Thursday, March 29, 2007

Ba Province Wants Early Election

Province wants early election

Marjority of the Ba provincial Council members want a quick return to democracy and the interim government to have an early election before 2010. Eighteen members out of the 22 tikina within the province supported the motion to have an early election and a quick return to democratic rule. This was after a delegation from the Ministry of Information informed members of the council the 11 criteria that had to be followed by the interim government before it could return to democratic rule. Tikina of Waya representative Peni Veidreyaki said members of the council should just follow what the interim government was doing so that “we can reach 2010, where a new election will be held and a new government comes in”.
“I think we should go with what the interim government has to say and remove corruption, as well as have proper investigations on allegations and give them time to take us to 2010 before the general election,” he said. However, this was not supported by some members who said it is only proper the country goes back to democratic rule. Some of the delegates raised concerns on how a delegation from the Ministry of Information would go out to the various tikina and explain to the people what the interim government plans to do. “Many things have been said and I hope when a team from the ministry goes out to villages on the tikina level, they will be able to explain cautiously what their plans are and point fingers at things or allegations at others,” said a member. Mr Veidreyaki said it was not right to talk about the interim government because there were police and military personnel at the meeting. Ba Provincial Council chairman Ratu Ovini Bokini asked members of the council if the motion to have an early election was supported or opposed. Three members of the tikina were against an early election while the rest of the 18 members supported an early election by the interim government.
The meeting continues today.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Fijians & Mining Ownership

Fiji Indigenous People and Mining IV - 28-Mar-2007

Secretary – Fiji Indigenous Ownership Rights Association

This week we continue on our way to discovery. In 2005 at a public discussion at Suva’s Epworth House on the then draft Qoliqoli and Lands Claims Tribunal legislations many indigenous Fijians present asked some very pertinent questions. One provocative query was - “When did or who gave our qoliqoli seabed ownership to the state?” Another question that surfaced - “Was the qoliqoli owners consulted?”
The Vatukoula issue compels us to raise a similar question, this time a more specific one - How come “the state has propriety control of all minerals or materials in the subsoil” as penned under Fiji’s Mining Act Cap.146. After the current dust of uncertainty is settled those questions still need to be answered.
These and other similar unanswered trans-generational questions, fuel the justification of support for future coups. Let us not delude ourselves about that fact. It is true we have the Ministry of Fijian Affairs and its arms out there to cater for the protection of the Fijian people.
However, it has legally paralysed the indigenous people and as a result they are successfully keeping the Fijian grassroots at the bottom of the social, economical and education ladder. We have dwelt at length on the reason why the “clean up” exercise should be more than a cosmetic surface excuse but must reach out beyond the curtain of time.
The past holds the key to the solution of our current dilemma. Coup villains Rabuka and Speight provided justification for their acts with the proclamation of ‘Fiji for the Fijians’. The Qarase Government’s Reservation to Native Land under Clause 8 Crown Lands Act (Cap. 132) emerged nearer to the actual source as landownership. The Cabinet reasoned as follows:
“Native Fijian people had been agitating for a long time for the return of their God-given land. The delays and de-service on those regards by previous governments had caused Native Fijians’ situation culminating in roadblocks, school closures, taking the law into their own hands and part of the many reasons for the coup-de’tat…”
We now know that the exercise is just a transfer of ownership of Crown Lands from one government institution to another quasi-Fijian real estate agency. We refer to the Native Land Trust Board. The Fiji Indigenous Ownership Rights Association’s submission to the Sector Standing Committee on Economic Services on the Real Estate Agents Bill 2006 on the 14 July 2006 suggested that the NLTB’s role has evolved from a trust institution into a powerful real estate agent. For the purpose of elaboration on this particular issue, we submitted as follows:

Section 2, Interpretation

An “officer’’, in relation to a licensee company, means every director, manager, or secretary of the company who, on behalf of and in the name of the company, carries on the company’s business as a real estate agent, and includes:
(a) any person, however designated, who is responsible for the management of the company or institution such as the Native Land Trust Board, that deals in “land’’ as defined hereunder as including estates and interests, whether freehold or chattel, in real property.

