history that connects every tribe in Fiji as part of an ancestral unit that first settled in the Fiji Islands. It is no doubt that the confederacy system supports the Matanitu ko Bau’s version of iTaukei history while the tribal system will provide all the communal units of the yavusa classificatory an identity and right to settle the various parts of the Fiji Islands as a representative of the Yavusa Ratu, Verata.
Even the Roko Tui Dreketi a descendant of Romelasiga was a representative of the Yavusa Ratu in Burebasaga and the Tui Cakau a descendant of Ralulu through Rokevu was a representative of the Yavusa Ratu in Lalagavesi, Cakaudrove. The ‘kalou vu’, spirit god of Bau ,Vueti, whose yavu is the Vatanitawake was given the title of Roko Tui Bau by Rokomautu after the Nakauvadra war. Vueti migrated to Kubuna from Verata and blessed by Rokomautu to represent the Yavusa Ratu in Kubuna, because he was a vasu of Verata and cannot become the Ratu Mai Verata.
Vueti the Roko Tui Bau was the paramount chief of the Yavusa Kubuna, which is Bau today.
All the iTukutuku Raraba of the tribes in Vanua Levu recorded at the iTaukei Lands Commission recognises that their ‘Vu’ (first ancestor) migrated from Verata.
Their traditional role was allocated according to the Verata tribal system of Turaga, Sauturaga, Matanivanua, Gonedau, Mataisau, Bati and Bete, their tribal identity linked them to their Verata yavutu which resembles their ‘kau, manumanu, cavuti, vakacaucauniravu’.
The tradition, customs and ownership rights of iTaukei land are based on the Verata communalism which includes a tax system of i sevu and through tributes sent from as far as Udu Point in Vanualevu following the volivoli suluka tributary network and collection points at Labasa, Wailevu, Savusavu and Navatu, Natewa bay to be taken to the Ratu Mai Verata.
The tribute custom was to thank the Ratu Mai Verata for his blessings that they have become fruitful in the land that they have settled through the Verata colonisation.
Bau comprises five groups of people; the first group came with Vueti, the Roko Tui Bau, includes the Vusaratu and Vusaradave. Vueti has no living descendant today which also means that the current head of the Vusaratu clan in Bau are not direct descendants of Vueti as the title of Roko Tui Bau is survived by a descendant of Banuve through Vuibureta. The second group of people in Bau is the Kawa ni Vunivalu, through Dauwala a “Kai Dewala” came to Bau when Malodali a Navatu chief of Cakaudrove upon the instructions of Nacamavuto the Gonesau of Kavula brought Nailatikau Nabuinivuaka the son of Nadurucoko of Navakawaluwalu, Nabukadra, Ra to seek asylum with the Roko Tui Bau. Nabuinivuaka had murdered his brother Dranibaka and had fled to his step brother   of theYavusa Ratu , Nacamavuto to hide and Nacamavuto decided to send Nabuinivuaka to the Yavusa Ratu outpost, in Kubuna under the Roko Tui Bau to protect Nabuinivuaka from theDewala people who wanted to kill him because of what he did to his brother.
The third group of people in Bau are descendants of Tuivanuakula through Niumataivalu who was the father of Banuve. Niumataiwalu’s elder son Rasolo was the fourth grandfather of Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara. The fourth group of people had migrated to Bau through Kaba, led by the Tuinitoga and today make up various chiefly domes in the Tikina of Bau are descendants of Tuivanuakula through Ratu Seru. The fifth group of people in Bau is the clan of Lasakau “Bai kei Bau” who were the traditional seafarers and warriors of the Vunivalu.
The whole migration history of the iTaukei people cannot be captured by the Bauan confederacy system within the Great Council of Chiefs.
The confederacy system does not have a history of vanua colonisation; it does not have an original tribal system and identity because the Yavusa ko Kubuna was supposed to be an outpost of the Yavusa Ratu in Bau and was never intended to become a Matanitu ko Bauwith its head as the supreme chief of the Kubuna Confederacy and to be Tui Viti to supersede Verata.
Tui Viti title
The title of the Tui Viti was first proclaimed by Ratu Tanoa Visawaqa and his son Ratu Cakobau through sagacious political marriage brought Burebasaga and Tovata under theVunivalu kei Bau and styled himself as Tui Viti. This was discovered by Colonel W.J.Smythe and after consultations around Fiji, concluded that Cakobau did not have the authority to cede Fiji because his tribe, Yavusa ko Kubuna, comes under the Ratu Mai Verata. Salabogi the supreme chief of Nakorotubu the descendant of Raivalita elder brother of Nadurucoko with the Yavusa Ratu chief Nacamavuto, Daunibau and Ratu Isikeli Tabakaucoro the Roko Tui Viwa agreed that they were giving military support for Bau, with the deployment of theVuakaloa to the war in Kedekede, Lakeba, Lau and a war in Vureyagi in Cakaudrove on the orders of the Government set up at Navukivakawalu (Meeting house for the Yavusa Ratu and the Yavusa Deawala) which had the mandate of the Ratu Mai Verata.
They never recognised Bau as a matanitu but as members of the Yavusa Ratu and Yavusa Dewala under the Matanitu ko Verata.
Given the compromised tribal identity of the iTaukei people based on a culture to conceal truths and the culture of silence created by the chiefly system evolved over the years.
It also became the belief within the Great Council of Chiefs which prevented the truth to emerge. It is time for Fijians to rediscover the truth of their twisted history.
The Great Council of Chiefs should not be restored because the chiefly system is flawed.
The culture in which the chiefly system operates is politicised by the interest of the descendants of the chiefs in 1874, who use the “by convention rule” to decide matters, for example the President of the Republic of Fiji rotates among the Confederacies of Kubuna, Burebasaga and Tovata.
The convention will always reflect an element of inequality even if one claims it’s the traditional way to do things.
In order to remove the old ways of doing things, the Bainimarama Government needs to sanction a special commission to investigate the breach of tribal rights surrounding the signing of the Deed of Cession 1874 and to realign the tribal history recorded at the iTaukeiLand Commission to enable iTaukei people to recognise their rightful indigenous community in accordance with the preamble of the 2013 Constitution, their ownership of iTaukei lands by Yavusa, Mataqali or iTokatoka.
Their unique culture, customs, traditions and language must reflect their Verata ancient heritage and not an ancient heritage created by the British colonial legacy to protect the supremacy of Bau.
To do this will truly reflect the spirit of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of the Indigenous People (2007) and liberate a race that suffers from a culture of treachery, deception and corruption.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

