KEYNOTE SPEECH AT THE 22ND ANNUALGENERAL
MEETING , NEW ZEALAND HOUSE, LONDON,
MAY 15TH 2004 DR FERETI DEWA
The Chairman of the Society, Mr
Michael Walsh introduced Dr Dewa , who had been one of the two hundred and
twelve young Fijian men and women who had joined the British army in 1961. On
leaving the army he had resumed his education, eventually gaining a PhD. He had then held academic posts in the University of Papua
new Guinea and the University of the South Pacific He was elected as an MP to
the Fijian Parliament in 1994, a position which he held until the coup in 1999.
He is currently conducting research in the UK for a book on
Excellencies, including the recently retired, ladies and gentleman:
It was 1977;
I was working in Papua New Guinea when I received a phone call from Fiji. A rare experience in those days
when there were no such thing as the superhighway or mobile phones. The call was
to inform me that the Alliance Party had lost the recent general election, the
second since independence and I was to go and stand in the next one. 'Why me?'
I demanded. 'Well you are coming home, aren't you?' was the reply.
I had been
away from Fiji since 1961, seeing the world
courtesy of the British Army. Little did my people know I was now working my
way back to Fiji and definitely not to go into
politics. Now, thirty-four years after Fiji became an independent member of the
family of nations, she has come a long way: nine general elections, three
coups, two and a bit constitutions, etc. In 1987 I was teaching at the
University of the South Pacific when the Alliance Party lost the election for
the second time The late Ratu Mara was still its leader. People tend to forget
the Alliance Party had a wake-up call in 1977 when the party lost to the
National Federation Party (NFP), whose victory was short-lived because the NFP
could not form a government. The then Governor-General, Ratu George Kadavulevu
Cakobau called on the Alliance to form the government. Later in
the year, 1977, another general election was called and the Alliance was returned to office. The next
general election in 1982 saw a significant drop in the Alliance majority.
Many of my
colleagues at the University of the South Pacific were instrumental in
establishing the Labour Party in 1985. University policy barred academics from
actively participating in party politics and attempts were made to identify
politically active academics. Labour Party members at USP stayed under cover
for some time for fear of losing their jobs. Homes were burgled for no obvious
reasons but to ransack as if looking for something. It was the view that
intruders were looking for evidence of Labour Party membership. When USP
colleagues who were members of the Labour Party came out of the closet the
break-ins stopped. I declined to join the Party as I was leaving the country at
the end of 1986. When I left Fiji in 1986 I had a feeling the Alliance would lose the election and there
could be trouble. I did not expect anything like a military take-over when the.
Labour Party won the 1987 election.
retaliation Rabuka forcibly look over government, set up a military junta,
handed power over to a civilian administration, took over the government for
the second time, replaced the Constitution with his own, then handed power back
to a caretaker government with the late Ratu Mara as Prime Minister. The
caretaker government stayed in control until the General Election of 1992 under
a new Constitution, and the Soqosoqo Vakavulewa ni Taukei (SVT) won with
Rabuka as Prime Minister.
of the Rabuka administration, both forced military and elected SVT, was
financial mismanagement on a massive scale. The caretaker government left him a
healthy bank account after the first coup. The civilian administrations under
Mr Josefata Kamikamica, Ratu Maraís finance manager, salvaged what Rabuka left
behind and put the finances back on an even keel before handing it back to the
SVT in 1992. Fiji was now running with what was
labeled as the 1987 Constitution, which reserved 37 seats for native Fijians,
27 for Indo-Fijians, 1 for Rotumans and 5 for Others. In the 1992 election SVT
picked up the 37 seats for native Fijians and in coalition with the 1 Rotuman
and 5 Others, formed the Government .The 27 Indo-Fijians made up the
opposition. Government's failure to put through the Appropriation Bill in 1993
was further evidence of Rabuka's monetary mismanagement.
Fiji went to the polls again in early
1994 after the Appropriation Bill did not go through Parliament. The poll
results in 1994 reduced the government majority by 5 native Fijian seats which
went to the Fijian Association Party (FAP) members, who joined the opposition.
