By Makereta Komai, PACNEWS Editor

The Office of the Prime Minister in Fiji will appoint an interim administrator for the Rabi Island Council of Leaders and restore the annual Rabi Subvention Fund.

It’s one of the immediate priorities that Prime Minister Sitiveni Rabuka wants to deliver for the people of Rabi – who have missed out on social and economic developments for three years when the Subvention Fund was with-held by the Office of the Prime Minister.

In Tarawa after a successful State Visit to Kiribati, PM Rabuka told PACNEWS he wants to restore the Council of Leaders and the much-needed funds for development on Rabi Island.

“The Rabi Council of Leaders has been suspended for a while because its audited accounts had not been presented. The appointment of an interim administrator would see that these are done quickly to allow for the Subvention Fund to be disbursed.

“Even before the audited reports are produced, we can start with the Subvention Fund and rule off where we have not been able to ascertain the proper utilisation of the fund. We will give them the funds required to upgrade health centres, schools and other things that are normally funded from the Prime Minister’s office, said Rabuka.

He confirmed the reinstatement of the Rabi Island Council of Leaders – which was dissolved about a decade ago, in June 2013.

“There is a plan to reinstate the council. It has an important role in sending a nominated member to the Parliament of Kiribati. That will have to continue and its part of the manifesto of the People’s Alliance to bring back local government and city council and town council elections.

In response to PACNEWS question on whether it will be one of his immediate priorities, the Prime Minister replied, “Whatever we can do within the existing laws we will do. It will be taken through Cabinet and Parliament to inform everyone what’s going on. Those that needed legislation or amended to legislation will be done that way.”

Map showing Rabi Island off the east coast of Vanua Levu Fiji. Photo: Banaban Voice

Under the Banaban Settlements Act 1970, the affairs of Rabi Islanders are administered by the Rabi Island Council of Leaders. The Office of the Prime Minister in Fiji oversees the annual allocation of development and operational funds for the Council.

PACNEWS understands the annual grant of FJD$150,000 (US$68,875.35) has been with-held for three years – penalising the people of Rabi who have missed out on social and economic developments to improve their livelihood.

On 15 December 1945, about 78 years ago, more than 700 people from Banaba were shipped to Rabi Islands in Cakaudrove in Fiji by the British Government. The island was bought from Levers Pacific Plantation Pty Limited by the British Government to resettle the people of Banaba whose island was ravaged by phosphate mining.

In his address at the State Dinner in Bairiki on Friday, the Fijian leader said he was deeply moved to be in the ancestral home of the Banaban people who were displaced and probably moved against their will to Rabi Island in Cakaudrove, his home province.

“They have played a major part in the affairs of Cakaudrove Province. Our paramount chief is now the Speaker of our House of Representatives in Fiji – our parliament.

“The Banaban community on Rabi has now become a very important part of the rich fabric of multi-cultural Fiji and our government encourages them to cultivate their unique identity and historical ties with the people, the government and the land of Fiji.

“Many of the original inhabitants of Banaba never saw their homeland again but I believe they are with us in spirit tonight, I believe all smiling because we continue with the rich tradition of the Pacific and our family connections. They have become my kinsfolk; they have become my family. You therefore are my kinsman and also my family, PM Rabuka told a large gathering of invited guests at the State Dinner.

The people of Rabi, even though reside in Fiji, have an inalienable right to enter and reside in Banaba in Kiribati. Chapter Nine of the Kiribati Constitution protects that right over their land even though they reside on Rabi Island in Fiji.

One of the most important concessions in the Kiribati Constitution is the presence of two nominated members in the House of Assembly. One member representing the Banaba community is elected from those that reside on the island and the other members is nominated by the Rabi Island Council of Leaders.

Phosphate mining in Banaba. Photo: Banaban Voice

Prime Minister Rabuka told PACNEWS the appointment of a representative to the Kiribati Parliament will be the responsibility of the Rabi Council Leaders when it is reinstated.

Currently, there are more Banabans on Rabi Island in Fiji than those on Banaba in Kiribati.

One of the People’s Alliance candidates in the December general election in Fiji, Jacob Tarutaake who accompanied the Prime Minister Rabuka on the State Visit told PACNEWS there are between 3,000 – 4,000 Banabans in Rabi and the diaspora in Fiji – while only 300 live on Banaba.

“One of the urgent matters for the Office of the Prime Minister in Fiji needs to do now is appoint an interim administrator for Rabi and the Council of Leaders to nominate a member to represent their interests in the Kiribati Parliament, said Tarutaake.

The representative of Rabi to the Kiribati Parliament has been vacant since the death of its member David Christopher in March last year.