The new power elite

AS the two leaders of Parliament, PM versus Leader of Opposition, are reported (FT March 24) regarding who is an elite got me thinking. I would like to exercise my democratic right to voice my two cents’ worth of my thoughts. The thoughts resonated on a book recommended to students of social sciences. Hence the title used above.

Almost 60 years ago in 1956, Professor C Wright Mills wrote the book The Power Elites. In it he took a critical view on the rise of bureaucratisation, technological rationality, and the centralisation of power. His concept, “power elite”, refers to the interlocking interests of elites from three key aspects of society — politics, corporations (or economy), and the military — and how they had coalesced into one tightly knit power centre that worked to reinforce and steward their political and economic interests.

Prof Mills was a sociologist famous for his writings. His landmark publication The Sociological Imagination in 1959 is compulsory reading in his field in the 21st Century as well as for undergraduate sociology, public policy, governance, political and economics students in good universities.

He was writing about the US. Today many perceptive readers or those who have read it will quip The Power Elites is mirrored by Fiji ie relative to those images regarding the interlocking interests of elites. Well! Is it only a quip? Or jibe or joke?

Professor Wadan Narsey’s contributions in his blog on Fiji and his queries and suggestions to past and present governments, make it inevitable for a thoughtful reader to recognise his formidable research and experiences. All that he has written for public consumption since 1973 makes the mirror image above realistic or true in this view. As such, it is no longer a quip but a reality that the country must observe and address very carefully. Politicians today must engage less on “mob instinct” and thoughtfully consider the writings of this outstanding academic and in my view, a genius.

He wrote, “My three years as shadow finance minister totally changed my orientation as an economist, away from irrelevant academic publications, towards the real ‘bread and butter’ issues in Fiji”.

His writings traverse the fields of economic, political, social, corporate, eg “Fiji TV terminations, accountability of the boards and people’s actions” (January 13, 2015); “Narsey Report for Burness /Shameem Case with FNPF, August 2011(21/02/2014);

* military — Overview to the coups of 1987, 2000, 2006 and 2009 for “Coups and costs” (12/02/13)] and

* politics — “The good, the bad, the ugly and the deceptive: the 2015 Budget” (edited version in The Fiji Times November 29, 2014).

These are just a handful of examples that are recent to illustrate the extensive research and writing prowess of Prof Narsey. His work could be considered and used for the common good of this country now that they are documented. Or better still, engage him.

The threat of the interlocking interests of the new “power elites” as we farewell previous ones and get used to new ones is interesting. Some, like the Minister fOR Foreign Affairs, are indispensable have remained and were prominent in all the coups, especially the first one in his newspaper writings attempting to legitimise ethno-nationalism and Christianity.

Now as a “sustainable elite” as in “sustainable development” he has convinced the government to be responsible for climate change. Here we observe the largest drawer of “foreign aid” being housed in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. One would presume with 64 villages to be relocated in the next five to 10 years and which are local and mostly rural, these would have to be the responsibility of the Environment or iTaukei Affairs ministries. See Professor Narsey’s “Ministerial non-response to Questions on Mangrove Reclamation” (Letter to the Editor, FT March 22, 2015).

Maybe the Ministry of Foreign Affairs ought to be questioned on the above because while other countries in the Pacific are planting mangroves to mitigate against climate change, here in Fiji we are cutting them — basically to satisfy corporate hunger for profit in the name of development. The very reason that there is climate change (Pacific Voices: Local Government & Climate Change, RR Qalo editor, 2014).

“According to Mills, the eponymous “power elite” are those who occupy the dominant positions in the dominant institutions (military, economic and political) … and their decisions (or lack of decisions) have enormous consequences, not only for the US population but, “the underlying populations of the world” (Wikipedia).

Eponymous “power elite” of Fiji are:

* celebrities — some prominent entertainers and media personalities;

* chief executives – presidents of USP, deans, CEOs of the most important companies within each industrial sector;

* corporate rich — landowners and corporate shareholders in Fijian Holdings, Tapoos, Vinod Patel, Manubhai, ATH, Fiji Airways etc;

* senior military officers and those who are now ministers;

* political ministers, political appointees, ambassadors, professional government bureaucrats; and

* members of historically notable local families and formerly of the abrogated GCC, now replaced by new elites in various corporate and government boards.

All of the above will probably regard this brief article as prejudicial assertions, just as critics did when Professor Mills’ book first came out in 1956 with a similar list that is used as a template above. But these are based on well researched readings and well thought out articles especially those in Professor Narsey’s blog for our future and the young.

Doesn’t the US of about 60 years ago mirror what we are going through now in Fiji in a microcosm? Can we learn from it? What can government do to break the “power elite” cycle ie of reinforcing and stewarding their political and economic interests? This is preventing them from being FICAC cases in times to come like some unfortunate elites of the recent past.

At one stage in the future, government will have to trust its well-educated people with practical experiences to advise or work on these. This brings to the fore the case of Professor Brij Lal and Dr Padma Narsey Lal who should be welcomed back home for their outstanding work in the past and present. Such a decision should internationally illustrate that Fiji is democratically maturing.

* Ropate Qalo is a media watcher and a retiree. The views expressed are his and not of this newspaper.

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