Improve accountability in the ‘mataqali’

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Villagers from the district of Namuka happy to have voted at the Namuka District School in Macuata last year. The writer says if we want the iTaukei to improve in the running of business and contribute more to the national economy, we have to ensure that the mataqali becomes accountable to its members in its operation. Picture: FILE

If we want the iTaukei to improve in the running of business and contribute more to the national economy, we have to ensure that the mataqali becomes accountable to its members in its operation.

In the traditional social structure of the iTaukei, there are units such as confederacies, vanua, yavusa, mataqali, koro, tokatoka, family and individual. In a communal setting, all those units have people (human resources) who align themselves in value to their obligations set within these units.

I consider the mataqali a traditional unit with its obligations, and a legal unit to safeguard and protect the land on its use through the iTaukei Lands Trust Board. It is important to consider also the mataqali as a business unit because it can function like an organisation with people under a common bond as members of the same mataqali, with inherent land and sea resources.

These are God-given important resources (land and people) that can be utilised to generate income responsibly for the mataqali as a unit. About 90 per cent of land resources in Fiji are owned by the indigenous people.

This ownership of the mataqali is proven when an investor would like to buy or lease a piece of mataqali land. The investor must go through the approval of 60 per cent of the members of the mataqali.

This approval process has always had its limitations. For the iTaukei to excel in business and earning money, it is best practice that iTaukei Affairs Act be amended to include the mataqali through its leaders must have an annual general meeting in the village.

There should also be an avenue available with the assistance of modern technology for the iTaukei in the diaspora to access their mataqali AGM. At the AGM, some suggested items to be included in the agenda apart from the normal operation are:

1. What is the current number of members of the mataqali? How many men and women? How many children are under 18 years?

2. What is the total number of acres of land owned by the mataqali? How many acres of the land has been leased? Where is the lease money kept?

3. Does the mataqali have trusts and or do they own a fully registered business or a limited liability company? Do they have a bank account?

Ideally, the mataqali can form its own trust and its own company. The trusts can be registered under the Charitable Trust Act, and the company can be registered under the Companies Act 2015.

At the annual general meeting of the mataqali, the trustees of the Trusts and Directors of the company must submit their report at the mataqali AGM. For the past 30 years, I have been involved with iTaukei business and I have noticed a growing interest of iTaukei going into business.

It is exciting to see iTaukei-owned small corner shops in the village, familybased company, agricultural company, investment company/ business etc.

I have also found that most people who are appointed as trustees, business owners and directors are not aware of the responsibility associated with carrying out their roles in accordance with the relevant regulations and statutory authorities.

It is a process that will require iTaukei businesses to improve to be competitive in the years to come.

The practice of good governance with accountability and transparency of information through the annual general meeting of mataqali will certainly assist iTaukei institutions such as iTaukei Affairs Board, iTaukei Land Trust Board and the Great Councils of Chiefs.

One of benefits to the iTaukei Land Trust Board is that it will get an updated list of members in the “Vola ni Kawa Bula” since one of the agenda items is to update on the members of the mataqali. This will act as a cross check on the distribution of lease money by the TLTB.

There is a possibility that lease money paid to members who have passed on may not be properly accounted without proper notification to the iTaukei Land Trust Board.

There could also be a resolution from the members of the mataqali that certain per cent of the lease money be transferred to a bank account owned by the mataqali.

This fund is to be managed by the mataqali to cater for the needs of the mataqali.

Social obligations can only be addressed with an economic strategy / policy in place to support it. Secondly, the iTaukei Affairs Board can benefit from outcomes of the mataqali AGM. The trustees of the mataqali Trusts will also provide a report at the AGM.

Similarly, this responsibility of reporting will also apply to the directors of mataqali owned, or majority owned companies. The information or data mentioned above may already exist, but when monitored by the mataqali, it will be more active and realistic.

Data is an important asset in any organisation including iTaukei institutions. As I understand, there are more than 5000 mataqali in Fiji.

It is from the data collated that the iTaukei Affairs Board can prepare strategic direction based on data in terms of training, awareness and improving the business acumen of the iTaukei (indigenous) people through constructs within the provincial councils.

Thirdly, the current government is reinstating the Council of Chiefs soon. I am sure we have learnt from some of the governance issues being practiced in the past.

With the strengthening of accountability and transparency of information at mataqali level it will certainly improve the governance of the Council of Chiefs.

I have always wanted to know, now that we are emphasizing good governance by owners of the land: what is the economic contribution (per cent) of iTaukei businesses in the overall gross domestic product of the country of Fiji, considering that we own almost 90 per cent of the land in Fiji.

If it is not on an acceptable level, the challenge is: can we improve on it? In conclusion, I strongly recommend that the iTaukei Affairs Act be amended to make it mandatory that “all registered mataqali” have an annual general meeting.

  • IOWANE NAIVELI is a senior partner of I.Naiveli & Co chartered accountants and trustee of Unit Trust of Fiji. He was the former group chairman of Conglomerate Fijian Holdings and served on many audit committees such as USP, FNU, Reserve Bank of Fiji. The views expressed are his and not necessarily of this newspaper
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