PM's Fiji Day Address in Sydney

Honourable J.V. Bainimarama, CF(Mil),OSt.J, MSD, jssc, psc

Prime Minister of Fiji and Minister for iTaukei Affairs and Sugar Industry


Liverpool                                     Sat 17 Oct.           
The Honourable Premier of New South Wales,
The Honourable Deputy Opposition Leader,
Your Worship, the Mayor of Liverpool,
Distinguished Guests,
My Fellow Fijians and friends of Fiji,

Bula Vinaka and a Happy Fiji Day celebration to you all!

I’m pleased and proud to join you all here in the true heart of Sydney – the Greater West – to celebrate the national day of our island home. Among so many of the 50,000 Fijians in Australia who make up the biggest Fijian diaspora in the world. I’m especially delighted to be joined by the Premier of New South Wales, Mike Baird, and other elected representatives of the Australian people to help us mark the 45th anniversary of Fiji’s Independence. And I ask you all to give them all a big Fijian welcome.

I want to start in the customary way by acknowledging the traditional owners of the land on which we gather and pay respects to their elders, past and present. The Darug, Gandangara and Tharawal people. As I said in Manly yesterday we recognise their struggle and the injustice of their dispossession – something our own indigenous people were fortunate to not experience. But there is also no doubt about the special nature of the relationship between Fijians and Australians of every background. And that is also something worth celebratingtoday.

