Tribute To Savenaca Siwatibau

Postdate: 8/ 10/ 2003


Premier of Niue Vivian Young. Premier of Tokelau Tama Kupule O’Brien/Chancellor of the University. The Fiji Government Ministers, Honorable Qoriniasi Bale and Honourable Tome Vuetilovoni and the official delegation from Fiji. The New Zealand Minister Hon Marian Hobbs, for Pacific Islands Affairs, and officials of the New Zealand Government. Hon Naomi Fiame Samoan Minister of Education. Pro Chancellor and Chair of the Council of the University of the South Pacific, Dr Lagi Kavaliku and representatives of the Council. Acting Vice Chancellor Dr Rajesh Chand and representatives of staff and students of the USP. His Excellency, Hima Takelesi, Niue High Commissioner. Acting High Commissioner for Cook Islands, Mrs Sonya Kamara. The Governor of the Reserve Bank of Vanuatu, The Deputy Governor of the Reserve Bank of Fiji, Sada Reddy and representatives. Managing Director of the Fiji National Provident Fund, Olota Rokovunisei. All our friends and relatives.

Life History Savenaca Siwatibau was Born in Tukavesi Village on November 4, 1940. His Mother was Adi Asenaca Mairara and Father Isaac Driver from Nabau, Taveuni. Members of this side fo the family are with us today. He was a member of the Mataqali Vilaca in the Yavusa of Kama In the Vanua of Sovatabua. He was raised in Buca, his mother’s village. Education: He attended both Natewa and Buca Primary Schools. After that Buca Levu Provincial School, Queen Victoria School and then to Suva Grammar far from Sereu. He was Dux of the school in 1958 in his last year at QVS. Although Siwa and Suli studied at the same time at Auckland University, they first met at a quiz competition between QVS and Adi Cakobua School (ACS). I think this was when the brightest boy from QVS noticed the brightest girl from ACS whose team won that quiz. Suli was also the Dux at ACS in her last year. They were married in 1966. Suliana comes from the Kaloumaira family in Moturiki Island. The Kaloumaira family is a distinguished and well known Fijian family with some outstanding members who have distinguished themselves in education and other fields. Siwa returned to Fiji with a Masters of Science in Maths and Physics in 1963. He was first employed as Meteorologist in Nadi. He started studying economics at Victoria University of Wellington while attached to the Meteorology Office in Wellington. He was transferred to the Economic Planning office in Suva and then went to Sussex University in 1968. He graduated with a Master of Arts Degree in Economics. Returned to Fiji and became the first Fijian Director of Economic Planning after Independence. He was appointed Permanent Secretary of Finance in 1972 – became involved in USP as a Government Representative on the University Council. Appointed as Alternate Director to the International Monetary Fund in 1978 for 2 years in Washington DC. Came back to become the First Local General Manager of the Central Monetary Authority and then first Governor of the Reserve Bank in 1982. Left Fiji in 1988 for a fellowship at the Australian National University for 6 months. In 1988 he was appointed Head of EPOC, the Economic and Social Commission to Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) Pacific Operations Centre in Vanuata until 2000. Pro-Chancellor of USP in 1998 whilst still at EPOC. 2001 Vice-Chancellor USP. Passed away 3 October Friday Christchurch Hospital 2003. This is a very brief outline of his career although he was involved in a whole range of other public responsibilities in Fiji and the Pacific region. Siwa as a Student Right from Primary School Siwa stood out as a very bright child. His teachers noticed his precocious capacity and made him sit exams with children 1 or 2 classes above him and he passed but still teachers would not promote him to jump classes. He was a studious and diligent student. He preferred to read the few books available in school and must have read them a few hundred times as there were hardly any books available in those days. Siwa as a Family man Siwa and Suli had 4 children the oldest Simione Ramacake, Ropate Rakula, Atunaisa Taleasiga, Asenaca Tania Tuivanuavou the only daughter. Siwa was a very good loving Father. According to his children he was always calm, patient and fair in his relationship. He never got angry with his children and would explain everything and answered their questions patiently. He did not swear or use harsh words. When he had to discipline them he would explain calmly why and if necessary use a bit of the strap in a measured way. When he was in Buca Primary School, there was an uncle who was a licenced teacher who used to strap the children a lot. One day when Siwa joined another queue for strapping, the teacher heard him crying and asked him why he was crying. He told the teacher that he never explained to them why he was fond of giving them the strap. Siwa was a father who despite his busy jobs always had time for his children. He loved teaching children. He would often hold tutorials for his children and their friends in his office after work. Siwa is a very neat person and he expected the same of his children, making sure that they wore clean, ironed clothes and always sent them to the Barber in Samabula to have their hair cut. From the earliest days he always stressed to his children the importance of achieving a good education, a lesson which the children remembered. They have all turned out to be well qualified in their fields with two IT Engineers, 1 lawyer and Tania with a banking qualification. Siwa as a father was very protective of his family, he drove carefully and slowly when driving them in his car and when they started driving he would never allow them to drive above 80km/hr. When he booked them on a plane to go to school or return on holidays he would try and arrange to have them on seat number 15A just opposite the Wing exit because he said if the plane crashed it was the safest seat to be on.

