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Bills rebuff

Tevita Vuibau
Friday, January 20, 2017

A JOINT submission by the Council of Rotuma and the Fiji Rotuma Association has called for the Rotuma Bill and the Rotuma Lands Bill to be withdrawn.

The two Bills — No.6 and No.7 of 2015 — were earmarked to replace the 89-year-old Rotuma Act and the 57-year-old Rotuma Lands Act.

The Bills were tabled in Parliament last year but have come under fire for not reflecting the wishes and aspirations of the majority of Rotumans.

The joint submission asking for their withdrawal was made by the adviser to the Council of Rotuma, Dr John Fatiaki, when the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Social Affairs visited Rotuma Island on December 30 last year.

It was backed with a petition signed by 85 per cent of all voters on the island, gathered over the course of a single week.

The submission raised concerns that there were no informed discussion on the legal consequences of the Bills.

"The majority people were not widely and properly consulted in 2011-2012 before the Bills were tabled in Parliament in May, 2015, for example no attempt was made to engage youth, women and professionals.

"Furthermore, the Review Committee's Draft Report discussion that was to happen before the 2014 National Election never took place," Dr Fatiaki said in his submission.

The submission also stated that specific sections of the Bills eroded and removed cultural inheritance, economic and social rights and radically changed the system of governance by denying the authority of chiefs and the Rotuma council.

Changes proposed under the Rotuma Bill include the composition of the Council of Rotuma and establishing a forum for the people of Rotuma.

The composition of the Council of Rotuma will be changed to include seven unelected sub-chiefs, two appointees of the minister, the district officer and an ex-officio member while removing the seven elected representatives of the people.

The submission argues that because the minister's appointees are political, the independence of the council is at stake.

The Forum will also take over the Council of Rotuma's function of managing the Rotuma Development Fund and the Rotuman Agricultural and Industrial Loan Fund.

This, the submission states, removes social, economic and political responsibility from the council, delegating it only traditional protocol and customs issues which undermines its authority.

The submission also claims that changes in the Rotuma Lands Bill will have far reaching implications for land ownership on the island.

The Rotuma Lands Bill carries on from the previous Rotuma Lands Act that declared that no Rotuman born after 1959 be registered as a member of more than one Kainaga (clan)

The submission states that Rotumans had already rejected this as Rotuman custom permits Rotumans to be registered with both paternal and maternal lineages.

The Rotuma Land Bill also proposes that all Rotumans shall be registered with both maternal and paternal lineages in a Puk 'Es 'On Famor Rotuma (PEFR)- similar to the Vola Ni Kawa Bula.

However, the submission states the provision is misleading because registration in the PEFR does not mean automatic entitlement to hanua ne kainaga (clan land).

The composition of the Council of Rotuma will be changed to include seven unelected sub-chiefs, two appointees of the minister, the district officer and an ex-officio member while removing the seven elected representatives of the people.

The submission argues that because the minister's appointees are political, the independence of the council is at stake.

The forum will also take over the Council of Rotuma's function of managing the Rotuma Development Fund and the Rotuman Agricultural and Industrial Loan Fund.

This, the submission states, removes social, economic and political responsibility from the council, delegating it only traditional protocol and custom issues which undermines its authority.

The submission also claims that changes in the Rotuma Lands Bill will have far reaching implications for land ownership on the island.

The Rotuma Lands Bill carries on from the previous Rotuma Lands Act that declared that no Rotuman born after 1959 be registered as a member of more than one Kainaga (clan)

The submission states that Rotumans had already rejected this as Rotuman custom permits Rotumans to be registered with both paternal and maternal lineages.

The Rotuma Land Bill also proposes that all Rotumans shall be registered with both maternal and paternal lineages in a Puk 'Es 'On Famor Rotuma (PEFR) - similar to the Vola Ni Kawa Bula.

However, the submission states the provision is misleading because registration in the PEFR does not mean automatic entitlement to hanua ne kainaga (clan land).








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