Includes that part of Chapter 5 of the State of the Nation Report relating to poverty. For earlier Pillars, type Pillar and 1 or 2, etc in the Search this Blog facility.
I urge readers to compare these goals with what Government has so far undertaken towards their realization.
PILLAR 8. REDUCING POVERTY TO A NEGLIGIBLE LEVEL BY 2015
Critical Problems and Issues:
- We live in a land where there is a strong practice of faith but a strange lack of compassion and togetherness.
- Increasing numbers of our people are having to face a bleak future; one that guarantees nothing but poverty and hopelessness, in the rapidly growing squatter settlements in the urban areas, and in our rural communities.
- Almost 4 out of every 10 persons in our communities live under conditions of poverty.
- A large proportion of the poor, while in full time employment, constitute the “working poor”; 55% of the wage earners earn incomes that are below the poverty line.
- Income inequalities in our nation remain deep: the poorest 20% of our people receive only 6% of the national income while the richest 20% receive 48% of the national income.
Squatters often live in unsafe, under-served and overcrowded houses where exposure to pollution and other health risks are greatest. People living in such conditions are most likely to indulge in risky behaviour out of circumstances rather than by choice, often going hungry, living under stress, consuming poor quality foods, excessive intake of kava/tobacco/alcohol, even drugs like marijuana and getting into criminal activities.
The Way Forward:
The following key measures and actions must be taken with due priority and urgency :
- Launch a concerted and coordinated National Programme to Reduce Poverty (NPRP), with the target to reduce poverty in line with the Millennium Development Goal No. 1 with a view to going beyond the level of halving the incidence level by 2015.
- Strengthen coordination, implementation and monitoring of poverty alleviation programmes including partnership agreement between government, the civil society, and the private sector.
- Introduce a national minimum wage and at the same time enhance national productivity.Encourage and protect the savings and investments of the poor.
- Ensure affirmative action programmes are needs-based.
- Enhance research and analysis on issues relating to poverty and social justice programmes.
- Align affirmative action programmes to a shared social justice preamble.
PREAMBLE FOR SOCIAL JUSTICE PROGRAMMES
We acknowledge and accept that social justice is an essential element of the common good and our moral vision, and, therefore, in our endeavour to build a more free and responsive nation. We believe that we are obligated to ensure that no one is deprived of a life lived with dignity and the opportunities to seek and achieve a better quality of life.
We acknowledge and accept that a fundamental goal of social justice in our society is that we take care of our poor and the disadvantaged, and, in this regard, we believe that we and our government have the shared responsibility to continually work at achieving a standard of living that befits the dignity of the poor and the disadvantaged in our midst.
We believe that social justice means equal dignity and, in our aspiration to build a just and good society, we must ensure this for all our citizens by conferring on all our members an honoured place. Therefore, we hold that the aim of social justice and affirmative action programmes is to restore dignity to all those who are poor and disadvantaged, by ensuring that their basic needs are met.
We acknowledge and accept that while in the short term affirmative action programmes are essential, we hold that in the long run, job creation, the promotion of entrepreneurship, and the empowering of our people to take initiative and responsibility in improving their own lives and standards of living, are
much more important.
We believe that in seeking to alleviate the plight of the poor and the disadvantaged among us, and mindful of the rights and freedoms of other persons and groups and in our desire to build a nation of equal dignity for all, we hold that social justice and affirmative action programmes must not unnecessarily disadvantage any person and group.
FIJI: THE STATE OF THE NATION AND THE ECONOMY
Chapter 5: Social Justice, Poverty Alleviation, Social Service Delivery & Human Rights
One of the key purposes of good governance is creation of a society free from poverty
where all have equal access to their basic needs and social justice is assured. Addressing
the major issues facing Fiji in relation to social justice, poverty alleviation and a rights
based approach to development is critical to the achievement of the vision for Fiji and for
the restoration of human dignity and equal opportunities to all those who are poor and
disadvantaged in Fiji.
Social Justice and Poverty Alleviation
Most of the social indicators have worsened in Fiji over the past two decades. These
indicators include the Human Development Index (HDI), the proportion of the people
living in poverty, maternal and child mortality rates, and primary school enrolments.
The HDI is a widely accepted measure of a country’s progress in attaining satisfactory
levels of education, health and income. Fiji’s ranking was 42nd in 1975 but dropped to
61 st in 1997. Its position further eroded in the late 1990s. Based on the 2005 UNDP
HDI, Fiji currently is placed 92 nd out of 177. Samoa and Tonga — which had rankings
similar to those of Fiji in the 1970s — have performed much better than Fiji in recent
years, with rankings of 77thth in 2005, respectively.
The Fiji Constitution provides the legal justification and framework for the
implementation of Affirmative Action Programmes (AAP) designed to achieve for all
groups or categories of persons who are disadvantaged, effective equality of access to (a)
education and training; (b) land and housing; and (c) participation in commerce and in all
levels and branches of service of the State.
