Change of Government

         Following the removal of the Multi-Party, Qarase led Soqosoqo Duavata ni Lewenivanua (SDL)/Fiji Labour Party (FLP) Government on Tuesday, 5th December 2006, the Council of Rotuma in its first Quarterly meeting of Thursday, 11th January, 2007, unanimously appointed Dr John Fatiaki and me in our capacity as Rotuma’s former Senate nominee and elected Parliamentarian to act as Official Representatives of the Council in coordinating all matters and discussions pertaining to the welfare and development of Rotuma and its people with the military appointed Interim Administration/ Government (IAG).

         Our appointment was endorsed and sanctioned by Commodore JV Bainimarama in his capacity as Commander, Republic of the Fiji Military Forces /Prime Minister of the IAG on Tuesday, 23rd January, 2007 and over these past months, Dr John and I have been very busy in commuting between Suva and Rotuma and being involved in a series of meetings with the various appropriate authorities in our individual and collective efforts in trying to follow-up and pursue the final resolution of some development projects which we had initiated during our very short tenure as Rotuma’s Parliamentarians in the deposed Government.

         Regrettably, despite numerous correspondence and consultations with Ministers and officials of the previous administration/government, there were no formal acknowledgements to our proposals and requests, resulting in very little progress or positive outcomes being achieved to date.

Present Priorities

         Despite the lack of progress, we will continue to persevere and presently we are working in close consultation with the Chiefs, the Council of Rotuma and the relevant line ministries of the IAG and other stakeholders in addressing some of these unresolved issues as a matter of priority:

  • Improving the air/sea services to Rotuma to effectively breach the air/sea gap and overcome the long and on-going communication problems to the island;
  • Increase/ improve the kainaga’s local income generating capacity by fully utilizing the island’s vast and untapped agricultural and marine resources;
  • Upgrading / renovation of the existing infrastructure and facilities, - schools, hospital, roads, water and electricity supply;
  • Salvage of the MV ‘Bulou Ni Ceva’ – final removal of the wreck from the vicinity of the Oinafa jetty.

         In addition to the above, we are also soliciting the assistance of the Office of the Prime Minister and Commissioner Eastern in the proper coordination/improvements to the Administration/Function of the Office of the Chairman and Council of Rotuma.

Limited Achievements

         During our very short six months term as Rotuma’s Parliamentary Representatives in the deposed Government, Dr John and I were never deterred nor disillusioned by a lack of positive and tangible results to our efforts but continued to ‘soldier on’ and managed to achieve the following deliverable outcomes in our endeavours to improve the lot of our small Rotuman community, particularly those of our kainaga on the island:

  • Repairs/renovation of the Rotuma High School to prevent its closure for non-compliance with Occupation, Health and Safety (OHS) standards and regulations;
  • Averting a potential environmental disaster with the acquisition of funds from the Ministry of Fijian Affairs and Provincial Development for the successful disposal of approximately 11,000 litres of fuel from the stranded MV Bulou Ni Ceva and its removal from the Lopta foreshore -- final salvage of the wreck is being negotiated between the IAG and Kadavu Shipping Co. Ltd.
  • Provision of approximately F$150,000.00 from the Japanese Government for the acquisition of a new ambulance for the Rotuma Rural Hospital, and 400 x sets of desks and chairs for the Rotuma High and Malha'a Primary Schools; (special acknowledgement and appreciation to Chief Justice Daniel Fatiaki who initiated the provision of this aid with the previous Japanese Ambassador);
  • Successful ground survey of Rotuma’s renewable energy potential (solar, wind, coconut oil and sea) by two South Pacific Applied Geoscience Commission (SOPAC) engineers/scientists to determine viability and feasibility of utilizing any of these sources;
  • Confirmation and endorsement of the Tuvaluan Government (following our latest discussion with the Honourable Taukelina Finikaso, Minister for Transport and His Excellency Mr. A. Paeniu, Tuvalu High Commissioner, Suva -- a meeting was arranged and coordinated by Mr Kafoa Muaror -- Tuvalu’s Legal Counsellor) to utilize the Tuvaluan vessel MV Nivaga II to service Rotuma during its 3 - 4 days stopover in Suva, thus avoiding the bureaucratic hassle of having to declare Rotuma an In/Out port.  The Tuvaluan Government is also amenable to our request to utilize Rotuma as a transit /stopover point once the airstrip is upgraded to allow bigger planes to use it enroute to Funafuti, thus reducing airfares;
  • Conduct of a detailed ground reconnaissance and survey of the Rotuma airstrip by the former Chairman of the Airport Fiji Ltd, Mr Viliame Leqa and Mr Rupeni Mua, General Manager Engineering & Infrastructure to determine priority, timeline and more importantly funding for the entire work programme;
  • Assurance from HE Dr Roberto Ridolphi, Head of the European Union Delegation to Fiji and the Ministry of Education that the Rotuma High School and Sumi, Christ The King Primary School are included in the list of rural schools which will be assisted through the EU F$44 million assistance programme;
  • Audit of the Rotuma Island Council accounts and operating procedures by the auditors from the Office of the Auditor General to cover the period 1995 to 2005.  A Draft Audit Memorandum dated 30th April 2007 was tabled before the Council in its meeting of Tuesday, 15 May 2007 during which a two-man team consisting of Mr Antonio Muera, Itu'tiu District Representative and Mr. Penamino Tavo, Pepjei District Representative were appointed to assist the Chairman and staff in preparing the Council’s answers and response to the queries raised in the Memorandum.