A top priority of the FAP was to plug the financial waste in government. It was
difficult as public feeling amongst indigenous Fijians were still stacked against
non-indigenous including FAP who wear seen as traitors to their own people.
wish to take the FAP back into the fold provided a. ray of hope. Negotiations
for an SVT / FAP alliance took off in earnest. The FAP were agreeable but with
conditions. SVT agreed to all the conditions but one. The condition to
institute a commission of enquiry into all allegations of corruption was
totally unacceptable to the SVT. The FAP remained in opposition until the next
election in 1994.
Constitution was loaded with 'positive discrimination' in favour of the poor,
with the belief that the indigenous Fijians make up the majority of the poor
sector in the country. Abuse of office by the SVT administration of the time
was a landmark of monumental proportions. A lasting legacy by the Rabuka
government was the collapse of the National Bank of Fiji.
from various quarters was put on government to review the Constitution. Top of
the agenda was the election system, in particular the distribution of seats.
The SVT government preferred to preserve the status quo and retain 37 reserved seats
for native Fijians with 27 reserved for Indo Fijians The opposition thought
Australiaís National University, ANU in New Zealand offered to give us a grounding on
constitution in a divided society. IFAP and NFP members attended the two-week
seminar. The SVT did not attend. We came back., and we were still worrying over
the numbers. I remember the day very
well when it was agreed that Jay Ram
Reddy, the leader of the NFP, and Rabuka should go behind closed doors,
and discuss it. Whatever they come out with was to be approved. The rest of us
went and drank grog while we waited. They were in there for about an hour. When
they came out, they had agreed the system that is now running. Somehow or other
Rabuka had changed his mind. I donít know what Jay Ram Reddy had said to him.
been persuaded to accept the preferential system reserving 23 seats for native
Fijians, 19 for lndo-Fijians, 1 for Rotumans and 3 for Others. 25 seats were
open to all and sundry to contest. .Each voter was allowed two votes, one for his
racial group and one for an Open seat. However, Government members were hostile
to the new seat allocation reflecting the views of the native Fijian electorate
A clause in the then current 1987 Constitution meant that if a person resigned
or was dismissed from his political party he forfeited his seat in Parliament.
This gave Rabuka the leverage to coerce his party members to accept the new
resolution signed by the Parliamentary Constitutional Review Committee (PCRC)
was the agreement on the election system including the seat distribution. That
was the turning point in what seemed at the time an impossible task. Rabuka
went off to Brussels the following day and returned full
of the glowing reception to that first resolution by the European Union.
On a visit
to the International Parliamentary Union(IPU) in Geneva to publicise the new Constitution
the Fijian delegation was asked as to where the election system originated as
it was a total novelty. ĎItís Fijiís contribution to world politicsí,
was the reply.
Back in Fiji, the native Fijians were skill
agitating against the new constitution. It seemed unfair when commentators at
the time, (some still do today), pointed out that the SVT Fijian-dominated government
led by Rabuka had overwhelmingly supported the 1997 constitution. In actual
fact SVT party members and the native Fijian electorate never accepted the new
Constitution. This was mainly because the electorate did not understand the
constitution except the reduction in the number of reserved seats from 37 to
23, which alienated current Parliamentary members of the SVT. In Parliamentary
circles it was common knowledge that the native Fijian electorate was not happy
with the Constitution and there was unease knowing how it had passed through
Parliament. Rabuka's popularity with the native electorate suffered.
A move to
delay the dissolution of Parliament for the next general election, to allow
time for the dissemination of information about the new constitution, was
squashed by the SVT. The election in 1999 under the new Constitution saw the
SVT humiliated with 7 seats out of a possible 48. The Labour Party/Fijian
Association Party coalition formed a coalition government.
support for the 1987 coups came from rural native landowners- Knowing how
passionate Fijians are about land; Rabuka had made them believe that the
Indo-Fijian dominated government of 1987 would take their land away. Most
Fijians are members of the Methodist Church. To strengthen his support Rabuka
became a lay preacher and banned most activities on Sundays in accordance with
the wishes of the local Methodists. At one point he said that God told him to
carry out the coup.
