The United Nations Committee on the Elimination of all Forms of Racial Discrimination (CERD) sits in Geneva from March 3-21. Fiji case will come up for consideration at this 62nd sitting of the Committee.
The National Farmers Union has filed additional submissions to the CERD on discriminatory policies and measures that have been introduced by the illegal Fiji government since the NFU last made its report to CERD in August, 2002.
The report is published below:
National Farmers Union
United Nations Committee on the Elimination
of all Forms of Racial Discrimination
(62nd Session 3-21 March 2003)
Since our last submission to the CERD in August 2002, the unconstitutional Fiji government has initiated additional affirmative action policies and measures for the indigenous community which are clearly racially discriminatory and in breach of several articles of the International Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Racial Discrimination.
These policies are outlined in Government’s 20-year development plan published in a booklet titled 50/50 by Year 2020.
Before providing details of these discriminatory policy measures, we consider it appropriate to inform the committee of the authoritarian manner in which the policies were virtually shoved down our throats.
The 20-year development plan (265 pages) was tabled in Parliament on Thursday 28 November, scheduled to be debated by the House of Representatives the following week in the last two days of its end of the year sitting. Government ignored all requests by us in the non-government benches for reasonable time to study the document thoroughly. We urged that a full session of the House be devoted to debating the Plan because of its racial implications and its great significance to the social and economic development of the nation.
We also urged that debate on it be deferred to the February 2003 sitting of the House so that members could make their intervention on such important policy matters on an informed basis.
Our request, made at the Business committee of the House, was completely ignored. Government went ahead with its intention to rush the motion, using its majority to bulldoze its passage through Parliament.
This is typical of the manner in which this unconstitutional government pushes important legislation through Parliament. It goes through the motions of democratic requirements in a manner that is highly arrogant and authoritarian. In doing so, it often flouts parliamentary procedures and Standing Orders.
It pays lip service to democratic principles and multiracial harmony but in actual practice blatantly flouts checks and balances provided to ensure transparency and adherence to democratic norms.
Fiji Government’s Blueprint for affirmative action/legislation contained in its 20 year development plan titled 50/50 by year 2020.
The title itself signifies the target of achieving participation on a 50/50 basis for the indigenous people in all spheres of social and economic development in the country. This in itself may not be objectionable. What is objectionable is the manner in which the government hopes to achieve this target – measures proposed breach provisions of the Fiji Constitution as well as articles of ICERD.
1. Changes to the Constitution
Government plans to change the current 1997 Constitution, a charter that has been internationally acclaimed for its vision of multiracialism, to realise its racist agenda so as to:
- reserve the positions of Head of State (President) and Head of Government (Prime Minister) for indigenous Fijians.
It should be pointed out that such a provision was written into the 1990 Constitution, a racist charter promulgated by decree after the 1987 coups. The provisions were widely condemned and rendered Fiji a pariah in the international community until they were reviewed in the 1997 Constitution.
- allow for legislation on affirmative action for the indigenous community to be a substantive provision of the changed constitution
The current 1997 Constitution prohibits affirmative action on the basis of race. Government’s affirmative action measures violate the Bill of Rights provisions in Fiji’s 1997 Constitution as well as the charter on Social Justice which specifically dictates against affirmative action programmes based on race.
The 1997 Constitution articulates strong principles of social justice and affirmative action for the disadvantaged in society. In fact, Section 44 of the Constitution, the Social Justice provision, instructs Parliament to enact legislation aimed at providing equal access on four specific State services. The provision is very clear for a non-racial approach to affirmative action:
The Parliament must make provision for programmes designed to achieve for all groups or categories of persons who are disadvantaged, effective equality of access to:
a) education and training
b) land and housing; and
c) participation in commerce and in all level
and branches of service of the State
It goes on to specify definite criteria and timeline ( a maximum 10 years) for any such programme and if the programme is for a specific target group then the Act must provide the criteria used to select the said group.
The Constitution lays down very onerous human rights safeguards on any affirmative action programme initiated by the government.
Section 44 (8) makes it very clear and unambiguous that any such programme must not impinge on or deny the rights of another citizen who is not a beneficiary under the scheme:
A programme established under this section must not directly or indirectly, deprive any person not entitled to its benefits of:
(a) any position or seniority in the service of the State
(b ) any place in an educational or training institution
(c) a scholarship of other financial support; or
(d) a right to carry on any business or profession or to enjoy any other opportunity, amenity or service to which that person has already become, and would otherwise remain, entitled.
2. Tax exemption for Fijian companies
All indigenous owned companies, without distinction, will be exempted from paying company tax under the government agenda. Such provisions will undoubtedly create racial animosities because there are some highly successful indigenous business concerns which clearly do not qualify for affirmative action.
