Friday, June 15, 2007

Fijian Governance Structures

The enemy lies within

www.fijitimes.com - 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

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