I also want to start by thanking the members of the Fijian community for their traditional welcome. And for reminding us yet again of the strength of our traditions and why they will always remain at the centre of our national life. Vinaka Vakalevu.

Friends, this is a great occasion – a gathering of the Fijian tribe in Australia – the Fijian family. Because I always say that is precisely what we are. An extended family stretching from our island home across the world to wherever Fijians gather. It’s a wonderful privilege for me – as the Fijian Prime Minister – to join you here in Liverpool with my wife, Mary, and other members of the Fijian delegation. And I thank you for the warmth of your welcome.

The great thing about Australia is its diversity – a country that has welcomed people from around the world and forged them into one nation – one people. As I say, some 50,000 people of Fijian heritage have joined that mix. Fijian Australians, Australian Fijians. It really doesn’t matter what you are called.  Because every Fijian in Australia can celebrate their ties to both places and the special relationship between the Fijian and Australian peoples.

Why have so many Fijians happily settled in Australia? Why do so many Australians holiday in Fiji? – by far the largest number of visitors we get – almost 350-thousand last year. I think we feel at home in each other’s countries because we share some basic characteristics and values. We are inherently open and friendly. We are warm, welcoming, generous of spirit and unpretentious. And we care for the feelings of others, for their wellbeing and happiness. As I said yesterday, no matter how tough things were between our governments in recent years, it never affected our personal relationships. We have always been the best of friends and always will be.

My friends, everyone knows that Fiji Day is October the 10th, the anniversary of our Independence from Britain in 1970. But while that’s the day we officially celebrate Fiji Day in Fiji, we are developing something of a tradition of celebrating it in other places when the opportunity arises.  In August, I was present in Canada when hundreds of Fijian Canadians gathered in Surrey, British Colombia, for a Fiji Day celebration. And now I am here in Liverpool, New South Wales, doing the same thing.

It’s not so much the date that matters but that Fijians gather together when they can. Because it is not only about celebrating the birth of our nation – of Independent Fiji. But celebrating the privilege of being Fijian.  Because that’s what we all are now.  Fijians. Irrespective of who we are or where we come from.

Friends, it’s easily one of my Government’s greatest achievements – to forge a common identity for every Fijian citizen. No longer are we identified as individual ethnic groupings based on where our forebears came from. We are all Fijians. And can now come together as one nation, one people, to celebrate that fact.

I want to share with you here in Sydney some of the things I also talked about in Canada about what it means to be Fijian. It means that you belong to Fiji and, most importantly, feel you belong. Whether it comes from being born there or being naturalized. The same thing applies in Australia but the Australian experience has been quite different from our own.

It used to be that only indigenous Fijians could call themselves Fijian. In fact, some of my political opponents still say the term belongs to them. But this is nonsensical. Fijian is an English word given by the British to describe the inhabitants of what they called Fiji, which came from the Tongan name, Fisi. The indigenous name for Fiji is Viti. So using this logic, indigenous citizens should really be called Viti-an.

We needed to forge a common identity in Fiji. People in Australia of whatever background are Australians. Americans are American. Canadians are Canadian. And so on. So it’s logical – apart from anything else – that a person from Fiji should be Fijian and that’s what we have done.

We now refer to the indigenous people as i’Taukei because that’s what they are – custodians of the land and indigenous customs. The First Fijians. Just like the Aborigines are the First Australians. But whether you are i’Taukei, Indo-Fijian, a kailoma of mixed ethnic background or are of European or Chinese descent, we are all now Fijians.

It is one of my Government’s proudest achievements. Because it is an absolute prerequisite for building any successful nation that everyone share the same identity. The same name.

So, Friends. We have broken down a barrier that had been erected around us for no good reason at all. We have strengthened our national identity. We have forged a more inclusive society. We have given everyone a sense of belonging. And there is a new sense of pride now in being One Nation. One Fiji. And that extends to Fijians living in other countries. You may have embraced another nationality. But if someone asks  “where did you come from?” and you’re not i’Taukei, you no longer have to say “I’m Fiji-born” or “I’m a Fiji Islander”. You can say “I’m Fijian!”

