Poll result no surprise: Dr Gounder

University of the South Pacific economist, Dr Neelesh Gounder. Picture: SUPPLIED

FIJIANS opting for elected mayors to run municipal councils and not government appointed administrators is no surprise at all.

This is the view of University of the South Pacific economist, Dr Neelesh Gounder after analysing the results of the recent Tebbutt-Times Poll which revealed majority Fijians supported elected administrators, as opposed to one appointed by Government.

Dr Gounder said having mayors elected by the public in local councils was vital because democratic local governments could play an important role in helping communities meet current and emerging challenges.

“Since ratepayers pay for local services, it is decisive that they be allowed to choose who runs the local government as well as contribute and monitor decision making affecting their local suburbs,” he said.

“It gives a say to those most directly affected by local government policy.” He also questioned Government on the review of the Local Government Act saying that the review was first mentioned in November 2014. “Has it taken four years to review the Act?” USP Professor of Development Studies in the School of Government, Development and International Affairs Professor Vijay Naidu said the overall majority support for elected mayor (and council) over a government appointed official to run local government affairs indicated that respondents preferred to elect their local government leaders. “This preference reflects two factors -first that they want to vote in their councilors and mayor; and second, based on their experience of appointed officials over the last six years or so,” Prof Naidu said.

A majority (66 per cent) across all demographic measures (gender, ethnicity, age, geographic division and urban/rural location) chose to have mayors elected by the public in local councils.

Conversely, 26 per cent preferred to see local councils being run by government-appointed administrators while a further 2 per cent declined to answer, and 6 per cent were unsure. Respondents identifying as iTaukei reported a significantly stronger preference for an elected mayor (72 per cent) than those identifying as Fijians of Indian descent (56 per cent).

In line with this, iTaukei survey participants indicated lower support for a government-appointed official (21 per cent) than Fijians of Indian descent (34 per cent). Prof Naidu said the preference of the overwhelming iTaukei respondents for elected mayors and councilors compared to a smaller majority of those of Indian descent was interesting.

“It indicates that the former in recent years appear to have a stronger commitment to democratisation at the local level than the latter. It may also reflect a greater support for the current system among them as well as authoritarian tendencies among them. The poll also revealed that by location, those in urban areas seemed to like the idea of elected mayors more than those in rural areas, while support for government-appointed administrators was higher for rural than urban population. Support for a publicly-elected official was maintained for the young age group (18-29), while there was a drop in support for the idea of a government-appointed official (26 per cent vs 31 per cent last year). Prof Naidu said the preference shown by younger respondents augured well to growing democratic institutions in the country as they appeared to understand that elected officials of their own choosing would more likely implement policies that suited their voters rather than the central government’s directives through an unelected official. “The difference between urban and rural interviewees is likely to be their level of education and relative exposure to democracy,” he said.
The poll also revealed that by location, those in urban areas seemed to like the idea of elected mayors more than those in rural areas, while support for government-appointed administrators was higher for rural than urban population. Support for a publicly-elected official was maintained for the young age group (18-29), while there was a drop in support for the idea of a government-appointed official (26 per cent vs 31 per cent last year). Prof Naidu said the preference shown by younger respondents augured well to growing democratic institutions in the country as they appeared to understand that elected officials of their own choosing would more likely implement policies that suited their voters rather than the central government’s directives through an unelected official. “The difference between urban and rural interviewees is likely to be their level of education and relative exposure to democracy,” he said. “Rural cultural framework is generally conservative, patriarchal and even authoritarian. The more educated have migrated to urban centres.” Those polled were asked to choose between two options – local councils run by an administrator appointed by the government; or run by a mayor elected by the public.