Curse of the Soli
By Alisi Daurewa
in the Fiji Times*
The overarching objective of the People's Charter is, "to rebuild Fiji into a non-racial, culturally vibrant and united, well-governed, truly democratic nation; a nation that seeks progress and prosperity through merit-based equality of opportunity and peace". The proposed village 'By-Laws' under the Ministry of 'I Taukei' is a strategy to meet the objective of the People's Charter.
Villages in Fiji are bound by two different formal development structures which run parallel to each other.The Provincial Council through the Roko Tui and the division, through the commissioner. The villages may seek project development funding from the commissioner through the provincial administrator under the Ministry of Provincial Development or other local and overseas donor agencies.The village is responsible for accounting for funds received.
The provincial office, the secretariat of the provincial council, under which the village falls, may facilitate by endorsing a funding request made by the village as required by some donors. Central Government does not allocate project development funds to the provincial office although in some instances, it does. Villages, however, must contribute to the cost of running the provincial office in the form of 'soli ni yasana'.
The 'soli ni yasana' is a levy every 'I Taukei' male over 21 years old must pay annually. A budget is approved by the provincial council which determines how much each village must contribute. The 'Turaga ni koro', the village headman, coordinates the collection of the 'soli'. Whether one lives in Suva, New York, Beijing, Kabul or London, when the 'mataqali' calls, every effort is made to meet this annual obligation.
This money is then given to the provincial office as a contribution to its administration cost. In addition, it can also be used for projects such as 'scholarship funds' managed at 'provincial' level. The accountability of these funds is not bound by law under the Fijian Affairs Act. In other words, it is left to the discretion of the 'Roko Tui' and senior members of the province.
Despite allegations of abuse over the use of these funds, people continue to 'soli' for two reasons; (1) It is 'traditional' to them because it has been happening since time immemorial, (2) One does not question authority, it is 'viavialevu'.
The 'soli' was introduced in the 19th century, when the provincial council existed to mobilize food production during the colonial era as was the norm then for the colonies under the British Empire to be economically independent. The communal taxation system established by Fiji's first Governor, Sir Arthur Gordon was enabled by the provincial boundaries. (Durutalo, 1997). The annual levy and taxes the natives had to pay if they lived outside the boundary of their province or, if they had too many children contributed to the income of the colonial administration. Non-adherence to any of these was punishable by working in public works or payment of extra taxes. Or in severe cases, the Native Constabulary (Fiji's first army) was used to confront those who protested against the new system. The 'soli' continued into the 20th century when Fiji become Independent in 1970.
Rural development for Indo-Fijians was looked after by the Panchayat system. This was weakened after the 1987 'coup' when most community leaders of the Panchayat system left the country.
Their development and those of other ethnic groups is now coordinated by the District Advisory Council which falls under the umbrella of the National Advisory Council, an arm of the Ministry of Provincial Development. They do not pay an annual levy like the 'soli ni yasana'.
But the 'I Taukei' who lives in a settlement 'governed' under the District Advisory Council might be expected to, if the 'mataqali' seeks his assistance for the 'soli ni yasana'.
The question one must now ask is, 'Why is the 'I Taukei' continuing to pay the 'soli ni yasana', an archaic form of control introduced by those in authority in the 19th century? Surely, taxes such as VAT and PAYE are sufficient, as contributions to the Government coffer.
I am hopeful those responsible for the proposed village By-Laws will ponder the 'soli ni yasana' and recommend its total removal, to free the 'I Taukei' from an unnecessary burden, if the People's Charter is truly Fiji's Roadmap for change, peace and progress, in this 21st century.
* These are the exclusive views of Ms Daurewa and may not necessarily be shared by the Fiji Times.