Because of this and my Government’s other reforms, we are also a fairer and more just society. For the first time, the vote of one person is worth exactly the same as any other persons. We have forged the first genuine democracy in Fijian history of equal votes of equal value. And our Constitution also guarantees equality of opportunity for the first time and gives every Fijian equal access to justice. So Fiji is an immeasurably better place than it was before my Government’s reforms. Everyone a Fijian. Everyone with the same chance to get on in life and fulfill their dreams.

None of this has been at the expense of the i’Taukei. They still have and own the communal ownership of their land, their unique customs, traditions and language, recognized and protected in our Constitution for all time. We also now have the level playing field we so badly needed as a nation to draw a line under the past. The lost years. The years in which we argued about who among us deserved more instead of working together as One Nation to provide more for everyone.

Friends, for me being Fijian means a lot more than having a common name. It means the values and ideals we aspire to as a nation. It means loving one another and having a caring nature and a warm heart. Yalo loloma, as we say in the i’Taukei language. It also means being patriotic. Loving Fiji and thinking about the welfare of our nation and all its citizens and not just about ourselves and those around us. And helping others, whether it is your immediate neighbor in Fiji, those in our neighbouring countries in the Pacific or in the rest of the world.

It means leaving no-one behind. Caring especially for the less fortunate, the sick, the homeless and the disabled. Putting into practice in everyday life the teachings of all the great religions in our multi-faith society about how we should all treat each other.

Being Fijian also means caring for the land of Fiji and our seas. Keeping our pristine environment free of pollution and litter. Always using our natural resources in a sustainable manner, whether it’s our forests or our fish. And it means being brave and taking a lead in the world. Sending our troops into troubled places with the United Nations to protect vulnerable ordinary people. Leading the fight to persuade the industrial nations to reduce the carbon emissions that are warming our planet. And are causing the sea level rises and extreme weather events that threaten our way of life and the very existence of some of our neighbours. Always standing up for what is right and just in the world. Making the world a better place.

Friends, that’s what it means to be Fijian. And those are the values Fijians also take with them when they become citizens of other countries like Australia. So let us all rededicate ourselves today to the Fijian ideal on this great day in Sydney.

It has been a long, hard journey to get to this point in our history. And many of you here today know how difficult that journey has been. How much of the last 45 years we wasted. How much pain we inflicted on a great many of our fellow citizens because certain selfish elements said they didn’t belong.

I know that many of you simply lost faith in Fiji, especially in the terrible aftermath of the events of 1987 and 2000. I have said it before and I say it again: The fact that you were made to feel unwelcome in your country of birth is the most shameful episode in our nation’s history.

Apart from the anguish and despair you must have felt, you were some of our best and brightest. When we lost you, we lost a precious resource that robbed Fiji of decades of development. And anyone who doubts that should examine the similarities between Singapore and Fiji in the 1970’s and the differences between us now in terms of development.

Yet it wasn’t just the brain drain – tragic as that was. It was the Fijian family torn apart. And today I want to say sorry to those of you who suffered. The many thousands who were made to feel like strangers in your own country. Who felt obliged to seek new homes elsewhere. Leaving loved ones and friends behind. Coming to Australia – in your case - and having to start all over again.

You will be forever grateful to the Australian people for opening their door to you. And yet I know that for many of you even after many years, Fiji still occupies a big place in your heart.

Today, I want to use this occasion to formally welcome you back into the Fijian family. To invite you to return. To perhaps build a house in Fiji. To come and go as you please. To invest in your country of birth. To help us build the new Fiji, as well as strengthen our people-to-people ties with Australia.

The time to do so has never been better. We are in the throes of one of the longest running period of economic growth in Fijian history – 5.3 per cent last year, a better performance than Australia or New Zealand. So the wave of prosperity is building and now is the time for people with imagination to ride it.

