A Biography -From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Ratu Naiqama Tawake Lalabalavu is a Fijian Paramount Chief and politician. He was the Minister for Lands and Minister for Mineral Resources in the Cabinet of Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase, prior to his resignation on 7 April 2005. On 3 April, he had become the first-ever Cabinet Minister to be imprisoned while in office, following his conviction, along with three other chiefs, for unlawful assembly during the Fiji coup of 2000. Following his release from his extramural imprisonment on 13 September, he was reappointed to the Cabinet as Minister for Transport and Civil Aviation on 21 September. His reinstatement was criticized by then-Opposition Leader Mahendra Chaudhry. Following the parliamentary election held on 6-13 May 2006, he became Minister for Fijian Affairs, as well as Minister for Lands and Provincial Development.
Tui Cakau Title
In 1999, Lalabalavu succeeded his late father, Ratu Glanville Lalabalavu, as the Tui Cakau, or Paramount Chief of Cakaudrove and of the Tovata Confederacy, one of three confederacies to which all Fijian tribes belong. He was challenged in court by Ratu Epeli Ganilau, son of former Fijian President Ratu Sir Penaia Ganilau who had himself held the Tui Cakau title prior to his death in 1993, but in 2001, the Supreme Court ruled in favour of Lalabalavu.
Lalabalavu was elected to represent the Lau-Taveuni-Rotuma Open Constituency in the House of Representatives in 1999 as a candidate of the ruling Fijian Political Party (SVT), one of only 8 SVT candidates to win seats. He defeated his chiefly rival, Ratu Epeli Ganilau of the Christian Democratic Alliance, by a margin of 58 percent to 32 percent.
By the time the 2001 election was held to restore democracy, some major political realignments had taken place. Now a leading member of the Conservative Alliance, a nationalistic party which included many supporters and associates of George Speight, the chief instigator of the 2000 coup, Lalabalavu won the Cakaudrove East Fijian Communal Constituency) (one of 23 reserved for ethnic Fijians in the House of Representatives. In the coalition government that was subsequently formed, Lalabalavu was appointed Minister of Lands and Mineral Resources. The appointment was later harshly criticized by Senator Adi Koila Nailatikau, daughter of former President Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara, who had been deposed in the coup. She accused him of having ordered the burning of the Matailakeba Cane Farm in Seaqaqa (owned by Ratu Mara) in the midst of an army mutiny at Sukanaivalu Barracks in Labasa on July 29, 2000.
On 6 April 2003, it was reported that Lalabalavu had called for an overhaul of the country's constitutional institutions. Political authority, he said, should be returned to Fiji's chiefs. He said that as it was the chiefs who ceded the islands to the United Kingdom in 1874, paramount authority should have been returned to them when independence was granted in 1970. As a first step, he proposed the abolition of the Senate, the functions of which could be taken over by the Great Council of Chiefs, he said. He opined that restoring the authority of the chiefs would lead to a breaking down of Fiji's race barriers, as the chiefs would then be the leaders not only of the indigenous people, but of all races. His proposal was rejected by Ratu Epeli Ganilau, who was then the Chairman of the Great Council.
Trial and aftermath
At his trial, Magistrate Sunil Kumar rejected his defence that his meeting with coup instigators while the rebellion was in progress was for the purpose of defusing the situation, and declared that Lalabalavu had let his people down by failing to provide the kind of leadership expected of a chief by aiding and abetting an unconstitutional revolt. He sentenced him to an eight-month prison term, to be served at Vatarekuka prison in Labasa.
Lalabalavu initially refused to resign from Parliament or the Cabinet, and Prime Minister Qarase took advice, but expressed reluctance to dismiss him because his conviction and imprisonment, along with his fellow-chiefs, were "for matters which have absolutely nothing to do with their ministerial conduct or exercise by them of their ministerial positions." As Qarase relies on the six votes of Lalabalavu's party in the House of Representatives, his reluctance to remove him was widely seen as politically motivated, and was strongly criticized by former Prime Ministers Sitiveni Rabuka and Mahendra Chaudhry. In the end, however, Lalabalavu decided to avert a crisis by resigning voluntarily. He said, however, that he would remain as a member of the House of Representatives and as parliamentary leader of the Conservative Alliance.
On 14 April 2005, Lalabalavu and Senator Ratu Josefa Dimuri, who was convicted with him, were released on parole, after having served only eleven days of their eight month sentence. According to Solicitor General Nainendra Nand, this freed the two to attend Parliament, unless the Speaker ruled otherwise. Their parole provoked an angry reaction from the opposition Fiji Labour Party and from the Citizens Constitutional Forum. Poseci Bune, Deputy Leader of the Labour Party, called their release "a travesty of justice (which) made a mockery of the country's judicial system," and accused the government of perverting the course of justice in order to retain the support of its coalition partner. Akuila Yabaki of the Citizens Constitutional forum concurred, saying that the decision smacked of political interference in the judicial process, showed disrespect to the court, and abused principles of equal treatment. On 17 April, Commodore Frank Bainimarama, the Commander of the Fijian Military Forces, added his own voice to the criticism. In a strongly worded statement, he said that he was "frustrated, disturbed, and disappointed" by the decision to release Lalabalavu and Dimuri, which he said "made a mockery of the military, police and the judiciary".