Latest Developments

         The recent Eastern Division, Rotuma Island Council Development Committee Meeting, which was held in the Council Chambers in Ahau on Thursday, 10 May 2007, was attended by Ratu Epeli Ganilau, Interim Minister for Fijian Affairs, Heritage, Provincial Development & Multi-Ethnic Affairs, and Adi Laufitu Malani, Interim Minister for Women, Social Welfare & Housing and officials from the various Government Ministries/Departments as follows:

  • Education;
  • Agriculture;
  • Works, Roads & Transport;
  • Health;
  • Women, Social Welfare & Housing;
  • Energy;
  • Water & Sewerage;
  • Cooperatives;
  • Provincial Development;
  • Ex-Servicemen After Care Fund;
  • Airport Fiji Ltd; and
  • Police.

         Mr. Fatiaki Misau (former Council delegate to the Great Council of Chiefs), Dr John and I attended as part of the official delegation; other invited guests included Mr Kafoa Pene, Chairman, Fiji Rotuman Association and the following district representatives:

  • Mr Hae Rigamoto                  -         Noa’tau
  • Mr Paulo Vaurasi                  -         Oinafa
  • Mr Vilisoni Famoro               -         Itu’tiu
  • Mr Vilsoni Tokoara               -         Malha’a
  • Mr Perao Saverio                   -         Juju
  • Ms Joan Nasario                    -         Pepjei

         The meeting was chaired by Mr. Tomasi Tui, Commissioner Eastern Division and following its deliberations endorsed and confirmed the following recommendations:

  • That the Interim Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries & Forests;
    • Gazette an area of 30 x nautical miles surrounding the main island of Rotuma as Rotuma’s Archipelagic Waters for the exclusive use of the islanders.
    • Reserve 2 Tuna Offshore Fishing Licences for the Council of Rotuma’s exclusive use each year.
  • That Cabinet supports and endorses the Wind Energy Electrification project for Rotuma as an example of a renewable environmentally friendly electricity generating programme.
  • That the Council review the three-year (2007-2009) Development Plan prepared by the District Officer Rotuma and have the projects prioritized for funding allocation; and
  • That the Interim Minister for Fijian Affairs, Heritage, Provincial Development & Multi-Ethnic Affairs personally intervene and pursue the repair/renovation and upgrading of the Rotuma airstrip (to include the procurement of the necessary equipments to enhance its operations) and the island’s road network.

         The above recommendations have been compiled into a Cabinet Memorandum which was presented by Ratu Epeli Ganilau to the Cabinet recently.

         In our latest consultation with the Interim Minister and the Commissioner Eastern, we were greatly heartened to learn of the positive outcomes relating to funding allocation and proposed timelines to enhance the speedy resolution of most of these long outstanding issues.

