Monday, April 16, 2007

The GCC and the winds of change -12-Apr-2007

THE Great Council of Chiefs (Bose Levu Vakaturaga) meeting yesterday appears to be part of the process of the now familiar talk about a return to normalcy. It also can be interpreted as an attempt by this high house of Fijian chieftains to regain its status as an important player in national politics and governance.

On December 5, 2006 and days after the military takeover of the SDL-led multiparty government, this august body came under intense pressure and scrutiny for all sections of society.

In those days of political turmoil and uncertainty, many in the citizenry looked towards the GCC as the last bastion of hope for the rule of law.

It’s ironic that the Council, a non-democratic body composed of hereditary chiefs or individuals from the upper echelons of ethnic Fijian society, was relied upon for some measure of constitutional control.

The GCC has evolved to become a potent force in Fiji’s national political environment, while maintaining much influence and control within Fijian society.

The GCC was established in 1876 under the governorship of Sir Arthur Gordon as an advisory body for the newly established British colony.

Apart from being part of overall British colonial policy of indirect rule, it was a necessary buffer to cushion any wave of discontent or indigenous opposition to what was effectively foreign rule.

Interestingly the Council came into being after the rebellious tribes of Western/Central Viti Levu had been subdued either by sheer musket power or measles. On October 28, 1876 Sir Arthur Gordon issued a proclamation pardoning all hill tribes and ending all wars (or rebellions!) in Viti Levu.
The Great Council of Chiefs came into being after the promulgation of the Native Ordinance 1876 which also set in motion a series of measures to set up and consolidate a Fijian administrative system.

The Council today has been transformed from having purely advisory role for the colonial administrators and a proxy for indigenous Fijian representation, to a legal entity.

The Constitution has formalised and codified this body of indigenous tribal leaders bringing it to the level of national government as evident in its function to select the post of President and Vice-President.

While we move towards the end of the first decade of the 21st century, it is important to re-examine the role of this august body a modern society addicted to democracy, free speech, social mobility and the information communication technology (ICT) revolution.

As the permanent home of the GCC takes shape to dominate a leafy Nasese waterfront, it is necessary to ask questions on the role of the council in the new millennium.

We need to ask whether our young liberalised, highly literate and socially mobile ethnic Fijian generation is in tune with what the GCC is all about?

Will the power and political clout of the GGC and other colonially-constructed quasi Fijian administrative institutions weather the test of social, economic and political evolution?

To gain the hearts, minds and attention of the younger generation of not only indigenous Fijians but other ethnic groups too, the GCC needs to realign itself to the demands of modernity.

This is a challenge for the Bose Levu Vakaturaga to seriously consider instead of being grossly engaged in the furtherance of its own institutional survival.

The relevance, moral clout and political influence of this Great Council depends not on the Council itself and who strolls the corridors of its power, but on the grassroots who matter.

In a world defined by the realities of globalisation, consumerism and the upsetting of tradition, it is time for change for the better.

The GCC must work harder to find its place among the masses and realities they face each day, whether in the village or in our ever-grown slums of squatter settlements.
That is the challenge for this august house.

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