On 18 April 2005, Speaker Ratu Epeli Nailatikau of the House of Representatives suspended Lalabalavu from participation until 13 December. He said he had taken this "difficult decision" for "the good of Parliament and the country," on the grounds that Lalabalavu was still subject to a prison sentence, though serving it extramurally.
Lalabalavu's extramural prison sentence expired on 13 September. He took up his parliamentary seat and resumed the leadership of the Conservative Alliance on 19 September, and was reappointed to the Cabinet as Minister for Transport and Civil Aviation on 21 September. The Fiji Village news service considered that his twin positions as Paramount Chief of Tovata and leader of the government's coalition partner made him a "vital cog in Cabinet."
Father Sulio Turagakacivi of the Nadera Roman Catholic Church, where Lalabalavu served his extramural sentence helping out at the Catholic sisters' home and doing work for the underprivileged, said that Lalabalavu was a changed man. "He accepted his fate and we were able to discuss this through what we can call counselling sessions and he admitted his mistake," Turagakacivi said. "I think he will emerge a better leader for his people and country ... he was a big help and we have seen a big difference in him."
Lalabalavu defends his actions
On 18 September 2005, Lalabalavu publicly apologised for having tarnished the reputation of his chiefly title, the Ai Sokula clan (which he heads), Cakaudrove Province, and the government of Fiji. He had accepted his sentence and gone to prison in order to unify his people, he said, but many had failed to understand that. He defended his actions at the time of the coup, however, saying he had no regrets about what he said was his motive of preventing bloodshed.
Lalabalavu reiterated this stance in a Parliamentary speech on 17 November. While the mutiny was in progress, he had gone to the barracks at the request of the police, he said, to diffuse the situation. "I will live with it without regret or shame because I do not only believe, but I know, I know, I know that what I did then was right because if I did not do anything, then part of my people, who were soldiers at Sukanaivalu Barracks would have been dead," he declared. He said it was indicative of how chiefly authority in Fiji could be abused that he was asked to intervene in his capacity as a chief - and was subsequently punished for doing so. He insisted, however, that forgiveness was the only way forward, and saw the controversial Reconciliation and Unity Commission as embodying the principles of forgiveness.
In the same speech, the Tui Cakau expressed disappointment that his offer of a traditional apology to Military Commander Commodore Frank Bainimarama and Opposition Leader Mahendra Chaudhry had not been accepted. Chaudhry confirmed this claim, saying that the apology was not aimed at victims of the coup and was therefore irrelevant.
Lalabalavu's defence was not accepted by Poseci Bune, the Deputy Leader of the opposition Labour Party (FLP). Speaking in Parliament on 23 November 2005, Bune said Lalabalavu had not told the truth when he claimed to have asked Opposition Leader Mahendra Chaudhry for forgiveness. According to Bune, Lalabalavu had only invited Chaudhry as a guest to a matanigasau (traditional Fijian reconciliation ceremony) for President Ratu Josefa Iloilo, and that Chaudhry had declined the offer.
Bune also dismissed Lalabalavu's claims that his presence at the Sukanaivalu Barracks in Labasa during the mutiny was to diffuse a potentially explosive and lethal situation. On the contrary, Bune said, Labasa would have been looted unless local business owners had made a deal with the mutineers to supply them with food and supplies, in return for being left alone. "Is this the kind of positive influence (he) is speaking of?" Bune demanded. He accused Lalabalavu of trying to rewrite history.
Bune's attack provoked a sharp reaction from Prime Minister Qarase, who said that Lalabalavu had approached him personally about offering a traditional apology to Chaudhry. Bune's comments about a Lalabalavu as a chief were not only "disrespectful" but false, and showed that he did not think like a Fijian, Qarase said.
Lalabalavu responded to Bune's attack with a strongly worded statement of his own on 25 November. In an emotional speech, Lalabalavu declared that he had genuinely sought forgiveness from Chaudhry, for whom he said he had great personal respect despite political differences. Chaudhry had been the aggrieved party in 2000, Lalabalavu said, and his offered apology had been genuine. He was less kind in his remarks about Bune. If Bune was truly from Macuata Province, he said, he would not speak against the people who had acted to save the lives of Macuata people.
Presidential candidate in 2006?
The Fiji Village news service reported on 23 February 2006 that some chiefs wished to nominate Lalabalavu for the office of President or Vice-President. A Lalabalavu candidacy would have been controversial, as the Military had already indicated that it would not accept as President or Vice-President anyone convicted of coup-related offenses. When Great Council of Chiefs met on 8 March, however, it reelected unopposed Ratu Josefa Iloilo and Ratu Joni Madraiwiwi as President and Vice-President, respectively.