Attorney General Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum may have deliberately misled Parliament on Monday when he said no data had been collated on ethnicity under the 2017 Census.
Because Census Commissioner Epeli Waqavonovono reportedly said they did collate data based on ethnicity but were not free to release the information.
He told the Fiji Times in January: “We did ask about people’s ethnicity but the decision to release it has to come from higher authority. Once we are instructed then we will release it,” Waqanavonovono said.
Khaiyum, however, told Parliament that no data based on ethnicity was collated under the 2017 census. Therefore such information was not available. “They (Opposition) think we are hiding it. We are not hiding it,” Fiji Times reported him saying.
So who is telling the truth?
Misleading Parliament or deliberately lying to it is a very serious offence. A person doing so can be hauled before the Privileges Committee.
Labour Leader Mahendra Chaudhry asked why government was refusing to release demographic data based on ethnicity in a multi-racial country such as Fiji.
“If the information is there why is it being withheld from the general public. What is the government trying to hide?” Mr Chaudhry asked.
Data based on ethnicity was absolutely essential to evaluate the social and economic progress of different ethnic groups, he said.
“Unless we have such data, how can we evaluate whether each community is receiving fair treatment, or what their special needs and wants are? How will we know whether a particular community is lagging in education or not, the state of poverty of different communities in Fiji, their access to resources and amenities etc.
“We also wish to remind Mr Sayed-Khaiyum of the concern expressed by the UN Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, Mutuma Ruteere, at the lack of “disaggregated data on the socioeconomic situation of members of ethnic groups.
In a report compiled following his visit to Fiji in December 2016, Ruteere said:
“…in order to measure progress made on the elimination of racism and racial discrimination, and to evaluate the effectiveness of the policies of inclusiveness set up by the current Government, there needs to be an objective evaluation which can only be undertaken if statistics and in particular disaggregated data are collected and made available.
“Without disaggregated data, it will be difficult to assess the effectiveness of the merit-based measures that the Government has adopted in recruitment and in awarding scholarships as well as in the other areas. Such data is also valuable as it provides the baselines upon which new policies and programmes can be designed.
Mr Chaudhry said data based on ethnicity was important to ensure equality of treatment of all races.
“This is essential if we are to achieve the inclusiveness of each community that government is often preaching about,” Mr Chaudhry said.