Meaning of “real estate agent”

3. (1) For the purposes of this Act, every person shall be deemed to be a real estate agent who acts, or who holds himself or herself out to the public as ready to act, for reward as an agent in respect of the sale or other disposition of land or the purchase or other acquisition of land, or in respect of the leasing or letting of land, whether or not that person carries on any other business.
(2) Notwithstanding subsection (1), no person shall be deemed to be a real estate agent for the purposes of this Act by reason only of the fact that:
(a) being a legal practitioner, the person acts, in the course of business as the legal practitioner, as agent in respect of the sale, purchase or other disposition of land, the acquisition of land or the leasing or letting of land, unless the person is remunerated for so acting by commission in addition to, or instead of, professional charges as a legal practitioner;
(b) the person sells or offers to sell any land by auction;
(c) the person enters into a transaction or series of transactions pursuant to a permit granted to the person by the Board under section 30.

Administration of trust account in certain cases

65. (1) this section applies in any case where the Board is satisfied that a real estate agent:
(a)is, owing to physical or mental disability, unable properly to administer a trust account; or
(b) has died; or
(c) has been adjudicated a bankrupt; or
(d) has had his or her licence revoked; or
(e) has been suspended from carrying on the business of a real estate agent; or
(f) has ceased to carry on the business of a real estate agent and has neglected to wind up his or her trust account after reasonable notice has been given by the Board requiring such winding up.
The attitude of the NLTB as to the situation of the Fijian landowners is aptly described in subsection (a) above. This institution has made landowners incapable of developing their lands to the point that they have become dependent on government handouts. The NLTB now justifies itself to hold in trust the Fijian peoples’ lands into perpetuity as a real estate agent under the pretext of “for the benefit of the Fijian people”. The current NLTB system and its management ethos have psychologically paralysed indigenous landowners.
It is time the NLTB re-examine its actual role and redirect its energies to being a trusteeship rather than a speculative real estate institution. Deputy General Manager (Operations) of NLTB aptly said “taken in its strictest interpretation, NLTB’s role is limited to the administration of land for the benefit of the Fijian landowners….” (Presentation to the Fiji Hotel Association Hospitality Forum by October,)

State Acquisition a terra nullius application

The dispossessed state of Fijian grassroots landowners continues to remain unchanged even after the so-called pro-indigenous coups (1987 & 2000) and successive Fijian-led governments.
The indigenes are still zipped up in the same colonially constructed straitjacket with their mineral, qoliqoli seabed and other natural resources locked up to boost the national coffers while they crowd the nation’s prison, squatter settlements and urban streets. Unless the Interim Government takes the initiative and reconciles the Fijian peoples’ dilemma as set out above there is no hope of hoping that future coups are avoidable.
At a 2005 Lautoka consultation sitting on the draft Qoliqoli and Indigenous Land Claims Tribunal legislations the author asked the panel of state lawyers as to how the qoliqoli seabed ownership rights came to belong to the state?
One of the panellists replied that the law was adopted from England. The author reminded the panellist that the 1874 Deed of Cession recognised that Fijians communally possessed the real property ownership rights of the whole of the Fiji island group. This right under the old common law extended to rights over all materials beneath the surface and all the air space above it.
This can be evidenced in the 1908 Mining Ordinance, which provides ‘Fiji landowners with the right to compensation for exploration of mineral wealth beneath their land.
This real property rights was altered in 1934 to cater for the discovery of gold in the Tavua basin and later Vatukoula.

Continued next week — The need to ‘clean up’ the past so as to have a peaceful present and lay a prosperous basis for our future.


Tuesday, March 13, 2007

QVS Milestone

Vulinitu marks milestone

Tuesday, March 13, 2007 -

Queen Victoria School is one school that has established its roots deep within all aspects of Fijian society.

This year marks a milestone achievement for the school as it celebrates 100 years of moulding sons of Fiji into becoming useful and better citizens.

Students, staff, old boys and parents converged at the Post Fiji Stadium to launch the centennial celebration of the school last Saturday.

QVS was founded in 1906 as a school for the sons of Fijian chiefs. The school had two main objectives, to provide Fijian boys with necessary education and training for leadership and to ensure that Fijian chiefs would continue to occupy a prominent place in their country.

After the cession of 1874, there had been much concern expressed about the future of the Fijian people.

