Monday, August 03, 2009

Khaiyum's Plan to Destroy Fijian Institutions

By Samisoni Pareti – Islands Business

Fijian institutions like the Bose Levu Vakaturaga (Great Council of Chiefs) and the Fijian Affairs Board should have evolved or be dissolved over time if they were to keep abreast with the changing needs of indigenous Fijians, a key member of Commodore Frank Bainimarama’s regime had suggested. The perpetual existence of these creatures of British rule could only put such Fijian institutions in a ‘time warp’ and give rise to the consolidation of power to and “self-preservation” of an elite few.
Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum when writing his thesis for a masters in law degree at the University of Hong Kong in 2002, had also raised the possibility of these institutions operating independently of the state. This, he wrote, would not only weaken the state but also throw into question the allegiance of Fijians to the nation-state. Observations Khaiyum made in his thesis titled ‘Cultural Autonomy-Its Implications for the Nation-State’ has become much more relevant in light of recent pronouncements and actions of the interim government of which he is the attorney-general. Not only has the interim regime suspended the operations of the Bose Levu Vakaturaga (BLV) after the chiefs rejected its nomination for a vice-president in April, the interim government has also announced its intention to review and most probably change the membership of the chiefly body.
BLV review will continue. Work on this, however, is in doubt after the European Council-following its meeting with three senior ministers of Bainimarama’s regime in Brussels last month (that included Khaiyum)-issued a strong statement calling for, among other demands, the preservation of the “substantial independence and functioning of the Great Council of Chiefs (GCC)”.

FIJI ISLANDS BUSINESS has learnt however that the legal advice given to the interim regime has given it the thumbs up to continue with the proposed review and changes to the membership of the BLV, saying it is proper under the law. The council was not created by the 1997 constitution like other constitutional offices, but set up through an act of parliament. As such, the minister responsible, in this case Ratu Epeli Ganilau as Fijian Affairs minister, is perfectly well within his rights to be doing what he has proposed to do, and this, according to the legal opinion, would not be in breach of the European Commission’s demand. Since the December 5 coup last year, Bainimarama had also on several occasions spoken publicly of his desire to introduce common roll into Fiji’s voting system. This was another key point of Khaiyum’s thesis.
Calls for common roll not newIn fact he argued that the two issues of common roll and the dismantling of the Fijian institutions like the Bose Levu Vakaturaga shared a common historical link.

Khaiyum wrote that when Sir Everard im Thurn, who became governor of Fiji in 1905, introduced his policy of ‘galala’, or greater freedom to indigenous Fijians, “some European members of the Legislative Council wanted indigenous Fijians to be made “free men” by ridding them of separate administration, which they also viewed as being financially mismanaged. “Yet the European settler representatives in the Legislative Council made an about-turn in their individualisation mission when the girmitiyas started agitating for the right to vote and common franchise based on a common roll.”
In appointing Khaiyum into his cabinet in January, it is not clear whether Bainimarama had known about the young lawyer’s strong views about the Fijian administration and the very detailed research and analysis he had given it in his thesis. ‘Chiefly system must go’“Cultural autonomy must have a sunset clause,” Khaiyum wrote in his conclusion.

“Its prolonged continuation will place a stranglehold on the very members it seeks to protect and it will concomitantly disallow the critical cultural space in which a just, vibrant and coherent nation-state can flourish while embracing diversity.” That observation was preceded by a quote from the late Siddiq Koya, then a young, fiery National Federation Party orator in Fiji’s pre-independent Legislative Council. “Why should there be poverty in the village? The place is your own, yet you are imprisoned. “We are telling you to wake up! We want to give you the right that God gave you. “Think for yourself who you are-you are a man! “We want to give you the honour and dignity due to you. “You are a man, you are an individual, and I respect you. “But for goodness sake, your old chiefly system must go! “It is not helping you, it is not helping this island, it is not helping us. So let’s change and move forward!” ‘Cartel of leaders’Khaiyum’s research showed that calls for the abolishment of Fijian institutions like the BLV were nothing new, tracing it back to the administration of colonial governors like im Thurn.

He cited numerous reports compiled during the 1950s that spoke of the need to inject changes into the Fijian administration, and the resistance to such calls by people with vested interests like Ratu Sir Lala Sukuna. “The Spate’s comprehensive report of April 1959 which examined the ‘economic problems and prospects of the Fijian people’ brought to the fore that separate administration was no longer useful. “He noted Sukuna’s interpretation of culture and his solution through a (re) structured separate administration ‘were biased by his half conscious vested interest in a society in which chiefs were chiefs.’”
Later, Khaiyum went onto observe: “European contact in Fiji was primarily in the East/North which consequently led to the confirmation of a new chiefly elite from those regions. “This led to the establishment of a cartel of hereditary leadership families and their cliental network. “Madraiwiwi (Sukuna’s father), Sukuna, Cakobau, Mara, Ganilau and lately Qarase have all been beneficiaries of this bias forged through the perpetuation of the separate administration. “On the other hand, those such as Bavadra and Gavidi, westerners were not accepted and were outsiders-did not represent indigenous Fijian culture-since they encroached upon the territory of the establishment clique.” Allegiance to stateThat separate and autonomous bodies like the BLV could work against the state, Khaiyum said, was evident in the coups of 1987 and 2000.

Such a state of affairs should be worrying as it could also throw into question the loyalty of Fijians to the state. “The manner in which the separate institutions reacted to and were utilised following the election of the Labour coalition governments and their subsequent overthrow in 1987 and 2000 demonstrated that separate institutions (Fijian Affairs Board, Bose Levu Vakaturaga, Bose ni Yasana, Bose ni Tikina, Bose ni Koro) were perceived to be and indeed viewed themselves to be independent of the institutions of the state. “Autonomy or more appropriately the institutions of autonomy can become completely independent at the expense of superseding the institutions of the state-coming into direct conflict with the state and creating and perpetuating the ethos of the particular race and difference.
“This ultimately creates not only a very weak state but also stunts the growth of nationhood.
“In other words, cultural autonomy could provide benefits to minority groups, however culture-based institutions could get caught in a time warp and subsequently not responsive to the changes and needs of the group which has autonomy. “Indeed one of the effects of creating culturally autonomous institutions which invariably is in relation to the ‘other’ is the homogenising of the identified group. “This process increases the propensity to relegate and ignore intra group inequalities and injustices such as socio-economic and gender issues. At the same time, by placing too much emphasis on culturally autonomous institutions, individuals and groups could have the tendency to not only become insular but also have negligible levels of allegiance to the nation-state.”

Military ineptitude
The role of the Fiji military was hardly mentioned in the in the interim attorney-general’s thesis. All it got was one or two paragraphs in the preface of his paper.

“Mahendra Chaudhry’s reign as Prime Minister lasted only a year. He and members of his cabinet were taken hostage by a George Speight and seven armed ‘gunmen’ on 19 May 2000.
“One would have thought that given the few number of kidnappers a rescue of the Prime Minister and cabinet in particular by the Fiji Military Forces, which prides itself in its military prowess, was obvious and a relatively easy task. However this was not to be. “The ineptitude, inertia and reluctance displayed by the military and other law enforcement agencies in the first few weeks of the crisis allowed the kidnappers a free hand in mustering support at the parliamentary grounds for their ’cause,’ holding the Prime Minister and his Cabinet in captivity for 56 days.”

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