Fiji Talanoa VII April 2004 Photo: Anand Chand, Fiji Post

  1. I must say, particularly in the sub-committees of the Talanoa and coming from very different points of view to the talks on very separate and different standpoints, we were able to come together and find resolutions to some of the major issues of this country.”

Hon. Krishna Datt

Fiji Member of Parliament

Daily Hansard Thursday, 17 June, 2004

Initial skepticism of political talks with open-agenda faded as leaders came to realize that dialogue without pre-conditions can sometimes be the only thing that can realistically be asked of people struggling with, and in, volatile situations of disrespect, distrust and lack of confidence.

The talanoa process brought representatives of different political, religious and ethnic segments of Fijian society together to address conflictual issues, from constitutional inequities to land reform.

Fiji Talanoa 2000 – 2004

When George Speight and his armed supporters stormed Fiji’s parliament building on May 19 2000, taking the elected government hostage for 56 days, it was portrayed by the international media as a “civilian coup” arising from ethnic tensions between the Indo-Fijian dominated Labour government and indigenous rights proponents. However, the causes of the hostage taking were multiple and complex: longstanding rivalries and divisions within the indigenous Fijian community; indigenous fears that their constitutionally enshrined rights to paramountcy over land ownership and political decisions were in jeopardy; increasing pressures to conform to international standards of democracy, free-markets, and individual rights - often perceived as being at odds with traditional, communal values; questions about the legitimacy of democracy, the newly enacted multi-racial constitution and the ousted Labour Government; dissatisfaction with economic disparities and the concentration of wealth in a few hands; mistrust and misunderstanding between and among different ethnic and religious groups; personal grudges, money grabbing, and power plays; and other as yet, and perhaps never, to be fully determined causal factors.

After the 2000 Fiji coup, Dr. Halapua, Director of the Pacific Islands Development Program of the East West Center (PIDP), and the President of East-West Center, Dr. Charles Morrison, felt that PIDP’s regional obligations compelled a visit to Fiji. Days after the parliamentarian hostages were released, Dr Halapua began traveling widely throughout the country, undertaking exploratory talks with George Speight (before he was arrested by Fiji’s military authority); former President Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara; leaders of political parties; religious institutions; civil society; the military and other groups. Under discussion was the possibility of bringing together conflicting groups in the absence of parliament and other government institutions (aside from the military). Through these preliminary conversations, Dr. Halapua came to understand that Fiji’s contemporary and historical circumstances had created an especially complex and intractable conflict that defied resolution through conventional approaches. It became obvious that many politicians were feeling a pent up need to talk with, not indirectly at, each other but did not have a legitimate and acceptable forum within which to do so. Dr. Halapua came to realize that for a peace making effort to achieve a lasting settlement, the structure of the process needed to be more culturally meaningful to all parties. However, it took quite some time before some of the leaders could see the value of talks with no pre-determined agenda or objective, other than face-to-face dialogue.

After five months of extensive consultations it was finally agreed that the first talanoa would begin on 30th November 2000 and that the delegates would include as wide a cross-section of the community as possible.  Less than five months after the hostages were released and not a month since the November 2nd military mutiny, the country was still under military curfew. Within this atmosphere of fear and political tension, the first talanoa was important in identifying what the participants saw as the key areas for priority attention, on which they elaborated at length. The participants included representatives from the diverse ethnic and religious communities, the major political parties, and other government and military personnel. Amongst them were some who had been taken hostage as well as others who had participated in the hostage taking and parliamentary overthrow.

The first three 2-day sessions occurred from November 30 2000 through to May 2001, before the first post-coup general elections in August 2001. With a general theme of building national unity and stability, the reconciliatory tone of the non-binding communiqué was the strong point of Talanoa I This was a surprise outcome, though consistent with talanoa theory: that people’s personal opinions adjust after listening to the pain expressed by other parties, resulting in an integration of viewpoints. It was shown that the parties could sit down and talk to one another without the meeting getting out of hand, as anticipated by some leaders. Further, the participants agreed to get together again and defined the principles that would serve as a foundation for the future talanoa sessions. Talanoa II (8-10 March) deepened the dialogue relating to the rule of law and economic disparities, and included new areas of concern – political power sharing and administrative decentralization. Talanoa III (May 18-19) capitalized on the confidence generated by Talanoa I and II and produced 13 recommended principles and understandings necessary to promoting national unity-building and stability before and after the forthcoming August 2001 election.

Talanoa IV After the election and formation of the indigenous Fijian dominated SDL government, the talanoa talks resumed on 4th November 2001 with a Leaders dialogue on “Harmony and Stability in the Rebuilding of Fiji”.  Four agreed areas of focus in the rebuilding process were identified as:

1. Trust and reducing suspicion and fear among leaders and communities  

2. Fostering wider acceptance of the rule of law  

3. Ensuring communities feel secure in Fiji as their home  

4. Examining the constitution.

Talanoa V (8-9 June 2002) began after the first democratic post-coup election with the Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase informing the participants that he and the leader of the Fiji Labour Party Hon Mahendra Chaudhry had met a few days previously to explore possible topics for discussion. He suggested Talanoa V address the following three issues

i)   Land and associated problems

ii)  Proposals for constitutional change, and

iii) Options for a multiparty cabinet

Issues identified in previous talanoa, with emphasis on the four identified in Talanoa IV, were also included. After lengthy discussions regarding the complexity of the land issue, it was agreed that a bipartisan committee be set up to focus on the specific terms and conditions of a possible solution. Another bipartisan committee was agreed on to look at areas of non-controversial amendments to the constitution.

