Ten Pillars of the Charter: Some Observations
By Dr Sanjay Ramesh
Dr. Sanjay Ramesh is an honorary research fellow at the Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies, University of Sydney. His email is firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Ensuring Sustainable Democracy and Good and just Governance
Fiji has a history of problematic constitutions. The 1970 Constitution while considered to be most democratic gave disproportionate political power to the General Electors and such there was asymmetrical representation of General Electors from 1970 to 1987. Furthermore, the 1970 Constitution highlighted that slight movements in support for established communal parties could lead to political instability. In 1977, Indigenous Fijian votes away from the Alliance Party led to the collapse of the Alliance Government in the April 1977 election and what followed was constitutional crisis with the Governor General exceeding his authority by re-installing the Alliance. Then in 1987, social democratic forces led by the Fiji Labour Party ousted the Alliance from power triggering Fiji’s first military coup. The 1990 Constitution that was promulgated as a result of the 1987 coups gave Indigenous nationalists political paramountcy and allowed pro-Indigenous SVT Government to come to power. However by 1994, Fiji was in the process of reviewing the constitution and on 1 July 1998, a new constitution was promulgated. Despite being labelled the most progressive constitution, there was a problem with the 1997 Constitution. One of the serious problems was that the constitution had a greater number of communal seats and encouraged communalism while at the same time expecting communal parties to cooperate in a multiparty government. Lack of inter-communal cooperation resulted in the 2000 coup and the reinstatement of an Indigenous nationalist SDL Government. In April 2009, the 1997 Constitution was abrogated by the military after the Fiji Court of Appeal invalidated the 2006 military coup.
There are a number of themes that come out of the Fiji coups: the politicisation of the military and its periodic intervention in the country’s democratic process, the role of Indigenous Fijian nationalist on violent claims on political hegemony, the lack of institutional mechanisms to promote inter-ethic collaboration, the lack of accountability and transparency in decision making process, and a lack of due diligence in managing national finances. Sustainable democracy and good governance have been an elusive aim in Fiji but the current military regime has consciously sought to address these issues with trial and error since December 2006.
The stated aim of the charter is to abolish communal representation and implement common roll. This is a commendable effort that will take out the communal or ethnic aspect of political representation in Fiji. The proposed open list proportional electoral system will ensure that minority groups in Fiji are better represented in the national parliament and anti-discrimination measures will criminalise discrimination on any grounds. The way forward in the Charter also recommends reducing the voting age from 21 to 18 which was one of the proposals in the 1996 Reeves Commission Report to give young people a voice in influencing political outcomes of general elections. Moreover, the way forward also removes compulsory voting which in the past was difficult to police.
A most comprehensive recommendation in the Peoples’ Charter is strengthening of parliamentary Committees that will allow bills to be considered in a non-partisan manner. This form of deliberative accountability will enable a new typology for the committee system in Fiji and one that should be explored to the fullest with the assistance of electoral experts and institutional and constitutional engineers. In the past, Fiji struggled with the principles of multiparty government and found itself caught in the pressures of communalism and progressive forces of inclusive governance. Aligning the constitution to institutional and electoral systems is an important priority and one that should involve full participation from the civil society.
Another important aspect of the recommendation in the Charter is the constitutionalisation of the Fiji Independent Commission Against Corruption which should be after the general election in 2014 accountable to an elected parliament and be resourced via parliamentary appropriation. A model for the FICAC in the future could be the NSW Independent Commission Against Corruption. Closely related to establishing FICAC should be a move to establish protected disclosure laws so that people who work in the public sector can easily report maladministration, serious waste and wrong conduct of their colleagues or of any public sector agency they work for or with. Under the Act, if a public official makes a ‘protected disclosure’ they will have certain rights and protections.
- Developing a Common National Identity and Building Social Cohesion
Common name debate has been raging in Fiji before independence of the country in 1970 and in the 1997 Constitution, all people of Fiji were finally recognised as Fiji Islanders but there was an inherent lack of political will on the part of the governments under the 1997 Constitution to embed common identity. As a consequence, the name Fiji Islander became irrelevant and the People’s Charter has rightfully argued for Fijian as a common name that will cement common bond among the diverse Fiji community. While there has been some resistance from indigenous nationalists to the use of Fijian to categorise non-indigenous Fijians, these concerns when analysed are driven by prejudice. In Fiji, prejudice of outgroups has stultified debate on a common name and as a result, the military has decreed that all people of Fiji are “Fijians” and Indigenous Fijians are ‘i-taukeis”.
An important driver of cross-cultural collaboration and understanding is inter-faith dialogue. Inter-faith dialogue helps lessen prejudice and racism in the society by educating the society to think and act outside their communal sphere. The Charter is instrumental in encouraging inter-faith dialogue so that there can be better religious tolerance in Fiji. In the past, a number of places of worship have been desecrated by thieves and initiative to get cross-religious collaboration will ensure that the Fiji community is sensitive to diverse religious beliefs and practices.