The colonial administrators were quick to understand that Fijian society had a sophisticated social structure based on chiefly authority and they believed and expected that this social structure could be reinforced, through education, to support the colonial administration. To achieve this end, the chiefs were the most logical choice to be given priority in the development of education among the Fijian people with the ability and potential for leadership, testifies to the wisdom of that early initiative. Its impact is evident throughout Fiji's society.

The Fijian chiefs' decision at the turn of the century to request the colonial government to develop schools for the education of their sons was motivated by a strong desire to ensure the continuance of Fijian authority and dignity in a rapidly changing colonial environment. In this way, they hoped to ensure the protection of the Fijian people and enable them to play a role in the colonial administration. In acknowledgement of this, the colonial government built Queen Victoria School at Nasinu in 1906. The seriousness and gravity of the noble goals the chiefs had for their people is reflected in the choice of the name of the school. The name Vulinituraga or Vulinitu (a school for chiefs) was also born. Chief guest at the launch, Ratu Epeli Nailatikau admitted that his days at QVS were the best time of his life.

"I must say here that QVS was the best school that I attended and it had a real effect on my life.

Travelling back down memory lane, Ratu Epeli said he was honoured to launch the school centenial celebration.

"At QVS I was in Rewa House and there were a lot of questions being raised over why I was in Rewa house as I was from Bau.

"Our teacher at that time master Netani Druavesi told my father that I was in Bure Rewa and I am supposed to be in Bure Bau, and my dad told him, that I had made a very good choice by joining Rewa House," he said.

"Actually I have relationship with Rewa and to go to Bau House I thought it was a bit foolish," he said with laughter.

"I had never regretted my time at the school and I have managed to make a lot of friends and bond with my brothers form Vulinitu and today they are my lifetime friends.

"Actually I can say that they are my second family, a family that shares every bit of moment together with laughter and tears," he said. Ratu Epeli said people sometimes view the school as a place where leadership qualities are being instilled in a student. "That is a wrong perception. The school does not instill a person with leadership quality but it fine-tunes all the qualities of a person.

"Every person has leadership instinct in them and the school is there to see that this quality is fine-tuned to prepare a person to lead in every area of society that they live in," he said.

This, he said, has been proven in Fiji as most of the country's prime ministers were former students of the school.

"That is a feat that QVS is always proud of and I hope that it would continue," he said.

However, Ratu Epeli said one thing that was unique about the school is the fact that even if one becomes a prime minister or President, when he is amongst his seniors from school, he is still considered as a junior boy.

"Our positions in school weighs far more than any executive or government position that we hold and that is something that we hold dear to our hearts because it defines the comradeship in school," he said.

Ratu Epeli said the school, over its 100 years of existance, has achieved a lot but there was still room for it to improve.

He said QVS defines the Fijian in a person because it holistically prepares students for life outside of the school.

QVS, as a result of the expressed wish of the Fijian chiefs, began as a unique institution for the sons of chiefs.

As a pioneer in Fijian education it was often identified with the future hopes and aspirations of Fijians. As the nation progressed, chiefs realised that commoners were beginning to succeed academically so that Vulinitu was opened to commoners as well. The rest is history with Queen Victoria School with perpetrating the vision of the chiefs 100 years ago. QVS old scholars occupy a special place in Fiji and have been in all facets of Fijian leadership. The spirit to lead is encapsulated in the words of Ratu Sir Lala Sukuna when creating a motto for Queen Victoria School "Forward Fiji".

Builder in the Fijian Tradition

A builder by tradition

Tuesday, March 13, 2007 -

TRADITION is a story or custom that is memorised and passed from generation to generation, originally without the need for a writing system.

Tools to aid the process include poetic devices such as rhyme and alliteration.

The stories thus preserved are also referred to as tradition or as part of an oral tradition.

One man who has learnt the art of building through tradition is Akini Koroivalu of Natacileka Village in the district of Dawasamu in Tailevu.

Traditionally, Mr Koroivalu is a mataisau, or traditional builder in the Fijian society.

In Fijian mythology, the mataisau clan are the descendants of the deity Daunisai, one of the sons of Lutunasobasoba who brought the Fijians people across the seas to Fiji.

