Way Forward for the Great Council of Chiefs By Archbishop Peter Loy Chong

The Late Professor Brij V. Lal, wrote that British colonial rule laid three historical foundations in Fiji’s history. These were: the Colonial Sugar Refining Company (CSR), indirect rule policy, and the Indian indentured laborer system. The CSR formed the backbone of Fiji’s economy; cheap Indian indentured labor ensured the profitability of the CSR, and indirect rule provided a separate governing body to rule the I Taukeis.

Indirect rule is the British Colonial government’s policy for ruling natives. Indirect rule is a form of administration that incorporates native institutions and chiefs into the colonial government in order to rule natives. The colonial administration ruled over natives by incorporating customary chiefs.

In Fiji the British Colonial government introduced the Great Council of Chiefs under the indirect rule policy. In other words, colonial government introduced the Great Council of Chiefs to rule over natives.

Over the years, the Great Council of Chiefs has become part of Itaukei consciousness. Today as the government plans to bring back the Great Council of Chiefs they must decolonize its meaning and purpose. The government and chiefs must reframe its meaning so that it serves the common good and not those in power.

Good governance and transparency obligates the government to define clearly the role of the GCC in serving the common good. We must move beyond the colonial configuration, as a
‘native rule policy’. GCC must serve not only Itaukeis or those in power but all Fijians. The government and stakeholders must define clearly the role of GCC in politics.

Good governance policies must be put in place to protect the Great Council Chiefs from being politicised by those in power. Fijian history shows how those in power politicised important institutions like the Great Council of Chiefs and the Fiji Military Forces.

Looking at the historical evolution of indirect rule and Great Council of Chiefs is a good way of reframing its meaning and purpose. History helps us see how we have come to the present as well as planning for the future. Learning from history will help us avoid the mistakes of the past.

We can learn from Julius Nyrere, the first native Tanzanian president. Nyrere identified that you cannot mix customary leadership with political leadership. Customary and political leadership operate on two different levels. Customary leaders are born into these roles whereas political leaders are elected by the people. Politically elected leaders are accountable to the people who elected them. If they do not perform, they can be voted out. However, it is difficult to challenge and even vote out chiefs who are also political leaders.

Fiji is now in her independent era. We have to move beyond colonial political configuration. Our decisions must be guided by the common good, human dignity, and participation of all peoples.

Let’s pray that the government and chiefs make informed decisions regarding the Great Council of Chiefs.