Preparing for Democracy III

Preparing for Democracy III:
Human Rights and Good Governance
By Croz Walsh

Scratching the Surface: the Citizens' Constitutional Forum Survey November 2011. 

Human rights
This term is very much to the fore in urban discussions about where Fiji is now and where it should be heading and I have no doubt some of this discussion will be known in rural village. But the term itself is an abstraction. Worthwhile discussion requires concrete issues such as freedom to work, worship, basic health care, education, shelter, and of course freedom of expression and freedom of assembly.

I presume such issues were discussed in CCF workshops and with the control group but the report only records whether human rights come with responsibilities (Yes, said almost everyone); should apply equally to all (Yes, over 90%) or whether the rights of “some (e.g., men) needed more protection (Yes, 30-40%). It was a poor example. iTaukei rights would have been more pertinent. As the report points out, some 13% of respondents seemed to confuse human rights and iTaukei rights,

Three questions were particularly important in this section: Whether human rights
clash with tradition; whether their core values are the same as “your” religion, and whether respecting human rights means treating others with respect “regardless of my opinion about their race or beliefs.

The CCF workshops seem to have had some success in changing iTaukei attitudes on tradition. Some 80% of past participants thought there was a clash compared with 86% of the control group but both responses would have been higher than CCF would have hoped for. Interestingly, women saw more of a clash than men. The Indo-Fijian responses were too mixed to know what they really thought. It will obviously be some time before rural (and probably urban) iTaukei find a way to accommodate “modern” ideas on human rights with tradition.

And yet, some 70% of iTaukei and over 80% of Indo-Fijians thought the core values in human rights were the same as their religion. Fortunately, given the intolerance sometimes shown between religions, almost all (over 90%) thought human rights meant respecting others' differences.

When asked to name the most important right, I'm pleased to report a very high level of Don't Knows. Eighty percent of iTaukei and 70% of Indo-Fjians either did not answer the question correctly or said they did not know. What is the most important human right? Those who mentioned anything mentioned the right to speech and rights of choice, and an even smaller number children's, religious and women's rights.

I'm sure CCF would have wanted more unequivocal answers but they obtained some interesting information and will now know where to better point their questions on human rights.
Good governance
This is another topic very much in the public eye with the media, NGOs, the Government and its critics frequently raising questions about transparency, accountability, responsibility and the qualities of good consultative leadership. The report concluded that there was “a good understanding of governance principles” with the “vast majority agreeing with the desirable attitudinal statements.” But “iTaukei often labor under the misconception that such principles contradict their religious beliefs or cultural values” such as a wife's duty to obey her husband and —more seriously for its political implications— the obligation to accept the decisions of leaders. The CCF acknowledges more educational work is needed in this area.

Responses to questions on the relationship between leaders and people made interesting reading. Almost all iTaukei (99%) thought everyone in the village should have a say in decision-making, and over 80% thought leaders should consult the community before making a decision, but 84% thought a leader's decisions should be “respected and obeyed without question”, even thought consultation may not have taken place, 60% said they would remain silent if they did not agree with a decision “being made in (their) community” and 22 to 16% thought that if “results are good it doesn't matter how they are achieved. “ Indo-Fijians responses were less compliant.

It is hard to know what to take from these responses but it is evident that community pressures are high. In these circumstances is seems unlikely that very controversial national issues issues will be openly debated unless they have the support of community leaders. Given the high level of support for the Speight Coup in the provinces sampled, it would seem that the best hope to change attitudes in ways that will affect actual positive behaviour is to target community leaders.

Almost everyone agreed leaders should serve their people; most (over 80%) thought transparency included village leaders (and not just Government) and most thought it wrong for leaders to use their position for their own, their family and supporters' interests.

But this left 14% of iTaukei past participants and 21% of the control group stating that serving one's own interests and nepotism were acceptable behaviour in a leader, and over 70% thought that if a leader took money from the community for personal gain the matter should be dealt with in the community and not by the police. Only 35% of Indo-Fijians would not have taken it to the police.

It is one thing to have perceptions of ideal leader behaviour and quite another to expect people to act when their leaders do not live up to these perceptions. One is left with the feeling that iTaukei rural communities have their own rules which are essential to their sense of identity, and that these are unlikely to change even when they conflict with the rules of the nation — unless their leaders' attitudes change.

Civic action
The rationale behind the CCF education programme is that information empowers, and empowerment will ultimately lead people, through civic action, to demand good governance, human rights and equal citizenship. 