of indiscretions, both personal and public, during Rabukaís term in office
capped by the unpopular new constitution contributed to the fall of the SVT
government at the polls in 1999. For the second time, the Labour Party was
sworn into office, not without hiccups this time. There was dissatisfaction
amongst native Fijians in the government coalition. Suggestions for the Labour
government to support educating the public on the merits of the new
Constitution were ignored
attendance of the Indo-Fijian Prime Minister (Mahendra Chaudhury) at the Great
Council of Chiefs (GCC) meeting was ill timed. Though membership of the GCC of
the Prime Minister was a proviso of the new Constitution the move did not go
down well with the Fijian electorate. The clause was included with the
assumption that a Fijian would always be Prime Minister. A suggestion made to
government to allow a native Fijian member of Cabinet to deputise for the Prime
Minister at the GCC for this meeting was ignored.
security at Parliament, given the previous experience of the Labour Party in
1987, was perhaps a sign of arrogance. The new Parliament building renders
itself to security measures much more easily than the old one where the 1987
coup was staged. The land issue was again raised now there was an lndo-Fijian
dominated government in power. Recruitment of possible supporters of a
take-over was quite open. Meetings to
plot the take-over were held within the Parliament complex. The final straw was
the introduction of a Land Reform Bill by government while the landowners were
still reeling from the result of the election. Though the Bill had merits
opposition opportunists had a field day whipping up anti-government sentiments.
event of May 2000 did take place, there was surprise all round, not at the
event but that it was spearheaded by George Speight whose claim to Fijian roots
was not common knowledge. Accusations, counteraccusations, claims, counter
claims and denials concerning who was really behind the coup were the order of
the day immediately following the hijack of government.
Fijians believed the constitution was stacked against them to allow non
landowners to govern. This would allow government to usurp (legally?) land.
This was the information used by the perpetrators of the rebellion to gather
support. It is hard to tell who exactly was, or were, the true instigator of
the rebellion. Those in the forefront immediately after the event included
current government parliamentarians, opposition parliamentarians, unsuccessful
candidates in the latest general election, tribal chiefs, and businessmen.
confinement of the Prime Minister and his government, attempts to rope in the
support of ex-British army personnel failed. The head of security guarding
hostages in the Parliament complex was an ex Special Air Services (SAS) member
of the British Army. Other ex SAS personnel had visited the country during the
time of hostage taking but they did not stick around and left. Rumours about an
imminent invasion by a foreign power were used to entice ex British Army
personnel to join forces with the rebels. With the exception of two, British
Army veterans were not involved in the rebellion of 2000.
issue is a useful tool for gaining native support for whatever agenda one wants
to promote. Land in Fiji is divided in three main
classifications. That which is held by native landowners classed as Native
land(80%), and the other 20% split between Freehold land and State land.
Freehold land and State land is available for the public to buy or
lease. The Native Land is held in trust for the native
landowners by the Native Land Trust Board (NLTB). It is available for lease but
not for sale to the public.
native landowners have had to seek NLTB approval for any commercial activity
they wish to carry out involving their land This is a requirement of the Native
Land Act which set up the NLTB. The approval process is a long-winded exercise:
the approval is not always forthcoming and there is total conflict to the
concept of ownership.
land owners can do as they please with their holdings while native land owners
always have to seek approval from the NLTB. Many proposals from native
landowners remain just that due to NLTB non-cooperation resulting in loss of
interest by potential investors, some from overseas.. This has created a
suspicion in the minds of native owners over the years that perhaps the land is
lot really theirs. Every so often native owners engage in activities, sometimes
illegal, to publicise their ownership of the land This has given native land
tenancy a bad image within and outside Fiji, thus increasing the value of what
little freehold land there is.
Colonial era the British Administration endeared itself to native landowners
when it banned the outright sale of land to outsiders which created what is
today classed Freehold land. The Alliance government, which succeeded
colonial rule, was viewed as a native Fijian government under the late Ratu
Mara, and native landowners felt ownership of their land was secure. However,
during the 17 years of the Alliance government the NLTB had a practice
that totally misled the landowners. An application for the use of native land
from an investor to NLTB would be forwarded to the appropriate landowner for
what NLTB termed as landowners 'approvalí for the use of their land.
