Fiji Times

SUVA. Fiji (July 3) – The catch words these days have to be Bill, Unity, Reconciliation and Trust.

With the proposed Reconciliation, Tolerance and Unity Bill now taken down to the provincial levels, a lot depends on our chiefs.

So we wouldn't be wrong if we said all eyes are on the chiefs of this country for effective leadership now more than ever.

With the Great Council of Chiefs meeting this month, once again the focus will be on the chiefs to rightly weigh the pros and cons of the Bill before reaching any decisions which may change the path of this country forever.

Why do we need chiefs to do this, some may ask? There are many arguments that the Great Council of Chiefs has lost much of its relevance. But this argument, challenging the chiefs to come clear on its role in championing the cause of Fijians, doesn't survive serious examination.

The GCC is really a body for all people.

For in times of stress, not only the indigenous Fijians but also the Indo-Fijians look to the chiefs for wisdom and guidance.

Indeed many regard the chiefs as a valuable counterbalance in the running of government.

It would certainly take a brave Parliament to ignore or belittle the chiefs. The powers of the GCC may be subtle, but they cannot be ignored.

The role of chiefs has evolved into one that needs them not to confine their thoughts and ideas only to their own clans and vanua, but equally to all races.

Today, more than ever there is an increasing demand for them to take into consideration in their deliberations, the welfare of everyone living in this land.

Many citizens appreciate the significant role the chiefs play in resolving issues confronting the nation.

Questions are often asked as to how powerful GCC really is, and whether the chiefs really reflect the views of the people they are supposed to represent through traditional positions, rather than choice.

The arguments have always been along the lines that people already have a Parliament where democratically elected representatives make laws and decisions to govern their affairs.

There is no need for any other body, on that view.

Indeed many citizens since 1987 have seen the need to have such a body. The council has been something many people have looked up to as the fount of power, or mercy and, to some extent, of honour during national crisis.

The GCC can modify and widen its role to suit the political and social climate of the day. This is what we are banking on now.

Back in 1997 the chiefs broke down the barriers by inviting the then Opposition Leader Jai Ram Reddy to address the Bose Levu Vakaturaga meeting.

The mere presence of an Indian leader among the chiefs was a major breakthrough.

Chiefs can still show the way.

For so long ethnic groups have been forced to take a narrow, communal view of their best interests.

Indigenous Fijians through the GCC have tried to safeguard their own interests.

Other communities, while not disputing the importance to safeguard indigenous rights, want their own interests taken care of.

The bottom line is the promotion of national unity and racial harmony — in the true sense of it.

Today, with the Bill in their court, the chiefs are called upon to be chiefs, not only for Fijians, but for all.

July 4, 2005

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