Nation-Building: Language, Flags, Symbols; Fiji Sun Squatter Heading Misleading, Squatter Policies & Solutions
"Perhaps the best way to explain a national language is to consider it as an honorary title, a symbol of respect and nation-building, but without the utility value of official languages that are used in legal documents, the courts, and so on.
"The decisions to use "Fijian" for all Fiji citizens, the proposal on a national language, and today's announcement that all Govt buildings will fly the Fiji flag, are all symbolic ways intended to unite the nation."
The reader thought Singaporeans were confused by their arrangements. I replied: "Believe me, Singaporeans are not at all confused. Irrespective of their many ethnicities and languages, they are all proud of the peace and harmony they enjoy today. And it all started with symbols like this."
FLYING THE FLAG AND INDEPENDENCE DAY. Government has approved the flying of the Fiji flag on all government premises, business houses, schools, various institutions and residential houses from the October 1 to 10.
"Flying of the Fiji flag symbolises the national pride in our heritage and is an expression of our patriotism for Fiji, our heaven, our home and our country." Fiji will celebrate the 40th year of Independence on October 7th and 8th. --Based on 2010 No:1552/MOI. [Why limit the flag flying to these dates? Patriotism does not start and finish on October 7-8.]
FIJI SUN's MISLEADING SQUATTER HEADING. A headline that reads "Ministry will tear down homes" plays straight into the hands of government opponents because it falsely shows government as unfeeling towards the poor and otherwise homeless. The article then proceeds to correct its sensationalist misinformation.
The announcement by Ministry of Lands Permanent Secretary Lt.Col. Neumi Leweni refers only to newly built houses on crown or state land.It does not include older homes or any homes on native* or private land. Neither would the homes be torn down. The PS said the houses would be "removed." He then went on to talk about the development of state land, a move that would allow people to buy their own lots and move into the settlements, and that “people living in squatter settlements will be given first chance in occupying the new housing to be constructed for squatters.” He said the first phase of development had already started at Jittu Estate in Suva and rounded up by saying that Government is "serious in its bid to reduce squatters in the country," estimated at 15% of the population in more than 200 squatter settlements.
Far from tearing down homes and leaving people homeless, Government is trying to find a solution to the squatter problem that was virtually ignored by the previous government. And that is what the Sun's headline should have said.
* Interestingly, ethnic Fijians households with vakavanua arrangements with native landowners are not considered squatters, even though they present similar town planning problems, and their occupance is at best extra-legal. Fijian urban villages present urban planning problems that also will need to be addressed further down the road.
SQUATTERS NEGLECTED BY PREVIOUS GOVERNMENTS. A month earlier, speaking at the groundbreaking ceremony at Tacirua East, north of Suva, where the Housing Authority will develop 1,050 lots and build 900 housing units for low, middle and high income earners, the PM said “Concomitantly previous governments failed to tackle the growth of squatter communities and neglected those who needed housing assistance.
My Government has demanded that Housing Authority and Public Rental Board contribute in a tangible fashion to resolve and solve the housing and squatter challenges. However, subsequently and over the years, Housing Authority and the Public Rental Board relented on its core values and principles.”
Another project assisted by government is the $4million housing project at Lagilagi settlement at the Jittu squatter Estate in Suva City.-- Based on 2010 No:1436/MOI.
MY OPINIONS ON THE SQUATTER PROBLEM. I researched squatters and squatter settlements in Greater Suva in the 1970s for my doctoral degree. While agreeing with much of what Government and the Housing Authority are now doing, I do not think the resources are available to solve the problem. There are just too many squatters and not enough money.
For this reason I think that monitored and assisted site and basic services provision should be a major part of the solution. Government could assist in several ways: in addition to providing the site, basic roading and street lighting, water, sewerage and electricity connections, they could also provide carpentry training, overall supervision, subsidized building materials, and loans. The Military and volunteers could also be involved.
This approach would see groups of squatter families directly involved in solving the problem. They would build houses to the design and size they could afford, extending the house as their circumstances improved. Self help housing is a way of helping people solve their housing problems in an organized manner.