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On the Governance of Rotuma

by Sosefo Inoke

I have a suggestion as to how Rotuma could be governed. My suggestion is that a Rotuma Island Authority be set up there.

What would the Rotuma Island Authority and its responsibilities be?

The Authority would be a corporate body and would be responsible for the management and development of Rotuma Island. It would hold funds given by government and others and acquire funds of its own for the development of the Island.

The current responsibility of the Council of Rotuma Island for matters other than development would remain with the Council.

What would the powers of the Rotuma Island Authority be?

The Authority would have the usual powers of any government authority to invest funds, to sue and be sued and so on and to be accountable to the government for its expenditures and activities.

Who would be its members?

The Authority would be made up of elected members, a government representative, and a Council representative.

How can we make it happen?

This is only a conceptual idea and obviously the details need to be discussed and agreed upon amongst Rotumans both here and abroad, and between our representatives and the government. The Rotuma Act could be appropriately amended, or a separate act altogether passed, to provide for the legal framework and details.

What is the aim and purpose of having such an Authority?

The aim is to allow the government to allocate separate funding, and for Rotumans to acquire their own funding to supplement it, for development and maintenance of infrastructure on the Island and to give Rotumans more autonomy in deciding what to do and how to do it. It is the first step, I believe, in overcoming problems of lack of development on the Island and other difficulties such as the inability of Rotumans to invest in Fijian Holdings because the current definition of who is a "Rotuman" is not acceptable.

Submitted 25 July 2004

A personal view by Rachael Williams

I just read the discussions on the issue of Rotuma’s governance (for lack of a better word) and thought I should express my views based on my personal knowledge of running a government office that was funded by the UN and ILO that created business opportunities/self employment for its targeted groups.

The Start Your Own business program enabled me and my staff to travel extensively throughout Fiji between 1998—2003 and send a trainer to Rotuma in 1999 and 2000

We became involved in helping communities develop their basic business acumen and harness their resources, with the intent of having them find markets for whatever business venture they were into, and thereby become self employed/productive and self-sufficient economically

As part of this initiative, it became clear from reports from our trainers and network of information, that Rotuma had all the necessary resources to tap into to create a secure economic base for the island —namely root crops; crafts; seafoods; tourism and sandalwood. However, I also learnt that the major hurdle was getting the goods/services to the Fiji and overseas markets due to a lack of ownership of its own boat and the cost of air freight/fares

I recall that there was a fund created through my project to the government of the day, to address the issue of agriculture-based industries that would have been very beneficial for farmers or potential youth who wanted to go into farming, and this I believe was handled by the Ministry of Agriculture, in collaboration with our office. And then there was a Micro Finance scheme that was run through the Ministry of Women to boost the women's and youths' interest in making fine mats and Rotuman crafts for the Fiji and overseas markets—specifically NZ and US.

And then there were allocated funds through the Ministry of Fijian Affairs for the Rotuman people to access for small or micro-businesses, and all of these looked good on paper but somehow, somewhere, the hype we created through my office failed to connect to the people who controlled and monitored these monies or who made the decision on who was eligible to receive such funds.

Then I became a rep for my mom’s district—Ituti'u, for the Boat Committee that was chaired at that time by a chap named Livino (sorry if I have the name wrong) from the South Pacific Commission and we had the services of Victor Fatiaki and Rotuman elections candidate Pene and others from the seven itu'u. Our major objective at that time was to look at the feasibility of Rotumans owning their own boat/ship which would operate between the Fiji Islands, Rotuma and other Pacific islands for cargo and passenger linkages.

Personally I saw this as the answer to Rotuman’s ailing economy and dwindling population caused by the urban drift to Fiji . . . and 20 years later, I still believe that the answer to Rotuman’s problems is the question of governance and to seriously consider having its own independent annual budget, as suggested by Sosefo Inoke and Jiuria Frary

And with the recent talk of setting up an international port in Rotuma, I think the time is definitely right for Rotuma to become self-determined in terms of handling its own affairs, especially when you look at all the aid that was funnelled through our big brother’s island that never arrived, and you look at how the coups have adversely affected Rotuma.

As for the determination of how this budget is to be allocated and used, I believe the Council needs the assistance and contribution of an advisory committee that may/could include Dr John Fatiaki and Maj Gen George Konrote.

Finally, I certainly believe that Rotumans on the island know what’s best for them, on how they decide to live their day-to-day lives . . . however, they need to accept the fact that we now live in a global village economy and not in isolation from the rest of the world, so they may need to allow good ideas from their 'refugee' children and kainaga living in Fiji or abroad to make Rotuma a thriving island that can be enjoyed by all, including present and future generations



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