Last weekend I published Fr Barr's article on poverty and announced a new focus for the blog in which each weekend I'd provide thoughts on a major issue. Prompted by the parliamentary petition on the Great Council of Chiefs, I selected chiefs as the issue for this weekend. But on Thursday, after months with no proper rain, we had a deluge with flood water a metre deep in the Porirua CBD and the roof of my recently constructed patio leaking buckets. I've spend the last two days redesigning the roof and the job is still not finished. Old bones get a little unsteady at the top of ladders.
I'd started to take notes on the promised article and re-read chunks of Ratu Jone Madraiwiwi's A Personal Perspective, but the finished article is a long way away. Here's some of my notes to date. Perhaps you'd like to help by adding comments that I can use in the article.
Who are the actors? The Great Council of Chiefs, the Paramount chiefs, other chiefs, the Taukei, non-Taukei, parliament (government and opposition) Government in the wider sense. and legal Taukei parallel and complementary administrative structures such as the Land Trust Board and Provincial Councils, and perhaps also the military.
What are the issues? Tradition and identity in the modern world, the need and capacity for change, ethnicity particularism and 'privilege', the need to build national unity, threats to national unity, government claims to represent all so no need for GCC, lack of consultation (by government and by the chiefs), is democratic participation possible in a Taukei context? And most of all POWER, its use and possible use by the main actors, and what this might mean for almost everything else.
Fiji's post-colonial past was dominated by a Taukei hierarchy comprising the GCC, some other chiefs, an urban elite, Methodist Church leaders, and in a fall back position, the military. Hence the 1987 and 2000 coups when the predominantly Indo-Fijian Fiji Labour Party briefly became government. What was the role of the GCC in the 1987, 2000 and 2006 Coups?
The 2006 coup/military takeover meant different things for its main protagonists. Early idealism was generally replaced by pragmatism. Holding power and the nation together was achieved by limiting the media, free speech and the labour unions, and supporting business. The support of rural grassroots Taukei (generally the less educated and worldly Taukei who supported the chief and church) was won by promoting infrastructure development and women's initiatives aimed at increasing household incomes. Military support was achieved by removing possible dissident officers. The outcome, with respect to the former Taukei hierarchy, was that the Bainimarama Government progressively weakened and silenced the chiefly hierarchy and the Church.
Ro Teimumu and SODELPA want to see the reinstatement of the GCC for probably mixed reasons. Government sees a resurgent GCC as a potential threat to its control of power.
Are compromises possible? For example, a GCC dealing only with traditional issues (land, inheritance, ceremony, succession) but no political input? Provincial Councils with non-Taukei representation?
For almost all of the players and factors one needs to start with clear definitions. For example, who decides who is Taukei and who is not; how paramount are the paramount chiefs in the West and how important are they when one of the three positions has been vacant for many years? Is it favouritism if Taukei get special First Nation treatment, and extra help to bridge the business ownership, employment and education gaps, or will this enhance national unity in the longer term?
As you can see, my thoughts are still unorganized. Your input would be most welcome.