(B) Fiji's Ethnically Unbalanced Public Sector Workforce
How to retain skilled Indo-Fijian public service officers was an issue discussed at Tuesday's meeting of the National People's Charter Advisory Council. Chairperson Josefa Serulagilagi (Photo: FijiVillage) expressed concern at the "low representation of Fiji Indians in senior civil service positions and heads of missions overseas ... Unfortunately, for some of our Indo-Fijian officers (working in the civil service) is like a stepping stone into other areas such as the private sector, then they go overseas. That is the problem we are facing at the moment." He was hopeful the People's Charter would help stop the drain brain.
Problem of ethnic balance not new
The problem of reasonably balanced ethnic represention is not new. It is a product of the plural society created by colonialism where residence-occupation-income-inclusiveness and ethnicity were absolutely linked. In a paper published in 1976*, based on the pre-Independence 1966 census, I wrote: "Thus, provinces, localities and even occupations can often be considered Indian or Fijian, and ethnically mixed settlements and occupations are the exception. The implications for a government concerned with achieving an ethnic balance must be obvious."
Suva's ethnic suburbs
These were the days when Europeans employed in government, and their Fijian servants, dominated the old affluent Suva suburb of the Domain; privately-employed Europeans, their Fijian servants and a smattering of successful Indian business people the new suburbs of Tamavua (beyond which, outside the city boundary was the Fijian "urban village" of the same name), while most Fijians lived in squatter settlements and urban villages, in Lami and Walu Bay or the "mixed" Housing Authority suburbs of Raiwaqa and Raiwai, and most Indians lived close to the site of the old Indian "labour lines" (that used to be outside the city boundary) in Samabula and Nabua. Children rarely went to the nearest school but commuted across the city to the school that best matched their ethnicity, religion and gender. A tangle of ethnic fault lines dissected the city. Independence gradually brought major changes to this distribution but the pattern is too indelibly sketched for total removal.
So too with the economy about which I then wrote: "The polarisation of... residence was therefore also found, as expected, in the economy, and it seems likely that this general pattern will continue with Fijians being likely to fill more positions in government and Indians more positions in the private sector. Hence, the balance of political power seems likely to remain with Fijians while Indians will dominate the economy and hold economic power. It is important for Fiji that ethnic differences are not compounded by class and occupational differences but unless government intervenes a better balance seems unlikely either in job type or status level."
Recent calls for balance
The People's Charter is not the first to call for ethnic occupational balance. The 1997 Constition (section 140 (c)) stated: "the composition of the state service at all levels should reflect as closely as possible the ethnic composition of the population." There was a long way to go to this goal. A year earlier, at the 1996 Census when the paid workforce was 46% Fijian and 49% Indian, 61% of government services was Fijian (Indian 32%), public order was 63% Fijian (33% Indian), and defence 91% Fijian (5% Indian). "Other" ethnic groups brought these totals to 100%.**
The Indo-Fijian contribution to the workforce will have declined since, due mainly to emigration, accelerated by the uncertainty of four coups, three of which were anti-Indian, but to the best of my knowledge no government until now has actively sought to redress the balance, and Fijian-only tertiary-level scholarships can only have increased the imbalance -- a point not overlooked by the NPCAC.
The Police and Military
I suspect far less than 33% of the Police Force (public order) is now Indo-Fijian. But the greatest ethnic disparity, of course, is in defence where, I understand, no extra steps have been taken to recruit Indo-Fijians. In several ways, defence can be argued as a "special case" (that I intend to discuss in a later posting) but the police force is not a special case, and ultimately government's equality good intentions will need to be seen in a more ethnically-balanced military.
Is the ethnic imbalance increasing?
One reader asked "I wonder if you may care to ask readers for opinions on today's comment by Mr Serulagilagi on the racial imbalance in some sections of Government. I have visited the Ministry of Indigenous Affairs on several occasions over the past 2-3 months and the racial imbalance (all i-Taukei) hits me in the face every time I go there - from the security officer at the door, right through. Only Vosa Viti is spoken." I will add a further question: What's happened to last year's government announcement that school children and civil servants will attend classes to make them to some extent tri-lingual? Does anyone know the answer?
We know historical discrepancies take years to eradicate but is there sufficient evidence that Fiji, under the Bainimarama government, is heading in the right direction?
I would be interested in readers' opinions. -- Crosbie Walsh.
* Walsh, A C 1976:"The Ethnic Variable in the Urbanization of Fiji," in Population at Microscale, ed. Kosinski L A and J Webb.
** Walsh, Crosbie 2006: "Employment in Government Services" p.323 in
Walsh, Fiji: an Encylopaedic Atlas.