Ratu Sir Lala Sukuna Memorial Lecture “Trust is the Foundation of Leadership and Destiny Demands Diligence”
FTA Hall, Knollys St, Suva. Saturday, April 23, 2016
Thank you for inviting me to share my thoughts on the relevance of the principles of Fiji’s first statesman to our nation’s social, economic and political landscape – with the benefit of a historical hindsight and its significance in our Independence.
Ratu Sir Lala Sukuna was without doubt, the embodiment of chiefly authority and wisdom. It was this that moulded him into the statesman that we herald him as today. It is quite fitting that this inaugural lecture forum to honour Ratu Sir Lala Sukuna is one that is a beginning in which to open eyes, hearts, minds and worldviews so that we can engender and build on multiracial conversations and unification. After all, no one in this room here today wants what is not the best for Fiji.
Much has been written about the life and work of Ratu Sukuna. All are excellent pieces of academic work no doubt requiring thorough research but in essence all these works establish that Ratu Sukuna was a firm believer that life is more satisfactory if it is dedicated to selfless service and humanity.
The selfless service is illustrated by Ratu Sukuna – a chief, statesman and a decorated soldier – by walking the length and breadth of Fiji especially Fijian or i-taukei villages, convincing them that as landowners they needed an institution to protect their land from being exploited. And this resulted in the establishment of the Native Land Trust Board – the Trustee authority of all native land in Fiji.
Had Ratu Sukuna not had the foresight and not sacrificed his time and energy towards setting up the system of i-Taukei registration that is the Vola Ni Kawa Bula, which was closely aligned to i-Taukei land custodianship records, there would not have been a space in later years to then consider how to then give effect to land legislation that would develop our then fledging economy for the benefit of everyone, via the NLTB.
Ratu Sukuna won the trust of the people and ensured that their trust and faith in him was not misplaced. For over 7 decades or so the NLTB or TLTB as it is now known, has acted in the national interest, albeit with a few exceptions during and after the political turmoil or the coup culture that started almost 29 years ago.
But then, as Trustees of native land, the TLTB acted in accordance with the wishes of the landowners who did not wish to renew expiring land leases from 1999. This was largely driven by the political climate prevalent at that time, especially nationalism amongst our two major ethnic communities.
Ratu Sukuna could not have envisaged this scenario, especially in a nation regarded as a paradise. It is worth pointing out that while convincing the landowners of the need to entrust their administration of land to what evolved as NLTB, Ratu Sukuna also had the national interest in mind – that is the growing Indo-Fijian population and agriculture for economic growth, especially from the sugar industry.
Ratu Sukuna’s understanding of the importance of the sugar industry and its link to the Indo-Fijian community who chose to make Fiji their home at the end of the Indenture period in 1916 would have had this view at a young age because up until now he is the most famous alumni of Wairuku Indian School in Ra – a school established in 1898. And he was an able and bright student.
This later evolved into a legitimate tenancy arrangement when the Agricultural Landlord and Tenant Ordinance (ALTO) was formulated in 1966 that required the minimum tenure of a lease to be 10 years.
Ten years later in 1976, progress was made when ALTA – the Agricultural Landlord and Tenant Act was enacted – increasing the minimum tenure of all agricultural leases to 30 years.
The fact that Indo-Fijians had access to native land and in the latter years enjoyed security of tenure, brought about the growth of the sugar industry into the economic mainstay of our economy for several decades until the turn of the century.
Despite the industry’s downturn, it continues to directly and directly impact the livelihoods of 200,000 people of Fiji or more than 20% of our population.
Despite the common stereotype, cane farmers are now very much a multiracial industry.
The vision to establish the NLTB to administer leases for all native land on behalf of the landowners and the recognition of the land use needs for agriculture of the Indo Fijian population is a perfect demonstration of Ratu Sukuna’s manifestation of Trust. The Trust he created with landowners manifested into Trust given to a 3rd party the TLTB to mediate between landowners and lessee’s for win-win solutions – he triangulated Trust via dialogue. I would venture to suggest that no other indigenous group in the world can claim such visionary protection such as the recording both on paper and in electronic format of native land and i-qoliqoli in such a systematic way.
Ratu Sukuna was a visionary when it came to politics and both personally and posthumously mentored those who later became household names in Fiji.
He is also credited with forming the Fijian Association, which later became the Alliance Party that ruled this country for 17 years.
Above all, the statesman is credited for what is famously known as the “Big Four” – Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara, Ratu Sir Edward Cakobau, Ratu Sir George Cakobau and Ratu Sir Penaia Ganilau. Even then, Ratu Sukuna was ahead of modern day management principles such as mentoring and succession planning. These 4 gentlemen upheld the principles of Ratu Sukuna. And they commanded the respect of our people in no small measure. Together with national leaders at various times of our history like, A D Patel, S M Koya, Harish Sharma, Dr Timoci Bavadra and Jai Ram Reddy, they were, as it has been rightly said – giants of their time in their ability, perception and understanding of the problems facing Fiji.
