Thursday, June 14, 2007

Fijian Governance Structures

The enemy lies within - Thursday, June 14, 2007

I LEARNT a lesson from one of my sons a few years ago when he directed me to the book of Romans chapter 7, verse 14 in the Bible's New Testament about the conflict within us.

In St Paul's letter to the Romans, he says both good and evil live within each of us. Either way, one's destiny is what you make of it.

A similar lesson was brought home to me at the Kadavu Provincial Council meeting held last month in Tavuki, where our chiefs made two very important announcements to the people of Kadavu:

The forefathers of Kadavu left a legacy for the present generation. Hard work and perseverance were not new to Kadavu and that Fiji's current situation was not exceptional to Kadavu;

Chiefs must take a backward step to allow God to take the lead.

Beautiful, profound and powerful statements of wisdom that echoed in the Ratu Nacagilevu meeting house and beyond, as we witnessed the honouring of our past', and using lessons learnt from the present', to steer us forward' to our vision of, "Ko Kadavu me Vanua Bula Sautu".

Under the Fijian administration, the provincial councils were established after the Deed of Cession in 1874 to ensure good governance and coordinate development for the well being of the Fijian people. There are 14 provinces where each has a provincial council plus Rotuma totalling the number at 15. The traditional chiefs preside in these councils either as advisors or working members.

The traditional equivalent of the provincial council is the Bose Vanua. Membership is privy only to a few by inheritance and it is the overarching authority over the vanua including introduced systems of governance like the provincial councils. Whilst the Bose Vanua is supposed to be independent, I have noted ambitious politicians who would traditionally not qualify to speak in such a forum participate at such a meeting to lobby for support for their political party. This therefore raises the question on the sustainability of the Bose Vanua.

For those who work in rural community development, I am sure they will agree with me when I say that one of the best legacies left behind by the British colonial administration is the provincial council. The provincial council is the top (of three) echelon in the hierarchy of an introduced governance system at provincial level. The next step down from the provincial council is the tikina or district council. At the bottom of the rung is the Bose Vakoro or village council. In Fiji, there are 1170 villages and 187 tikina. The turaga ni koro is the village representative to the tikina or district council.

The mata ni tikina is the district representative to the provincial council.

The provincial council is a body capable of building strong communities. It has a checks and balances system and a consultative process in place that allows for the top down and bottom up approach' of communication. For example, a decision made at the provincial council meeting is relayed down to the district or tikina council meeting which then takes the decision further to the village council meeting or Bose Vakoro. And, vice versa.

Furthermore, the provincial council is a helpful avenue for mobilising and monitoring development and a great facilitator for building social capital.

Because of its nurturing role, the provincial council can be likened to the role of motherhood where it is supposed to ensure its children or members of its province are well looked after.

The taxpayers through the Government provide funding support for provincial and tikina/district councils. The taxpayers also provide a monthly allowance for the turaga ni koro, who coordinates development at village level and acts as the secretariat at Bose Vakoro or village council meetings.

In addition to support from the Government, provincial councils also receive an annual levy from the members of the province, for development purposes.

With such an ideal structure in place to support rural community development, and millions of dollars spent on development assistance programs these past 40 years, why does Dr Wadan Narsey, a respected and renowned economist say in the Sunday Times (10 June) that Fijians have the largest share of poor people?

And, why do our relatives in the villages continue to find it difficult to survive on idealistic sun, sand and sea, and sooner or later migrate to Viti Levu to add to our increasing squatter population?

The Paki family's story in Sunday's issue (10 June) tells of poverty to access quality education faced by people in the outer islands and their struggles and pain as they make their way to Suva, to try to experience what many of us who live in urban areas take for granted. I am sure there would be many similar stories entwined with both pain and joy.

Why then should this be when successive Fijian led governments have always provided for the Fijians through various development program and the recent affirmative action?

Where have all the dollars gone?

Fijian Holdings Limited was initially set up to ensure that people like the Paki family and others like them in the maritime and hinterland provinces enjoyed quality education and reliable health, communication and transport services just as their urban cousins do. Unfortunately, however, evil in the form of greed got the better of the two (that St Paul wrote about in his letter to the Romans), and instead of a fair distribution of the Fijian Holdings Limited wealth, only a handful of sons of some of the provinces enjoyed the bigger piece of the pie including all of its whipped cream.

