They Beg to Differ on UNDP Interview

Knut Ostby UNDPIn a recent posting  (Knut Doing Enough about Poverty) I commented on a Radio Australia interview with Fiji’s UNDP Resident Coordinator Knut Ostby on poverty in Fiji. I thought Knut’s comments were lacking in information  and I inferred Radio Australia’s interest was more about “exposing” the Bainimarama government than an interest in poverty. I asked why they had not also interviewing the Minister responsible for poverty alleviation.

Two former USP colleagues, however, were critical of my article.  Professor Vijay Naidu, a sociologist and head of the USP’s School of Government, Development and International Affairs and Director of the Centre for Development Studies, thought  my remarks too harsh; while  Professor Biman Prasad, an economist and  Dean of the Faculty of Business and Economics, thought media censorship prevents the local release of information, hence Olsen’s recourse to Radio Australia.

Here  is what they both had to say:

Vijay NaiduProf. Naidu: Dear Croz, Thanks. While your list of what the current Fijian government has been doing to address poverty in Fiji is comprehensive and generally correct, your criticism of Knut is somewhat harsh. I don’t know the context in which he did the interview.
I am aware that he has actively engaged with PM’s Office staff who are responsible for strategies toward poverty reduction. UNDP has been the lead organization articulating the ‘Human Face’ of the global financial (and food) crisis in the Pacific’.
Besides what you have stated, Fiji has much in its favour with respect to addressing structural causes of poverty which includes the continuation of customary forms of land tenure, ‘free education’ for primary and secondary schools (legal action needs to be taken against school head teachers and principals for violations), and relatively affordable health care for common ailments.
However issues remain in relation to access to land and other resources for both ethnic Fijians and other Fijians, access to technical and vocational training, opportunities for employment  and minimum wages for workers. As you know a clear majority of Fiji workers are earning below poverty line incomes –this far this government like previous governments continue to be unduly in the influence of employers and their supporters. I am afraid very little if any progress has been made with respect to minimum wages. With regards, Vijay

Biman Prasad uspProf. Prasad: Croz, The UNDP is correct in making that assessment. Why should one not talk to Radio Australia or other international media when you cannot talk to the local media? Croz should know that we are living under regime of strict media censorship  in Fiji right now.
In fact some of the poverty alleviation programmes that Croz talks about is partly because more and more families especially in the rural areas are falling below the poverty line and there is demand for that to be addressed.  Food prices have risen because of high duties on imported food items and because of devaluation. When the economy does  has not grown since 2007, it is difficult to allocate more resources towards poverty alleviation. What we need is certainty and confidence in the country which will help us to move towards better growth prospects and we may then be able to address the issue of poverty better.   Biman

To which I replied that I basically agreed with what they said but I still thought Radio Australia's interest was not quite innocent, and that what they reported of what Knut said added nothing to anyone’s knowledge of poverty in Fiji.  

I should also add here  (and should have earlier) that I have much respect for the work UNDP has done in Fiji and I  have no doubt Knut is continuing this good work.  My apologies to him if my posting made him think I thought otherwise.  It was the manipulated interview that I criticized, not the UNDP.  I also  thanked Vijay and Biman for “keeping me on my toes.” 


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