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THE CONSTITUTION, DEMOCRACY AND ECONOMIC JUSTICE

13/03/2012

[Paper to CCF Dialogue.  Date? 1997]

Recent media discussions on the Draft Constitution and Democracy, have somewhat neglected three issues behind these “ideas”.

Will the constitution encourage all citizens to contribute their utmost to the economic well-being of the nation?

Will people feel that the resulting government will be economically just to all, regardless of the race, religion, class, gender or region they belong to?

Most importantly, what kind of economic justice can be expected by the weak, the poor

and the marginalized in our society?

Economic Justice

Currently, even without a constitution, the existing Government implements policies which says to people it classified as “non-indigenous”: your labour may contribute as much or more to the wealth and wellbeing of the country than any indigenous person, and you will pay your full share of the taxes.

 

However, you will be discriminated against in appointments and promotions in the Civil Service; your taxes will not be proportionately spent on the education of your children; your unemployed will not be given equal places in the Police or Army;  your poor and marginalised will not be the focus of most development projects financed through your taxes or through aid; and your representatives will not have any effective say in decision-making on resource allocation in the country, even though your past labour has created the bulk of the country’s wealth.

One group of people, whether minority or majority is immaterial, will become parasites on the labour of the others.

But these injustices apply to the poor of all races, who will always be unnecessarily denied health, education and housing if huge amounts are also wasted on unproductive activities.

There is always a tradeoff between trucks and guns for the military and books and medicines for the poor, or schools for the physically and intellectually handicapped, as we have seen in the media recently.

Constitutions and Businessmen

I focus on justice for the poor because it is obvious that in Fiji, many in power argue that Indians should be happy since they have been getting their share of the cake.

They point out that some of the biggest beneficiaries of current government policies are businessmen, the largest proportion of whom have been Indian, and who indeed do not care for constitutions.

Most have done spectacularly better after the coup then they ever did before: they will support, and have historically switched support, to any party, which they think is in a position to expedite their profits. They are happy to offer a minimal share of their increasingly rich and large cake, to those with political power and influence. At the same time, like any rational businessman faced with political uncertainty, they keep as much of their earnings abroad, while operating off locally borrowed funds. At a suitable time, they will retire to join their families abroad, taking whatever capital they still have in the country.

However, it is no comfort to exploited Indian garment workers that their employer is of the same race as them and is benefitting from current Government policies. What they care about is whether their wages will be able to provide their families with adequate food, clothing, shelter and education for their children, who are their only hope for the future.

In contrast to the Government of the day, they would ask whether their employer can pay higher wages and still retain a socially acceptable rate of profits and competitiveness in their Australasian markets. They would want just wages.

Constitutions and Economic Growth

All businessmen, in the face of political uncertainty, will refuse to make the long term investments which are needed for ”sustained• growth of the economy. Short©term investments will be made only if the government makes it extraordinarily profitable for them. The latter will not help to create long©lasting growth, and even in the short-run, only leaves a pittance behind.

Equally, if not more important for long©term growth, is the continuing economic contribution of the majority of Indians who are professionals, skilled labourers and farmers. For them, what governments actually ”do• with their policies on education scholarships, civil service appointments and promotions, and the price of cane, is more important than constitutional pieces of paper.

Until these people feel that they and their families will receive economic justice from those in power, they will vote with their feet, regardless of how many votes they can put into ballot boxes for how many candidates, or whether the existing political leader is of the same ethnicity as them. The same has historically been true of “Pilgrim Fathers”, or Tongans and Samoans closer to home.

Constitutions and Fijian Commoners

A major objective of any constitution must be to ensure the election of parliamentarians who have the abilities required for the efficient management of diverse government responsibilities. Unlike traditional societies, this process must benefit if the pool for selection is the widest possible in the nation.

Recent Fijian history has shown that numerous Fijian commoners with a wide and frequently opposed spectrum of views, have achieved leadership roles in the political, social, economic and military spheres.

Any constitution which emphasizes birth rather than ability, and nomination to high office from the top, rather than selection by the people according to their priorities, must reduce the potential for growth in the economy. The economic injustice to the suppressed abilities must inevitably lead to a withdrawal or at least a lessening of their services to the nation.

Increasingly, it will also be of no comfort to Fijian workers that their employer is also Fijian. While in traditional Fijian society, leaders could and did redistribute their gains, entrepreneurial leaders may do so within a capitalist market, only at risk of losing ground to competitors or even bankruptcy. Fijian workers will also ultimately look for economic justice from the constitution and like the majority of Indo-Fijians, the majority of Fijians will not become businessmen.

Currently, many aware Fijians have obvious material incentives to not protest at the injustices against Indo-Fijians or commonor Fijians in the future, since they currently indirectly benefit through increased access to scholarships, appointments, promotions, developments, etc. Some may have hopes of easier acquisition of property if Indo-Fijians can be intimidated, by thinly-veiled threats of arson and violence, into migrating.

But injustice is a double-edged sword. While it very obviously hurts those who are hit, it also, like an incurable cancer, invidiously eats away at the integrity and self-respect of those who wield the sword or silently benefit and acquiesce in the injustice. Also like a cancer, it eats away at the edifice of national identity, at any remaining sense of harmony and well-being, regardless of the number of grog-bowls shared by the victims.

What of Democracy

A constitution is only an idea put down on paper, valuable only to the extent to which the masses of people are prepared to enforce it. Where the military holds effective power, the constitution is ultimately only as valuable as the oath of allegiance of soldiers to the existing political authority, as opposed to loyalties to heads of confederacies, or their local chiefs.

A democratic constitution as discussed in Fiji, can only be an instrument to ensure that the resulting government has the largest number of votes behind it. As all the major political parties and coalitions in Fiji have historically shown, such a constitution would not be sufficient to ensure that there also exists a genuine democracy: none of them have ever allowed their electorate full freedom to select leaders, candidates or policies.

For ordinary people, as important as constitutional pieces of paper, is economic justice. Without the latter, they will not contribute their best to nation-building, whether the constitution is democratic or undemocratic, and whether selected countries abroad accept or reject it.

 

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