Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Happy Is The Country, Which Has No History.

Image above: Denarau, Nadi. This area hosts the most upscale hotels on a single beach front (Upper left:Regent of Fiji, On the point: Sheraton Fiji, Far right: Soffitel Fiji). For certain these businesses will be affected by the proposed Qoliqoli legislations.

Above image: Soffitel Resort, Denarau, Nadi.

Interesting perspective from the Fiji Hotel Association C.E.O, an indigenous woman in her own right and wife of Fiji's Ministry of Home Affairs C.E.O, Lesi Korovavala.

Defining the ‘Vanua’
Fiji Daily Post 6-Sep-2006

Closing remarks of Fiji Islands Hotel and Tourism Association CEO, Mereani Korovavala to the Joint Sector Standing Committee on Natural Resources and Economic Services on the Qoliqoli Bill.

The Fijian definition of the vanua is that it is the combination of the people and the land. Land includes qoliqoli. The people derive their identity and spirit from the vanua and vice versa. The level of interaction between and within each strata of the social structure, through the use of the land expresses the individual and tribes’ sense of affinity, communication and relations.

Removing the vanua from the people and vice versa, or splitting the vanua from established roles of each clan, and their role to the Chieftain household, strips both from their sense of being and identity. The qoliqoli as treated in this bill has been removed from this definition of vanua, as a separate base with its own raison d’eter and source of power. This is a serious caving in and/or splitting of the foundation of the identity and spirit of the Fijian people. Accordingly the gonedau or fisher clan has been treated as a separate vanua. The according of a separate lease for the qoliqoli demonstrates this separation.

Ownership and Stability
It is assumed that when legal authority is added to the base of Fijian legitimacy, ownership is both clarified and strengthened. This is a myth. For a chieftain system that is maintained through a combination of primogeniture and consensus, the introduction of the legal dimension correspondingly introduces a component that is foreign to the established chieftain succession formula.

The bill is relatively straightforward and easily managed when tenants are non-Fijians. When Fijians become tenants, and more importantly when individuals from the same vanua are lessees, the situation is significantly different from what is at present. The bill proposes the addition of the Fisheries Commission to the decision making machinery of so-called owners. Instead of the ownership being clarified, it is instead complicated further into a triumvirate.

This is a construction that retards efficient decision making, let alone confusing the idea of Fijian ownership. From this complexity, it is clear that the majority of ruling (adjudication) will become the sole prerogative of the Courts. The consequential question therefore is ‘who is the owner?’ It therefore becomes a question of who affords the best lawyers available. The outcome of that path is tacitly understood.
There will be a temptation, particularly from the NLTB standpoint, that qoliqoli be treated in the same way as land. Where the qoliqoli will be treated as kovukovu or sub-divided into mataqali and even tokatoka lots.

This is even more precarious for the basis of Fijian traditional power structure as the qoliqoli is the remaining vestige of communal ownership where the chieftain and the yavusa, mataqali and tokatoka conjointly share ownership, under the paramount chief of the vanua. Kovukovu will erode whatever is left of the Fijian chieftain authority in a real and practical sense.

When the chieftain authority is neutralised in a structural sense as this, the connectivity of the different clans in the Fijian social structure is lost, as they are only connected at the top. The kovukovu formula will replicate the same problems we are facing to date in the leasing arrangement, through the NLTB. Kovukovu will split the Fijian social structure, erode further chieftain authority and compound the same difficulties that current lessees are facing with new ones.

The revenue derived from this sub-division cannot be equated with the cost to the Fijians as a race, in the long term. The failure of the proper management of the proceeds from the leases of these resources by those responsible has been a cause of consistent tension. Using the NLTB formula of kovukovu under the Native Reserve Commission compounds existing difficulties.

The Government can extend ownership in the manner of the Qoliqoli Bill to underground and air space resources, but if the management of proceeds is not reviewed no amount of revenue will please the resource owners. The manner, with which proceeds are managed on their behalf, either promotes or ridicules their integrity and dignity as owners.

To turn these resources into money making endeavours per se without meaningful participation in development and active involvement in business reduces Fijian ownership and mana to timidity. When these happen the owners turn on the tenants. Mobilising support and unity is usually forthcoming in a situation of vagueness and confusion.

The moment clarity is achieved, the sense of unity and solidarity that had existed during the search for that clarity and perceived status, disappears almost instantly.

Again, the sanctioning provisions of the bill will neutralise the very same idea of ownership and control that the bill had intended to realise for the Fijians. By implication, the Courts have become the new owner.

Control and Stewardship
The bill as Fijians interpret is supposed to enhance their control over their resources. As has been indicated, that status of ownership is a shared one, where the ultimate decision making rests with the Courts. There is a fundamental responsibility of stewardship inherent in the status of the owner.

The fact that ownership is unclear, or at best, a shared one with the Courts as the final decision maker, renders the responsibility of stewardship as was supposed to be the expression of status and authority is under serious threat. The Government’s 2020 Vision document for Fijians and Rotumans has a number of objectives. The sum total of these objectives is to raise the level of participation of Fijians and Rotumans, in economic activities of the country to a level that corresponds with their ownership of resources.

The vigorous pursuing of those objectives means, that we should expect an unprecedented level of tensions among Fijians in particular, from promulgation date.

In sum the bill in its current form, is likely to neutralise the very same objectives it had set out to promote. Instead the bill should endeavour to achieve a state of balance (equilibrium) where absolute ideas that aggravates gulfs and frictions between groups, sectors and even intra-communities should be re-tuned, to one that embraces complimentarity.

Fijians and Rotumans cannot achieve the objectives of the 2020 Vision on their own. They need investors and others in a complimentary setting. The application of the idea of substitution in this case, has not catered for the misfit between the scenarios explained earlier. There is the false assumption that the Qoliqoli Bill will strengthen, or even replace, lost status and authority of the owners.

On the one hand, we are talking about strengthening the status and authority of the Fijians and Rotumans, on the other, legislating it in this manner, splits and reduces that authority from the paramount chiefs to the mataqali and tokatoka. Vanua Chieftains are therefore mere figure heads. The dilution of the Bose Vanua illustrates this, in the current set up. The bill is therefore desiring one thing and moving in the opposite direction.

As can be seen, this cannot and will not, give certainty to the desired goals of the Fijians and Rotumans in eternity. It is apparent that the Qoliqoli Bill in its current form needs to be re-worked in a lot of ways to avoid the outcomes stated in this paper. Ultimately, the base ideas that caused the creation of this bill are thin. I now leave these thoughts with you for your consideration. As a joint team of the Fiji Islands Hotel & Tourism Association, Tourism Resource Owners Association and Retailers Association - promoting the best interests of Fiji through tourism with you, our ruling Government, we find ourselves ‘between a rock and a hard place’. However, to ignore them, is to approach the future at our own, but known costs.

Fiji Indigenous Owners Rights Association has vowed to seek legal redress on the matter.

Here is the interview(WAX).

Club Em Designs


  1. To quote Merlin in "Excalibur", "For it is the doom of men that they forget."

  2. Quoting from a Scottish proverb: "One who buys land, buys stones. Those who buy meat, buy bones".