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'Identify With State', Pleads Ravuvu

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By Matelita Ragogo Wansolwara, USP Journalism Programme

Until indigenous Fijians identify with the state, division will always remain because of loyalty to chiefs, tribal leaders and other forms of leadership, says the academic heading Fiji’s constitutional review.

And the only way to achieve this will be the drafting of a new Constitution which considers all aspects of Fiji’s lifestyle and the different races that call it home.

Constitution Review Commission chairman Professor Asesela Ravuvu told Wansolwara in an exclusive interview that because central government had only existed in Fiji for the past 126 years, the mentality of swearing allegiance to one's chief was still dominant.

"Until such time when people can identify with the state or at least a majority remained loyal to the government, problems that we have faced and present issues will continue to haunt us," he said.

Prof Ravuvu risks a forced resignation from the University of the South Pacific because of his decision to take up the chairmanship of the review commission, which this week began hearing submissions.

He is presently on annual leave while awaiting a decision by the USP administration.

In June 1999, an academic staff member, Asha Devi Singh was asked to resign after she was appointed to the House of Representatives as a People's Coalition government senator.

"I had proposed that I be released from the university on leave without pay but if they ask me to resign then I will because I am taking this job seriously as a contribution to the nation’s rebuilding process," Prof Ravuvu said.

"This is a big responsibility which I am willing to resign for. The members of the commission and I do not represent any particular ethnic group or political parties, we were appointed to it and we will do our best."

Prof Ravuvu said it was unfortunate that there were people calling for a boycott. He said their decision not to make any submission was their prerogative but it was an "unfortunate" situation.

He said the perception that his commission was aligned to indigenous Fijians and general voters because of its composition was wrong.

Prof Ravuvu, the longest-serving academic staff member after 24 years at USP, was director of the Institute of Pacific Studies when he accepted the chairmanship.

For his chairmanship, Prof Ravuvu is reportedly paid $65,700, receives a $10,800 for housing allowance and he is entitled to a car. A professor’s salary at USP ranges between $58,825 and $63,594, plus subsidised housing.

Prof Ravuvu said his salary was never negotiated and members did not know how much they were getting until they received their appointment letters. Professor Ravuvu has another year in his contract with USP.

Outgoing Vice-Chancellor Esekia Solofa told Wansolwara that because Prof Ravuvu had accepted the chairmanship, USP was "still sorting out" arrangements between the professor and the university.

+++niuswire


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