TECHNOLOGY savvy but island groomed Ratu Wiliame Nayacatabu is among a group of provincial-based youth coordinators keenly awaiting the government's budget announcement.
Wiliame is youth coordinator at the Lau Provincial Council Office, responsible for coordinating youth development activities over one of Fiji's most geographically challenging provinces.
"I serve approximately 2000 - 3000 youths in 72 villages across 13 districts on about 50 islands. I have two youth workers to assist me, one based in Cicia and the other in Matuku."
Wiliame's major outputs to the provincial office and onwards to the Ministry of Youth are youth club reports from the 13 tikina, general youth advisory and liaison services and activities. It's no easy job, particularly if you're only paid $400 per quarter as a youth coordinator.
"How can we empower our youths if we can't even get to them? The $400 per quarter translates to $133 per month which doesn't even cover the cost of a trip from Lakeba (my base) to the youth club in Nayau. A visit to Nayau costs $400 return minimum," Wiliame said. His concern and those of other provincial youth coordinators was formalised to the Permanent Secretary for Youth and Sports, Josefa Sania after a workshop in Nadave mid 2012.
"In previous years, we weren't consulted on the ministry's budget submissions, I'm still unsure what the budget process is like, but this year we've decided to be proactive and lobby for allowance increments from 2013," he said.
"Youth coordinators must be well resourced to stem the rural to urban drift, encourage greater inter-generational and rural community cohesiveness, volunteerism and citizenship and facilitate rural youth entrepreneurship."
His anxiety is well founded. Investments in youth for the last decade have generally been low.
This is despite various reports, including the World Bank Report 2007 and the State of the Pacific Youth Reports 2005 and 2011 urging governments to invest meaningfully in their "youth bulges" if they want to see a more skilled labour force and fewer dependents in the future. For a country whose youth p
opulation, according to the 2007 Census, stands at around 294,000, (35 percent of Fiji's population) and where crime and HIV/AIDs statistics are dominated by youths (15—35 year olds), this is noteworthy.
Particularly if you consider that an analysis of government budget allocations and spending for the tourism, military, youth development and social welfare sectors from 2002 to 2011 revealed a downward trend in investments in youth development.
However, fund allocations and spending to the Social Welfare field services program and Tourism general administration program have built on a minimum "ceiling" since 2010, consolidating increases in their annual budget over the years. With an age dependency ratio of 58 years, trends in social welfare spending indicate a population increasingly becoming more dependent upon the state. Within the youth ministry, funding allocated to general administration was almost seven times more than allocations for youth development programmes and activities between 2002 and 2003.
Yet funding for research and development under the Ministry of Youth remained low and constant throughout the last decade with annual funding around $150,000.
Director of Youth and Sports, William Naisara acknowledged the need for greater understanding of youths in Fiji. "Currently, there are no centralised databases for information and statistics on the situation of youths in the country.
"However, the set up of a multi-agency committee on youth earlier this year and subsequent establishment of thematic sub committees should begin paving the way towards sharing of information and data across agencies." He said while funding for the ministry had decreased over the last decade, it had been directed to other youth development efforts in different government agencies.
"This doesn't necessarily mean that government efforts for youth has decreased, it just means that a lot more mainstreaming of youth development programs are happening across government agencies." He admits there was a general lack of awareness on the budget processes even within the ministry in the past.
"I'm not sure if there ever was a time when we invited stakeholders to discuss our budget submission to the Ministry of Finance although we did have direct grants to youth organisations," Mr Naisara said.
This year the ministry expects a more favourable budget announcement for youth development, thanks in part to the new permanent secretary, Mr Sania, a former chief economic planning officer, for mobilising the consultative networks to plan and officially request for program costs.
But only time will tell if Wiliame and the 61 youth coordinators' plight will be considered in this year's national budget allocations.
* Vani Catanasiga is a youth advocate. The views expressed here are hers and not of this newspaper.