Daunisai settled on Kabara Island in Lau when the Fijian people spread through the Fiji group from Verata.

Now at 72 years of age, Mr Koroivalu still practises his talent.

At the same time, he is passing his skills and knowledge to his sons, grandchildren and nephews in the village.

He said while he was a mataisau, what enhanced his skills more was that their mother was vasu to the mataisau clan and a direct descendant of Daunisai from Ucunivanua in Verata.

"It is in Verata where all the mataisau clan around Fiji originate from," he said.

His trade has made a name for himself around the Fiji group of islands.

He has left his mark, so to speak, because he has built most of the wooden boats that sail inter-island in the Fiji islands.

When we visited him last week he was doing what he likes best building boats.

"I started the trade of building boats on this beach at Natacileka in the early 1960s after coming out of Ratu Kadavulevu School," he said.

"My architectural skills were fine-tuned at RKS during my years there, from 1951 to 1958.

"I knew I was a mataisau and it was really the reason why I wanted to develop the gift which is a God-given talent.

"During my years at RKS, I was able to put all the skills I knew into practice and it really helped me a lot when I left the school.

"I was the headboy at RKS for two years, in 1957 and 1958, and was a member of Ma'afu House," he said.

It is interesting to know that Mr Koroivalu was never employed but did his own thing after he left school.

"I built boats for people in Yasawa, Lomaiviti, Naigani Island and other villages along the Tailevu coast.

"My work does not only involve building boats; I've built more than 100 houses.

"Most are village houses in Dawasamu and includes a couple of churches and schools," he said.

Some inter-island and village boats he remembered building include the Vasu i Darata, Gone Vasu, Tai Tiki and Rosi ni Toba.

"Most of the boats I built here on the beach and when I complete them, I would take it with my family to the owner.

"It was during one such trip that I found my true love at Kese in Naviti, Yasawa," he said with a smile.

"The feeling of satisfaction is something that comes in me when I see that the boat is near completion and we all enjoy the end product," said Mr Koroivalu.

He said the most important part of his work was when he taught his family about the art.

"It is something that I always stress to my relatives and that is to develop the traditionally God-given talent and develop it much further.

"From what I am seeing now, most of my nephews and grandchildren are quickly learning and know more, for which I am very grateful," he said.

Mr Koroivalu said he would continue with his work until he knew that he had done enough.

"God has a plan for each one of us and as long as he wants me to continue with my work, I will do so," he said.

Mr Koroivalu said tradition was frequently changed to suit the needs of the day and the changes quickly became accepted as part of tradition.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

A National Identity for Fiji?

Fiji lacks national identity: Yabaki

Sunday, March 11, 2007

At the heart of Fiji's problems lies the lack of national identity, says Citizen's Constitutional Forum executive director, Reverend Akuila Yabaki.

The comment is part of Mr Yabaki's personal testimony to an audience including Queen Elizabeth II, at London's Westminster Abbey tomorrow Commonwealth Day.

Other high profile personalities to be present include the Duke of Edinburgh Prince Philip, Commonwealth Secretary-General Don McKinnon, senior ministers and 2000 other people.

In his statement to be presented tomorrow, Mr Yabaki said the use of the term 'Fijian' to describe nationality was resisted by many indigenous Fijians.

"For example, the use of the name "Fijian" to describe all citizens of Fiji is resisted by many indigenous people," he said.

"Those who fear that the promise of equality before the law in a multicultural society threatens the protection of their own status.

"The other communities, such as the IndoFijians, who have lived here for three or four generations, feel alienated by the political system and find it difficult to identify with national symbols."

Mr Yabaki said Christianity was used by the indigenous majority to justify the political situation.

"I am working to keep alive the vision that all Fiji citizens can have a sense of belonging to the country of their birth," he said. "We in Fiji must move beyond racialised politics and military coups."

Mr Yabaki was invited by the Council of Commonwealth Societies.

The theme of this year's celebrations is "Commonwealth Respecting Difference, Promoting Understanding".

Meanwhile, Commonwealth Secretary-General Don McKinnon told AFP there was no reason in Fiji for a military leader to decide to take over the Government.

He said even if there was corruption identified and highlighted, that is no reason as there were the political and judicial systems to deal with that.