We now allow multiple citizenship. So you can be both a citizen of Australia and of Fiji and come and go at will. So I urge as many of you as possible to reconnect with Fiji – if you haven’t already done so – and join us as we build our beloved nation. As we work together to finally put an end to the lost years. To make Fiji finally, genuinely, the way the world should be.

My thanks to all of you who have worked so hard to make this wonderful day a success. And again: A very happy Fiji Day celebration to you all.

Vinaka vakalevu. Thank you.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

The Minimum Wage: Challenges to Government

What is too often overlooked by employers and governments is that poor wages on which workers can barely exist can increase their costs. It is not simply a question of justice; it is often a matter of economic good sense. 

Poor wages are not only unjust as Fr Barr rightly claims in this article; they can also result in poor productivity, through absenteeism, accidents and poor work ethics, that reduce employer profits, and a poor use of a nation’s human resources that can result in  poor health, poor education outcomes, an increase in crime, domestic violence and prison incarcerations, and higher costs for governments. 

If the new government in Fiji has really created a “new start” for Fiji, and in many ways I think it has, it needs to re-examine employment orthodoxies by engaging independent researchers to research the real costs of poor wages. 

If Frank  Bainimarama and Aiyaz Sayeed-Khaiyum, the two principal cabinet members,  declared this as a policy priority and research was undertaken on this issue, I would gladly fund their fares to the next Rugby World Cup!  -- Croz

"We all lose when American workers are underpaid. It's a myth that small businesses can't pay a higher minimum wage, as proven already in the states that have raised theirs. When businesses don't pay a living wage all society pays. We pay through poverty and needless disease, disability and death from inadequate health care. We pay as women struggle to put food on the table. We pay as businesses and communities suffer economic decline."-Margot Dorfman, CEO, U.S. Women’s Chamber of Commerce

Fr Kevin J. Barr (4/10/15)

I was interested to read recently that the minimum wage in New Zealand is NZ$14.25.  However researchers are saying that the living wage in New Zealand is NZ$19.25.  Consequently some have formed a Living Wage Movement – a common platform made up of community groups, unions and faith-based groups to call on government and employers to bring about greater justice for workers and reduce inequality in New Zealand.

In Fiji we know that our present Government has introduced a National Minimum Wage of $2.32 an hour (following a move by the Employers Federation to have it reduced to only $2.00).  However a Living Wage for workers in Fiji is probably closer to $4.25 an hour based on the adjusted figure for the national poverty line (which measures the current cost of living).  Yet about 60% of workers in full-time employment in Fiji are earning below this.  The national minimum wage may be a start but it is totally inadequate in terms of justice.  This is particularly true when we remember that when purchasing goods and services with this wage, 15% goes back to government in VAT.

Some employers excuse the low wages they pay by saying that their workers are not “productive”.  But how can you expect a worker to be productive if they have to live in substandard housing, cannot feed themselves and their family decent nutritious food, cannot afford proper medical care and have the added educational costs for their children?

It is no wonder then that we have so many children in child labour (to help boost the family income), so many people in prison, so many family disputes and consequent domestic violence, and so many people who have sicknesses such as NCDs because they are unable to eat proper nutritious food.

Addressing growing inequality by paying a just living wages to all our workers would make a huge difference in the lives of so many of our families. And it would ultimately save government a lot of money in court cases, prison rehabilitation and medical costs.

Of course other issues would also need to be addressed for some people - such as inordinate amounts demanded by church soli and traditional ceremonies.  And people would need to be trained in economic literacy – how to keep a budget, set priorities and set aside savings for their future needs.  They would also need to be alerted to the dangers of falling for the glamorous advertisements of our consumer society which entices them to buy what they do not need.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

The Quality of Justice

The judiciary is one of the main constructs of all societies. Democracy can only function imperfectly in the absence of an informed, fair, competent and transparent legal system.  In this recent keynote address to the Fiji Law Society, the Chief Justice reflects on the role of the judiciary, the Fiji Law Society and lawyers in Fiji, and in doing so he answers, at least to my satisfaction, some of the wild accusations floated in the post coup years by the Fiji Law Society and its sister organization in New Zealand.  The address is abbreviated and I have exercised my publisher privilege by emphasizing some sections.-- Croz

