The Impact of Government Policies on Vanua Levu

The impact of Govt policies in regional Vanua Levu


By Mahsood Shah 

Fiji-born Mahsood Shah is a principal adviser-Academic Strategy, Planning and Quality at RMIT Uni versity, Melbourne, Australia. The views in this article are his own views and not the views of the University. Email: shah_mahsood@hotmail.com
In recent years the current government of Fiji has introduced policies in many areas of priority. Such policies have been introduced either to ensure economic sustainability of the country or to fulfil social responsibilities to the general public. The uncertainty in the global economy and the lack of financial support by neighbouring countries means that the government has to find ways to survive with budgetary constraints and limited resources.

At the same time, government is pressured to assure the general public, including the international community, that the new policies are going to have a positive impact on all stakeholders including industries and businesses, civil servants, non-governmental organisations, and the general public.
More importantly, the government has to assure the general public that its policies and initiatives are fair and that it will be beneficial to the diverse groups of people.
Innovation and developments in any government or institution are based on the financial health or sustainability and leadership which provide strategic change as needed. At times, leadership also requires one to make tough decisions in the best interests of various stakeholders. In the last 25 years, many of us have witnessed political upheavals in Fiji which, in turn, has had a huge impact on the country in terms of social and economic developments.
In many ways, such actions tend to punish the innocent people in our society while the government is shifting its priorities with limited funding in areas of national need.
Govt policies impact in Bua
The progress made by the current government is enormous in many areas. In fact, the government, in its limited time span, has made significant reforms which the previous democratically elected governments were unable to deliver – notwithstanding that the progress made by the current government is without opposition, freedom to critique policies and critical debate on key strategic policies and reforms in the parliament.
The inability of previous governments to deliver key promises raises important questions on whether people of Fiji are well served by the military government or by a democratically elected government, which has attempted to introduce controversial policies to suit certain groups of people.

The actions of the previous governments (although democratically elected) with the introduction of controversial policies and increased corruption at almost all levels also raises questions around ethics, moral values and accountability of senior and academically educated leaders in public service.
While government policies and actions may not have pleased some in the society, it has made significant impact in remote communities.

I am a strong believer that government or institutional policies and reforms are only value-added if they have positive impact on people of all walks of life irrespective of whether such policies and reforms are implemented by a military or democratically elected government.

What has changed in Bua
In this article, I will briefly outline the impact of government policies in regional Vanua Levu, particularly in an area called Bua. This area is well-known for its rice farming and commercial fishing and it is fair to say that this region has been ignored by many governments in the past in terms of key services such as education, employment, health, transportation, investments, infrastructure (including technology) and road upgrades.

In 2011, Prime Minister Bainimarama visited various settlements within this region including two small settlements, Vuniuto and Naruwai. Both settlements have made enormous progress where iTaukei and Indo-Fijian farmers have worked together in rice farming.


The poor assured
Historically, in both of these settlements, Indo-Fijian farmers have been dominant in rice farming, however, in the last few years more progress has been made by iTaukei farmers.
There is a widely accepted view in these two very poor settlements that the first ever visit by any prime minister in these settlements assures farmers that their voices will be heard and their issues and concerns will be addressed.

The remoteness and poor backgrounds of families in this settlement is such that only a handful of youths have been able to successfully complete secondary education with high academic outcomes.  The access to and success of tertiary education in these settlements is a dream which may only come true if government provides scholarships to potential high-performing students from such backgrounds. Some of the high impact areas where the current government is fully credited include the following -

School education: the current student bus fare voucher system has provided financial relief to many parents. Some students in these settlements used to walk barefoot for almost 10 kilometres each day to access primary education. Their active participation and engagement in the class and the consequences on the academic outcome is affected by long distances of walk along gravelled roads. Many schoolchildren in these settlements h ave dropped out after primary education because of the poor financial status of the parents.
Agriculture: significant assistance is now provided by the government to those farmers with proven success in various farming areas such as rice, livestock farming, pineapples and other projects.
Financial assistance is provided for machinery and relevant farming equipment and the role of the agricultural officers in these regions are also strengthened to help and support farmers.
Investment: the current investment in mining by the foreign company in Nawailevu, in Bua and the current bio-fuel project are some of the recent examples of how investments are boosting the region with the hope of job creation and other economic benefits.
The renewal of the Wairiki pine project could witness further development in the region. Some other areas yet to be explored by the government in this region includes
  • the logging of one of the largest mahogany projects in Fiji, renewal of pine plantations to replace what has already been exported,
  • possible renewal of the cocoa project in Namuavoivoi which could see one of the first production and possible manufacturing of home-made chocolate pin Fiji;
  • possible investment of large scale poultry farm;
  • potential to renew the plantation of sandalwood which benefited the region in the 1980s;
  • investment in coconut and copra production;
  • significant potential for one of the largest citrus projects based on the success of the Batiri citrus in the past;
  • funding of large scale livestock farming; and
  • many other agricultural projects which the region is capable of sustaining.
The region could also attract prospective research students around the world to undertake research in agriculture and marine science.

Government’s plus points
The government’s social welfare payment in remote regions is also commended by many in such remote regions and there is a strong view that policies are fair and equitable irrespective of the ethnic background of people. Discussions in these communities suggest that the corrupted practices in the past are now eliminated with the fear of the community and stakeholders complaints that are made directly to the Prime Minister’s office.

The momentum that has already been gained in these regional communities, in terms of developments, can be described as ‘destiny not to miss’, with more benefits yet to be seen if the government contests and succeeds in the 2014 election. The downfall, post 2014, if the current government does not contest and succeed, could see a reversal of projects and investments in regional communities and how such communities could contribute to the economic development of the country.

