The Politics of Preferential Development

My weekly political roundup will be published later in the weekend.--Croz

In his book recently published by ANU, Auckland University and former USP academic, Dr Steven Ratuva, lays bare the aims, conflicts and shortcomings of Fiji's affirmative action programmes.  The two extracts published here are the conclusions of two chapters, the first on the period 1999 to 2006 and the second the period after the 2006 coup.

Whether or not one agrees with his thesis that a major policy construct of the Qarase and Bainimarama years is basically similar and similarly motivated— I think he pays too little attention to their differences—the book is a 'must' read.  Congratulations, Steve,  on a most thorough and closely reasoned analysis. -- ACW.
Steve's book may be downloaded by clicking here.
Appeasements, Scams and Tension: Affirmative Action Programs, 1999 to 2006

The seven years between 1999 and 2006 were among the most turbulent in Fiji’s history, with two coups and three elections. As this chapter has shown, there were different trends in affirmative action programs within this period and, beneath the veneer of indigenous advancement, affirmative action was utilized to serve various political interests such as appeasement, conflict resolution, mobilization for electoral support and the strengthening of political patronage.
The scams associated with affirmative action were indicative of how economic prudence became subservient to political expediency. There was no attempt to learn from the lessons of the post-1987 scandals, which cost the country more than FJ$200 million. Instead, political ambition and optimism overshadowed rational judgement in a negative way. Just as with the Alliance and SVT in the past, the desire of both the FLP and SDL to influence and transform the immediate political conditions in their favour through affirmative action became a primary consideration which outweighed the importance of indigenous advancement. The political rather than the transformational value of affirmative action became a priority consideration.
This was one of the reasons why affirmative action programs had very little creativity and innovation in relation to the self-empowerment and positive social transformation of the indigenous Fijian community.
As an example of this, there was a lot of emphasis on helping existing rural communal farming through provision of implements and dalo suckers, rather than reorganizing rural production using new knowhow and innovation to develop entrepreneurial skills, and to boost value-added productivity and large-scale marketing. Many of those who were supplied with dalo suckers and implements were community groups which produced agricultural produce for community projects. This was a form of communal capitalism which, as we saw in previous affirmative action projects, would have promoted community solidarity but undermined entrepreneurial innovation. No doubt a significant amount of dalo produced by the village farmers would have been “lost” through communal obligation and subsistence consumption. There was no proper monitoring system to determine the contribution of these rural plantations to transforming and advancing the economic status of individual indigenous Fijian families
Worse still, there was no vision for an ideal future society which rural indigenous Fijians must work towards. For instance, there was no plan for improving rural housing, education, health and infrastructure through dalo farming. It was assumed that an increase in dalo production would automatically have multiplier effects in other areas of the community. Furthermore, overproduction of dalo would have flooded the market and the impact of increased dalo production in real terms might have been negligible. There were no supporting innovative projects such as using dalo for large-scale industrial processing such as chips and other secondary food products to sustain large-scale dalo production in the long run.
The shift from urban-based projects after 1987 to rural-based projects after 2000 may have made political sense given the circumstances, but despite this, little changed in terms of the capacity of the state to carry out affirmative action programs effectively. This was a major shortcoming which had unfortunate consequences. The interests of the political masters rated higher than those of the group designated as recipients of affirmative action, the ordinary indigenous population. The distribution of affirmative action resources was skewed in favour of politically favoured provinces such as Naitasiri. Although affirmative action policies might have failed to achieve their objective of boosting economic advancement for indigenous Fijians and creating a more harmonious multicultural society, they nonetheless served more immediate political objectives in helping boost the SDL’s chances of winning the 2001 and 2006 elections.
The period between 1999 and 2006 was one of lost opportunity. Both Chaudhry and Qarase squandered a great opportunity to use their potential to work together to address the grievances of indigenous Fijians as well as address the broader issues of national prosperity and peace. Failure to do this unfortunately helped to create the environment for yet another coup.

1 Affirmative action for Indo-Fijians and other ethnic minorities was administered under the Ministry of Multi-ethnic Affairs (MMA). While scholarships for indigenous Fijians under the FAB were based on ethnicity and academic performance, scholarships under the MMA were based on ethnicity and parents’ income, set at $10,000 or less.

Post 2006 Affirmative Action: Development at Gunpoint

Despite public denial, Bainimarama’s pro-indigenous development initiatives are tantamount to affirmative action and tend to be very similar to the Qarase government’s approach. The only difference was that Qarase was more explicit about his pro-indigenous policies while Bainimarama is less so. While Bainimarama has been careful not to contradict his purported multicultural ideology, he is under immense pressure to put in place pro-indigenous policies as a way of mobilizing indigenous support and loyalty. However, his pro-indigenous development initiatives perhaps betrayed the ethno-nationalist side of him, which he has often concealed and even denied.

The major difference between Bainimarama’s and Qarase’s versions of pro-indigenous policy is that Qarase tries to appeal to the indigenous sense of culture and identity through use of the mainstream institutions such as the GCC, the Methodist Church and provincial councils. On the other hand Bainimarama tries to appeal to people’s sense of socio-economic need by directly engaging and influencing the indigenous people himself through personal appeal and rural projects while weakening indigenous institutions which he thinks are in the way.

With the 2014 election looming, Bainimarama and other potential indigenous Fijian leaders will be in competition to win indigenous Fijian seats, and one has to play the ethno-nationalist game strategically. This is despite the new proportional open-list electoral system, which is meant to nullify ethnic mobilization and promote trans-ethnic voting. Bainimarama has been doing his own indigenous mobilization through rural development initiatives, despite the well-rehearsed rhetoric of multiculturalism and opposition to ethno-nationalism.

Despite the crippling of the old order and the attempt to re-create a new one, very little has changed in terms of the development paradigm for indigenous Fijians. No innovation in land development and indigenous entrepreneurship has occurred. The same rural division of labour based on leasing indigenous land, which kept indigenous Fijians economically marginalized, persists, and it could even be deepened by the land bank project. Indigenous Fijians continue to be tools of political manipulation by their own elites to serve their economic or ethno-political interests.

As this book has demonstrated, all the coups since the first one in 1987 have made insignificant changes to the lives of indigenous Fijians generally, although some individuals were direct beneficiaries. Like Rabuka, Qarase and Chaudhry, Bainimarama has missed another important opportunity to raise indigenous development to another level of innovation. His major problem was not his lack of commitment to reform or enhancement of indigenous interests, but rather his contradictory approach: preaching against ethno-nationalism and affirmative action but practising them at the same time under different guises.

Affirmative action under Qarase, as we have seen, was subject to abuse. However, because of heavy censorship of the media, possible abuse under Bainimarama cannot be fully ascertained and things may surface later after the eagerly awaited 2014 election.


Anonymous said...

This is a great effort by Ratuva.
A courageous effort.
fairly balanced book.
Everyone should have read.

Crosbie Walsh said...

I agree. It's a most thorough and an incredibly well documented and balanced article. Steve is to be congratulated. It's only with his imputed reasons for Bainimaram's policies that I am not sure. He could be right but we'll only know for certain if Bainimarama wins the elections. -- Croz

Anonymous said...

THis book should have a launching in Fiji so people are aware. will government allow it?