Key social justice issues include the lack of a moral framework for social justice and
affirmative action programmes, the legitimacy of the Social Justice Act of 2001 and
AAPs, the reliability of the statistical basis for AAPs, the need for the development and
alignment of performance indicators, and the strengthening of the existing monitoring
The goal of social justice should be to ensure the equality of dignity, especially of those
who, through no fault of theirs, are disadvantaged and destitute. It must also ensure that
everyone has a basic right to a dignified life and enjoy equality of citizenship, and that
no one lacks the basic necessities of life. The NCBBF recommends that an inclusive, just
and compassionate moral vision of Fiji’s common good should be made a foundation of
the AAPs. Social Justice Legislation and policies should be congruent with key
principles of the Constitution. The processes and procedures for designing, implementing, monitoring and evaluating AAPs need to be effective, transparent and accountable.
Several pro-poor policies and programmes have been implemented over the years.
However, those initiatives have not been sufficient to reduce poverty. The key issues
inhibiting poverty reduction include the low growth of the economy; a lack of political
commitment; political instability; lack of access to economic assets, markets and social
services; ineffective coordination, implementation, and monitoring; and lack of
participation by all stakeholders vis à vis government, the private sector and civil society.
Sustainable economic growth is a necessary condition for income generation,
redistribution and poverty reduction. The NCBBF recommends the strengthening of
Government’s pro-poor policies and programmes to target citizens through
municipalities, provincial councils, and advisory councils; the strengthening of existing
institutions and programmes to assist the poorest of the poor children; the phased
implementation of a National Minimum Wage; encouraging a greater private sector role
in poverty alleviation; enhancing government civic society partnerships; improving coordination, implementation and monitoring; and compilation of more timely poverty
Reducing poverty has been a core policy objective of successive Governments for many
years. Poverty alleviation has been regularly articulated in Development Plans and
Strategies and Annual Budget Addresses. Poverty reduction is a core objective of all
Development Partners and the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).
There is no generally or officially accepted definition of poverty. Poverty of income can
be viewed in either absolute or relative terms. Absolute poverty is where an individual or
family is unable to meet its basic needs for food, clothing, shelter, health care and
education. Destitution is the extreme form of absolute poverty, the poorest of the poor.
Those whose incomes are sufficient to meet basic needs but are still below the ‘average’
or ‘norm’ experience relative poverty.
Poverty of ‘opportunity’ or ‘access’ is now regarded as just as important in defining the
extent of poverty and hardship in a society as is the lack of income. Often the conditions
and circumstances giving rise to the poverty of opportunity are the causes of income
In its discussions, the NCBBF noted that the estimated basic needs poverty line per
household per week increased from $28.45 in 1977 to $83.00 in 1990 and to $132 in
2002. Statistics collected from various HIES reports indicate the existence of high levels
of poverty in Fiji although the nonavailability of consistent data on poverty has resulted
in various viewpoints on the actual levels of poverty in Fiji. The NCBBF noted that there
is clear evidence of a worsening of the poverty situation (35% by 2002) and there has
been no evidence of any significant improvement in more recent years.
Fiji remains a society with deep income inequalities. The 20022003 HIES shows that
the poorest 20% of the household received 5.9% of the national income while the top
20% pf the households received 47.9% of the national income.
Meeting Basic Needs: Housing, Education and Health
The NCBBF focused on major issues affecting housing, health and education. Members
noted the worsening basic socioeconomic indicators which include health, dilapidated
health infrastructure, poor living conditions and the growing number of squatter
settlements. To some extent this worsening is also having a negative impact on the
effectiveness of the compulsory education policy which is being undermined by the high
levels of school ‘dropouts’ from both primary and secondary schools.
Fiji’s housing crisis is real and pervasive: with about 200 squatter settlements with more
than 387,000 people earning less than $7,000 per year, approximately 9,000 low and
moderate income households will need decent, safe, affordable housing immediately. In
seeking to meet these needs, the production of mixed income housing that provides broad
income diversity in neighbourhoods is deemed a desirable social and economic goal.
There are concerns, however, about the plan to encourage the use of land to improve rural
situations and reduce urban migration. Governments have been unable to provide enough
land for people to prosper, build and own houses and form sustainable communities.
Sustainable housing programs must go hand in hand with income earning opportunities.
Currently, Fiji does not have an employment strategy. Having an employment creation
strategy, together with the availability of more land, could help in resolving both the
unemployment situation in rural areas and urban migration.
Some immediate steps are required to resolve the squatter problem, which is becoming a
major obstacle to the use of prime land for development in urban areas. Most of the
squatters live on the ‘vakavanua’ 13 land, given to them some 30 to 50 years ago.
Opportunity should be given to landowners to develop their land into suitable housing
lots. Lack of capital to do so has been identified as a major problem. To acquire quick
returns, landowners have resorted to issuing ‘vakavanua’ leases all around Fiji.
The NCBBF suggests that Government does not necessarily have to build a house for
everyone, but to make land available for housing, at the same time ensuring that
minimum housing standards are maintained.
There is a critical need for the development of a consistent, comprehensive, and ongoing
discussion about housing policies and issues in Fiji. Because the actions and authorities
of multiple State departments and agencies explicitly and implicitly affect housing,
inter-agency coordination is essential to producing and preserving affordable housing,
improving supportive housing, and eliminating housing discrimination.
It is important to encourage a multicultural and pluralistic society: multiculturalism is a
part of sustainable communities. Any development initiatives should look at allocating
spaces for churches, mosques and temples as well as for sports and recreational activities.
The sections of this chapter that relate to education and health (and their relationship to poverty) as they relate to poverty will be published together with Pillars 9 and 10 over the next two Saturdays.