Trust was the foundation of their leadership. Honesty, integrity and putting national interest above everything else was the bedrock of their larger than life personalities.
The Lord Denning Award that provides a fair distribution of revenue to cane growers, ALTO, ALTA, the establishment of FNPF, negotiations for Fiji’s Independence, the 1997 Constitution, negotiation of various protocols and treaties which have or are still benefitting Fiji economically and development of major infrastructure — through trust, consensus building, dialogue, painstaking negotiations, perseverance and above all selfless service for the greater good..
They did not use the barrel of the gun or impose Decrees forcibly like the Land Use Decree; they did not abuse their parliamentary mandate in riding roughshod over people, they did not impose on the people a Constitution, they did not impose their will on the people by muzzling other’s voices by imposing media censorship.
They made these milestone achievements through trust, consensus building, dialogue, painstaking negotiations, perseverance and above all putting national interest above everything else.
These are the principles of a national leader and a statesman. These principles, together with chiefly authority and wisdom, were the most valuable possessions of Ratu Sir Lala Sukuna. He had nothing of any significant monetary value or material wealth when he died.
The Maori have a very wise proverb that sums this up well: Ka mura, Ka muri. Which translates to mean that we look to the past to inform the way we move into the future because we learn from those who have gone before us. We walk backward into the future with our thoughts directed toward the coming generations but with our eyes on the past.
There are 2 great lessons that I take away from the life of Ratu Sukuna that I wish to share today:
The first is the respect for the rule of law. Despite the trying times as an Administrator in the colonial times and Ratu Sukuna’s fervent aspiration for the self-determination of the i-Taukei at that time, Ratu Sukuna worked within the boundaries of all the colonial regulations triangulating Trust through dialogue with the colonial leaders at that time and with the i-Taukei people before he embarked on that big project of native land registration.
Ratu Sukuna, even as a decorated and hailed French Foreign legionnaire and traditional chief of high rank would not have dared to even think about imposing his view on others such as what is prevalent in Fiji today via the Land Use Decree and abuse of parliamentary mandate to ride roughshod over people.
My other lesson from the life of Ratu Sukuna is that shared leadership and unity is the way forward. There are 2 quotes from speeches both made to the Bose Levu Vakaturaga or the GCC that I want to share that bring this point home I quote Ratu Joni Madraiwiwi – another eminent Leader and paragon of outstanding Leadership — in his brilliant piece at a public lecture to honour Ratu Sukuna last year where he references Ratu Sukuna’s address on native land in the Taukei language to the Bose Levu Vakaturaga in 1936, Ratu Sir Lala Sukuna observed among others as follows:
“We cannot in these days adopt an attitude that will conflict with the welfare of those who like ourselves wish only to live peacefully and increase the wealth of the Colony. We are doing our part here and so are they. We wish to live; they do the same. You should realise that money causes a close inter-relation of interests. If other communities are poor, we too remain poor; if they prosper, we will also prosper. But if we obstruct other people without reason from using our lands, following the laggards, there will be no prosperity. Strife will overtake us and before we realise the position, we shall be faced with a position beyond our control, and certainly not to our liking. Lastly I beg you to think of the big changes that have come over us and of the complications consequent on dealings based on money. You must remember that Fiji today is not what it used to be. We are not the sole inhabitants; there are now Europeans and Indians. Should Fiji progress we shall all benefit and vice versa…”
Justice Jai Ram Reddy, former NFP and Leader of Opposition, the first Indo-Fijian Leader to address the GCC reflecting also on what Ratu Sir Lala Sukuna believed said on 6th June 1997 and I quote, “What we seek is partnership. We seek a country whose children of all races grow up with a deep understanding and respect for each other’s cultures languages and traditions. We seek a country which encourages the best and the brightest – indeed, encourages all its people, of all races – to work together”.
It is a complete disappointment therefore that this government, when it was a military regime, unilaterally removed Ratu Sukuna Day as a public holiday. This decision was a deliberate attempt to overthrow, revise and reset history – this also comes through very strongly in their bid to change the flag and the coat of arms, but the answer lies with “You, The People” and the power to change government policy is in your hands.
This government must know that history is like indelible ink. It can never be erased and with oral traditions still very robust the legacy of Ratu Sukuna can continue if we know what we’re talking about and embed those principles in our lives. Ratu Sukuna’s legacy lives on but the question for us all is whether we will preserve his legacy with the honour, decorum and dignity that it so rightly deserves?
Let me end here with a quote again from Justice Jai Ram Reddy’s speech to the GCC in closing:
“Let us, therefore, gather our courage and set ourselves, united, to the finishing of the noble task to which our history, our heritage, and our motherland now call us. This generation must keep its rendezvous with destiny. And then, to future generations, much will be given.”
Ladies and Gentlemen, once again thank you for the invitation and it has been my honour to speak to you today.