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Council Of Chiefs Meeting Starts Today

Issue No: 562 8 March 2001

The meeting of the Great Council of Chiefs (GCC) starts today at the army headquarters.

Agenda items for the Council include: appointment of the Chairman of the GCC; appointment of the Deputy Chair of the GCC; Appointment of the President of Fiji; Appointment of the Vice-President for Fiji; and the Fiji Court of Appeal decision.

Media reports that there is a strong lobbying going on for the GCC's chairmanship. The term of the current chairman, Sitiveni Rabuka was for one year. People reportedly vying for the position are Rabuka, his Deputy Adi Litia Cakobau, and Senator Osea Gavidi. The name of Tailevu chief and former politician Ratu Timoci Vesikula, has also been raised.

There is intense confusion about the membership of the GCC. In the greatest ironies of all, high Chief Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara is regarded as not being a member of the GCC after the GCC made Ratu Josefa Iloilo the Interim President. Today, however, he has been invited to the meeting as one of the 6 nominees of the now declared illegal, Minister for Fijian Affairs, who now is his son-in-law Ratu Epeli Nailatikau. His other nominees are his mother-in-law Adi Lala Mara, his brother (and leader of a rival Fijian Association faction) Ratu Tuakitau Cakanauto, and former army commander (and another son-in-law of Ratu Mara) Ratu Epeli Ganilau. The identity of the other nominee is not known.

If it were not for the nomination, some of the country's highest chiefs would have remained outside the GCC. Previously numerous chiefs, including Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Fijian Affairs Adi Kuini Vuikaba Speed, and Tailevu high chief Ratu Meli Vesikula, have claimed that the membership of the GCC was politicised by the SVT leader Sitiveni Rabuka when he was the Prime Minister. They also claim that the GCC now comprises many people who are either not high chiefs or chiefs who represent their people.

The 1997 Constitution gave the GCC a strong legal and constitutional status by endowing the responsibility of appointing the nation's President, in consultation with the Prime Minister, to it.

Interestingly, this meeting has not invited the Prime Minister to attend. The Prime Minister is an ex-officio member of the GCC. The Prime Minister, who now is Mahendra Chaudhry, has stated that he will not attend the meeting without an invitation.

Meanwhile the Citizens Constitutional Forum has challenged the GCC to conduct its business as allowed for by law. It has challenged the `membership' of some members of the GCC saying that under the 1997 Constitution (c67) public office holders are deemed to have resigned from their posts once elected to the House of Reps. Provincial Council chairmanship is regarded as public office. Ratu Inoke Kubuabola, who is a Member of Parliament and also claims to hold the Chairmanship of the Cakaudrove Provincial Council is one such person whose membership of the GCC is disputed. The CCF threatened the take the GCC to court if it allowed Ratu Inoke to sit as a member.

The meeting will also hear from the Acting President Ratu Josefa Iloilo on the Fiji Court of Appeal decision and his recommendation for implementing the decision.

This meeting of the GCC has been tagged as the most important meeting of the GCC ever.

END 8 March 2001

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