Murray McCully Should Read This. Steps towards a Solution for Squatting

Bangladesh leases, December 2010
There never has been, and there probably will never be, a simple answer to the squatter problem in Fiji. Its underlying causes are poverty and lack of land and housing people can afford. But international research has shown that for squatters to help dig themselves out of poverty and improve their residential environment, security of tenure is a must.   

This is one story  of what government is doing to address that issue for one group of squatters relocated from other parts of the Greater Suva urban area:

Some 147 squatters on Lakena Hill near Nausori will receive official documents confirming their  99-year leases from the Minister for Local Government, Urban Development, Housing and Environment today. In what essentially is a site-and-service development, government will provide residents with sewer lines, paved roads, footpaths, access way, fire hydrants, water and electricity. Residents will be responsible for their own housing but low interest loans will be available from commercial banks. Late last year a similar project took place for the Bangladesh squatter settlement in the Suva-Nausori corridor. (See story)  This year squatters at Vatoa and Lomaivuna  have  also been awarded leases, and leases for Badrau settlement in Ba are expected soon.

Government's recently launched National Housing Policy that aims to provide affordable and decent housing for all communities by 2020 is an initiative required by Pillar 8 of the People's Charter and the Roadmap for Democracy and Sustainable Development. It will be a hard ask given that the country has some 200 squatter settlements and many others smaller squatter groupings. -- Based on No: 1205/MOI.

A NZAid research team led by Dr John McKinnon started to assist with the squatter problem in 2008 but work stopped as NZ cut back its aid programme. If Minister McCully were better informed on positive developments like this that have been initiated by the Bainimarama government (and were sadly neglected by previous administrations), one wonders whether he might see Fiji in a range of colours, and not simply in blacks and whites.


Scott said…
Unfortunately this 'solution' to the housing shortages in Fiji's urban centres looks like a reincarnation of the site and service schemes which the World Bank in particular enthused over in the 1970s and early 1980s. Unfortunately because as they did in African cities, these schemes soon become the domain of slum-lords and house more and more poor people. Once leases are given, there is nothing to stop the process of accumulation as some lease-owners run into debt and others take over the leases. Leases are transferable property rights, part of the process of concentrating property ownership under capitalism.
Similarly with the construction of housing on these leased plots: in no time at all, if it has not already begun, housing will be constructed outside any health and safety limits. Bribes will ensure that health regulations mean very little. These continually extended dwellings under the ownership of fewer and fewer land-lords take in more and more tenants, stretching sanitation and other facilities. Anyone who doubts the certainty of this process should take a trip to Mathare Valley, a suburb of Nairobi Kenya - or even just use an internet search for one of the films that have been made of life in this slum which was the location of one of the earliest site and service schemes.
While extending these schemes in Fiji might be a sign of the good intentions of the current government, intentions that don't take into account how political economy works are just that. Site and service schemes are no solution for squatting, just the formula for even worse problems in providing more and more space for landlords and slums.
Anonymous said…
I am shocked that Scott would compare Fiji with Africa. Come on I have seen Kenya and it is a completely different country and circumstances and people and customs etc and etc and I think comparing Africa and Fiji is nothing but hog wash.
Scott said…
I did not compare Fiji to Africa, or even to just one of the more than 50 countries with a combined population of over one billion people on the continent.I made the simple comparative point that the experience of site and service housing schemes elsewhere (eg Mathare Valley in Nairobi, Kenya) should suggest more scepticism than is currently being exercised in Fiji. Unlike Anonymous, I did not only see Kenya, but lived there, researched and wrote on site and service housing when this means of trying to increase the stock of housing was first being tried.
There are universal processes, not just found in one country, at work in creating squatters. These also apply to South Pacific countries, including Fiji. Landlessness and impoverished urbanisation are consequences of those processes.
Any supposed solution which provides state funds, either from revenues raised in Fiji or borrowed internationally from the World Bank or any other lender, is in danger of becoming a subsidy to a strata, landlords, whose existence will have long-term detrimental effects for Fiji.
Although I did not say Fiji is comparable to Africa, it certainly is not like some of the countries on the continent in an important respect. The long downturn which blighted much of the continent is starting to give way to a major upturn in quite a few countries, something which has not yet begun in Fiji.
So while Anonymous - a courageous disguise under which to throw around invective - may be right in some respects these are not as was intended. Unlike the countries in Africa which have substantial rates of growth, declining poverty and the beginnings of political stability, Fiji remains in the mire.

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