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GCC Chiefs to be Apolitical

“The iTaukei Affairs Board will be meeting on Wednesday (tomorrow) where we will be discussing the recommendations and draft a cabinet paper for cabinet,” he said. 

Members of the Great Council of Chiefs review team. Front row, from left; Dr Eci Nabalarua, Dr Jone Baleidrokadroka, Minister for Itaukei Affairs Ifereimi Vasu, Ratu Timoci Tavanavanua, Mereani Rokotuibau. Back row, from left; Ministry of iTaukei Affairs PS Pita Tagicakirewa, Dr Apisalome Movono, Malakai Naiyaga and Graham Leung. File

Minister for iTaukei Affairs Ifereimi Vasu has hinted that part of the recommendations by the Great Council of Chiefs review committee was for GCC members to be apolitical.

This was after the GCC review committee carried out extensive consultations around the country, hearing the views of the people on the reinstatement of the GCC, its roles and functions.

Mr Vasu said the recommendation suggested that chiefs need not be affiliated with any political parties to become members.

“But when we think of it, this would be quite hard. There will be some difficulties but yes, they are recommendations and we will consider them as they are what the public have recommended,” Mr Vasu said.

But if this recommendation were to be set in stone, it will first go through Cabinet and then Parliament if it were to be legislated.

“The iTaukei Affairs Board will be meeting on Wednesday (tomorrow) where we will be discussing the recommendations and draft a cabinet paper for cabinet,” he said.

Kotobalavu’s take 

Career civil servant and former Permanent Secretary of the Prime Minister’s office Jioji Kotobalavu said the GCC Review Committee would need to define and explain what they mean by “apolitical”.

“If by apolitical, they mean no member of the GCC should be affiliated to a political party, either as an official or a member, or both, their recommendation would be contrary to the 2013 Constitution,” Mr Kotobalavu said.

“Section 23-(1) states very clearly that every citizen of Fiji has the freedom to make political choices, and the right to — [a] form or join a political party; [b] participate in the activities of, or recruit members for, a political party; [c] campaign for a political party, candidate, or cause.”

He said since the GCC was the apex body or authority of the iTaukei administration, whose principal function was to look after and to promote the wellbeing and welfare of the iTaukei people, as Fiji’s indigenous community, the most important qualification or criterion for appointment as a member of the GCC is one’s registration on the VKB (Vola Ni Kawa Bula) as a iTaukei customary landowner.

“No one who is not in the VKB should be a member,” he said.

“The criterion of being apolitical would effectively exclude MPs from both sides of Parliament, and Ministers and Assistant Ministers, as members of the GCC.

“Ministers and MPs should be allowed to attend as ex-officio members, both to inform the GCC of what is being done for the iTaukei, and to implement GCC decisions.

“The most essential feature of the GCC is the retention of its decision-making procedure by consensus [ie, two-thirds affirmative vote] rather than decision-making by majority vote as in Parliament.”

Consultations this year

In May this year, Tui Labasa Ratu Jone Qomate strongly advocated to the review committee the need for the GCC to be apolitical and for chiefs not to involve themselves in politics.

Ratu Jone had suggested that if someone was a GCC member and wanted to be a member of a political party and run for political office, they should resign their membership.

A representative of Yavusa Nabukebuke, Nailili, in the province of Namosi, Ratu Ifereimi Buaserau Camaisala had earlier this year suggested that the GCC should not include leaders who are part of a political party.

Head of the Catholic Church in Fiji Archbishop Peter Loy Chong had also suggested that good governance should be put in place to protect the Great Council Chiefs from being politicised by those in power.

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