CONFUSION REIGNS AS FIJI CHIEFS COUNCIL REINSTATED

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SUVA. Fiji (Fiji Times, Aug. 6) – The regulation gazetted last week revives the Great Council of Chiefs as an institution but not its former membership, says interim Fijian Affairs Minister Ratu Epeli Ganilau.

As such, Ratu Ovini Bokini had no authority to speak as the council's chairman because all council members were terminated when the chiefly body was suspended earlier this year, he said yesterday.

Ratu Epeli was referring to last Thursday's gazetted regulation which revoked an earlier order that halted the council's operations. The agreement, reportedly negotiated between the two parties, resulted in Ratu Ovini and his colleague withdrawing its case in court.

"It's illegal for (Ratu Ovini) to be making statements on behalf of the council. He is not the chairman. The regulation does not reinstate membership. It just reinstates the institution. The membership and machinery is under review," Ratu Epeli said.

Ratu Ovini said Ratu Epeli clarified earlier last week that the council's membership was intact.

"(Ratu Epeli) did say we are still members," he said last night.

Ratu Epeli said termination letters which he personally wrote were issued to all council members including himself when the council was suspended. Ratu Epeli was an ex-officio member of the council.

He said the selection process of council members following the review would revise the determinants and pre-requisites of a member and the numbers that would make up the council. He said this review of the GCC was nearing completion. But Ponipate Lesavua, a member of the team reviewing all Fijian administrations, said they had yet to start on the council's review.

Former GCC life member Sitiveni Rabuka said as far as he was concerned, he was no longer a member of the council until a letter saying otherwise was issued.

He said the decision to settle the matter out of court was a face-saving gimmick by the interim administration who knew they did not stand a chance in winning the case in court. Mr Rabuka said it was opportune timing for the interim administration to make a move against its own earlier directive.

Ratu Epeli said the whole issue would be clarified tomorrow following a Cabinet meeting.

Ratu Ovini said Ratu Epeli had no legal backing to support his comments.

"He's assumed power by coup. We do not live in democratic times. There is only a government when it leads with the mandate of the people. They (interim administration) do not have the mandate of the people. They have a mandate but we don't know whose," he said.

"We may have to return to court if this is what Ratu Epeli is saying. As it is, we are wasting the courts time and resources. They cannot make laws without Parliament. All these regulations will become law once a government is elected."

GCC lawyer Kitione Vuataki said the first regulation terminated the membership and so a revocation of this regulation meant the council's membership was now intact.

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