Fiji’s Melanesian Community Development Association (FMCDA) presented their submission to the Constitution Commission in Suva today highlighting the “lack of recognition of their existence in previous Constitutions, government systems and structures likewise its programmes and policies.”
The FMCDA which represents the descendants of Black Birding Laborers from the three Melanesian Islands including Solomon Islands, Vanuatu and Papua New Guinea today voiced their insecurities about living in Fiji.
Formed in 1987, the FMCDA came into existence “following negligence of various governments in the past” and fear of the threat by nationalist politicians who proclaim that “Fiji is for the indigenous Fijians or the iTaukei and not for the non iTaukei”. Its the same fear that is still being echoed and felt today despite intermarriages with indigenous Fijians.
“The general view that for non iTaukei or Fijian to assimilate to the iTaukei’s cultures and traditions in order to become iTaukei or to bridge the gap between the ethnic groups in Fiji is no longer true or a reality as we members of the FMCDA have experienced over the last 100 years.”
They highlighted the relocation of relatives from land which they were given some 80 to 100 years ago by some landowning unit based on the matrilineal or “vasu” relationship, or some through traditional protocols as a token of a service provided by their ancestors.
“This includes settlements such as Buinikadamu in Bua where they were resettled at Maniava in Ra, Navutu settlement resettled to Drasa at Lololo ni Lautoka, those at Ganivatu Village Naitasiri faced with continued threats from their cousins in the village because they are not in the VKB. Those in Namara settlement at Khalsa Road where some members of the community were resettled at Sasawira Davuilevu; Matata settlement in Lami were informed that developments will take place in the near future and they have to forego their rights on living on the parcel of land they have lived on for around 100years. Some settlements like Caubati, Laqere, Manikoso, New Town, and Filafou to name just a few are, also expecting developments to force their resettlements.”
In their submission, the community also backed the current government's initiative on the national identity for all citizens to be called Fijians but raise doubts on whether the change of name would benefit them economically or give them equal treatment on access to government development programmes, access to education and scholarships.
The Melanesian Community also acknowledged the current government in the initiative to ensure a participatory process in the formulation of a new constitution and hopes that Fiji becomes a Liberal State, based on values that promote love, peace, justice and harmony, to be a home to all people irrespective of their origins, culture and religion.
To ensure this, the community said Fiji’s political system needs to be changed.
“This includes the adoption of the Presidential System where the President becomes the Head of Government and State, rather than the parliamentary system.”
They also called for the reduction of members of Parliament or Legislative Council.
from 72 to 45 and out of the 45 seats one seat is to be allocated to the Melanesian Community to "ensures equal representation and for FMCDA to have a voice in the legislature; similar to what was previously offered to the Rotuman Community where they have their own Roll.”
The community also raised its views about candidates for political parties saying they need to be thoroughly screened based on certain criterion to be developed by the Solicitors Generals Office.
“To maintain the integrity of the Legislature, FMCDA recommends that aspiring candidates who have been incarcerated should not stand for the General Election and should have a good financial standing.
“One voting system is strongly recommended."
They also felt that the 2001 Social Justice Act and Affirmative Action Programmes based on the 1997 Constitution are biased and does not target the disadvantaged in Fiji. To that end they called for the re-establishment of the Department of Multi Ethnic Affairs to ensure their development.
But, at the same time, the community is of the view that the role of the Dept of MEA is reviewed and focus on administration of all Multi Ethnic Communities in Fiji, management of MEA Scholarship and secretariat to the National and District Advisory Council similar to the Ministry of iTaukei Affairs.
“For Scholarship the maximum qualifications one can attain if he/she is awareded a Multi Ethnic Affairs Scholarship(MEA) is at Bachelors Level.
“The Melanesian Community requests if the qualification level in the Multi Ethnic Scholarship to be similar to the iTaukei Affairs and Public Service Scholarships where one can reach up to a Post Graduate and even PhD qualification.
“That a quota or percentage from the total MEA Scholarship allocation to be directed to the Melanesian Community.
“It needs to be noted, that initially we Melanesians were allocated a quota of 8. Unfortunately, the introduction of awarding scholarship through merit had a negative impact on us and we are left to struggle once more. The vicious cycle of helplessness and hopelessness rears its ugly head once more.”
The Melanesian Association also felt that the government should review the management and administration of the District Advisory Council with its roles functions and its allowances.
Among other issues, the community also called for the enaction of a Melanesian Act similar to the Banaban Settlement Act, to legalize all parcels of land that they currently occupy and that the Development Programs under the Ministry of Provincial Development should be shared equally, between the iTaukei and the Multi Ethnic Communities.
They also called for the Peoples Charter to be included in the new Constitution and that any government voted in, to work in line with the People Charter, that landownership to remain with iTaukei under the TLTB as trustees and that the Fiji Govt advocates their concerns to the Melanesian Spearhead Group.
In a supplementary submission, the Ni-Vanuatu community echoed the same sentiments and also raised their concerns on the MSG calling on the Fiji Government not to focus on trade but "enhance and recognize the relationship that has already been forged.”