One of the Pacific’s oldest political institutions, the Great Council of Chiefs (GCC) abolished in 2012 by former Fiji’s Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama will be re-established and the first meeting will be in May.
The GCC or Bose Levu Vakaturaga(BLV), has existed since 1876 but Bainimarama said it has perpetuated elitism and created divisive politics as it is part of the country’s colonial past.
While addressing the opening of the 2023-2024 session of Parliament Friday, President Ratu Williame Katonivere said Government must respect the human rights of every person in Fiji as guaranteed in the Constitution of the Republic of Fiji 2013, as well as the rights of all communities in Fiji.
“We must also continue to recognise the rights of the first peoples of this nation or the iTaukei and the people of Rotuma, as guaranteed in international agreements like the International Labour Organisation Convention No. 169 on the Rights of Indigenous and Tribal Peoples, as well as the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
“Indigenous Rights are a category of human rights, similar to women’s rights, the rights of the disabled and the rights of children. In recognising these rights, Government does not seek to place indigenous rights above the rights of members of our minority ethnic communities, given the indivisibility and equality of human rights.
“The Great Council of Chiefs, traditionally the apex of the Vanua, is to be re-established.
“Its first meeting will take place in late May. The Government will undertake consultations and preparatory work before bringing the relevant Bills to this House,” Ratu Wiliame told Parliament.
The President said he was reminded of the words of the late Justice Jai Ram Reddy, who addressed the Council of Chiefs in 1997, as the Leader of Opposition.
He asked the Chiefs to consider themselves leaders not just of the iTaukei, but of all of Fiji’s people. He reminded them that Indo-Fijians did not wish to separate themselves from their iTaukei brothers and sisters. And, speaking for the Indo-Fijian community, he told the Chiefs, and I quote: “Fiji is our home. Fiji is our only home. We have no other. We want no other”.
Ratu Wiliame also said the principal iTaukei statutes will be reviewed.
“These include the iTaukei Affairs Act, the iTaukei Lands Act, the iTaukei Land Trust Act, the iTaukei Trust Fund Act, and the iTaukei Development Fund Act. This will position the relevant institutions to deliver their mandates efficiently and effectively.
“The iTaukei institutions will be reviewed. Institutions such as the iTaukei Affairs Board, and Provincial, Tikina and Village Councils will be strengthened. The iTaukei Lands and Fisheries Commission, the iTaukei Land Trust Board, the iTaukei Trust Fund Board, and the Centre for Appropriate Technology and Development will also be reviewed. Again, the aim is to enable effective service delivery consistent with the Government’s mandate in accordance with the universal standards of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and the ILO Convention 169 on the Rights of Indigenous and Tribal Peoples,” said Ratu Wiliame.
He said a prime objective is to improve the economic position of the iTaukei and lift living standards of villages and settlements.
“The Government recognises that it is in the national interest for the iTaukei to increase their involvement in commerce.
“To help achieve this, an inaugural iTaukei Resource Owners Forum will bring together resource owners and advisors with the necessary expertise to develop a roadmap for moving forward. This is an example of the inclusive approach that Government will continue to embrace,” said President Katonivere.
This week, Prime Minister Sitiveni Rabuka says the GCC will meet as soon as the legislation related to its establishment is formalised.
He said they were working on the legislation at present.
“Yes, we were going ahead with that,” the PM told the Fiji Times
Rabuka said there were plans for it to be rebuilt “but we don’t have to wait for the completion of the building”.
“We can hire meeting houses. As soon as we finalise the legislation which will be part of the iTaukei Affairs Act, we will call them to meet.
“In the meantime they are talking among themselves and we’ll formalise it as soon as we are already.”
The GCC was suspended in April 2007 by then coup leader Commodore Voreqe Bainimarama and formally disestablished by decree in March 2012 by the military-led regime.
The GCC building at the iTaukei Trust Fund Board complex in Nasova was destroyed by fire in December 2019.