- Ensuring Effective, Enlightened and Accountable Leadership
Implementing a public service that is educated and runs under the equal employment opportunity principles and a code of conduct will ensure public sector accountability and efficiency. In the past nepotism and cronyism have tarnished the image of Fiji’s public service but the Charter is dedicated to developing future leaders and encouraging more women in senior positions. Currently, there are a number of social barriers for women in taking up senior positions and these eventually will be removed through more targeted gender equity policies and programs that will lead to greater visibility of women in the public sector
- Enhancing Public Sector efficiency, Performance Effectiveness and Service Delivery
Public service must be apolitical and be guided by the values that encourages innovation and reduces waste and duplication. The Charter in this regard has recommended performance standards and performance agreements that will allow ministries to establish Key Performance Indicators and report on its progress to the Permanent Secretary and to the Minister.
- Achieving High Economic Growth While Ensuring Sustainability
Economic well being is considered to be a fundamental pillar of a modern society. Loss of revenue due to bad investment decisions is not just a national problem but a global one. The 2008 global financial crisis was caused by a lack of due diligence in the way investment decisions were made and as a result banks faced liquidity problems triggering a credit crunch that literally decimated the housing market in the US. But the impact of bad investments spread beyond US to Europe (Iceland, Ireland, Greece, Italy, Spain and Portugal) triggering a meltdown in the global market. There are some fundamental pillars of economic development that is required to ensure that the economy is shielded from the poor decisions of financial institutions. The Charter rightly supports private public partnership, including national strategy on development based on sound economic fundamentals. This must entail a robust commercial legal framework that provides business certainty and enables greater foreign investment. However, we must ensure that any development plan and economic policies have robust environmental and human security impact assessments as part of the proposal. Environmental impact of economic development projects is becoming common place and there is a growing appreciation in Fiji and in the region for sustainable practices and regulations to protect environment and food security.
- Making More Land Available for Productive and Social Purposes
Land in Fiji had been in the past a convenient political football and as a result, the sugar industry has been adversely impacted by non-renewal of leases and unilateral actions of landowners. However, there are also tenants who have not paid their leases and held on to the land without being productive. The policy to create a market for leased land through sustainable lease arrangement is a step in the right direction. The most important thing in the Charter is security of tenure and equitable returns to both landowners and tenants through a market-based framework for land utilisation
- Reducing Poverty to a Negligible Level by 2015
Almost 4 out of every 10 persons in our communities live under the conditions of poverty. The Social Protection and Poverty report stated that the poverty rate has r dropped by 4.6 percentage points from 39.8 per cent in 2002 and 2003 to 35.2 per cent in 2008 and 2009. Rural poverty is steady at 44 per cent. The Government has promised to launch a National Programme to Reduce Poverty (NPRP) and half poverty by 2015. The way to tackle poverty is to create employment and to address under-employment and identifying at members of the community who are risk of falling into poverty. Reducing poverty should be part of a larger strategy of poverty prevention where early warnings systems are implemented to identify individuals and families who may fall into poverty.
- Making Fiji a Knowledge based Economy
There are fundamental questions about moving from an import-dependent country to a knowledge based economy. The first step is to define what is the role of knowledge in the development of a knowledge-centric economy for Fiji? Does Fiji have the necessary knowledge infrastructure to enable a knowledge-base? Contemporary Knowledge based approaches have been to promote secondary and tertiary education, digitisation of government, enabling a national broadband network and legal reforms in areas such as copy right. The Charter makes a note that access to education must be considered a matter of priority and Fiji students should have access to tertiary education. With the conversion of FIT to FNU and the establishment of University of Fiji, there is an opportunity to provide access to a greater number of students to tertiary education and eventually to tertiary qualifications. Universities in Fiji are knowledge hubs and there are lessons from Indonesia which in early 1980s declared four of its universities as “centres of excellence” and through these centres of excellence, Indonesia was able to create knowledge clusters.
- Improving Health Service Delivery
Fiji needs a national health strategy that will provide an integrated health delivery to the community. Equal access to health care: Give adequate financial assistance for people from remote, rural and outer islands to access hospitals with the best medical technology, specialists and allied health professionals; minimise out-of-pocket costs for health care to ensure consumers get the health care they need; provide information and support to enable people to access care easily; facilitate the mobility and education of health professionals to alleviate workforce shortages; make regulatory processes for medical technology and pharmaceuticals more transparent; introduce better preventive health policy; provide mental health as part of the national health initiative; resource hospitals and develop national emergency and staff retention policies. One way of relieving pressure on the public hospital is to encourage private hospitals and potentially health insurance for high income earners. The Charter would like to strengthen public private coordination and establish a Health Policy Commission and these should be part of the National Health Strategy.
- Multilateral and bi-lateral engagements
Fiji has been isolated by the ill-conceived action of the Pacific Island Forum following the 2006 coup. The isolation of Fiji has impacted on its bilateral relations with Australia and New Zealand which have led targeted sanctions on members of the Fiji regime and the military. After five years of sanctions, there are no signs that either Australia or New Zealand is willing to review their position. As a consequence, Australia and New Zealand have lost potential influence in Fiji as the Fiji regime embraced China and other Asian nations.
Dr. Sanjay Ramesh
Honorary Research Fellow, Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies, University of Sydney email: email@example.com