         Government Tender notices for the implementation of some of this upgrading work (including Rotuma) has been put out and according to the Commissioner Eastern, successful bidders will be contracted soon, as the IAG wants all projects completed as soon as possible.

         On the 14 May 2007, the Chairman of the Council of Rotuma was invited by the Interim Prime Minister to provide the latter’s Office with constructive, forward looking inputs and suggestions on the formulation of a People’s Charter for Change and Progress to Build a Better Fiji.

         The whole concept is an important national level initiative in the IAG’s attempts to improve the national economy and re-build Fiji into a strong, prosperous and peaceful country.

         A formal acknowledgement on behalf of the Council, Chiefs and members of the wider Rotuman community has been forwarded to the Prime Minister’s Office in which the Chairman expressed our collective gratitude for being invited to contribute and participate in the IAG’s effort in moving Fiji forward during this very difficult period consequent upon the political, social, but more importantly economic implications of the military coup at the end of last year.

         The Chairman had asked for further consultation with the IAG and highlighted the difficulties in getting suitably qualified and experienced Rotumans involved in the National Council or the task teams which will be mandated to ensure the success of the concept because of the likelihood of travel bans and other associated penalties being imposed on those who will be involved (including members of their respective families) by the US, UK, Australia, Japan, Canada and New Zealand.

Conservation and Protection of the Environment

         The protection of Rotuma’s pollution-free and prestine environment is very important and in this regard we are very grateful and appreciative of the tremendous work which has been done to date by Läje Rotuma Initiative (LRI).  We acknowledge with gratitude and would like to commend and congratulate Ms Monifa Fiu, the LRI Coordinator and her group of young Rotumans for their efforts.

         LRI’s Vision, “To Maximise The Future, Environmental and Sustainable Options for the Island of Rotuma and her People,” dovetails very well with our efforts at educating and strengthening the capacity of our kainaga in making informed decisions on sustainable management of our natural resources.

         The continued very extensive and unregulated use of weedicides/pesticides in Rotuma is of great concern and disappointment for those of us who could foresee and understand its detrimental effects on the land and environment, not forgetting the chemical’s equally harmful effects on the health of those who use it extensively without the proper protective clothing and equipment.

         We should encourage and educate our present and future generations of subsistence farmers to return to the traditional way of tilling the land and Dr John and I would like to solicit the assistance of LRI in promoting this initiative.

         We also welcome LRI’s continued support in our collective efforts in lobbying the Kadavu Shipping Co. Ltd to have their stranded vessel, MV Bulou Ni Ceva which has now become an ‘rust bucket and eyesore’, finally removed from the island.

         Both Interim Ministers, Ratu Epeli Ganilau and Adi Laufitu Malani have undertaken to have this resolved with all stakeholders without any further delay.

         His Excellency, Mr Masashi Namekawa, Japan’s Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary in Suva had expressed an interest in assisting the Council of Rotuma with the protection of the island’s environment so Dr John and I will follow this up with a formal request that the Japanese Government seriously consider funding a Waste Management Programme for the island.

         In the meantime the newly-appointed Health Inspector to the island has been very active in educating and conducting regular inspections of all villages with a view to improving hygiene, health and sanitation.

Income Generating Potential

         In order to curb the urban drift, but more importantly improve our kainaga’s income generating capabilities on the island, Dr John and I have commenced working/preparing some medium to long-term plans/strategies (in close cooperation/consultation with the Council of Rotuma and the assistance of the IAG/NGOs and donor agencies, diplomatic missions to properly and fully utilize some of Rotuma’s natural resources such as:

  1. Fishing - acquisition of Licence and Vessels to fish the soon to be declared 30 x miles          archipelagic waters;

    • installation of a Deep Freezing/Ice making unit on the island;
    • improve air/sea transport to facilitate marketing; and
    • secure markets for the catch.

  2. Agricultural Produce - introduction of better farming methods by the 2 x Ministry of Agricultural Officers stationed on the island to assit subsistence farmers in producing better yields to cater for local demands – before expanding production for export.

