Our system of local government is divisive and corruptible. It exacerbates hardship and poverty for the rural people, who make up 71 per cent of the poor (May 2012 Bureau of Statistics' Poverty Report).
If we are serious about peace, good governance and poverty reduction, then radical action is necessary.
When we talk local government in Fiji, we refer to two structures. The first is the central system. It includes the Ministry for local government, which looks after cities, towns and settlements, regardless of one's ethnicity.
The second, a creation of our colonial past, is the iTaukei Administration. It looks after the welfare of the iTaukei living in over 1000 villages in the 14 provinces and the island of Rotuma.
This report focuses on the iTaukei Administration, for the iTaukei.
The iTaukei Administration is a conical structure, with six strata beginning with the President at the top, then the Great Council of Chiefs (GCC), then the Fijian Affairs Board, down to the Provincial Councils, the district councils and the villages.
At present, the Cabinet has replaced the de-established Great Council of Chiefs.
As a separate arm, the iTaukei Administration accepts, it does not have the capacity, to effectively deliver its services to the iTaukei, who make up 55 per cent of the total population (837,271, Bureau of Statistics, 2007), as stipulated by the Fijian Affairs Act (Cap 120).
Unlike those who live in settlements, the iTaukei contribute to the cost of provincial administration through an annual tax, called Soli ni Yasana. For most, it is a justification of their identity.
In revisiting our history, it is important to note two factors:
1. The Spate (1959) review, supported by others, noted, the Fijian Administration, was formulated on the flawed assumption, that the iTaukei is homogeneous, and, governed by a conical structure, similar to Tongan and Scottish systems.
In fact, the iTaukei arrived in different canoes and ships, and, primarily are a mixed breed of Melanesian and Polynesian, added to which, Indian, if it can be proven that the Lapita people were sea merchants from Tamil Nadu in India. Furthermore, the decision-making system of our ancestors, was circular, and, based on cooperation.
2. Fijian anthropologist, Dr Rusiate Nayacakalou (1975) noted that, Sir Arthur Gordon, who was a Scottish chief and, Fiji's first Governor after the Deed of Cession in 1874, had intended the structure to be temporary.
Over the years, it is proven, that the separation of the provincial administration, from the scrutiny of the central government, leaves it open for manipulation, to serve selfish interests. For example, some chiefs were created out of this system.
Secondly at vanua level, the people are victims of scam projects and businesses, where the initiators hold responsible positions. Usually, the people fear questioning them, for cultural reasons.
Thirdly, at national level, the previous racially motivated 'coups' of 1987 & 2000 benefitted from this administration.
It should be noted that the People's Charter for Change, Peace and Progress, has brought positive changes to the iTaukei Administration, which is now dedicated to ensuring characteristics of good governance, are visible in an institution that has for decades applied the label of vakavanua, to its determined lack of adherence, to policies and the rule of law.
Previous reviews (Burns et al, 1960 and, the comprehensive PricewaterhouseCoopers, 2002) noted that a majority of the iTaukei interviewed said, the iTaukei Administration had failed them.
As a way forward, I suggest that the villages, not the district nor provincial council, become a direct partner of the integrated development approach by the Government and the crucial role of the Turaga ni Koro, (village headman) be recognised with a substantial increase in financial remuneration, to a level, equal to, or above, the wage poverty line.
This recognises the multi-task role of the TNK, as implementer/manager/conciliator/evaluator/monitor/reporter of development, to government, NGOs and other stakeholders.
At present, the TNK earns a modest sum of a $150 monthly, payable upon receipt of timely reports to the Provincial Office.
A question that might come to mind with this radical suggestion is; what of law and order in the villages? Well, it is important to note, that a key cause for the biggest number of conflicts in iTaukei society today is, over leadership and landownership.
The Permanent Secretary of iTaukei Affairs drew attention to this issue in his address to the Kadavu Provincial Council on 10th November 2011.
He appealed for solutions to be found within cultural mechanisms.
In my view, this suggests the failure of a system, which is supposed to support social cohesion in iTaukei society.
Finally, it takes courage to admit failure and for a society that has come to accept the institution as traditional, we have a collective responsibility to ensure the radical transition, if made, is done for the common good of all.
Me vakaga era dau tukuna na qase, ni vuvu tiko na wai mai cake, ena mai vuvu na wai era.
nThis is the personal opinion of Alisi Daurewa, a postgraduate student of development studies at the University of the South Pacific after a collective 36-year experience of auditing, financial management, overseas development administration and as executive director of a national development NGO. She continues with voluntary work at provincial council level and other organisations.
Views expressed above are hers and not of the organisation she works for, or that of this newspaper.