Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Chiefs have people at heart

www.fijitimes.com -Monday, April 16, 2007

MAJOR developments have taken place over the past week.

The first being the meeting of the Great Council of Chiefs.

The second was the Council rejecting President Ratu Josefa Iloilo's nomination of interim Foreign Affairs Minister Ratu Epeli Nailatikau for Vice President.

The final bombshell was the order given by interim Prime Minister Commodore Voreqe Bainimarama to suspend all GCC meetings until such time he deemed it was appropriate to resume.

The Fiji Times spoke to the paramount chief of Rewa and the Burebasaga Confederacy, Ro Teimumu Kepa on her thoughts on the matter.

Times: In The Sunday Times, former Prime Minister Sitiveni Rabuka said the suspension of the GCC meant Fiji was now a chiefless Fijian society. What is your response to this?

Ro Teimumu: Our provinces have their own chiefs, so that does not mean that because this government is suspending the GCC there are no more chiefs. It just means that forum is not available to us. But there are other areas that we meet. We meet at provincial council level. There are other committees that we meet in and we meet at the Burebasaga Confederacy, which is made up of Rewa, Kadavu, Namosi, Serua, Nadroga/Navosa and parts of Ba. So I would just state, not strongly deny or refute that claim, that we have other areas and other forums that we meet in besides the GCC. So the suspension of the GCC just means that we're suspended, the chiefs remain chiefs and we go about our own duties and responsibilities.

Times: Mr Rabuka also questioned how far do we go into not recognising the GCC and the chiefs and whether the people will also be allowed to not recognise their chiefs. What are your comments on this matter?

Ro Teimumu: I think it will be good to ask people what their comments would be on this. I wouldn't go so far into saying that.

Times: With the suspension, do you know whether the chiefs are still united?

Ro Teimumu: Very much so. I would say Burebasaga, very much so. We've never at any time not been in a position where we are not on the same page basically. We have our own different ways of thinking, different ways of working but when it comes to the greater good, the bigger picture, we are all on the same page. That's Burebasaga. I wouldn't want to talk on Kubuna because the Kubuna people have their own representative, so I am not in a position to speak on Kubuna. Neither am I in a position to speak for Tovata but I would speak for Burebasaga.

Times: Do you think the people are still united despite this?

Ro Teimumu: I think the people are not stupid. People are enlightened, the grassroots people know what is happening. Many of our ordinary people are educated, some not in the formal sense, but they have been educated in the informal sector; they can make decisions on their own. They know very well what is happening in the country. So for him to suspend the GCC, I'm sure people know what is behind it.

Times: Interim Fijian Affairs Minister Ratu Epeli Ganilau says the suspension of the GCC is not the first of its kind. He says this first happened in 1904 when the then Governor Sir Everett Imthurn suspended the GCC. Is this not a concern that the suspension would set a precedent for those in power to resort to this move whenever a decision does not favour them?

Ro Teimumu: What he has to understand is at that time there was no Constitution as such, no form of constitution. That was during colonial days and now we are independent and the 1997 Constitution is in place, so what he is talking about has very little relevance to where we are now. What he is quoting or commenting on here is redundant, it has no relevance on where we are now. First of all, it's an illegal government. You know a legal government, they have a higher sense of responsibility, they are rational people, they have been put in place by people who have voted them in, they are responsible for the greater good of many more people. So, we are talking about two different groups. We are talking about a legal government and an illegal one.

Times: Where do you see the status of "revered chiefly leadership" heading to now?

Ro Teimumu: In Fijian society everyone has a place in the hierarchy of things. You have chiefs and you have the structure where there's a place for everyone. The people look up to their chiefs and the chiefs generally on the whole look after the people. Now having said that, people have a responsibility to their chiefs and chiefs have a responsibility to their people. So it works both ways. You can see this more clearly when you're in a Fijian set-up. In the Fijian village, people know what their responsibility is and the chiefs know what their responsibility is towards their people and it works very well. We're in harmony with one another, we look after one another and that's the way it has been designed and I think that's the way we would be going generally. This is a very unusual and abnormal situation that we're talking about here.

Times: Do you think the political situation, higher education and globalisation play a part in such decisions (suspending an august body) in the country?

Ro Teimumu: I really like that question because while we're living in a very small dot in the Pacific Ocean, we are still part of the globalised world and whatever we do has an impact on our position

in that globalised world. Some of the agreements we have signed with other countries, you know charters and regulations we gave signed for example, human rights, we are part of the Human Rights community and as such we have to work with what we have agreed to under the Human Rights Charter. Also we're signatories and have to work with the European Union, the World Trade Organisation. They are part of the globalised community. So in Fiji, the decisions that we made for example, in the Great Council of Chiefs on Wednesday and Thursday, we had to confirm that we will work with the 1997 Constitution and all its laws and regulations and when the chiefs feel in light of what is happening in the globalised world, I think people can understand where we are coming from. There's just a few people who are saying that we had our own agenda.

The chiefs in the GCC belong to different political parties, some of them are SVT, some of them belong to the Fiji Labour Party, some of them are SDL and some of them are from the Vanua Tako Lavo Party, so we all come under different parties.

So when they say we have a political agenda I would say that our political agenda is to look at what is acceptable to the globalised community and that's what we have to work with and that's what we had agreed in December and we have to be consistent. We can't be doing something in December, changing our tune suddenly in April, and then next month something else comes in front of the GCC on the table and then we're changing our tune again.

We have to be consistent and when you work within the law, it assists you in seeing what is the right way to go.

Because anything that we do, if it is illegal, it will come before the courts and we do not want that to happen. It's a body that's there to look after the interests of the Fijian people.

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