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SUBMISSION BY THE COUNCIL OF ROTUMA TO THE CONSTITUTION REVIEW COMMISSION

Ahau, Rotuma
18 May 2001

WE, THE CHIEFS OF ROTUMA, AND THE COUNCIL OF ROTUMA MAKE THE FOLLOWING SUBMISSIONS ON BEHALF OF THE ROTUMAN PEOPLE:

1.0    Introduction:

1.1    On behalf of the Chiefs and people of Rotuma, we would like to warmly welcome the Constitution Review Commission to our shores. It is an honour and indeed a priviledge to host such an august body and to be also able to make submissions to it on behalf of our people in relation to the 1997 Constitution.

1.2    The unique and close historical relationship between Fijians and Rotumans go back a very long way. This close relationship is not generally appreciated. or understood and an understanding and appreciation of the unique position that Rotuma and Rotumans enjoy in Fiji, we believe, is vital any meaningful accommodation of Rotuman aspirations by the people of Fiji and indeed the Constitution.

1.3    It is useful to begin by looking back into the circumstances surrounding the cession of Rotuma to Great Britain and how Rotuma came to be part of the colony of Fiji.

2.0 Cession to Great Britain:

2.1    We quote from "Correspondence relating to the Cession of Rotuma, Part II" copies of which are available at the National Archives in Suva. In a letter from the then Governor of Fiji, Arthur Gordon, to the Secretary of State for the Colonies on 30 October 1879.

 

"No. 1.

THE GOVERNOR OF FIJI to the SECRETARY OF STATE FOR THE COLONIES.

Nasova, Fiji, 30th October, 1879.

1.    I have the honour, In continuation of my despatches noted in the margin, to report that since those despatches were written, the three principal chiefs of Rotumah have paid a visit to Fiji. I enclose an extract from a local newspaper, which contains a fair account of their first interview with me.

2.    After this formal and public reception, I had of course, other meetings 'with them of a more confidential character. They stated themselves to have come with the knowledge and at the desire of the other signatories of the petition forwarded in my despatch No. 115, of the 12th October; and that their mission was one undertaken to follow up their letter to Mr. Des Voeux, of the 19th January, 1879. They urged the immediate assumption of authority over them on the part of Great Britain, and the appointment of an English Magistrate to rule them They enquired, somewhat. anxiously, whether any further steps taken on their part would facilitate the accomplishment of their wishes, They were also deputed, they said, to confer with me generally as to their future obligations and duties In the event of their offer being accepted by Her Majesty.

3.    They informed me that the step they had taken in requesting Her Majesty to assume sovereignty over them was no hasty or inconsiderate one; that they had been thinking about it for the last five years; very seriously ever since the cession of Fiji-and, to some degree, even before that event; whilst their last "war" had quite determined all parties among them that their only chance of escape from future calamities was to be found in absorption into the Colony of Fiji.

....................

5    The Chiefs having expressed a wish to manifest their entire surrender of themselves to Her Majesty more explicitly than they had yet done, I drew up a form for their signature, consisting of a few words adapted from the Deed of Cession of Fiji, and containing an absolute gift of themselves and their island to the Queen. After being here a few days, during which they had ample opportunity, of which they fully availed themselves, of communication with the Native population, they begged me to add to this sentence a request that they might be ruled by the same laws as those by which the Natives of Fiji were governed, or laws similar to them. This was done, and the paper, of which I have the honor to enclose a copy, was signed by them.

2.2    Rotuma was officially ceded to Great Britain on 13 May, 1881.

2.3    The correspondence from the Deputy Commissioner in Rotuma, Mr A J L Gordon leading up to the signing of the Deed of Cession records:

 

"No. 7.

MR A J L GORDON, C.M.G... to the HIGH COMMISSIONER

Noatau, Rotuma, 14 November, 1879.

1.    I have the honor to report that, according to the agreement mentioned in my letter No. 1, of the 11th instant, all the chiefs of this island met me here this morning, with the exception of Manhaff, the Chief of Itumuta, who pleaded illness as an excuse for his absence, at the same time sending a minor chief as his substitute.

2.    The meeting was in every way a satisfactory one, and I have the honor to enclose the offer of cession which had been already signed by Maroff, Albert and Manhaff, and to which I have now obtained the signatures of the remaining Chiefs of Rotumah.

.........................

4.    1 have the honor to enclose, for your Excellency's information, a copy of the address made by me on this occasion.

I have, &c.
ARTHUR GORDON,
Deputy Commissioner.

To His Excellency the High Commissioner for the Western Pacific, &C, &C., &C

 

ENCLOSURE 1.