Keynote Address by Chief Justice Anthony Gates
at the Opening of the Fiji Law Society's Convention 
"Fundamentals of Private Practice"
              September 2015, Novotel, Suva
Mr President
Madam Vice-President
Hon. Judges
Members of the Fiji Law Society
Legal Practitioners
Ladies and Gentlemen
First, let me congratulate the Fiji Law Society for re-invigorating its role for the legal profession. I suspect this has been due to the efforts of a valiant few, typical of all such ventures. The theme for the Convention is significant — it is "Fundamentals of Private Practice." Some will say "only, if only!"

For over the years, the Society has often preferred to immerse itself in other matters, chiefly politics, and paid little attention to the real concerns of the profession such as how it should despatch its business, how to avoid ethical conundrums, how to improve the services to be delivered, how to sign up clients and how to bill transparently and fairly, and how to enhance the reputation of its members. This criticism is not confined to the times of constitutional stress during and after coups. Over the years the profession has commendably provided many members who have served as parliamentarians: fewer these days unfortunately. It is right that lawyers should so serve. We need lawyers in parliament so that legislation can be effectively scrutinised, and the workability of intended measures and sanctions can be considered, and the overall reasonableness and fairness of restrictions on our freedoms can be carefully weighed. But that is not to say that a professional society set up for the profession should itself be concerned with politics. That is the responsibility of individual members. The Society's focus should be on matters dealing with the day to day practice of law, and to ensure the professionalism of its members. So I welcome the overall theme at this Convention of "Fundamentals of Private Practice."
Other professional bodies or associations governing engineers, doctors, surveyors or accountants have not embroiled themselves in overt politics. It may be Law Societies are alone in this regard because of the professional and traditional roles of its members as advocates in court.
When I was in private practice in Fiji in the early 1990s, I often felt there was an insufficiency of professional support by the Society for its practitioners. We were not to be kept quiet by the provision of mere cocktail parties in substitute for that support.
So for the Society now to involve itself in the provision of professional support to its members, and to the profession generally, will be a much welcomed step. Organising this conference with speakers and commentators can have been no easy matter for busy full-time practitioners with virtually no secretariat. Judges have readily agreed to assist when asked to provide papers and I have encouraged them to help where necessary. But individual practitioners must put up their hands and volunteer to prepare relevant CLE papers. Each senior practitioner has a responsibility to the profession to provide his or her services in this way. Legal practitioners ought to attend and obtain their necessary points in order to retain their practicing certificates. Naturally attendees should participate genuinely and try to improve themselves. It is not just about points. I have earlier given the names of judicial officers with topics so as to help with this project. The Judiciary will readily assist the profession and the Society in its trainer's role.
In addition to training, the Society, through selected members, could properly provide advice and guidance on new legislation. This could be tendered to the Fiji Law Reform Commission, or to the Solicitor-General's Drafting Unit. The last few years have seen a period of much reform. That output of legislation has still only scratched the surface of what is necessary. Some of you might have an experienced view for instance on how debt collection and enforcement might be modernised and simplified. After the reforms of the l9" century, partially provoked by the novels of Dickens whose own father had been imprisoned for debt, it seems that nothing much has happened to disturb the law's antiquated and woefully slow procedures. I see nothing improper in a legal practitioner assisting in the drafting or improvement of bills for parliament. It is always important to remember the professional nature of the task that is being performed so that one's professional independence is never to be compromised.