He said if people do not like a government, they could vote it out.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Fiji President's Health Under Scrutiny

People watch chief's health

Saturday, March 10, 2007

The Vanua o Vuda is concerned about its paramount chief and President Ratu Josefa Iloilo's age but will not ask him to step down and return to his people, it has been revealed.

His nephew and Taukei Sawaieke Ratu Tevita Momoedonu said the vanua (traditional subjects) had seriuously considered approaching Ratu Josefa to step down as President last year.

But he said it did not work out because the Great Council of Chiefs soon after re-appointed him to the vice-regal post.

Ratu Tevita said the idea was discussed in January 2006 but it was decided to put it on hold until the Great Council of Chiefs met in March 2006.

Ratu Josefa, 86, was reappointed by the council. Ratu Tevita said the vanua had considered approaching Ratu Josefa last year to step down because of his age.

"Considering his age we wanted him to come back home to the vanua," he said.

Ratu Tevita said they would just wait and accept whatever decision was made on the presidency.

"We have accepted the GCC's decision," he said.

"Until now, there is no other discussion to go and ask him to step down. The vanua will not do anything now unless he tells us."

It follows arrangements being made for Ratu Josefa to undergo further medical examinations overseas.

It is understood security arrangements for him and his entourage would be slightly amended because his military bodyguards would not be allowed to travel to Australia.

Secretary to the President's Office Rupeni Nacewa said Ratu Iloilo was entitled to overseas medical treatment once a year.

An Australian High Commission spokesperson said there had been no changes to the position announced immediately after the coup that Australia would restrict travel to Commodore Voreqe Bainimarama, his supporters, members of the interim administration and their families.

It includes the travel ban of all members of the Fiji Military Forces.

Meanwhile, yesterday while launching the $100 note, Ratu Josefa urged everyone to work together and assist in moving the country forward.

"While we have problems to solve, we should not lose sight that we have opportunities that we can exploit in service areas like tourism and ICT (Information and Communication Technology)," he said."We cannot change the past, but we can do something to change the future. "I call on the nation and our people to hold on to that hope. We can, and we must, now look ahead and build the future for our children and grandchildren."

The vanua o Vuda has five yavusa Sabutoyatoya, which Ratu Josefa is the head of, Tububere which Ratu Tevita leads, Nakoivuda in Lauwaki, Draulunavuda in Lomolomo, Navatulevu and Viagoisaukova in Abaca.

Ratu Tevita said the Yavusa Sabutoyatoya and Tububere lived in Viseisei Village.

Saturday, March 3, 2007

Chiefs take on the military. But where to from here?

By Samisoni Pareti -  Island Business

Do traditional leaders have a role to play in a political crisis? Some people in Fiji surely think so, although the chiefs' claim to being the sole repository of God-given mana has been tested in recent times.

Chiefly talk... Ratu Sakiusa Makutu, Ratu Tevita Uluilakeba Mara and Sitiveni Rabuka who are members of the Great Council of Chiefs.
Meeting 15 days after the Fiji military ousted the government of Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase, Fiji's Council of Chiefs (GCC) was hard-pressed to come up with a solution that will be accepted by both the military and the government it toppled.

At the end of what was initially set to be a two-day meeting but dragged on to the third day, the chiefs decided to side with the law. 

Expressing "profound regret" at the "unlawful overthrow of Fiji's democratically-elected government," the chiefs went on to urge Commodore Frank Bainimarama and his men to return to the barracks to allow aging president Ratu Josefa Iloilo to form an interim government. 

In return, the chiefs will ask Prime Minister Qarase to resign given that his government "has been rendered ineffective and incapable of discharging its constitutional responsibilities".

Interestingly enough, Qarase when contacted after the second day of the chiefs' meeting, said he holds the GCC in the greatest esteem and he stands "ready to listen" to its decision. 

But Bainimarama and his soldiers would not play ball. Angry that the council had invited him as the military commander, thus not recognising his takeover of government and his consequent sacking of Iloilo, his deputy Ratu Joni Madraiwiwi and Qarase and his government as well as parliamentarians, together with some senior public officials, Bainimarama stayed out of the GCC meeting. 

