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“GCC and Chiefs Failing Fijians” (The Fiji Times, 21 March 2015).


GCC and Chiefs Failing Fijians
Professor Wadan Narsey

In 2007, the QVSOB Association and USP organized a panel discussion of which I was a part, titled “Challenges Facing Fijian Leadership”.

I focussed on the performance of the Great Council of Chiefs (GCC) which had just been suspended by the Bainimarama Government and which, he declares today, is not ever going to be ever resuscitated.

I do not address Bainimarama’s motives in getting rid of a colonial institution designed to control Fijians through their chiefs, nor do I address his dictatorial method of doing so.

I simply examine the performance of the GCC (and chiefs in general) according to criteria I, as an economist, feel are important “bread and butter” issues for ordinary Fijians in today’s world.

In the discussions and debate, the Fiji public must differentiate between the chiefly system for which ordinary Fijians still have a great respect in their day to day communal lives, and the GCC itself, as a national body which used to have a crucial formal role in Fiji’s politics.

In that 2007 panel discussion, I asked the audience to judge the performance of the GCC by ten criteria, which we can also use to judge chiefs in general.

Of course, some individual chiefs (like Ro Temumu Kepa, Ratu Joni Madraiwiwi, Ratu Jone Dakuvula, Ratu Ropate Qalo, Adi Eci Nabalarua) will come out with flying colours on their own personal merits and achievements (and some do not even use their titles).

The Chiefs’ Exam

In 2007, I had asked the audience to assess the performance of the GCC (or chiefs in general) in providing leadership to ordinary indigenous Fijians, with a score of “0” (total failure), “5” (average) and “10” (excellent)

My personal (and “kind”) assessments out of a top possible score of 10, are in brackets (you can give your own score and add to the criteria).

(1) The GCC as the “glue” that has helped maintain the unity and strength of the Fijian vanua [8].

(2) Did the GCC provide sound guidance to provinces, villages and ordinary Fijians on economic development strategies compatible with the new WTO world order? Have they initiated sound industries, enterprises, employment creating opportunities, savings and investment schemes? [1]

(3) For example, has the GCC assisted Fijians to earn remittance earnings (as security guards, nurses, care-givers, seasonal labour schemes) which have becoming the largest foreign exchange earner, injecting more funds into the rural areas than banks [1]

(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? [2]

(5) How efficiently has the GCC helped (through the NLTB and FAB) to manage Fijian resources in the national interest? [5]

(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?)  [0]

(7) Has the GCC given clear principled consistent guidance to Fijians at times of political crises (1987, 2000, 2006)? [0] (or to be truthful, minus 10?)

(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? Eg the Vunivalu title?) [2]

(9) Have the GCC leaders acquired the qualifications, skills and experience (economic, financial, legal, technical, professional) needed to guide ordinary Fijians in the globalised 21st century or even succeed on their own merits in the private sector? [1]

(10) Given that the qualifications/skills/experience required by question 9 are not hereditary, has the GCC attempted to co-opt qualified commoner Fijians into the GCC (like the British House of Lords) and recognize them formally as good Fijian leaders? [1]


My kind assessment adds up to 21 out of 100, a pathetic failure (and 11 out of 100 if we give them (-10) for all the damage they did in the coups of 1987 and 2000).

Even if we were to be kinder on several of these criteria, you will still not reach 50 out of 100.

One can disagree with Bainimarama on the dictatorial “process” by which he has dismantled the GCC, but on the objective criteria above, the GCC in 2007, was badly failing the exam.

Eight years later, the chiefs still have not risen to the challenge and are still badly failing.

Note that there has been nothing to stop the chiefs of Fiji from getting together informally or even formally, to replace the GCC and address their common interests.

In 2007, I had suggested (The Fiji Times, 28 July 2007) that the GCC should take  their suspension as a “wake up call”, not a “winding down” order.

They have still not woken up.

On the contrary, some high chiefs joined Bainimarama and used their titles to help implement his coup, despite Bainimarama’s dismantling their highest body.

Today, whatever the parliamentary leadership provided by individual chiefs (like Ro Temumu Kepa and Ratu Naiqama Lalabalavu), the fact is that as a group, the GCC quietly went out of sight.

What does that say about the degree of their commitment and relevance to indigenous Fijian leadership?

Why no popular protests?

Just as interesting is that there has been no popular protests from the ordinary Fijians and especially not from the educated and qualified ones among them.

Today there is no shortage of qualified skilled Fijians (mostly commoners but also some chiefs), men and women, who prove themselves on a daily basis as leaders in a wide variety of fields: as entrepreneurs, corporate managers, academics, educationists, lawyers, doctors, NGO leaders, scientists, engineers, architects (I won’t draw up a list in case I offend those left out.)

The fact that they say nothing publicly about the closing down of the GCC, should make SODELPA think very hard about making the GCC a central issue for their campaign in Parliament, especially when there are other far more important issues.

It is comical that one SODELPA MP claimed that the chiefs’ authority derives from God, but then the same person also prophesied that Fiji would be devastated by an earthquake and tsunami on 23 July 2010, not particularly helpful to the tourism industry, especially coming from a top tourism executive responsible for marketing Fiji.

What progress?

In my 2007 article I had suggested a five point agenda for a Review of the GCC and the role of the chiefs:


  1. the development of a sound development strategy for indigenous Fijians for the globalized world order;


  1. reform of the system of allocating native lease monies;


  1. resolve speedily the conflicts over chiefly titles;


  1. remove the differentiation of dividend rates between Class A and Class B shareholders in Fijian Holdings Limited; and


  1. co-opt qualified commoner Fijians into Fijian leadership.



The readers might want to ask how many of these have been achieved by the Bainimarama Government over the last eight years, whatever else they have done or not done.




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