The Fijian Parliament Thursday passed the i-Taukei Affairs (Amendment) Act of 2023 which will see the reinstatement of the Great Council of Chiefs (GCC) the highest chiefly political body in the island nation.

The GCC was disbanded in 2007 following a military coup by then-prime minister Frank Bainimarama, who accused it of interfering in politics and inciting racial tension.

The Bill was passed after vigorous debates from both the Government and Opposition sides.

The newly endorsed Act will see the establishing provisions of the Bose Levu Vakaturaga or the Great Council of Chiefs in the Act and to include reference to the Council in other provisions of the Act and i-Taukei Trust Fund Act 2004 as applicable.

Speaking on his motion, the Attorney-General Siromi Turaga said the GCC is an historical institution of our forefathers, whose role was recognised under the 1990 and 1997 Constitution to be consulted on, make recommendations and take decisions in matters concerning the good governance and wellbeing of i-Takei people.

Turaga said I stand not to marginalise anyone, but simply to highlight that it is the Coalition Government’s priority to restore the recognition of the GCC once under the Act to ensure that the voice and opinion of our traditional elders are considered when matters concerning i-Taukei people, traditions and culture arises.

Also, Opposition MP Viliame Naupoto said the Great Council of Chief was established on the basis of how best it would safeguard the interests of i-Taukei – And throughout the years, the GCC was fairly criticised that it was a politicised organisation.

He said the GCC will always be politicised – The onus now on the GCC is to figure out how it must not be exposed and be shielded from in its purest form.

He added that without the Bose Levu Vakaturaga during the previous year, the interest of the i-Taukei continued to be enshrined in the Constitution and other legislative bodies and councils.

Prime Minister Sitiveni Rabuka urged Members of Parliament not to vote on a partisan line, but to vote on something that will benefit all Fijian people.

He also read previous correspondences from the former Minister for Lands and Mineral Resources Ratu Naiqama Lalabalavu, the former GCC Chair and the Tui Tavua, the late Ratu Ovini Bokini and other correspondence written to him on his tenure as life member of the then GCC.

Clause 2 of the Bill amends section 2 of the Act by inserting the definition of ‘Council’ to mean the Great Council of Chiefs and the definition of ‘Permanent Secretary’ to mean the PS Responsible for i-Taukei Affairs.

Clause 3 of the Bill inserts section 3 to the Act to provide for the constitution and primary function of the Council.

Clause 4 of the Bill amends section 4(4) of the Act to require the i-Taukei Affairs Board to refer to the Council any question relating to the i-Taukei people that the Minister may submit to the Board.

Clause 5 of the Bill amends section 5 of the Act to empower the Minister to make regulations in relation to the Council.

Clause 6 of the Bill amends section 11 of the Act to require the Minister to refer to the Board or the Council any proposed Bill that is intended to be introduced to Parliament and which may appear to the Minister to affect in any important matter the rights and interests of the i-Taukei people.

The Board or the Council, as the case may be, is then required to submit the proposed Bill with a memorandum, which is to be used in the Parliamentary debate process.

Clause 7 of the Bill consequentially amends the i-Taukei Trust Fund Act 2004 to inter alia reference to the Council.

The amending legislation will come into force on a date or dates appointed by the Minister by notice in the Gazette.

28 members voted in favour, 22 against, one had abstained and three did not vote.