Fiji deeply fragmented, report says

Michael Field

Fiji is a nation in crisis with its two major ethnic groups in conflict, creating deep uncertainty amid a declining economy, a leaked official report says.

And many of the island nation's 837,000 people believe it is only a matter of time before the next military .

The report, written by a commission of experts appointed by military strongman Voreqe Bainimarama, suggests a pessimistic future for a country that has had four military coups since independence in 1970.

"There is a crisis of culture," the commission says in a consultation document.

Indigenous culture had become very encompassing, posing problems for creating a state and planning an economy.

"Privileging one culture or religion above others in a multi-racial society is no recipe for peace, unity or development....," the paper said.

"Perceived conflicts between Fiji 's two major communities, which remain unresolved, are a major cause of uncertainty."

Fiji is 56 per cent indigenous or iTaukei, while 37 per cent of the population are descendents of Indian indentured labour imported by the British in the 19th Century.

"The theme of ethnic integration was by no means universally - or even widely - endorsed," the report said.

Bainimarama, who seized power in a 2006 coup, has promised elections in 2014 under a new constitution which will be Fiji 's fourth.

He has insisted the new constitution contain provision for his immunity, and that of the army, from prosecution once democracy is restored.

The commission said it received more than 7000 submissions with many expressing scepticism about the value or longevity of constitutions.

"Some gave the constitution six months."

Many stressed the harm and suffering to people caused by coups, the heightened tensions and conflict among ethnic groups, damage to the economy, breakdown of institutional trust, and crushing blow to the rule of law.

On immunity the commission said many were dismayed: "many people interpreted immunity as a cynical act - and felt that it had adversely affected the capacity of this process to achieve commitment to constitutionalism".

Many were concerned at the poverty in which many people lived in Fiji .

"Over the last several years, the economy has declined, increasing number of Fijians live in poverty, many highly skilled people have left the country, and many individuals, families and communities worry about what the future holds for them."

Indigenous Fijians, who hold title over the bulk of the land, were concerned about what will happen to it and whether others will take it.

The commission said it had spent a lot of time on moral issues.

"There were numerous demands for corporal punishment at school and home, the disciplining of women, and tighter control of life in villages."

Many wanted Fiji declared a Christian state with considerable ambivalence toward human rights, saying they threaten traditional culture.

Most people saw politicians and senior civil servants as "selfish, focussing on their narrow material interests, exploiting ethnic differences and jeopardising communal peace to serve their own interests."

They were concerned at what they perceived to be corruption in the judiciary and lack of access to courts with serious allegations of routine and systemic corruption within the public service.

The commission laid the blame of many of Fiji problems on its history and its colonial legacy.

Both Fijians and Indians were "victims of forces beyond them; deprived of free choice and will; both communities suffered greatly in the colonial system. Instead of dealing with the forces that subordinated and in many respects exploited them, they regarded the other community as the obstacle to the advancement of its members - and made little effort to understand the suffering of the other.

"So the colonial policy of pitting one community against another succeeded."

12 December 2012



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