    • Secure local market with the National Marketing Authority – to include possibility of breaking into the overseas market for our northern neighbours, Tuvalu, Kiribati and Nauru (utilizing air services on completion of airstrip renovations)

  3. Copra - on-going consultation with SOPAC officials regarding potential for bio-fuel energy source;

    • successfully conducted tests on operating a 4 x 4 wheel vehicle on pure coconut oil for 12 months;
    • conducted preliminary enquiries with Mr John Teiwa, CEO Coconut Industry Development Authority to determine better ways in production/marketing to increase/improve income derived from all coconut products;

  4. Eco-Tourism - make preliminary enquiries with the previous Minister of Tourism following enquiries from potential investors (locals & overseas) to determine viability;

    • Council has endorsed the proposal in principle but yet to solicit the endorsement/approval of landowners to initially start off by adopting the ‘Homestay’ concept.
    • success of the whole concept would depend on improved air/sea communications, hence the delay in progress to date.

  5. Mineral / Spring Water - made exploratory inquiries with potential entrepreneurs on establishing or setting up a bottling facility for export purposes should this venture be feasible?

Telephone/Communication Link

         Telecom Fiji Limited has assured the Council of Rotuma that the existing Telephone/Communication Telephone link to the island would be upgraded.

         In the meantime the Council has endorsed the establishment of a Mobile Telephone Link to Rotuma by Vodafone Fiji Limited and Digicel.


         The newly appointed Chairman of the Rotuma High School Board, Mr Penamino Tavo and the School Manager, Mr Henry Enasio and Board members are to be commended and congratulated for their good work in having the school renovated in time at the beginning of this year, thus preventing and avoiding its imminent closure for non-compliance with OHS regulations.

         We would also like to acknowledge and thank the Chairman of the School Committee, Gagaj Fakaru'etoag and the other six district Fa'Es Itu'u for providing manual labour from their respective districts inorder to have the work done in time.

         The re-appointment of Mr John Tanu as Principal at the beginning of the 2007 school term is a much welcomed relief for all of us as he has a proven track record as a disciplinarian, but more importantly, achiever in maintaining and raising academic standards.

         On Friday, 25 May 2007, I was invited by the Principal to be the guest speaker during the school’s first Parents Day for the year.

         The topic of my address was, “Parental Role in Childrens' Education,” and I was to so glad and thankful for the opportunity to remind parents of their obligations and at the same time emphasise and stress to the students the importance of commitment and perseverance on their part, to ensure that they continue to excel and succeed with their studies.

         I reminded the students of my formative years in the school and the words of advice and wisdom from Mrs E. Inia which I still treasure until today, that, “There is no substitute for hardwork as the key to success.”

         On Wednesday, 30 May 2007, I attended my second meeting with the Committee of the Malha'a Primary School to be briefed about its future plans for the school and discuss/finalise proposed fundraising activities to have it repaired/renovated.

         The school was last re-built in 1992 when, after years of neglect, Mr Visoni Ufiamorat and I (in our capacity as Malha'a's District community leaders in Suva) spearheaded a fundraising drive by the kainaga and friends in which we were able to raise the obligatory 1/3 payment towards the full cost of the required work.

         A troop of the RFMF Engineer Rural Development Unit was deployed to Rotuma and the school was rebuilt in about six weeks.

         The estimated cost of repairs is approximately F$15,000.00 (to include shipping freight charges) and on behalf of the Committee we would like to request the assistance of all former students, kainaga and friends for your kind donations either monetary or in kind to have the school buildings repaired before they deteriorate any further.

Youth Development

         The Rotuma Day celebrations this year was organized and run by the youth of Rotuma and Ms. Betty Inia (daughter of Sakimi and Sarote Inia of Melsa'a, Hapmak) and her hardworking committee are to be commended and congratulated for their good work in organizing such a successful two days kato'aga in Ahau during the period, Friday 11 and Saturday, 12 May 2007.

         The programme of events for the 2 x days celebrations included:

  • Traditional Dancing;
  • Agricultural Show;
  • Display of Womens handicraft/artifacts;
  • Various competitions for Men & Women – copra cutting, basket weaving and coconut grating – to include squeezing of the lolo.