When told on the final day of the meeting that a GCC delegation, to be led by chairperson Ratu Ovini Bokini, would like to deliver personally to him the council's decision, the army chief said he was busy and refused to receive them. 

"Now they want to recognise that I have the executive authority," Bainimarama told the Suva-based Pacific Islands News Association's news agency, PACNEWS.

"The only message I want to tell members of the (council) is for them to go to their villages and enjoy their Christmas and New Year. We don't recognise them."

Whilst Bainimarama snubbed the GCC meeting, he did allow one of his senior officers to attend-Ratu Tevita Uluilakeba Mara-who heads the Fiji Military's 3rd Infantry Regiment. 

He is one of the three Lau province's representatives on the Great Council of Chiefs. Lau at this December emergency meeting was hopelessly split and could not put up an unanimous front. 

Mara, a lieutenant-colonel, was pushing the military's position, another rep from Moala was a die-hard Qarase supporter, leaving its third rep, Ratu Josefa Basulu, to walk the middle ground. 

Basulu is currently chair of the Lau Provincial Council and happens to be Qarase's chief. Whilst he agrees that his island of Vanuabalavu and the entire province of Lau are solidly behind the ousted prime minister, he admits that Mara and the military should get a fair hearing.

"I think we the chiefs are meeting fire with fire," Basulu told ISLANDS BUSINESS.

"If we really want to achieve something and resolve this crisis, we need to adopt a more softer approach."

But many Lauans wouldn't agree with him. He is even accused of being a traitor in the Qarase camp. There are, however, reasons for Basulu's cautious stance. He confirmed that his province's chief administrator, the Roko Tui Lau, has already been summoned to the Queen Elizabeth Barracks where he was warned by none other than Lt Col Mara.

"Tell Tui Mavana (Basulu's traditional title) to watch what he says or I will arrest him too," was Mara's message to the Roko.

Basulu said on another occasion, soldiers were found outside his home where he and a few other Lau councillors were meeting days prior to the chiefs' meeting.

Interesting is the young Mara's participation at the December meeting of the Council of Chiefs. Irritated by his constant intervention during the first day of the meeting, insisting-officials said-that the council offers its support for the military, a council representative from Tailevu province reminded the army officer to remember what the military did to his late father, Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara.

Haunted by the detention in parliament of his favourite daughter who was tourism minister in Mahendra Chaudhry's Government in 2000, Ratu Mara had fought hard to get the council to uphold the law and reject the George Speight-led coup. 

The GCC heeded Ratu Mara call and relented, only to have its position severely compromised when its supposed mediation committee entered parliament only for many of them to openly support Speight and his cronies. The Council of Chiefs' only commoner and life-time member Sitiveni Rabuka was then chair of the council. The life membership was the payoff he got when he executed Fiji's first coup on May 14, 1987. 

Then, the council sided unashamedly with Rabuka, praising him as a hero for ousting the Labour Government of Prime Minister Dr Timoci Bavadra.

Unbeknown to many is Rabuka's proposals to the December Council of Chiefs meeting. Many of his recommendations were already contained in a discussion paper the chiefs' secretariat had circulated to delegates. But three stood out as original and revolutionary. 

It included getting Bainimarama to resign but to continue to receive his military commander salary until he reaches the age of 55. As well, it was Rabuka who identified another source of the provision of immunity for members of the Fiji Military Forces. 

He says the president of Fiji has the "inherent powers as the fount of mercy" to grant pardon to Bainimarama and his men and women.

The third, which the chiefs ignored, was a drastic re-structuring of the Fiji military. Rabuka recommended splitting up the military into two independent services: the navy and the army with a non-executive commander to be named Chief of Defence Staff who will work with the Secretary of Defence under the Minister of Defence.

So with the chiefs' intervention reaching a stalemate, what's next then for Fiji? For one thing, the chiefs will need to revise their resolutions if they want the Fiji military to come to the negotiating table. 

While they want the president to form an interim government to take the country to fresh elections, they however are recommending a 10-member privy council to "advice him (the President) to establish the interim government of national unity." 

After enjoying uninterrupted and unfettered access to Iloilo, it will take more than a three-day meeting of chiefs to convince the military to give it up to a privy council that relegates it to a minority voice.