Then there is the case of the divisive mother. The provincial council in allowing politics to take precedence over social and economic development for its people has sadly neglected its nurturing role and instead has become a political football.

For example, the provincial announcement of candidates belonging to a preferred political party for election is synonymous to a mother's pet child.

I am never sure whether this is an act of ignorance or arrogance.

Wouldn't any right thinking person who is aware that the provincial council is funded by taxpayers regardless of political affiliation quickly conclude this to be ethically wrong? One cannot be blamed for assuming this to be a conniving form of cheap campaign by capitalising on the ignorance of the people. Before the May elections last year, the organisation I work for had raised this out of concern that the dignity of the people was no longer respected. Where ever one went, the turaga ni koro was found to be busily carrying out tasks for the preferred political party of the provincial council, at taxpayers cost.

Another example. In the past, we have witnessed major fundraising events facilitated by provincial councils some easily totalling more than the $1million mark.

Buildings, scholarship funds and business ventures that exist today are testimony of the funds collected by various provinces. In most provinces, the noble objective behind this accumulation is to maintain a revolving fund to ensure the well being of the people of the province.

In reality however, only a small percentage of the population of the province is privy to information on how funds earned are actually utilised. Whether the financial accounts are audited does not matter.

Do you remember those that posed as employment agents for security companies in far away Middle East? They visited villages with promises of immediate employment. By the time they left, the village trust fund that was set aside to send the children for tertiary level education had been emptied into the agents' pockets. The employment agents needed the money to pay for the passports of the expectant villagers.

Years on, the people are still waiting and the children have lost a golden opportunity for further study.

With the few above examples in place one wonders whether we Fijians are our own worst enemies and may have perhaps allowed the evil enemy within to thrive and to overtake the good that has gone to sleep within.

The author is executive director of Pacific Community Development Fiji

Poverty in Fiji - letter to Fiji Times - Poverty speech

I REFER to Dr Wardan Narseys statistical methodology and congratulate him on his research to explain poverty levels according in Fiji to various ethnicity.

I believe we should be prepared to have our views and results shaped by the research done by Dr Wardan.

I also believe he did not go far enough in terms of being strategic in the new social, economic and political order of the market information civilisation of the 21st Century.

In this regard, his research methodology appears to have failed to balance out quantitative data with qualitative data.

In the past, economists were so good at calculating economic formula to solve all our problems that in their enthusiasm, they factored out human elements such as creativity, perseverance, honour, etc. These are some of Gods gifts to humanity and indeed we must be continuously cognisant of such factors so as to properly account for social capital.

Accounting for such qualitative data allows for more appropriate information surveys to underpin public policy, factors and differentiators from a strategic marketing perspective.

Taking such a holistic perspective within Dr Wardans framework, I would like to point out a couple of caveats to his article.

First, Dr Wardans conclusions are certainly valid with respect to educational poverty (people who are poor because they cant afford an education) but they are not necessarily valid for supply-side poverty (people who are poor because of scarce or restricted opportunities).

For example, affirmative action quotas rectify glass ceilings to promotion opportunities for women or minorities most effectively.

My own research confirms that ethnicity (as indicative of cultural suitability) is in fact a universal success factor that needs to be measured in this regard as an indicator to formulate local domestic intervention policies.

This leads me to my second caveat, which concerns the top 10 per cent wealthiest of the general population.

This group largely comprises the business community and this is another area where market opportunities are restricted because of the market dominance of established players and networking cliques. That disposes it toward limited affirmative quota inventions.

My research shows that this group is made up of 52 per cent Indians, 27 per cent Other Races and 21 per cent indigenous Fijians and Rotumans.

Of course there are real ethical difficulties in recommending affirmative action interventions at this level but if one accepts the normal Pareto breakdown that the top 20 per cent of wealthy people probably own 80 per cent of the (local) national wealth, then clearly this is the area where most can be done to redress the perceived wealth disparity between the major races.

I look forward to reading my own copy of Dr Narseys book but in view of my comments here and the typically self-righteous attack by the FLP, the way forward may not be as straight forward as he might have hoped.

Mere Tuisalalo Samisoni

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

The Qoliqoli Bill

Letter to Fiji Daily Post 5-Jun-2007


With the recent resurrection of land tenure in Fiji, I would like to bring up again the topic, what is unlawful or immoral about the Qoliqoli Bill that had hoteliers up in arms claiming it would ruin their businesses and the military rejecting it on the basis that it was racially divisive.

