Thursday, April 26, 2007

Chiefs there for the people

Vereniasi Raicola -Thursday, April 26, 2007

There are 14 provincial councils in Fiji that make bylaws and impose local taxes, subject to the approval of the Fijian Affairs Board.

The Fijian Affairs Board approves the appointment of the Roko Tui or executive head of the provincial councils, who is usually a high-ranking chief.

The provinces have direct input into national affairs through the Great Council of Chiefs.

The Great Council of Chiefs is a traditional body which advises the government on indigenous affairs and functions as an electoral college for the election of the President and Vice-President of Fiji.

There are 55 members of the GCC chosen by the provincial councils.

Each province is allowed three representatives.

Commodore Bainimarama suspended the GCC after it rejected the President's nomination on interim Foreign Affairs Minister Ratu Epeli Nailatikau for Vice-President.

Interim Fijian Affairs Minister Ratu Epeli Ganilau said the provisions of the GCC therefore became null and void.

Ratu Epeli said as minister he would also review the council provisions that involved exploring if the GCC membership should be retained.

He said it would be an extensive exercise and the 14 provinces would be consulted on the matter.

Roko Tui Dreketi, the head of the Burebasaga confederacy, Ro Teimumu Kepa, said provincial councils were an important forum for grassroots Fijians, particularly in the rural areas.

She said in Rewa, for example, the members of the provincial councils were made up of tikina members who lived in the village.

Issues brought to the provincial councils were raised from the village level forums.

"It is really a bottom up approach and works both ways, because whatever is decided at the GCC or the Fijian Affairs Board is filtered through this forum to villagers," she said.

Ro Teimumu said Fijians thrashed out issues that concerned their health, education and developments at provincial councils, the tikina councils or the village council where villagers openly discussed their grievances and concerns.

She said if the provincial council was to be taken away for some reason, it would be difficult to gauge what was happening at the grassroot level because there would be no forum.

In a year the provincial council sits twice unless there is a need for a special sitting.

Council members in Rewa last December had a special sitting after the overthrow of the Soqosoqo Duavata ni Lewenivanua Laisenia Qarase-led government. Ro Teimumu said in a provincial meeting on December 14 the villagers of Rewa were advised to be careful in the way they spent money and utilised electricity and water to avoid unnecessary bills during these unpredictable political times.

Speaking at a follow-up provincial council meeting yesterday in the chiefly Burenivudi meeting house at Lomanikoro, Rewa, Ro Teimumu said the province prepared villagers for the tough times that would follow.

Ro Teimumu said the vanua needed to take a firm stand on issues that had legal implications.

"We need to teach our people the right way to go so that we are not questioned later and as chiefs or commoners we always need to be on the right side of the law," she said.

Ro Teimumu said Fijians needed to work within the rule of law and that judging by the recent events, it could be said that "we have learnt from past coups".

"We cannot be condoning something different from the law, or not within the Constitution.

"Having legal opinions on some of these issues makes it easier to decide and agree together on matters concerning Fiji," she said.

Ro Teimumu said the stand taken by the GCC in not condoning Ratu Epeli Nailatikau as the Vice-President indicated the chiefs wanted to follow the rule of law because they did not condone the appointment of someone involved with the interim administration.

She said many people, especially Fijian families, had suffered since the events of December.

She cautioned Fijians to be mindful of the law and that they needed to plant more food and sell their produce in order to supplement their family income.

"Some people are on reduced pay and even if it is $10 less this is a lot of money for some families," she said.

"Some people have as a result of the military takeover lost their jobs and others are working reduced hours, while some simply do not know what tomorrow would bring and that is why we need to remind people to look at income generating projects so their families can survive. At the end of the day it is usually the women that have to juggle to make ends meet in the home, so people need to be sensible."

Ro Teimumu said the interim Minister for Fijian Affairs, Ratu Epeli Ganilau, could not change the membership of the GCC as clearly stipulated in the 1997 Constitution, even though he had threatened to after the council did not condone Ratu Epeli Nailatikau's nomination.

She said although members of the GCC were supporting different political parties, their personal agenda was placed aside whenever they met.

"These chiefs are not in the GCC for themselves," she said.

"They are there to represent their people, even though some people think otherwise."

Ro Teimumu said it was sad some people thought some chiefs took their own personal agendas to the GCC, because that never happened.

She said the GCC was not about politics. It was about the people and the vanua.

Ro Teimumu said the chiefs did not know who was nominated by the President for the position of Vice-President until the meeting day on April 11.

"All we wanted was to be on the right side of the law.

"That was why we wanted the next VP not to be involved with the interim administration. There were no politics involved.

"We, the members of the GCC, are all related through our ancestors but we do not want to condone an appointment that would later take us to a court of law and make us look silly to everyone.

"We do not want the people outside Fiji to point a finger at our wrong judgment this time around.

"The GCC is not about individual chiefs. It is about wise decisions for the sake of our beloved country Fiji," she said.

Ro Teimumu said there were several categories of chiefs and people needed to be careful when taking advice from members of the Council.

"True chiefs have their people (tamata), their fishing grounds (qoliqoli), their village and their land.

"Then there are others who have chiefly blood ties but are not equal to chiefs," she said.

Ro Teimumu, who was speaking about her province, said decisions were easily made together in Burebasaga because all their chiefly titles had been filled.

"For Kubuna, there is no Vunivalu and there is no Ratu from Verata.

"For Tovata there is no Tui Bua and no Tui Nayau and this is why it is difficult to gauge the feed back from these areas, whereas in Burebasaga we have installed all the chiefs," she said.

Ro Teimumu said some people were fond of speaking on behalf of some provinces, even though they did not have the mandate to.

"We need to be careful of such people, because at the end of the day they may just be pushing for their own agendas, as they are speaking on no-one's behalf," she said.

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