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Government’s numbers keep chiefs in the cold

Thursday 28 April 2016 | Published in Regional

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FIJI – Fiji’s parliament has voted out a petition seeking to reinstate the Great Council of Chiefs.

It was the first test of a new parliamentary rule brought in earlier this year. The Fiji parliament’s new standing orders require the support of 40 per cent of MPs before a petition can be considered.

The chiefly body – commonly known as the GCC – was abolished without debate by the military regime four years ago.

The abolishment has long been a bone of contention with Fiji’s indigenous or i-Taukei community.

The indigenous backed Sodelpa party tabled the petition on Monday with opposition whip Ratu Isoa Tikoca voicing long-held suspicions about the government’s motives regarding i-Taukei land and heritage.

“The removal of these great achievements, the imposition of the draconian laws guarded by the military are craftily designed and targeted against indigenous Fijians, including the i-Taukei to deprive them of their rightful ownership, tie them down to bondage and no freedom and relegate us to peasants,” Tikoca said.

The deputy opposition leader Biman Prasad said the Bainimarama regime had abolished the GCC unilaterally and consultation and debate on the petition via a standing committee were now needed in a democratic environment.

“That’s what the parliament is all about, is to allow the space, allow the people to debate on any issue, whether it’s a sensitive issue, whether the government side likes it or not, whether the opposition likes a particular issue or not.

Tupou Draunidalo of the National Federation Party said the government should support the petition on the GCC because it would make them look good.

“And for the committee to be seen to be consulting Fijians on what is to be done, whether to bring it back, or not bring it back or bring it back in a different form, the government will get all the kudos for it.”

Salote Radrodro of the Sodelpa Party told parliament the Great Council of Chiefs had taken Fiji forward and represented the fabric of Fiji’s indigenous people.

“The gist of the issue here is how are we going to hear the voices of the people? Abraham Lincoln said government is by the people and for the people. If government is by the people, and that’s why we are all sitting here, the voters are in here. And if it’s for the people we should provide for an avenue, for a space, to hear their voices.

Aseri Radrodo said it was a chance for a review of Bainimarama’s original decision to abolish the GCC after he did not get its support for his coup in 2006.

“What was the real reason for the disabling of the GCC? Why was it taken away in the first place? Was there any research done by government to ensure that the will of the people has been reflected? Unfortunately this has not been done.”

Opposition Leader, Ro Teimumu Kepa stressed that the GCC has to come back as it is the only body that can assist in the relocation of villages and settlements affected by climate change.

Government MPs did not contribute to the debate, choosing to comment with their votes.

The Minister for Industry, Trade and Tourism, Siddiq Koya, said the one-sided debate was a waste of parliament’s time.

The government voted out the petition by 29 votes to 16.

The Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama– who has just returned from overseas – said the now defunct entity is not the sole custodian of the traditional i-Taukei chiefly system.

“The chiefs are here to stay and they will be here until Kingdom comes. Nobody is going to remove them,” he said.

Fiji media were expecting the prime minister to make a full ministerial statement on the issue in parliament today.

- PNC/RNZI