I should remember this one. Siwa loved gardening and he taught his children how to grow traditional Fijian crops and vegetables at their farm in Kesu, Nailega, Tailevu during the weekends and school holidays. He also liked to take the children on bush walks, particularly, climbing hills like Mount Korobaba. Siwa’s children say they learnt from their father through his own conduct the virtues of humility, respect for all persons regardless of race, creed or background. They absorbed his basic sense of fairness and justice. They learned the importance of dealing with the worries and concerns of life with calmness. Not letting your emotions rule your judgement in all situations. Reasoning through your problems. Appreciate the simple things of life and living simply and to think of others. They also learned the value of hard work, reliability and loyalty. We can see here from the experiences of his own children that the virtues by which Siwa is cherished publicly was practised in his own family life that we know very little about. What was important to Siwa was that he practised his Christianity rather than merely talking about it. Siwa the Public Person and the Vanua I’m also here to say a few words of tribute on behalf of his mataqali Vilaca and the Yavusa of Kama and the Vanua of Sovatabua or Natewa District in the province of Cakaudrove. I speak for the chiefs, the individuals, the families and the villages that make up the Vanua to which Savenaca Siwatibau belongs. In our Vanua, everyone agrees, that Siwa is our most successful and outstanding member. He is the most loved and respected member. He was the ideal that everyone looked up to. There were many attributes that endeared Siwa to many of our people. He was a brilliant man who set academic and other achievements in his public life that none of us can ever hope to achieve. He was a very wise person. Many of us often turned to him for advice on personal matters and he always in his polite and caring ways gave sound, honest and insightful advice that we usually followed to our benefit. We all know that he was a humble person who respected everyone regardless of their status, beliefs or ethnicity. He always put people at ease with his simple, honest and polite approach in his relationships. He related to his relatives and all people in the same way, with humility, care, sensitivity and respect. You get to know Siwa as a person immediately when you meet him. The first impression of him is usually lasting. That was my experience when I first met him as a new student at Queen Victoria School. He came to visit the school with Suli and he met each one of us who came from his area, including one Sitiveni Rabuka. He had no airs or pretensions. He spoke gently and kindly and asked about my parents and how I liked Boarding school and then he gave all of us pocket money. When you have met Siwa and got to know him, you realise that you have met a master of human relations. This is what one of his academic Economist colleagues said of Siwa, which captures the essence of the man as a scholar: “There was no embellishment in his presentations, no pretence of superior knowledge of an issue or a tendency to demean and overpower his dissenters. He spoke calmly, usually in a low voice, and showed concern and respect for opposing views.” In addition to his intellectual brilliance, Fiji was fortunate that he chose to be a public servant first before he served the University.