The combined (past participant and control group) civic action was measured against a number of indicators — reporting a witnessed crime (59%), assisting others (6%), involvement in solving a problem or resolving a conflict (traditional-ways, 28%, other ways 48%), seeking official help 34%), and contacting the media (19%).

It is difficult —if not impossible— to convert these indicators into any sort of common measurement or to see how they may translate into participation in national elections. They may, as CCF intends, have an “ultimate” effect but a more pressing need is empowerment as it may affect national outcomes, and especially election outcomes.

The CCF outreach programme and the survey are commendable. It has definitely had some positive effects on entrenched attitudes in the communities where workshops have been held, but the CCF would be the first to agree their efforts are not enough. My reading of the report also suggests there are wide gaps between individual attitudes and their likely behaviour as it may effect national outcomes.

My advice would be to redirect their workshops to educating the leaders in iTaukei rural community (perhaps, as earlier suggested, by using churches to host workshops for their priests and pastors in rural areas, and for District Officers to convene workshops for their turaga-ni-koro) and more precisely target the attitudes and behaviour that is need to be changed. Work with ordinary iTaukei is, of course, extremely important and needs to stretch well beyond the 2014 elections but...

For the present, it's a question of logistics. How best to use limited resources in the short time that's left before what many would see as Fiji's most important national elections?

The CCF Report concludes by stating:

These are changes which must take place as soon as possible to ensure that the values of good governance, citizenship and human rights are at the forefront of people's minds before Fiji next goes to the polls. There can be no greater threat to democracy in Fiji than continued ignorance among the population of the rights of their neighbors.”

As soon as possible.


Guarantee of personal safety and security said…
@ As soon as possible.......

There can be no doubt now of the urgency of action. But failing the security of 'A Safe Place' there will be no point at all in the exercise. It will prove more wasted energy and time and a profligate use of taxpayers' money.

Who will be valiant enough to answer the requisite questions? Who will have the courage to stand up and be counted at this tie? Just as those who go to court must have adequated support when violence and violation of their homes and person has occurred, so now personal safety and security are to be guaranteed.
Anonymous said…
so I note that the regime has scrapped the GCC, any word yet, Croz, on any further changes of this type prior to the constitutional talkfest? It appears that we obviously don't need to be consulted at all. What else will happen prior to 2014, where we will have no say? Given the bleating from the regime about 'colonial constructs', where do they think their military structure and traditions came from? It appear this bunch get to pick and chose which traditions and institutions to jetison when it suits without even bothering to mention the decision has already been taken. Can I expect a very muted response from you Croz, given this is the 'reality' you keep referring to and requiring others to live with?
Anonymous said…
well this is such a surprise , people now not getting permits to hold meeting after all the fanfare of removal of PER!!! We can expect Croz will still give the regime the thumbs up coz we all know where he stands on the fact that all members of the former parties that oppose the regime are racist...he will tell you and quote two, three or five instances where everyone in the SDL are racist and deserve no role in the future he has in mind for Fiji. He wants fresh new blood, untainted, that will eagerly comply with the military directives on how they should act, speak, work and govern. I can see Croz has no interets at all in now looking into how many permits have now not been issued since the claim that PER is now gone, in reality it all stays the same.
Islands in the Stream said…
One of the most sensible and strategic plans that should have come out of the Women Parliamentarians' Conference held at the Fiji Mocambo in March 2000 would have been:

Freedom of movement for All Pacific Islanders within the entire South Pacific Region

Not only for work but especially to attain and experience a more complete understanding of how other cultures work: in particular how developed countries work and what is required today to successfully, economically "Stay Afloat" in the 21st century.

Not a word on this was uttered that one can recall. When put to a visiting delegate of the EU three years later after the most tumultuous events of 2000, there was still obvious reluctance to take the idea seriously. Yet the European Union permits freedom of movement and for work within its own borders. This resistance has allowed isolation of the most extreme kind to persist within the South Pacific region. The collusion, tacit acceptance (perhaps connivance?) of the metropolitan powers has not gone unnoticed.

So why now the wringing of hands wondering how it might be that 60% of respondents would never contemplate countering a decision of a leader? Suddenly, the urgency to address this is 'Full On'? The failure to do what should have been done in the aftermath of 2000 is demonstrated for all to see. It is a failure above all of political will: ours and theirs.

Such folly can only now be addressed with huge risks. These risks are plain for all to see. Can we manage them?

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