DEED OF CESSION

"We, the chiefs of Rotuma, with the knowledge and assent of our respective tribes, and In accordance with their desire, do, on our mm behalf and that of our respective tribes, hereby cede and surrender absolutely, unreservedly and unconditionally to Her Majesty the Queen of Great Britain and Ireland, Empress of India, the possession of and full sovereignty over all ports, harbours, roadsteads, streams and waters, and all foreshores and all Islets and reefs adjacent thereto: praying that Her Majesty will be pleased to extend to us such laws as now govern her Native subjects in the Colony of Fiji, or such other laws as In Her Majesty's wisdom she may see fit to make and appoint for our Government and for the maintenance of peace and good order. "

2.4    These documents at the Archives show and confirm what we already know and accept namely, that

(a)    Rotuma was ceded as a separate and distinct island nation to Great Britain;

(b)    Notwithstanding that cession our forefathers Wished our lands, seas and people to be absorbed into the Colony of Fiji;

(c)    The laws governing Fiji, where appropriate for the maintenance of peace and good order of our people, would apply to us.

2.5    This "special" relationship with the Fijian people has endured the test of time in peace and war and we hope that it will continue and be further strengthened as time goes by. We are today referred to as indigenous Fijians and Rotumans or as indigenous people of Fiji and Rotuma. Indeed Rotuma is generally not forgotten in the text of prayers in various churches throughout Fiji.

3.0    1970 Constitution:

3.1    The Fiji Independence Act 1970, section 1 (1) provided that:

"On and after 10th October 1970 (in this Act referred to as "the appointed day") Her Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom shall have no responsibility for the government of Fiji", and. by section 5(1) the word "Fiji" in the Act and the other Constitution Documents was defined as meaning "the territories which immediately, before the appointed day constitute the Colony of Fiji."

3.2    It is accepted that immediately prior to 10 October 1970, the island of Rotuma had been part of the Colony of Fiji.

3.3    It must follow that as from that date "'Her Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom" no longer had responsibility for Rotuma.

3.4    It has been argued that the Rotumans had no active participation in the events leading up to Fiji's independence- in 1970 and therefore Rotuma still remains a British Colony. Whether there is any substance in such an argument is now not relevant because the events of 1970 and 1987 must result in the severance of any remaining formal ties with the United Kingdom.

4.0 Independence:

4.1    The letters which we have referred to above clearly indicate our fore-fathers wish to be part of Fiji. Unless and until the present Rotuman Community in Fiji and Rotuma express an overwhelming view e.g. by referendum, that Rotuma should break away from Fiji, the wish to be part of Fiji must be honoured and we now reaffirm our fore-fathers wish.

4.2    In any event, such talk of independence or secession is premature and unrealistic.

4.3    However, we believe that the Rotuman community must strive for financial autonomy in terms of new and improved infrastructure on the island such as roads, water, hospital and other medical facilities, electricity, communication etc.

4.4    These things can be achieved we believe by a more effective representation in government. It would, we believe, go a long way if the constitution allows for:

(a)  Two representatives in the Lower House.

(b)  Two representatives in the Upper House; and

(c)  The creation of a special ministry for "Rotuman Affairs".

5.0 Representatives in the Lower House:

5.1    For the purposes of electing our representatives to the House of Representatives, we seek to have two constituencies established. One constituency to be confined to the island of Rotuma and the other to represent, all Rotumans residing outside the island of Rotuma.

5.2    This is intended to better represent the two communities because of the difficulties of travel between Rotuma and Fiji and the wide distribution of Rotumans living outside the island of Rotuma.

5.3    Notwithstanding the establishment of the two constituencies, it is in our view not necessary that the representative be a resident of the constituency that he or she wishes to represent.

6.0 Representatives in the Upper House:

6.1    It is respectfully submitted that two Rotumans instead of one be appointed by the President on the advice of the Council of Rotuma to the Senate.

6.2    It is intended that one representative be a resident of Rotuma and the other representative be a resident outside the island of Rotuma.

6.3    The Senate provides a checking and review mechanism for indigenous Fijian and Rotuman matters and an additional Rotuman member should further safeguard such indigenous interests.

7.0 Special Ministry:

7.1    It is suggested that a "special" as opposed to a "full" ministry be established because we believe it is unrealistic to create a "full" ministry to deal solely with the affairs of Rotumans in Fiji. Whether it be part of the Prime Minister's Office or Ministry of Fijian Affairs or some other is a matter which the government of the day could decide.

7.2    We believe that the creation of such a ministry would, effectively cater for the full protection and promotion of the rights, interests and concerns of Rotumans as an indigenous race.

7.3    Given the special relationship between Rotuma and Fiji, we believe that our request to establish a special ministry is justified.