For we all know that he would have been equally successful and outstanding had he chosen a purely academic profession. In my view, Siwa is the most outstanding professional public servant that Fiji has produced since political independence. His leadership qualities are widely acknowledged and especially his integrity and ability to give simple, practical advice on very complex policy matters. Siwa operated with ease in the modern world of his varied careers because of his confidence, deep knowledge, lack of pretension and ability to get the respect and loyalty of the people he worked with. He had a great ability to speak off the cuff. These qualities that made Siwa so successful in his many leadership roles, are also the qualities that anchored him in the way he also dealt with ease in the Fijian culture. He never forgot his roots as a child where he was brought up in humble and poor circumstances of his village, Buca. Dr Ropate Qalo, like me and others remember occasions when Siwa reminded us gently of the customs and protocol of our Vanua that we needed to observe as we did not have as much knowledge as him in this area. In the Fijian language, when you want to convey the essence of a good man, deserving of honour and respect, we say “E tamata vaka turaga”. I have often heard Fijians describe Siwa in these words. Literally the words in English mean, he is a person who embodies the virtues and customs of a true chief. Fijians do not usually spell out what these words mean because it is taken as understood. But if I were to spell them out, it is the same virtues by which he was so much revered as a modern leader. The virtues of “vaka turaga” mean speaking and relating to people in a humble and respectful way, knowing your custom and your people well, being honest, fair and generous in your dealings with people irrespective of their status in life, putting other people’s needs first before your own, that is, the chief leads the people by serving them. This is how and why Siwa is often described, “E tamata vaka turaga”. I learnt from his family that Siwa was offered a few times the Commander of the British Empire (CBE) honorific which he refused because he believed that he did not work for man’s reward and recognition but for God’s approval. Our people remember the many experiences of Siwa’s generosity and gestures of personal assistance, often unsolicited. He paid the school fees and other education needs of many children not only from our Vanua but from other parts of Fiji including other races. He provided the annual mathematics prize at his old school, QVS, for the last 30 odd years. I cannot recall the many air fares, bus fares, boat fares and other travel expenses he paid for our people who turned up at his office in Suva without money to return home. I remember an example of his thoughtfulness in September 2001.

 I was in Wellington and we were discussing with the funeral director the funeral arrangements for my daughter Alisi. Alisi’s grandfather, Colin Aikman’s cell phone rang and it was Siwa. He gave his condolences and said that he had sent a little money to help pay for the funeral expenses – a typically generous sum. He also in August 2002, did the honour to the first two vice chancellors of the University of the South Pacific, Dr Colin Aikman and Professor Frank Brosnohan, inviting them to be guests of the University for a week, showed them all the development and spoke glowingly of them to the staff of the USP. Three months later, Dr Colin Aikman passed away in Wellington. I remember Colin telling me that Siwa was the most remarkably able Fijian he had known in his life. Colin’s widow, Betty Aikman and their daughter Helen and Frank Brosnohan are here with us. There have been many superlative accolades published and broadcast in the Fiji media and in the South Pacific region since people learnt about his passing away in the last week. They all say the same things about him. From the Prime Minister to ordinary people of all races and peoples of the South Pacific. A senior Minister in the Alliance Government, who worked with Siwa in his early days as a public servant said these words in an email that he sent to us at the CCF when he heard of Siwa’s passing: “As you can imagine, at moments like this, one cannot readily find the words that will even remotely express one’s emotional turmoil. One liked and respected Siwa but it is now that one realises how much one really loved him. He was unique in so many ways.” Another Indo-Fijian leader of a political party said simply that “Siwa is irreplaceable”. An academic colleague and friend who is here, said this in a tribute that he sent to many of his friends in Fiji and overseas: “He had a good sense of humour and was able to lighten moments of tension in meetings and conversations by light hearted aside. He had that unique ability to make very strong criticism without causing offence. He was always generous with his time for others seeking his advice and assistance. For many of us, Siwa was a beacon of leadership with integrity in Fiji and the region. We all could trust him to do the right thing – the fair thing. His untimely passing away has left a big void in the lives of all of us who cherished his clear sightedness, his honesty, his eloquence, his friendship, and his inclusiveness.” Another Fijian leader described Siwa as “a giant amongst us”. Siwa had set examples in his personal life that are treasures for our people and especially to the future generations to remember and try to emulate. A person who always served others than himself. It was typical of him to want a simple funeral without fanfare or burdening people with ceremony. Our people had pondered the meaning of this deeply and decided that we had to respect his last wish. It is another of his gifts to us to cherish and learn from his simplicity and humility. Siwa was the most complete human being I have known in my life. He was a very special person. In his Vanua, Siwa is legend. We will never forget him. We will always remember him for what he was and what he stood for. He was a great man whose qualities we celebrate with Suliana and members of their families today. For we all feel immensely grateful and proud that he had been one of us and we are all part of him. Our greatest son. Siwa e na vukui keimami na wekamu kei ira kece sara na tamata e ra a kilai iko e na nomu bula, vinaka vakalevu. Ni sa moce Siwa.


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