By Sitiveni L Rabuka, Party Leader of the Social Democratic Liberal Party (SODELPA) and former Prime Minister.
Published in the Fiji Times Saturday 15 Sept, 2018
The Social Democratic Liberal Party (SODELPA) is gravely concerned about the current state of play and approach used by the Fiji First government, in managing our beloved country. SODELPA will restore transparent and accountable governance to our nation.
There is no doubt that there is so much dissatisfaction and fear among our citizens due to the lack transparency and accountability in government operations. The current poor state of our affairs is a clear testimony of reality on the ground. This will be elaborated further in my assessment based on the UN’s good governance benchmarks.
A SODELPA government under my leadership is committed to address our national challenges through dialogue and consultation with all stakeholders through transparent and accountable mechanisms. We will work with all stakeholders viz-a-viz the private sector and non-state actors including provincial councils, municipalities, religious organisations and non-government organisations to ensure that we achieve inclusive development, so that no one is left behind.
SODELPA WILL BUILD BRIDGES to ensure genuine dialogue and trust among our different communities, to ensure inclusive development rather the current practice of segregating people, as we are experiencing today. This is the cornerstone of SODELPA’s governance approach, in accordance with its slogan “Leadership that Listens.”
“Good governance” is fundamental to economic growth, political stability, and national security. A SODELPA Government will work to tackle all aspects of weak governance, such as corruption, lack of consultation, alleged state capture by elites (the domination of policy making by private, often corporate, power), and unbalanced development. We will enhance respect for the rule of law, increase transparency, and develop effective legislation as the foundation of Fiji’s governance processes.
Governance refers to the ways in which governments, the private sector, individuals and institutions in a society organize themselves to manage their common affairs in an acceptable manner.
Good Governance is an approach to government that is committed to creating a system founded on justice and the rule of law, and protects human rights. The true test of "good" governance is how government is delivering on promises relating to human rights. The question is whether Government is effectively delivering on the right to health, adequate housing, sufficient food, quality education, fair justice and personal security?
On the other hand, weak governance is evidenced where government institutions are unable, or unwilling to assume their roles in protecting human rights, providing basic services, public services, and ensuring public sector management is efficient and effective. These “governance failures” lead to broader failures in political, economic and civic institutions, that are referred to as weak governance.
Poor governance is therefore a risk to future economic prosperity and the wellbeing of our people. It means many government institutions are weak and unable to respond effectively to the needs of the people. Poor governance has disastrous consequences for our people, for example, the lack of progress on T.C. Winston rehabilitation for residential housing and school facilities.
Dealing with our national challenges therefore requires strengthening institutions, laws and governance arrangements to ensure our citizenry are well informed and able to participate, and that our public institutions have the capacity to respond to the needs of the people, as well as to use, and manage our resources in a sustainable manner.
Measuring governance in Fiji over the last 12 years
According to the United Nations, Good Governance is measured by eight factors: Participation, Rule of Law, Transparency, Responsiveness, Consensus Oriented, Equity and Inclusiveness, Effectiveness and Efficiency, and Accountability. To measure the state of governance in Fiji over the last 12 years since 2006, I will be using these benchmarks:
Participation requires that all groups, particularly the most vulnerable, have direct or representative access to the systems of government. This manifests in a strong civil society and citizens can exercise the freedom of association and freedom of expression.
Score: Very Low:
- due to the lack of consultation over the last twelve years, especially those directly affected by government decisions and the imposition of many decrees and laws, FFP scores very low on this ranking.
- civil Society in Fiji are cowed and fearful because of draconian penalties; the wide interpretation of sedition offence under the Crimes Decree; and raids and criminal prosecution of civil society like the Citizens Constitutional Forum and the University of the South Pacific. The voice of civil society which was vocal before 2006, is now largely muted; and
- freedom of expression has been limited, as have media freedoms;
- freedom of association rights for trade unions, civil society have been curtailed.
Rule of Law: impartial legal systems that protect the human rights and civil liberties of all citizens, particularly minorities, indicated by an independent judicial branch and a police force free from corruption.
Score: low since the removal of all Judges and Magistrates when the 1997 Constitution was abrogated in 2009 after the Court of Appeal ruled that the 2006 coup and the appointment of the interim government in 2007 was unconstitutional. The independence of responsible institutions is undermined when one person is controlling all key institutions of good governance and there is no vigilance on conflict of interest.