8.0 Council of Rotuma:

8.1    Like the Bose Levu Vakaturaga, we respectfully request that the Council of Rotuma be officially recognised in the Constitution. Inclusion in the Constitution will further reassure Rotumans that subsequent governments will not decide overnight to remove the Council by a mere amendment to the Rotuma Act.

8.2    We also ask that all legislative matters relating specifically to Rotuman interests and Rotuma be. endorsed first by a resolution of the Council of Rotuma before it is tabled in Parliament.

9.0 Rotuman Customary Law and Courts:

9.1    It is also apparent from the correspondence that we have referred to above that our forefathers wished to be governed by the same laws that governed Fijians. In this regard, we would be pleased if the Constitution explicitly recognised Rotuman Customary laws and traditions as well.

9.2    We would also be pleased if Magistrates stationed in Suva also preside in Rotuma from time to time in the same way that Kadavu and the Lau group are served. We should no longer be subjected to a District Officer serving as an untrained Second Class Magistrate and dispensing justice in Rotuma. We should have equal access to justice. It is also unfair on the officer.

9.3    Similarly, we would also like the decisions of the Rotuma Lands Commission, as and when it is set up, to be recognised.

10.0 Matters Pertaining to Rotuma:

10.1    We would respectfully request that all matters pertaining to:

(a)  Rotumans living in Rotuma

(b)  the lands in Rotuma and

(c)  the exclusive economic zone that surrounds Rotuma be governed by the Rotuma Act, the Rotuma Lands Act or such other legislation as may be promulgated from time to time.

10.2    We would also request that such Acts be included in the "entrenched" provisions of the Constitution.

10.3    Further, it is strongly recommended that any amendment or promulgation of such Acts should require the prior endorsement of the Council of Rotuma.

11.0 Definition of a "Rotuman":

11.1    We are concerned to ensure that a definition of who a Rotuman is does not inadvertently disturb our traditions and culture. However, having said that we are also conscious of the expectations of our changing society.

11.2    One of the concerns of our people is the fear that a "foreigner" or someone with hardly any Rotuman ancestry could become a chief. Although, such an occurrence could be prevented by appropriate regulations e.g. under the Rotuma Act, a restrictive definition of who is a "Rotuman" in the Constitution would, we believe, have a significant impact.

11.3    Similarly, the right to ownership of land in Rotuma could be inadvertently restricted. Traditionally, a Rotuman has ownership rights in respect of both paternal and maternal lands. This we believe should not be changed unless Rotumans overwhelmingly wish it.

11.4    Although Rotuman society is in some aspects paternalistic and in others maternalistic it may be dangerous now to decide that it should be one as opposed to the other.

11.5    The present definition of who is a Rotuman we believe not only accords with tradition but also with modern society.

12.0 Great Council of Chiefs:

12.1    We wish to place on record our humble appreciation to the Great Council of Chiefs (GCC) for its recent magnanimous vote of confidence in the Council of Rotuma by agreeing to increase our representation in this august Council from two to three members. We are privileged to be part of this body. This is a further measure of the strength of the close relationship that we have with the Fijian people.

12.2    The vital and important role of the GCC over the years and in particular its role in pulling the nation together during and after the political crisis in 1987 and again last year cannot be overemphasised.

12.3    In our view, the scanty recognition of the GCC in chapter 8 of the 1997 Constitution is outrageously disproportionate to an organisation which has been and will continue to be the mainstay of the indigenous Fijian people for many years hence. Indeed its usefulness transcends and positively impacts on other communities in Fiji.

12.4    We fully support any recommendation which would strengthen and enhance the structure and powers of the GCC. In doing so, we must bear in mind the need to ensure that there is sufficient flexibility to allow it to cope with changes and its attendant responsibilities in the long term.

13.0 Fijian Leadership:

13.1    We firmly believe that Fiji must be led by Fijians. Unless this is done, there will be no long term peace and stability in this nation of ours.

13.2    We fully support the current position that the President and Vice President be appointed by the GCC. That should not be changed.

13.3    The GCC however should be at liberty to choose who is to be President from persons of all races and if in its wisdom, it feels that there is a non-Fijian of exceptional ability and stature who could lead this country more effectively, it should be allowed to do so. We should not Unduly restrict the appointment options available to the GCC to Fijians only. We must place our total trust and confidence in the wisdom and ability of the members of the GCC to make the right decisions when the time comes.

13.4    The Prime Minister, in our view, should be an indigenous Fijian - again, for long term peace and stability.

14.0 Affirmative Action Provisions:

14.1    We fully support the Blueprint and what it represents as this will enable us to bridge the widening gap between indigenous Fijians and Rotumans as against those of other ethnic groups.