Whilst it is not disputed the bill still needed further refining after going to the committee, the hoteliers claim about the ruining of their businesses was nothing but a smear campaign.

As for the military’s stance that it had to be shelved because it was racially decisive lacks merit and wholly unsubstantiated.

Ever since 1970, respective Governments have implemented policy or law that specifically benefited a particular racial group and mainly Fijians on the grounds of positive discrimination or paramount interests.

These laws or policy were never rejected by the people, although they may not have approved of it, but it was accepted that it was the prerogative of the government of the day.

For instance, to mention only a few the Alliance supported the FAB which had scholarships exclusively for indigenous Fijians, so they can get better educated and compete in the workplace.

The SVT government funded the Fijian Holdings with $21m and this was specifically set up to assist indigenous Fijian businesses.

The Chaudhry Labour government created a resettlement policy for cane farmers whose ALTA leases were not renewed to be resettled in the Navua plains and these benefited mainly Indian farmers. Then the SDL introduced the Qoliqoli Bill to return to the indigenous Fijians what has always been theirs since time immemorial, which they gave away ownership and control of their lands and qoliqoli to Her Majesty in the Deed of Cession in 1874.

The lands belonging to the indigenous Fijians have been returned and is now administrated by the NLTB, however the qoliqoli have remained with the State.

When you consider the few examples I have mentioned above, it seems to be conveniently ignored by the critics of the bill, that in all cases, they were new rights which never existed before, which were conferred to the targeted group.

However, with the qoliqoli bill, it is totally different because it is an existing legal, traditional, cultural and moral right, which is being given recognition by the government of the day as it seeks to complete what needed to have been done back in 1970.

UN protocols recognises indigenous rights and the qoliqoli bill was the legal way of returning to indigenous Fijian what is rightfully theirs. The critics have succeeded in delaying the implementing of the qoliqoli bill, but it will one day be passed by Parliament.

The military has been used as a scapegoat again during this coup and the big players behind them have a totally different agenda for Fiji which is not in the best interest of the indigenous Fijians.

Before you respond to my letter, let me ask you this:

Who is guilty of discrimination and in contravention of international protocols? The SDL Government in endeavoring to return to indigenous Fijians their qoliqoli through the qoliqoli bill or the objectors who seek to permanently deprive the indigenous Fijians from reclaiming what has always been rightfully theirs since time immemorial?
So I ask again, what is unlawful or immoral about the qoliqoli bill?

Tui Savu,

Friday, June 1, 2007

Charter ‘to heal racism wounds’


THE two military takeovers of governments in 1987 and the civilian led coup in 2000, both heightened and deeply magnified the dominance of race-based politics and governance resulting in a severe erosion of confidence and massive exodus abroad of the country’s skilled and educated people, mainly Indians.
This is one of the background factors that led to the compilation of “A PEOPLE’S CHARTER FOR CHANGE & PROGRESS”, according to a statement by the Information Ministry.
The Charter in its draft form was made possible with the support of Government ministries.

The overall objective of the Charter will be “To rebuild Fiji into a non-racial, culturally vibrant and united, well governed, truly democratic nation that seeks progress and prosperity through merit based equality of opportunity and peace.

The Charter highlights that in the Post-1987 coup period related developments caused severe ruptures in the very fabric of Fiji society, resulting in a loss of confidence that has been debilitating Fiji’s economy and hampering developmental progress and prosperity.

It is noted that while the 1997 Constitution was somewhat more progressive and broadly more representative of Fiji’s communities in the political governance arrangements that it promulgated, it maintained the race-based architecture with emphasis on the communal in the make up of Parliament and put in place structures that continued to emphasise racial divisions in Fiji society.

The Charter also highlights that more recently in the wake of the 2000 civilian–led overthrow of government the military had initially installed the Interim Civilian Government.

Then following the 2001 and 2006 General Elections, Fiji’s political governance has been characterised by the politicisation of the prison services, criminal justice system and the public service.

There was a significant weakening of the key institutions of governance, pervasive increase in corruption, serious economic decline, a significant deterioration in the law and order situation and a deepening of the racial schism in the country.

Copies of the Chater have been circulated to various civil society groups, the media, businesses and corporate bodies with the intention that they come on board to promote it and help push it to realisation.