While the government has made significant progress in remote regions  -
  • more work is needed to improve the access and success of youths from these communities in tertiary education;
  • more investments to boost regional developments and employment;
  • improvement in health services;
  • upgrading of the highway from Nabouwalu to Dreketi; and
  • the improvement in law and order in such communities.

Comments

ANNON said…
It is nice to see such a positive article. The people of these regions have long been forgotten. It is credit to the current regime that they have taken positive steps to adress inequality in remote areas. These communites have no concern with rhetoric.

The return to the rule of law and democracy are of massive importance and cannot be ignored. The actions of the AG and judicary must be called to account. However, these fundamental issues make very little difference to the lives of those in remote communities. They need access and equity and that is what they are getting.

It is right and proper to attack some of the regime's detructive actions. However, credit where credit is due. After all it is those who suffered under previous "regimes" that were left ignored.

If some of the fundamental issues could be addressed soon, then these reforms will have greater significance when judgment comes on those who currently hold the reigns of power.

It is difficult to contribute anything negative to this post. Even the most vocal critics of the current regime should applaud the efforts made in regional communities. The poorer and needy and those without proper access to education and health servicse should always be a priority.

This does not excuse the current regime but it does show that the previous governments were not concerned with assisting those most in need. I antipate a time when Fiji will have true democracy with justice, access and equity for all.
Anonymous said…
Only the poor know the hardship they have to go through. These policies have had impact at grass root people.
Decoy said…
Safe, diversionary topic to steer away from regime's shameful tactics against Fr Barr, but an important discussion about the North nonetheless.
Aunty Asha and Uncle Mahen said…
mahen 'paise wala' chaudhry as champion of poor should donate the $2m he got from India.
He will then become a real hero.
At the momoment, FLP statement about ‘super-salaries’ of PM and AG is big joke.
What about mahen chaudhry’s ‘super-secret’ $2m bank account in Australia?
What about interim finance minister mahen approving Bainimarama’s ‘super-back pay’ of some 150k?
The hypocrisy from FLP is nauseating.
Utterly self-serving bunch consisting of father, his mistress and son running the show. They take us for fools.
PM and AG 'super salaries' is nothing compared to mahen’s $2m-plus, one-off haul, eh Asha Lakhan?
Enquiries revel $2m loot was from monies collected in the name of Fiji’s coup victims.
Mahen secreted the money into his account.
Yet, FLP media person Asha lakhan can pontificate: “The tax payer and people of Fiji are entitled to know the truth.”
Yes, asha, they are also entitled to to know the truth about $2m stashed by Fiji’s Robin Hood, aka mahen.

FLP statement: “After all, there has been much rhetoric on transparency and accountability by the interim government High Command. The man who made a career out of rhetoric on transparency and accountability is FLP Dictator and High Command, one mahen pal chauhdry. But he never practices it.
He defied party directive and appointed in-law Sachida as senator. Because of nepotism and mahen’s $2m stash, FLP is known as ‘Ali Baba & 40 thieves party’.
Who is FLP to ask regime ‘to clarify reports about Cabinet salaries being abnormally high’ with s many unanswered questions about where $2m came from and how it ended in mahen’s pocket.
FLP statement: ‘So much for accountability and transparency from the AG and his PM – SO MUCH FOR ACCOUNTABILITY FROM FLP AND MAHEN CHAUDHRY. Clean you own backyard first Ms Lakhan.
FLP statement: Stories posted on the blogs claim tPM and AG each drawing 'whopping' salaries in excess of $700k pa.
Still can’t beat mahen’s ‘whopping’ one-off $2m windfall, can it Asha? And in Australian dollars too!

I am no regime supporter, but its time for Aunty Asha Lakhan, as part of the old guard, to move on. Her hypocrisy is unbearable.
Ian Simpson, Taveuni said…
With a Westminster system of Parliment we will fail, over and over again.

Without a decentralised "public service commission", we will continue to sustain our failures.

This regime has not set up a system. Nor has the Ghai Commission provided anything that will work or be sustainable.

We are screwed. And maybe in another number of years the military will see it and have to provide another broomsala to try and fix the problem.

No matter, humans with no choice are happier,poverty reduces choice, so long live happy friendly Fiji.


Mahen Chaudhry: Coup victim or coup profiteer? said…
Mahen Chaudhry like to portray himself as victim of coups.
But in reality he has profited from coups – and handsomely so.
He used coup to raise money for coup victims.
Then he kept at least part of the money for himself .
Over $AUD$2m confirmed in secret Sydney bank account.
Possibly more from monies raised in Australia, NZ, GB, Canada, etc.

Conclusion:
Chadhury is not a coup victim.
Chaudhry is a coup profiteer.

Anonymous said…
I am sorry to advise you "Aunty Asha and Uncle Mahen" Head-in-the-sand but like your heroes VB and ASK you are a supporter of the Regime and A BIG TIME HYPOCRITE.
Anonymous said…
Good to hear of the great work being done by the government. Good article - good to hear of positive developments
Coup entrepreneur said…
Coup victim or coup entrepreneur?

Mahen Chaudhry is a coup entrepreneur.
Organised for $2m to go into his personal kitty after 1999 coup.
Raised funds all over he world.
Exactly how much was raised and how was it spent?
Also became interim finance minister after 2006 coup.

So yes, this man has profited handsomely from coups, definitely more than most, by posing as victim number one and making bucket loads of money. The real victims, cane farmers and poor people, did not see a cent of the $2million.

Yet all those sanctimonious press releases from FLP about transparency and accountability by auntie asha.

It is beyond a joke.

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