Alternatively the NLTB could advise the prospective investor to personally seek
an approval letter' from the appropriate native landowner The landowner may
agree or disagree and inform the NLTB accordingly. The NLTB in the meantime
will have its own view on the application. At the end of the day, it is the
decision of the NLTB which will prevail whether it agrees with the landowners
never been properly explained to landowners hat they do not have exclusive
right to their land like they believe they do. But the practice has left
landowners confused and easily misled to believe that their proprietorship is
according to the Native Land Act of 1940 which established the NLTB transferred
all rights from the native landowners to the NLTB. Today native landowners are
asking who owns the land, NLTB or the landowners. A return of the rights to
landowners by amending the Native Land Trust Act would go a long way towards settling
the long running saga of land issues.
proud people. The knowledge with the practice that they have full control of
the land of their forefathers, where the land-owning unit can sit in council
and decide on the future of their land, is true independence. As landowners
they need to know they are influencing the destiny of their ownership. At the
moment they have no say whatever except to wait and receive land rentals which
are negotiated and agreed upon by the NLTB who also decide what the land is
used for and by whom. It is the opportunity to practise the rights of ownership
that has been denied the Native landowners, making claims by commentators that
native Fijians own over 80% of the land meaningless. Both Rabuka (in 1987) and
Speight (in 2000) played the land issue to recruit support.
landowners, because of the prevailing conditions of their ownership, are
readily agitated when told their ownership is under threat. This is how the
disturbances of 1987 and 2000 recruited support. The landowners are misled into
thinking that their land is under threat from a non-Fijian government. The
misleading thing about the supposed threat to native land ownership is the fact
that the constitutions of 1970, 1992, and 1997 all specifically spell out
conditions under which native land may be alienated by government or anyone
else for that matter. The relevant clauses make it practically impossible to
deny native Fijians 'ownership'. Under
the Group Rights section, the Constitution requires a special majority both in
the Lower and Upper House to amend the Land Act. The definition of special
majority makes it practically impossible to amend the act unless the majority
of native Fijians are included in the majority of the votes.
gentlemen, I will have to stop. Before I do I want to remind you of Pope Paul
IVís description of Fiji on his visit some years ago. His
description: 'Fiji is the Way the World Should Be'
ladies and gentlemen, is still true today.
Michael Peart. I hope I can still call you Fred. I think you
put your finger on it with the two things really. One was that things were
never really explained to the people of Fiji in their own language I think the
first constitution too years and years to be translated. I remember that when
the third constitution, the proper constitution was being discussed in
Parliament talking to Jitoko the Cabinet Secretary and saying we must get this
translated. You really must. If you
donít explain it to the people they wonít understand it, particularly as you pointed out the very complex voting
system - non-transferable votes and all sorts of things; very complicated
I think the
other thing you put your finger on really although you didnít use the word was
really the arrogance of the leaders in
not bringing the people along with the.. The Suva people were just going ahead with
their own decisions. Tenure of eighty
percent of the land is a great legacy of British rule but it has been used as a
Tuisovuna: I was
one of Dr Dewaís translators. The villagers didnít understand the constitution
at first but the translation helped understand parts of it. After the second
coup, villagers read the Fijian translation and their attitude changed from
support for the coup to support for the constitution
What ought to be done with the land outside Suva?
Speaker. We should amend the Land Act to
give the rights back to the owners, and re-form the NTLB as a land registry.
Vernon Scarborough. Iíve just come back from Fiji. Itís still a very nice country.
Last yearís tourism figures were the highest for ten years: a sure sign that
people see it as an attractive destination. Many of the visitors are from the UK. There is increasing investment in
tourist facilities signifying optimism
and confidence among investors. Air Pacific, for example is buying new aircraft
and building new hotels.
people want Qarase and Chaudhury to work together for the good of the country.
There is now more positive discrimination in favour of Fijians: they are getting
a foot in the door.
Chairman, Mr Michael Walsh thanked Dr Dewa for a fascinating talk which gave a privileged insight
into some of the behind-the-scenes events in Fijiís recent story.
provided by Dr. E Smith