These two bipartisan committees, the Land Committee (fourteen members from both the Upper and the lower Houses of Parliament) and the Committee on Constitutional Changes (an additional ten members) began their meetings in early July (8th & 9th 2002).  However in August 2002, the talks derailed when an indigenous Fijiian Government Minister made a comment in the Legislative Assembly that likened the behaviour of Indo-Fijians to ‘uncontrollable weeds’. The Indo-Fijian leader of Fiji Labour Party demanded an apology from Government that was not met. In addition, the Fiji Labour Party suspended its participation in any further talanoa until the Supreme Court finalized the multi-party cabinet case.

Having made the commitment to support the talanoa process, Dr Charles Morrison President of the East West Center, expressed the desire to continue facilitation if requested. The two Parliamentary Leaders felt a smaller group might lead a session to find out whether or not to proceed with talanoa. Subsequently, on March 27th 2003 the Preparatory Bipartisan Talanoa Subcommittee, consisting of three members from the Government and its coalition partner Matanitu Vanua Conservative Alliance and three members of the Fiji Labour Party, met for the first time.

Their multiple tasks were to include:

1. Identifying ‘where they stand’ and ‘where they are going’ with respect to the basic principles and priority issues articulated in Talanoa IV and V; 

2. Examining the kind of national framework and time frame within which such basic principles and priorities issues can best be pursued and implemented; and

  1. 1.3.Assessing how the talanoa process can help build mutual trust, confidence and understanding, and create a more favourable political environment. On 2nd April, the first TSC Progressive Report included the recommendation that the two leaders continue one-to-one dialogue.

The Joint Statement April 17 2003 following one-to-one talks between the Prime Minister Hon. Laisenia Qarase and the Leader of the Fiji Labour Party Hon. Mahendra Chaudhry, expressed an agreement that the Bipartisan Talanoa Subcommittee continue to meet with three agreed topics for discussion: Land tenure, constitutional changes and the recommendations contained in the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination‘s (UN CERD) 2002 report.  It was stated that the main talanoa session would take place after the Supreme Court decision in June. Subsequently the bipartisan talanoa subcommittee members: Hon Pratap Chand, Hon Krishna Datt, Hon Ro Teimumu Kepa, Hon Senator Jokapeci Koroi, Hon Ratu Naiqama Lalabalavu, Hon Pita Nacuva, and Hon.Tomasi Veitilovoni, met over twenty times, reporting at various intervals to the main Talanoa sessions, eight of which were held in total.

The six meetings of the bipartisan subcommittee following the Leaders Joint Statement of April 17th were devoted to the issue of land tenure and included one full days briefing by the Native Land Trust Board’ s General Manager Mr. Kalivati Bakani and his assistant Mr. Mojito Mua. On the 22 May, the second TSC Progressive Report made recommendations that focused on two main areas: (i) Information needed to reassure public of the work done on land and (ii) legislative issues and approaches. On the latter there was the feeling that the committee members were moving towards a point on convergence and that recommended legislation on land issues be referred to a Select Committee of Parliament with a recommended additional three areas of investigation.

After the submission of this interim report the two leaders indicated a willingness that the subcommittee continue with the other issues identified in the Joint Statement of April 17th.  The sub-committee decided that their next meetings would focus on the Constitutional Changes as proposed by the previous the 1997 SVT government, the Labour coalition government ousted by the coup in 2000, and the current SDL Government. Focusing on the SDL Revised draft of ‘A Bill to Amend the Constitution’ 6/7/2002. Dr Halapua designed a Framework for Talanoa on Constitutional Change to be used as the basis for sub-committee deliberation.

On July 21st 2003, after another four meetings, the third TSC Progressive Report was submitted. This report was based on three parameters which had guided the discussions in regard to:

(i) Our common understanding of the “unconcealed” underlying purpose or intention, taking into account the spirit, the context, the content, and the promotion of a particular proposed change;

(ii) Our common understanding of the ‘non-controversial areas’, based on the knowledge that we are moving toward a possible convergence on a particular proposed change; and

(iii) Our common understanding of the ‘controversial areas’, based on the knowledge that we still have differences and need more discussions and wider consultations with respect to a particular proposed change.

A similar approach was taken in discussions of human rights and the increasing violence against those of non-Christian faiths. Based on the 2002 UN CERD report, a Framework for Talanoa on UNCERD Concluding Observations was designed by Dr Halapua to facilitate discussion of factors impeding the implementation of the Convention.  The framework was to enable a systematic discussion of measures to remedy concerns through the re-construction of what was perceived to be a common understanding of the crucial areas for qualitative judgment, and identify the positive aspects as well as the concerns and recommendations of UN CERD to be taken to the next Talanoa session.