If I may revert to the topic of training again. I have already submitted to the Attorney that there should be established an Institute for Judicial and Legal Studies. Such an Institute could deal with all Continuing Legal Education training of the profession. It could provide the necessary organising Secretariat. Indeed it could assist the Society to run its own Conventions. It could handle all training for judicial officers and in specialised areas for the profession such as mediation, intellectual property law, and cover new legislation such as tax and company law.
In trying to provide a better judiciary, we spend a good deal of resources on the training of judicial officers. Modestly approached, I believe it has been an attitudinal changing process. It takes away some court sitting time but such loss brings longer term gain to the system.
The Judicial Department trains every single member of the office. That means night-watchmen, security staff, gardeners, cleaners, drivers, as well as IT staff, clerks, secretaries, and Heads of Sections. There is no reason why Law Executives from law offices should not similarly be trained by the Institute, and that could extend to law office support staff. The Institute would require support and input from several quarters including the Bar but could conserve resources by avoiding duplication, a necessary consideration in a small island jurisdiction such as ours.
I have referred previously to the Fiji Mediation Centre. It is likely to be opened and launched on 14th October 2015. Alas our first premises had been re allocated to another Department. But the Centre will open even if premises are still not finalised. A refresher course for Fiji Mediators, who passed the External Accreditation test recently, will be held just prior to the opening. This  Centre will grow. It is not intended to be an exclusive service, denying any other mediation service which the parties and their lawyers might choose or prefer. I look forward to the diversion of many civil claims, where legal principle is not required to be clarified by the courts, to the Fiji Mediation Centre for an inexpensive and fast resolution of disputes. All of the judicial officers have been trained in mediation and believe strongly in its efficacy. Legal practitioners should therefore encounter no obstacle from the bench in allowing time for the genuine use of this service. However it should not be used to obtain an adjournment or as an excuse to avoid a trial for which counsel comes to court ill-prepared.
Over the last year, there have been a few meetings between your President, Vice-President, members of Council, and myself. Various issues have been discussed. I am happy that these meetings should continue from time to time, and if need be non-Society legal practitioners are also welcome. The unfortunate dislocations of prior good relationships Bench-Bar are now behind us. The Law Society's Conventions may grow from strength to strength. I hope so. A Bar-Bench function, a reception and a dinner, have also been mooted. I hope these will eventuate to draw us all to a greater understanding of our respective and separate roles in the justice system.
Unfortunately it is a truism widely held that an independent judge is a judge who understands my case and finds for me. Judges will make mistakes, and human beings do not always agree. In recent years the courts have insisted on cogent reasoning. Judgments are put on the judiciary website and are published on Paclii for all to see, read, and comprehend, if not always to agree with. There are no more closed door chamber hearings, unless for stated cause. Video recording is permeating, albeit slowly, throughout the court system. This brings an accountability and transparency to us all, judges and lawyers alike. I do not suppose surgeons would welcome video recording of their operations just yet. It may come in time. In Brazil there is video-recording not only of the appeal courts in court, but also of the deliberations of the appellate judges when deciding the matter out of court. Such recordings are played live on a separate TV Channel. First in Fiji, let us achieve the audio and video recording service and a better transcription service before we go on to consider if we need to go any further.
The courts have major building and renovation projects to cope with. There is the completion of renovations at Government Buildings. We have lost a good deal of space to Parliament and its Secretariat. There is the Veiuto Complex to prepare for the Supreme Court and Court of Appeal move. Eventually that complex will house the Family Court and Magistrates Courts as well as all of the Tribunals and the Administration sections of the Judiciary. The High Court will remain at Government Buildings.
It is hoped the Lautoka High Court tender procedures will be completed soon to allow building works to commence before the end of the year. Facilities presently are extremely stretched at Lautoka. We may have to take on temporary courtroom premises pending the availability of the new 6 storey building.
Besides these three main projects there are plans to extend, renovate, or build Magistrates Court houses in various parts of Fiji. Nadi which has had a 3' courtroom added, is likely to have further works done to provide a 4th courtroom. Both of these 2 new courtrooms will be multi-purpose courtrooms so that High Court trials could be conducted there for both Civil or Criminal Division work.
That is about enough for now. You have an interesting 11/2 days ahead of you, for which the presenters and commentators are to be thanked. I am delighted to open the Fiji Law Society Convention for 2015. I wish all delegates and members a highly satisfactory meet, and I wish prosperity, growth and good leadership for the future, to the Society and its members.