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“Reduced future ethnic competition for public resources”. The Fiji Times, 3 August, 1995.

14/03/2012

In any society, various groups’ desire for access to national political power is partly, if not largely due to the desire for influence on decision-making over government revenue and government expenditure, and public sector jobs.

InFiji, a considerable amount of political dissatisfaction amongst Indo-Fijians, has been over the discrimination against them in funds for education (at primary, secondary and tertiary levels), and public sector (including statutory organisation) jobs for Indo-Fijian school-leavers.

It is important for indigenous Fijian political groups to take account of the startling demographic reality, that indigenous Fijians will numerically far outnumber Indo-Fijians at all the age groups at which public resources are currently required, within a decade.

This may significantly reduce inter-ethnic tensions arising out of competition for public resources, and further reduces the need for racially discriminatory clauses inFiji’s Constitution.

Primary Age Groups

Let us look at the primary age groups in detail, since it shows what the long term trends are also going to be for the higher age groups.

Table 4 (and Figure 2) indicates that while the Fijian 6-11 year olds will continue to increase as expected, the Indo-Fijian age group is expected to decrease by a massive 8,000 between 1994 and 1999.

Table 4        Primary Age (6-11) Population (000)

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AGE GROUP                      1994    1999    2004    2009

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Fijians  6‑11 olds                  57        60        64        68

Indo-Fijians 6‑11 olds          47        39        36        34

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Total  6‑11 olds                  104     100     100     102

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The net result will be a national advantage, unusual for a developing country, that the total primary age population (here not including other ethnic groups) will also decline by around 4 percent. to 1999, and be stable until around 2004.

Given that the education budget is one of the largest components of government expenditure, and the primary allocation is by far the largest component of the education budget, the above indicates a substantial easing of pressure on the Government budget, creating the very real possibility for Government to target improvements in education quality.

Important for inter-ethnic competition for public resources, Table 5 indicates that indigenous Fijians are expected to outnumber Indo-Fijians by a massive 54% in 1999, with the gap continuing to widen to 98% in 2009.

A per-capita allocation of primary school resources will therefore still see the bulk of the public primary allocation being devoted to indigenous Fijian children and schools.

The massive reduction in Indo-Fijian primary school enrolments should also create substantial excess capacity in what are currently Indo-Fijian primary schools, for enrolment of children of other ethnic groups. This should have numerous spin-off benefits in terms of encouraging cross-cultural learning and social relations, and the building of a national consciousness rather than the narrow ethnic identities inevitably fostered by schools totally dominated by one ethnic group.

            Table 5  Percent. Excess of Fijians over Indo-Fijians

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1994    1999    2004    2009

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Ages 6 – 11                    21        54        81        98

Ages 12 – 17                   6         22        55        85

Ages 18 – 20                  10        13        33        76

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Reduced Demand for Secondary Education Funds

The changes described above, will also take place at other levels, with a time lag.  Indo-Fijian 12-17 year olds are already declining, and will reduce by a further 9,000 between 1994 and 2004.  They will be outnumbered by Fijian 12-17 year olds by 55 percent in 2004.  There will be a comparable reduction in demand for secondary school resources for Indo-Fijian students.

As at the primary school level, there will also be increased opportunity to move towards a greater ethnic mixing of students by the placing of Fijian students in schools managed by Indo-Fijian education authorities.

As another Fiji Times article by me has indicated, this may also have an added benefit of improving the academic performance of indigenous Fijian students.

Reduced Demand for Tertiary Education Funds and Jobs

Demand for tertiary education places and scholarships, and for jobs required by school leavers and graduates, is strongly based on the numbers of the population in the 18-20 age cohorts.

The demographic data indicates that the trend for the 18-20 age group is little different from those at the lower levels, except for the time lag.  Indigenous Fijians in this age group will outnumber Indo-Fijians by 33% in 2004 and 76% by 2009.

These demographic trends indicate that reduced Indo-Fijian numbers at this age group, will by itself lead to a significant reduction of demand for tertiary level scholarships and access to employment in the public sector.

The demographic trends alone would indicate that indigenous Fijians are likely to receive the greater share of public resources for these purposes.  Some form of means testing for scholarships would probably further strengthen this likelihood.

Why Continued Discriminatory Policies?

On the basis of these population projections, there is little support for the argument that indigenous Fijians need discriminatory provisions in the Constitution in order to guarantee a major share of public resources.

There seems to be little justification for the Government’s continued refusal to end discrimination against Indo-Fijians in the areas of education and jobs opportunities and responsibilities within their political control.

The population projections indicate that Government could easily adopt non-discriminatory policies in the above areas, without compromising indigenous Fijian interests.

The costs to the public purse would be small.  The costs to those who control Government would be minimal, while the potential gains in terms of nation building are large.

Continued Demoralisation of Indo-Fijians

Those in political control seem unaware or simply uncaring of the pervasive demoralisation that is afflicting the Indo-Fijian community because of the national discrimination against them and continuing political calls for their further marginalisation.

It does not reassure Indo-Fijians when national leaders espouse views which undermine the very processes (such as the Constitution Review Commission) which they themselves have set up supposedly to heal the nation.

Throughout the country, there continues to be widespread violence against Indo-Fijians, by mainly indigenous Fijian criminal elements, uncondemned and uncontrolled by the political leaders of indigenous Fijians.

Many Indo-Fijians are demoralised by the continued refusal of knowledgeable indigenous Fijians (except for a notable few) to lend public support to the equal rights of their Indo-Fijian fellow citizens, colleagues, friends from school days, and neighbours.

The social costs of speaking out, or for some, the benefits to be obtained by remaining silent, seem too high.

In such an atmosphere, despite the fact that most would want to contribute as fully as any other citizen, Indo-Fijians might be forgiven for being dismayed and cynical about continued Government rhetoric of nation-building and national unity,

Only action by those in power can give any substance to the rhetoric.

 

Making People Accountable

Lastly, it should be noted thatFijiis no different from most developing societies, in its people by and large want leaders who will make their difficult decisions for them.  They will idolize those who succeed, and crucify those who fail.

Fiji’s history has many examples of key developments where associated leaders have been berated by their peoples for being “sellouts”, and leaders who have berated their people for their ingratitude: the original Cession of Fiji; the 1970 Constitution; ALTA; and even the 1990 Constitution.

Political leaders may ponder on one completely ignored consequence of genuine democracy which is that it forces people out of their political laziness, makes them take full part in decision-making, forces them to learn from their mistakes, and ultimately take full responsibility for their own future, and that of their children.  There are no more scapegoats.

If the Government makes any decision on the Report of the Constitution Review Commission, it will always be vulnerable to the accusation by future generations that it acted in the obvious interest of current Government parliamentarians.

Only a full referendum for any proposals for a revised Constitution can take the country forward on a more secure social path.

Leaders of political parties would surely gain in stature as national leaders, were they to help mould their party opinion in the national interest, rather than ride populist opinion for short term political gain.

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