Transparency: Processes, institutions and information are directly accessible to the people, and enough information is provided through a free media to enable the citizenry to understand and monitor government activities.
Score: very low since December 2006 when media were censored under the Public Emergency Regulations; the 2010 Media Decree imposed draconian penalties on media personnel and organisations, and the various contempt of court proceedings against the Fiji Times and the recent prosecution of Fiji Times and Nai Lalakai publisher, editor and reporters.
- Prior to 2007, all cabinet decisions were announced to the public and this is no longer practiced, many such decisions only come to light when being implemented, and there is a culture of official secrecy enforced in the civil service by the anti-corruption commission which can investigate the ‘leakage’ of government information.
Responsiveness government institutions respond to their clients and stakeholders within a reasonable time frame. Score: Low
Consensus Oriented an agenda that mediates between the perspectives, and expectations of a diverse citizenry.
Score: very low/poor: I rate the FFP Government very low/poor on this criteria given its single-minded persecution of indigenous Fijians, their institutions and the legal safeguards for their resources.
Equity and Inclusiveness: ensuring that all the members of the community are included and empowered to improve their well being, especially the most vulnerable.
Score: very low: I rate the FFP Government very low on this criteria as:
- FFP have marginalised the human rights of indigenous Fijians compared to other communities. Indigenous rights are universally recognised as fundamental human rights (see UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Rights and the ILO Convention No. 169). Human Rights are equal and indivisible and one cannot discriminate against one group in order to benefit other groups. This has alienated indigenous Fijians from the government and is not conducive to future good governance. The careful balancing of human rights can only be carried out in consultation and with good faith negotiations.
- Rather than empowering citizens, the handout syndrome has become the norm.
Effectiveness and Efficiency Processes and institutions produce results that meet needs while making the best use of resources.
- Indiscriminate and non-targeted distribution of disaster rehabilitation and social welfare assistance mean that over 30 months since TC Winston, families remain in tent homes and children studying in tent classrooms.
- unsustainable exploitation of natural resources has been rampant since 2006;
- Moreso, the removal of government machinery to carry out these functions (disaster rehabilitation) has been disastrous for our people.
Accountability: Decision-makers in government are accountable to the public, as well as to institutional stakeholders.
Score: very low: Reports by the Auditor General since 2006 illustrate breaches of civil service and accounting procedures with little improvement. Reports for 2006-13 were not published until after the 2014 elections. Media are constrained from reporting on government wastage and questionable deals that cost taxpayers millions of dollars. Some key developments that failed miserably without any clear explanation include:
i. 100 Sands Casino Development;
ii. cancellation of the USD$40m Phase One of the Exim Bank loan from Malaysia implemented by Naim Holdings Ltd;
iii. Waila City project to provide affordable housing to the people of the Suva-Nausori corridor;
iv. despite FBC operating at a loss a bonus was recently announced for employees;
v. cost of cancellation of MWH contract in the establishment of the Fiji Roads Authority;
vi. failure to address employee grievances at the Air Terminal Services; and
vii. blatant financial mismanagement totalling millions of taxpayer dollars identified by the Auditor General.
Based on these eight benchmarks for good governance from the UN, we can objectively confirm that governance in our country is very poor or very weak, to say the least.
What SODELPA will do
A SODELPA Government will undertake the following initiatives to ensure open, transparent and accountable government in accordance with our slogan “leadership that listens”:
- voices of all citizens and communities will be heard through direct engagement effectively and efficiently in a meaningful way through a directive to all Government Departments, Statutory bodies and Government Commercial Companies to comply with the Consultation Policy to be issued within the first 100 days in office;
- we will make it easier for the public to participate and have direct access to Ministers through a well developed decision-making machinery;
- reduce the risk of ‘consultation fatigue’ by making sure we consult on issues of national interest and that directly affect the lives of citizens;
- enact a Freedom of Information law to create a more open, transparent and accountable environment;
implement a comprehensive Code of Conduct Act covering all holders of State office, including parliamentarians, and people appointed to executive and board positions in statutory authorities;
- carry out a special audit and review of government accounts and finances;
- direct special audits and reviews of government statutory bodies and government-owned companies; and
- ensure that these special audit and review reports are submitted to government within the first six months in office, and the public will be informed of the findings.
Sitiveni L Rabuka
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