THE SPIRIT OF DIWALI. Disadvantaged children and senior citizens in residential homes have received Diwali Treat Packs donated by Fiji's industrial giant Punja and Sons. The packs were distributed by the Ministry of Women, Children and Poverty Alleviation. Minister Rosy Akbar said the donations will boost the Ministry’s efforts in its outreach programmes. In thanking Punja, the Minister acknowledged the "well-established relationship with a truly private-public partnership sector.”
AKBAR TAKES PRASAD TO TASK OVER POVERTY CLAIMS. Minister Akbar has appealed to politicians not to use the poor to score political points and asked that all parties support the Government's comprehensive measures to alleviate poverty rather than using disadvantaged Fijians as a political football.
She said she was especially disappointed at NFP leader Dr Biman Prasad who seemed determined to lay the blame for poverty in Fiji at the Government's feet. "During the election campaign, an NFP television advertisement falsely claimed that the level of poverty in Fiji was 45%. Then in his maiden speech to Parliament last week, the NFP leader said it was one third or 33%."
Contrary to this claim a World Bank survey had found that poverty in Fiji had actually declined from 35 %in 2003 to almost 30% in 2009. Since then, Government had launched a range of poverty alleviation measures and the Fiji economy had entered a period of sustained growth and job creation that is bound to have led to a further decline in poverty.
The NFP leader knew full well that poverty alleviation required a holistic approach and there were no easy answers, yet his main policy contribution during the election campaign was to slash VAT to 10%, which would have deprived Government of almost $300-million in revenue and damaged our ability to assist the poor".
The Minister said the Bainimarama Government had done more than previous Governments to tackle the root causes of poverty and was doing so with long term solutions rather than quick fixes that were more than a gimmick than anything else.
"Such measures as our education revolution and free schooling are giving Fiji's poor the leg-up they need to climb out of poverty. Coupled with a wider social security net, housing assistance and cheaper electricity, water and medicine for low incomes earners plus a low inflation rate, this holistic approach is making a real difference to the lives of ordinary people and deserves to be supported by all sides of politics,” she said.
YOUTH NEED MORE "SPACE". National Youth Council of Fiji President Williame Gucake
says youth don't have a space to voice their concerns. Gucake says any space they're given is limited and more often than not these spaces are formal and with only a few youth able to participate as youth representatives..He hopes however with the review of the National Youth Policy, an inclusive platform for all youth to voice their concern will be the end result. He thanked UNDP for sponsoring us to go around and get the youth voices so that we can call the National Youth Policy as a policy that has contained youth voices from all over Fiji.
AUDIT REVIEWS. The need for civil service reform and proper procedures is highlighted in these media reports from the Auditor-General, following the submission of the reports to Parliament. The Fiji Sun summarises inadequacies from 2007-2010, the Fiji Times dealt with incomplete Election Office records in 2012, FijiLive dealt with medical shortcomings in 2013, and FijiVillage reported the Auditor-General's suggestions to the Education Ministry on its 2013 report. and Fiji Broadcasting reported on revolving fund inaccuracies in the Ministry of Finance reports for 2008. There would seem to be a need for a detailed overall assessment.
ALLEN LOCKINGTON SAYS IT'S "SHOCKING". "We are on the road to a new Fiji. Can I ask all the government department heads to be a little more responsible in their work. The Auditor-General's report is shocking. Let's pull up our proverbial socks and make the civil service work and prosper like Punjas, Motibhais, Tapoos , Vodafone Fiji, etc. These companies are run efficiently. We could even ask them to lend the civil service a few managers to go and overhaul departments that are lacking in motivation. Perhaps someone from the private sector will see the rot and remove it. Oh, and if you don't like the government you work for, how about resigning."
EXAMINATION SCALING REVIEW AND ATTACKS ON THE MINISTER. The Ministry for Education has appointed a review committee to look into the scaling of marks in external examinations. Minister for Education Dr Mahendra Reddy says the three member committee is well equipped and has the experience to carry out the task. “The primary objective of this review is to ascertain whether the intended objective of scaling is met by the existing scaling process and formula that we have. We want to ensure that the scaling does not result in us sending students to the market who are not ready.” The team from the University of the South Pacific is led by Head of School of Economics Professor Satya Paul, Professor Subash Chandra and Dr Jito Vanualailai who is the associate Professor of Mathematics.“Since the scaling and the raw marks I think its a matter of concern that we need to look into again; the process of scaling, the process of scaling across subjects so that no students are disadvantaged and we are happy to help the Ministry.” [ See my explanation of scaling in this week's Allen Lockington column.]
The Minister also said there is a small group of civil servants within the Education Ministry, trying to derail his work. Speaking on FBC TV’s 4 The Record earlier in the week, Dr. Reddy revealed there is opposition to the reforms he’s trying to introduce. Some senior civil servants are even targeting his family.
“They’ll create email accounts…my wife is a teacher. This is the kind of things they’ll do – your wife was absent today, your wife made this mistake in the exam paper. What are you doing, talking big about the education system etc. So when you investigate, you find no one of that name sent the email.”
Dr. Reddy says he knows who these people are, and what ambitions are driving them. Some of these civil servants are trying to maintain the status quo after having worked their way into comfortable positions, he said.
INDIGENOUS RIGHTS. SODELPA shadow minister Niko Nawaikula claimed in the House that 17 decrees (on the Great Council of Chiefs, Provincial Councils and Taukei land) breached the 2007 UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and Fiji's obligation under the International Labor Organization Convention 169 in which it undertook to "protect and maintain customary institution, protect and maintain then independence of indigenous institutions, guarantee the rights of indigenous people to their language and to their custom and to conduct prior consultation and obtain prior consent each time it wants to change any policy or law that affect native Fijians under those rights."
Comment. It is most unlikely Nawaikula or SODELPA will let this issue rest. Its appeal to the less educated voter is only too obvious, and circumstances when the decrees were passed did not permit the level of consultation needed.
Now, therefore, would seem to be a good time to establish a parliamentary committee to examine and consult widely on whether these decrees are truly discriminatory. In doing so, I would expect full consideration be given to just how customary these rights really are and whether they are needed, in greatly changed circumstances, today. None were traditional. All were established by the colonial government, using indirect rule (ruling though the chiefs) to minimise expenses, and to prevent the sale of indigenous land. The role of the Great Council of Chiefs was advisory. They were not expected to be engaged in national politics.
When these provisions were made by the colonial government the best interests of the indigenous population were under threat, first from unscrupulous planters and settlers, and then from introduced diseases that decimated the population, and immigration, making them a minority.
Today, they are no longer a minority. They comprise 60% of the population and the proportion is still growing. The powers given to the Great Council of Chiefs arguably discriminated unfairly against other ethnic groups, and some features of the institutions preventing the full participation of Taukei in the economy and their fuller use of their land. Government claims the2013 Constitution and existing laws sufficiently protect Taukei interests and no further protection is needed. And, last but not least, the Government —and Opposition—are overwhelmingly Taukei.
It should also be asked whether, in these circumstances, the ILO Convention and UN Declaration, and their definitions of indigenous, are any longer relevant to Fiji.