[A presentation by Dr. Wadan Narsey at a Panel Discussion on Challenges Facing Fijian Leadership, organised by QVS Old Boys Association and USP’s PIAS-DG]
One should not examine challenges to Fijian leadership in isolation. Fijian leadership has evolved in a historical context from colonial times to the present.
And the numerous crises over the last twenty years all point to a failure of leadership by all political forces in Fiji: the colonial government; the different ethnic communities and their political parties; the military; the religious organisations; the professional associations; and the numerous NGOs.
When the QVSOB asked me to speak at this panel, I asked myself: why would a non-Fijian be asked to speak on the topic of Fijian leadership?
Perhaps the expectation is that non-Fijians may say the things that many Fijians are prevented from saying because of their culture and tradition. But even that reticence and Fijian “culture of silence” is no longer true- just read the very belligerent anonymous postings by Fijians on the many blog-sites since the 2006 coup.
Note that to ask non-Fijians to speak on challenges facing Fijian leadership is to ask him to open his mouth and put his foot in it. So rather than speaking on general philosophical issues, I will focus on just one very pragmatic suggestion for the key leadership institution for Fijians- the Great Council of Chiefs. Any improvement in the performance of the GCC would be very useful for Fijians and Fiji in general.
Co-incidentally, last year, Ratu Ovini Bokini (Chairman of the GCC) was canvassing the possibilities of my giving seminars to the GCC on critical development issues facing Fijians. He wished to broaden the agenda context for the GCC members away from narrow political issues, towards a better understanding of how global forces affected Fijians and Fiji.
We were in the process of discussing dates etc, when the political events overtook everything, and the GCC was suspended. But the issues I would have talked about, have a bearing on my presentation on this panel.
Why focus on the GCC?
Firstly, the future of all citizens of Fiji is deeply affected by the role that the GCC plays, or does not play.
The GCC appoints the President of Fiji, and must endorse the Vice Presidents. The incumbents of these positions (and the GCC) have been critical in determining the kinds of political outcome we have had in 1987, 2000 and 2006. There could have been worse outcomes; and better.
The GCC’s nominees to Senate have the final say on any legislation affecting Fijian resources and issues.
The GCC is the national co-ordinator of the traditional Fijian leadership of the provinces. The GCC is the only national non-political institution that is expected to provide leadership on all matters critical to the Fijian people and to Fiji. Perhaps a superior alternative to political parties which have their own agenda.
There is no doubt that some individual chiefs have very good track records.
But it is clear from the blog sites that modern day Fijians criticise their chiefs for serving their own ends: quick to claim titles for their own benefit; obtaining their disproportionately high share of lease money; seeking appointments as Ministers, Senators, Diplomats, board members and military promotions. This self-interested behaviour is surely part of human nature and to be expected.
But how has the GCC has performed for Fijians in general. With some trepidation, I suggest the following 10 criteria for assessment (with my usual economist’s bias towards bread and butter issues):
The audience is asked to rate the efforts of the GCC on the following criteria:
0 (Poor) to 10 (Excellent)
1. The glue that has helped maintain the unity and dynamism of the Fijian vanua. (This would probably receive a reasonable score out of 10) [ ? ]
2. With the Fiji economy having to following the international forces of globalisation, has the GCC provided sound knowledgeable guidance to provinces and villages on economic development strategies compatible with the new WTO world order: have they initiated sound industries, enterprises, employment creating opportunities, savings and investment schemes? [ ? ]
3. With remittance earnings now becoming the largest foreign exchange earner, and resulting in extremely large injections of money and development capital into the rural areas (far more than lent by banks) has the GCC given sound timely guidance and assistance to their people on income earning opportunities overseas: security guards, nurses, care-givers, seasonal labour schemes [ ? ]
4. How efficiently has the GCC managed (through the NLTB and FAB) Fijian resources (land, timber, sea) in the resource owners’ own interests, including the provision of secure long-term commercial leases to the land-owners themselves? [ ? ]
5. How efficiently has the GCC helped (through the NLTB and FAB) to manage Fijian resources in the national interest? Perhaps a good score in the earlier years, but not so good recently? [ ? ]
6. Has the GCC provided solid clear guidance to Fijian families on a better balance between family interests and traditional obligations (reguregu, weddings, solis) (or are families making these difficult choices entirely on their own?) [ ? ]
7. Has the GCC given clear principled consistent guidance to Fijians at times of political crises (1987, 2000, 2006)? [ ? ]
8. Are the GCC leaders known for transparent, principled, peaceful and timely resolution of succession to chiefly titles? (or have numerous disputes continued to paralyse decision-making and created social discontent and political instability amongst Fijians?) [ ? ]
9. Have the GCC leaders been successful in acquiring the qualifications, skills and experience (economic, financial, legal, technical, professional) etc that are required not just for themselves to succeed personally in a competitive world, but provide guidance to ordinary Fijians in the globalised 21st century?
Test: How many chiefs are successful, by their own merit, in the private sector? (current company on the Panel excepted) [ ? ]
10. Given that these qualifications/skills/experience are not hereditary and just cannot be acquired to the required levels by short-term training, how much effort has the GCC made to co-opt qualified commoner Fijians into the GCC to provide the kinds of skills in leadership that the GCC does not have?[ ? ]
I suspect that on most of the above criteria, the audience would find it difficult to give a good score to the GCC’s performance (except perhaps for number 1).
Given the topic that has been posed to the panel by the QVSOB, I would like to suggest that question 10 ought to be given every priority, as this is one institutional change that can have a profound positive impact on the performance of the GCC and Fijian leadership.
Commoners in the House of Lords
Co-opting commoners into institutions originally designed for the nobility should not be so revolutionary for a former British colony like Fiji.
The British House of Lords, for more than a century, has been co-opting qualified meritorious commoners (men and women). Successful entrepreneurs, industrialists, bankers, unionists, good political leaders, scientists, artists have been given life peerages to enable them to continue to contribute their leadership talents through the British Upper House.
There is no reason why Fiji’s Great Council of Chiefs cannot co-opt solid, experienced, qualified commoner Fijians into the GCC, perhaps for five year terms, renewable if individuals perform. I see no shortage of qualified skilled commoner Fijians, men and women, who have proven themselves in a wide variety of fields: as entrepreneurs, corporate managers, academics, educationists, lawyers, doctors, NGO leaders, scientists, engineers, architects.
I could draw up a short list myself (with names such as Qereqeretabua, Siwatibau, Weileilakeba, Bole etc) but it would not do justice to the many other Fijian specialists who can contribute their leadership, but who would be very reluctant to attempt to do so through the unpleasant fickle world of political parties.
The challenge facing the Fijian community is to urgently identify such a list of senior experienced achievers of public integrity who can contribute their leadership roles through an organisation such as the GCC.
The challenge for the Fijian chiefly leadership is to recognise that commoner Fijians can make enormous contributions to the GCC and be humble and brave enough to reform their institution accordingly.
The GCC suspension and review
The Military Junta has illegally suspended the GCC, an integral part of Fiji’s constitution and system of governance, and they talk of reviewing this august body.
This is all extremely unwise.
Surely, it is for the Great Council of Chiefs itself to consider any reforms, in consultation with the indigenous Fijian people who they represent, and the wider Fiji community who lives are affected by the constitutional role that is played by the GCC.
The GCC can take their suspension not as a “winding-up-order” but a belated “wake-up call”.
One reform that ought to be high on their agenda, is how to co-opt a decent number of qualified, experienced Fijian commoners formally into the GCC to improve its leadership.
For the good of indigenous Fijians and for Fiji.
Well said Professor Narsey.