         In my closing address I thanked Ratu Epeli Ganilau for officiating as Chief Guest and reminded the Chiefs and our elders of the importance of supporting our youth as they will be the leaders and ‘movers and shakers’ of our small community tomorrow.

         At the end of last year we were able to provide for our youth groups in Fiji and Rotuma about F$5,000 worth of sports uniform and equipment from the Prime Minister’s Small Grants Scheme.

Social Welfare Assistance

         During her short visit to Rotuma, Adi Laufitu Malani, Interim Minister for Women, Social Welfare & Housing and her staff (including Ms Moira Vafo'ou & Ms. Emeli Solomone) conducted a ground survey to determine and confirm the numbers of those elderly folks on the island who are eligible for social welfare benefits.

         A similar survey was conducted by two officials from the Ministry of Finance regarding the payment of gratuity/pension under the ex-servicemen After-Care Fund programme.

         Prior to our return to Suva last month, Dr John and I presented Mr. Mua Fatiaki (son of Taito & Marieta Fatiaki) of Oinafa a new Mercury 30 horsepower outboard engine for his fishing boat. This item was donated by the Fiji National Leprosy Trust (FNLT) to Mr. Fatiaki who was a former patient of the Twomey Memorial Hospital, Tamavua and arrangements for this kind donation was made through a mutual friend of ours, Brigadier Brian McMahon, former Director, NZ Army Medical Services, who is also an FNLT board member.


         A lot has happened since 5 December 2006 and our subsequent removal as Rotuma’s Parliamentarians with the ousting of the Multi Party SDL/FLP government.

         In fact, Dr John and I were innocent victims of a political crises and circumstances beyond our control during another sad and unfortunate chapter in Fiji’s evolution into nationhood.

         However, despite what happened, we still consider ourselves as Rotuma’s elected representatives of the Council and majority of the electorate and in this regard acknowledge with humble gratitude and appreciation the Chiefs' and Council of Rotuma’s faith and trust in us.

         We would like at this juncture to reassure all Rotumans and friends of our loyalty and total commitment as what had happened only serves to strengthen our resolve to serve you well.

         'Os temanfua 'ea la hia' ra heta, ma hia' la fa'.

         We are not interested in pursuing a selfish personal agenda, in attempting to gain any ‘political brownie points’ or seek any payment, praise, honour or glory for our efforts (as these virtues rightfully belong to Almighty God alone), but we would like to nevertheless ask for your understanding, patience and forbearance should some of the measures which we have proposed to improve our lot not materialize overnight.

         As Rotumans we should realize and accept the fact that we do not live in normal times, nor can Dr John and I ‘work miracles’.

         For those of us who are more fortunate, let us remember and attempt to assist those of our kainaga who may have lost their jobs (as in the case with Gagaj Kausakmua Rigamoto Tonu and relatives who were employed with the Emperor Gold Mines in Vatukoula) and those who are equally disadvantaged through pay cuts.

         Let us also remember the plight of our kainaga in Rotuma who face similar challenges and difficulties during this period of political uncertainity and economic hardship.

         As Rotumans we are reknowned for our love and compassion,  and spirit of caring and sharing and we are very confident that with your support and prayers we will individually and collectively be ‘able to make a difference’ to the lives of our relatives and friends who are less fortunate.

         Despite the occasional expression of doubts, cynical comments and indifference shown to us by some critics, I am convinced that Dr John and I have a ‘calling’ to serve our people during these very difficult times and hope that future generations of  Rotumans will judge us fairly and conclude that, "at least they tried their best."  As former military officers we are reminded of a famous military catchery that, “When the going gets tough, it is the tough that gets going”.

         We have a mandate to serve our kainaga well and in this regard intend to perform this difficult task with honesty, humility, integrity and respect for the Chiefs and elders and the wider Rotuman community.

         In the performance of our work we are constantly reminded of the words of wisdom and plea that was made by our Chiefs and forefathers when they ceded Rotuma to Her Majesty Queen Victoria and the British Government on 13 May, 1881; that:


         Noa'ia ma Gagaj Aitu la hanis ma a'alalum'ak ös otmota ma kainag gagaj Rotuam atakoa.

( J K Konrote)
Major-General (Ret’d)