14.2    The 1990 Constitution had specific affirmative action provisions for indigenous Fijians and Rotumans. The 1997 Constitution does not do this and we would strongly recommend that the Constitution Review Commission reconsider and adopt the relevant 1990 provisions.

14.3     The Social Justice Chapter of the 1997 Constitution tries to address effective equality of access to education, land, participation in commerce etc. The provisions of this chapter should be properly reviewed so that it not only addresses equality of access but also equality of outcomes or output. In other words, we should be able to determine and compare how many of those who are granted access, for example to education and commerce, actually succeed and rectify any shortfalls by providing additional access to the group that is lagging behind to permit it to catch up or bridge the gap.

15.0 Bill of Rights:

15.1    Our Bill of Rights provisions is said to be one of the most progressive constitutional provisions in the world: However, it has not been adequately tested in our Courts and some expert commentators say that it is not suited for a small developing island nation such as Fiji.

15.2     In our view, the Bill of Rights in Chapter 4 of the 1997 Constitution needs to be reviewed thoroughly given the cultural and economic context of Fiji. If it is indeed unsuited to our conditions, those particular provisions which are not suited will need to be amended.

15.3    On a more specific issue, we support the often publicised recommendation that the sexual orientation provision in section 38(2)(a) of the Constitution be deleted. It is totally against our Christian values and upbringing.

16.0 Christian State:

16.1    There have been many calls for Fiji to become a christian state. About 99% of Rotumans are christians and we believe that christian principles should be the basis upon which Fiji is governed.

16.2    The term "Christian State" however is a term of art and we do not believe that a multi-cultural and multi-religious country such as Fiji should be a Christian state given all the trappings which emanate from it and the fact that it will be potential cause for much friction within and between the ethnic and religious groupings.

17.0 Electoral:

17.1    Although the Rotuma Constituency had the highest percentage of invalid votes in the last general elections, we are willing to learn and try the alternative vote system out again.

17.2    In our view, the system must not be changed merely on the basis that it is difficult or provides unpredictable results because the fault may actually lie elsewhere and not in the system itself.

17.3    A system that unites us is what we need. If first-past-the- post will do this more effectively, so be it.

17.4    We would respectfully urge the Commission to carefully explore the current electoral system and other systems with electoral experts and engineers who could effectively discuss various facets of these systems in detail with you and indicate to you the sort of impact they would have on a society such as ours. We understand that the Reeves Commission had access to such expertise and you should be afforded this same facility in order to make an informed decision on such an important issue.

18.0 Voting Age:

18.1    We strongly feel that the voting age in section 55(1)(a) of the 1997 Constitution should be reduced from 21 to 18. Our 18 year-olds are in our view mature and able to make informed decisions.

18.2    In our view, if one is able to join the Army and has the potential to go to war at 18, then he or she should have the right to choose his or her leaders.

19.0 Exploitation of Resources:

19.1    Rotuma is a group of volcanic islands consisting of one main island and eight small uninhabited islets surrounding it. Although the island is generally covered with rich volcanic soil, given its comparatively small size (about 17 square miles) and its distance from the nearest urban centre, it is difficult to grow and market commercial crops in a large scale. In fact, a very large proportion of the population living in Rotuma live on the basis of remittances received from family members and relatives living and working in other parts of Fiji.

19.2    Given the matters raised above, issues such as the protection and security of land and fishing rights became particularly important. Any type of exploitation of the limited resources we have become major issues.

19.3    We are therefore very concerned about retaining our land and fishing rights and having an equitable share of any income which may be derived from the exploitation of our resources.

19.4    In this regard, we would like to see the granting of any fishing rights or exploration rights within our immediate economic zone be subject to the approval of the Council of Rotuma and that we be permitted to levy a fee or share in the income derived from such exploitation.

20.0 Conclusion:

20.1    We have gone to some lengths to explain how and why Rotuma became part of Fiji and we hope that we have succeeded in explaining why we are seeking acknowledgement of the unique position of Rotuma and Rotumans in Fiji and the need for the proper protection of the rights, interests and concerns of the Rotumans as one of the indigenous peoples of Fiji.

20.2    We have also attempted to make certain submissions in relation to the GCC, Fijian Leadership, affirmative action and other issues of interest pertaining to the 1997 Constitution.

20.3    We humbly submit these matters for your consideration on behalf of the Chiefs and the Council of Rotuma for and on behalf of the Rotuman people.

20.4    We have full confidence in this Commission and we pray that the good Lord will abundantly bless the Commission and assist it always in the difficult and onerous task which it has embarked on.


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