After nine meetings, the subcommittee’s common understanding was presented in the fourth TSC Progressive Report to the Leaders on September 10th 2003.

Talanoa VI (27-28th February 2004) focused on the three interim reports of the Talanoa Bipartisan Subcommittee.  In many cases, the recommendations of the subcommittee were accepted and there was agreement that the subcommittee continue in certain specific areas. It was agreed that the examination of the issues by a small, bipartisan group helped develop consensus and provided a base for further bipartisan action.

It was agreed that the subcommittee discussions and recommendations regarding land represented a sound base for moving forward and that the issue was ready to go to a Special Committee of Parliament. The subcommittee was asked to prepare a draft Terms of Reference, a suggestion of committee composition and a time frame for this proposed Special Committee. Similarly, most recommendations in the report on constitutional changes were accepted with a few needing further discussion. There was general agreement that further work was needed on the UN CERD report. The subcommittee was tasked to discuss specific matters with the Human Rights Commission and to report back to the next full Talanoa session. It was also agreed to include the sugar industry restructure in this (April) Talanoa dialogue.

To expedite subcommittee discussions, a Holistic Talanoa Framework on Land was prepared by Dr Halapua to provide and arrange “the values and overarching vision, explicit or implicit, for our moral, social, economic and political judgments of the identified issues and legal vehicle options on land.” On March 19, the fifth TSC Progressive Report recommended the establishment of a Joint Parliamentary Subcommittee on Land, which would include members from both sides of the House and a Great Council of Chiefs nominee from the Senate. The report included a draft TOR.

Talanoa VII (14-15 April 2004) began with a presentation of the Report on the Revival of the Sugar Industry in Fiji, by Dr JJ Bhagat, Director of the Sugar Technology Mission, a team of sugar industry experts provided by the Government of India on the invitation of the Government of Fiji. After considerable discussion and identification of the issues it was agreed to establish an ad hoc Select Committee on Sugar Industry Reform to consider the report and other associated issues, consult with stakeholders, and to make recommendations to the House, including proposals for legislative change.

The members of the Bipartisan Talanoa Subcommittee then presented their report on land emphasizing “its holistic approach and the common values of building trust and confidence, creating fairness and equity, providing the best possible security, and giving optimum terms and conditions with a vision to foster the social and economic advancement of landowner and tenant communities, needed to underpin any resolutions on land.” There was agreement that at the next sitting of the House a motion would be introduced to establish a Joint Parliamentary Select Committee to make recommendations on the land issues based on the Talanoa Subcommittee’s Draft TOR. There was agreement for additional subcommittee work on the UN CERD report.

The follow-up sixth TSC Progressive Report (May 5 2004) summarizes the issues raised through discussions with, and advice given by Chairman, Mr Walter Rigamoto, and Director, Dr Shaista Shameen, of the Fiji Human Rights Commission. It also contains specific recommendations made regarding monitoring the UN CERD report and increasing the effectiveness of the FHRC.

Talanoa VIII (May 10 2004) began with a briefing by Prime Minister Hon. Laisenia Qarase on the common ground reached between him and the Parliamentary Leader of the Fiji Labour Party Hon. Mahendra Chaudhry regarding the steps needed to progress the sugar industry reform. Discussion of the Bipartisan Talanoa Subcommittee’s Follow-up Report of May 5 followed. The Leaders agreed to establish a Standing Committee of the House to examine all reports relating to human rights and race relations, the UN CERD report together with any other issues pertaining to these matters and recommendations relating to increasing the FHRC’s effectiveness.

The final TSC Progressive Report, was presented to the Leaders on May 19 2004 with the recommendation that by resolution of the House, Standing Order 106 be amended with the inclusion of 106 (C) Committee on Human Rights and Equal Opportunities.  

The talanoa process November 2000 - May 2004 “ended at the gates of parliament” with the establishment of four parliamentary committees tasked with dealing with, within the parliamentary processes, the four issues identified by talanoa as being key to reconciliation and unity building.

27 April 2004  Joint Parliamentary Select Committee on Land

27 April 2004  AD HOC Select Committee on Sugar Industry Reform

30 September 2004  AD HOC Select Committee on Land

30 September 2004  Standing Committee on Constitutional Review 

30 September 2004  Standing Committee on Human Rights and Equal Opportunity


Outside/Inside boundaries of talanoa:

It is important to understand that the talanoa process was set up to complement but not replace the various formal processes of Fiji’s Parliament. In other words, the talanoa process was to stop outside the gates of Parliament. Other formal procedures were to take over and complete the work of talanoa. Failure to recognise outside/inside boundary distinctions can lead to misunderstandings of talanoa implementations in the real world. Outside/inside distinctions must always be kept in mind when using and assessing the talanoa process in different situations.

©Talanoa & Development Project. All Rights Reserved


TDP Fiji