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Fr Barr: Constitution must address poverty, inequality

Sheenal Sharma
Monday, November 12, 2012

THE Bill of Rights in the 1997 Constitution talked about our rights to the things which should keep us out of poverty but did not say how these rights could be delivered in reality, says a consultant.

Representing the Peoples Community Network in a seminar titled "The Challenges of Poverty to the Constitution" held at the University of the South Pacific on Friday, Father Kevin Barr said two thirds of Fiji's population lived in poverty or close to it.

He said 60 per cent of the workers in full-time employment earned wages below the poverty line and 15-20 per cent of the people lived in squatter settlements.

"Poverty is a man-made problem which we ourselves can solve if we really want to," he said.

Father Barr said the constitution should address the rights of all the people to their basic needs.

"It should suggest how in practice the right to housing, employment, just wages, decent food, education and proper health care can be achieved," he said.

"It does not spell out the economic and political systems which will guarantee that they are delivered to all the people so that everyone receives justice," he said.

Father Barr said the constitution needed to spell out an economic and political system which was people-centred.

"It should work for the common good and not for the benefit of only a few," said Father Barr.

He said the system should be one which demanded not absolute equality but a better distribution of the benefits of economic growth and development.

Father Barr said the constitution must spell out principles where political parties publicly account for contributions they received from the private sector. "This should help to arrest lobbies associated with crony capitalism where an unhealthy collusion is established between business interests and politicians," he said.

Father Barr said Fiji's Constitution provided one important way whereby steps could be taken to eradicate poverty and provide guidelines for true people-centred development through principles of social justice and the common good.

"We have so much poverty and inequality in Fiji, our constitution must address it directly and seriously," he said.


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