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Dismissal of Fiji chiefs heavy-handed

Wednesday 4 May 2016 | Published in Regional

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FIJI – An academic who’s been banned from Fiji says the Great Council of Chiefs may no longer be relevant but the way it was dissolved leaves a sense of unfinished business.

The chiefly body was abolished by Frank Bainimarama’s interim military regime four years ago and last week parliament voted out a petition seeking to reinstate the Great Council of Chiefs.

The former Fiji-based academic Brij Lal says there was a time when indigenous Fijians were in the minority and concerned their interests might be threatened. Now iTaukei account for about 60 per cent of the population

Brij Lal Radio New Zealand that Bainimarama dispensed with all institutional forces that were a threat to his powerbase.

“He utilised the ideology of the common person that the Great Council of Chiefs was essentially an elitist body of indigenous Fijians which did not have much resonance in the lives of ordinary Fijians.

“And through force, through decree he has simply disbanded the Great Council of Chiefs and that is where things are at the moment.”

RNZI: Was there some truth in Bainimarama’s thinking that it was no longer relevant to the ordinary person. Was that a fair assessment?

“Well, I think the important thing is this – that if the Great Council of Chiefs had lost its relevance, I think the important thing would have been for the indigenous Fijians as a whole to decide on what reforms might be necessary for the Great Council of Chiefs, indeed whether the Great Council of Chiefs itself was necessary in the changed circumstances.

“But there was no consultation, there was no dialogue, there was no discussion, everything was done by decree. And I think that is the main problem with the way things were done and in fact are done now.

“It is the brute force of numbers, of what the government has in parliament, and before the 2014 elections it was rule by decree.

“So there was no discussion with the principal stakeholders in this situation, that is ordinary Fijians, that is the problem that lies at the heart of this issue.

RNZI: In response to that petition to reisntate the Chiefs being voted down, the opposition leader has sort of indicated that they don’t need the government to help support this or fund this, there would be enough support in the community to set up the GCC without the government’s blessing. Can you see that realistically happening, and if it did, would this organisation what point would there be to it? Would it have any teeth?

“The opposition does not need the government’s approval to set up a body such as the Great Council of Chiefs. But the real question is what function, what purpose will it serve?

“Under the present dispensation it would have no administrative or constitutional authority of any kind.

“It might simply be a body that sits and meets once a year to consider issues relating to Fijian society, but whether that will have any influence on the government is something that I doubt very much because this government is adamant that it must have its way virtually all the time.

“They have the numbers in parliament and they’ll oppose the Great Council of Chiefs and indeed any other body that they see as a threat to their power,” Lal said.

- Dateline Pacific