The Impact of Government Policies on Vanua Levu
The impact of Govt policies in regional Vanua Levu
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: firstname.lastname@example.org
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.
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.