BY PROFESSOR BIMAN PRASAD
NATIONAL FEDERATION PARTY LEADER
On 2nd August 1967 during debate on the Interpretation Bill in the Legislative Council during the 93rd of a total of 96 years of Fiji’s Colonial rule, there were many references to the interpretation of “Fijian” in the Interpretation Ordinance.
The Ordinance, while containing interpretation of various laws in Fiji, also defined the various races. Fijian was interpreted as the ethnic description for the indigenous or the original inhabitants of our land. The National Federation Party’s position that all inhabitants of Fiji be called “Fijians” was not well received.
During the debate, this was strongly opposed by predominantly the indigenous and European Members in the Council with one Member saying if an “European born in Arabia appeared in Fiji and said he was an Arab”, he would be suspected of being an imposter.
NFP’s proposal in 1967
During the debate, the then Leader of the Opposition and founder leader of the NFP, Ambalal Dahyabhai Patel (A D Patel) strongly advocated “Fijian” to be a common name for all inhabitants of Fiji.
Patel said the indigenous should be known as the “Taukei” saying “they described their language as Taukei with pride. Patel said “Taukei” would be more appropriate as an ethnic description for the indigenous. He said if “Fijian” was used to describe certain inhabitants. It would have a psychological effect on nation building.
However, Patel also acknowledged the difficulty at that time of changing the definition of “Fijian” to include all inhabitants as it was legislated by the United Kingdom Government and only that Government could change it by revising the laws and putting it in the local legislation.
In the end Patel said given the circumstances “it would be better to leave the definition out and let them remain where they are in the hope that later they will be put right”.
The Report of the Constitutional Review Commission titled “Towards a United Future” of September 1996, the basis of the formulation of the internationally acclaimed 1997 Constitution to replace the imposed 1990 Constitution, focused comprehensively on National Identity and Shared Goals.
“Fiji Islander”, as the Common Name was recommended, but the Commission said there was no need for the new Constitution to authorise its use but people must be encouraged to use it to describe themselves.
The Commission noted from the submissions that “Fijian” should be used to describe the indigenous people. “Fiji Islander” was recommended and linked to other recommendations on national identity and shared goals.
It must be noted that the recommendation wasn’t imposed but done so following the widest possible consultations over a year throughout the length and breadth of the country.
The 2013 Constitution stipulates “Fijian” as the common name. We believe this is invariably tied to the provision of Common and Equal Citizenry in the Constitution.
But unlike the 1997 Constitution abrogated by the Bainimarama regime on 10th April 2009 following a Fiji Court of Appeal ruling declaring both the 5th December 2006 military coup and the regime as illegal and unconstitutional, the 2013 Constitution was imposed upon the people of Fiji through a Decree, similar to the imposition of the 1990 Constitution.
The 2013 Constitution is supposedly based on written submissions received through text messages and emails and visitations of the regime’s Attorney General on supposed consultations, which never were consultations but enforcement of what a new Constitution would be like.
And this was done following the trashing of the Ghai Commission Constitutional Review Report, which ironically was commissioned by the regime. Most importantly, the 2013 Constitution as drafted by the regime in the absence of any submissions from political parties that were restricted from operating as political parties and forced to re-register under the Political Parties (Registration, Conduct, Funding, Disclosures) Decree.
A Common Name cannot be imposed. This was also recognised by A D Patel. Patel had strongly advocated for “:Fijian” to be the common name for all Fiji citizens irrespective of their race, religion or simply, ethnicity. He had also recommended that the indigenous population of Fiji should be known as the “Taukei”.
One must be reminded that “Taukei” became the buzz word in the lead-up to and after the 1987 coups in the form of the Taukei Movement – remnant(s) of which are in the current Fiji First Government in the form of either the Movement’s supporter(s) or leader(s).
Patel was talking in the national interest – of inculcating the use of “Fijian” as a common name to build lasting and genuine national unity, harmony and togetherness. Simply, pride and patriotism in being a “Fijian”, whether or not one is the descendant of an indigenous or a migrant race that Fiji its home – and only home.
But Patel did not want a common name imposed upon all the people of Fiji, unlike what the 2013 Constitution has done. In a multi-ethnic, multi-cultural and multi-religious nation, impositions only harden attitudes.
We are sure that “Fijian” would have been unanimously accepted as the common name had it been the subject of wide public consultations, recommendations and enacted by Parliament as the highest court of the land.
NFP’s current position
The NFP’s position of a common name remains unchanged as that of our founder leader A D Patel. Which is “Fijian” as a common name or the nationality of all citizens and inhabitants of our nation but done so through widest possible consultations and enacted through a People’s Parliament.
But not imposed. Imposition of a common name does not promote common and equal citizenry. Imposition of a common name does not promote or achieve equality, dignity and justice for our ordinary people. Imposition of a common name does not promote meritocracy in recruitment and appointment to positions, particularly in the civil service and our security forces, equal opportunities and a sense of pride and patriotism. We only achieve this as a nation when our 7’s rugby team either wins or loses.
Simply, we are united, not by the imposition of a common name, but by triumphs and tragedies in the rugby paddock or our national front.
This is the sad, but the unmistakable reality.
Let’s be all proud FIJIANS – united and marching forward in harmony and unison – NOT in name only.