3. Other proposed measures:
- 50% of all major licences such as import licences, taxi permits and so on are to be reserved for the indigenous community
- 50% of all government contracts are to be reserved for the indigenous people
- 50% of all government shares in commercial entities are to be reserved for the indigenous community
- Interest free loans to the Fijian Affairs Board, an indigenous statutory entity, to buy shares in an indigenous investment company, the Yasana Holdings Ltd
- An annual government grant of $1.5 million to indigenoua provincial councils to enhance their participation in business
- A special loans scheme which provides soft loans from the Fiji Development Bank to the indigenous community will continue. The scheme is not open to Fiji-Indians but other ethnic groups have been catered for
- $20 million to be set aside under a Fijian Development Trust Fund for the advancement of indigenous language, culture, history etc
- Land – State land, known as Schedule A and B lands, some 200,000 hectares, have been transferred to native ownership. It must be remembered that natives already have entrenched rights to more than 83.4% of all lands in Fiji.
Such affirmative action measures are clearly discriminatory, not to mention inhumane, at a time when thousands of Fiji-Indian tenant farmers (mostly sugar cane farmers) are being displaced from their farms at the expiry of native leases.
Although the widespread expiry of leases are causing serious social and economic dislocation with farming families made destitute overnight, there is no State assistance for these hapless people.
- Freehold land buy-back – government has allocated an annual fund of $500,000 to purchase freehold land to give to indigenous landowners who are short of land.
- Indigenous cane farmers to receive financial and technical assistance from government to farm on their reverted land.
- Agricultural leases – all native leases under the current legislation, the Agricultural Landlord and Tenant Act (ALTA) to be brought under the aegis of the Native Land Trust Act (NLTA). This proposal has created immense disquiet among the Fiji-Indian tenant community because ALTA guarantees protection of their interests which is not available under NLTA.
- Legislation to be enacted to give customary rights over all fishing grounds to native owners, similar to customary land rights
- Royalty for underground water, minerals – native landowners to receive a share of all royalty on use of ground water. Royalty to landowners from mining activities to be henceforth determined by Cabinet and not by Parliament as currently provided in the 1997 Constitution
- Fijian education fund – the current $5 million special fund for indigenous education will be increased to provide additional scholarships and for capital development. This is in addition to special (and discriminatory) affirmative action policies for indigenous education provided for under the Social Justice Act (details in August submission)
There are two main objections to government’s proposed affirmative action measures:
1. While government has gone out of its way to enact measures and initiate policies to assist the indigenous communities, it has ignored the pressing needs of other communities who are equally deprived and disadvantaged e.g. the displaced and landless Fiji-Indian community
2. Affirmative action policies for the indigenous people take a blanket approach without distinguishing between the rich and the disadvantaged in the community.
Studies in other societies that have pursued affirmative action programmes, a case in point being Malaysia from whom Fiji has borrowed much of its favoured-race policies, have shown that such policies do not work.
They tend to be counter-productive. One, they create a hand-out mentality among the recipient community which kills enterprise and re-enforces the group’s sense of inferiority.
Secondly, and this is blatantly obvious in Fiji, invariably, the benefits of such preferential policies accrue to a small group of the well-off in the community rather than to the disadvantaged.
It is found that within the targeted group, the benefits of affirmative action measures go disproportionately to those already more fortunate – better situated individuals, better educated, more articulate, more politically skilled and already at the top of the favoured group in socio-economic terms.
In Fiji, it is obvious that the elite of indigenous society have benefited immensely from government’s preferential treatment programmes while the masses remain poor and disadvantaged.
Furthermore, scholars have found that affirmative action measures to reduce the economic gap between races can constrain economic growth and national progress by over protecting some races while holding the others back.
Despite the lessons of history, evident in Fiji itself where affirmative action policies have been in existence for at least 30 years, government persists in pursuing such counter-productive measures which are, undoubtedly, politically motivated because they are racial draw cards.
In our August submission, we stated, with evidence, that the indigenous community in Fiji is not a minority group deprived of their rights. Their rights and interests are well entrenched in the 1997 Constitution. They own 90% of all land, forest, sea and mineral resources.
They dominate positions in the civil service, and hold key constitutional offices such as those of the President, Commander of the army and navy, Commissioner of Police, the Auditor General. Through the coups, they have ensured political dominance by overthrowing any government headed by a non-indigenous.
The committee must note that the Fiji government which took office after the controversial 2001 general elections remains unconstitutional. (Refer to August submissions). The current government has been declared illegal by the High Court and the Fiji Court of Appeal. It has chosen to appeal to the Supreme Court against the judgment but has shown no urgency in constituting the Supreme Court to hear the case. The Supreme Court is not schedule to sit until April and even then, there is no indication so far, that it will hear the case.
Meanwhile, the Indian community remains politically marginalized and deprived of its constitutional rights. They continue to be denied police protection in a situation of soaring crime and declining law and order where the community is the main target.
Fiji-Indians are a defenceless, landless community with their rights increasingly under assault from a government that is blatantly racist, and unless checked, appears to have little or no compunction about turning Fiji into an apartheid society.
Mahendra P. Chaudhry,
National Farmers Union.