US report highlights racial discrimination in Fiji

  • 22nd March 2005
  • 2005
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The United States 2005 country report highlights the serious problem of racial discrimination in Fiji including under representation of Indians at all levels of government “from the Senate to the lowest ranking police constable or soldier”.

The report released today acknowledges that “these iniquities are to some extent enshrined in the Constitution” which mandates that 14 of the 32 Senators be appointed by the indigenous Great Council of Chiefs and one by the Rotuma Council.

“Therefore, the support of only two additional Senators is needed to give indigenous Fijians effective control in the Senate,” the report pointed out.

Other areas of racial discrimination highlighted include:

An ethnically based electoral system
Government policies on hiring, education and land tenure gives
protection for indigenous Fijian interests
Racist remarks against Indians in Parliament by Government MPs and Senators
Eviction of Indian tenant farmers by indigenous Fijian landowners.

The report noted that land tenure remained a highly sensitive problem. Racial tensions and grievances over low rents for agricultural lands resulted in several alleged illegal evictions of Indian tenants and reoccupation of land by native landowners, the report said.

There were also cases of Fijian landowners extorting higher rents from the Indian tenant farmers. “Almost none of these violations were prosecuted,” the report said.

It noted that government had strongly pressed for changes in the existing legislation on agricultural land (ALTA) to accommodate landowners concerns; but that parliament took no action on the matter during the year.

Other human rights violations include restrictions on freedom of assembly, violence and discrimination against women, and instances of child abuse.

The report noted that while the constitution provided for an independent judiciary, it had at times been subjected to political pressure.

It noted the dramatic increase in the minority Chinese community, largely through illegal immigration, and the steep increase in illegal activities, including murder allegedly connected to Chinese organised crime.

The report also highlighted that allegations of non accountability, corrupt travel, financial mismanagement and conflicts of interest regarding officials and ministries continued to be raised by the Media. And that several cases of improper bidding and supply were under investigation in the Ministries of Works and Energy and that officials had been suspended for allegations of impropriety.

“In some ministries, government transparency was virtually non existent”, it claimed, referring to the problem faced by the Auditor General in accessing information from ministries and departments despite verbal and written requests over two years. Some of these requests had even met with “resistance” from heads of units concerned.

Speaking of the economy, the report noted that sugar and tourism accounted for more than half of foreign exchange earnings and that skilled workers and professionals continued to emigrate in large numbers.

The Fiji Labour Party has, however, questioned one aspect of the report which states that Indian families “dominated the business sector and enjoyed higher average incomes”.

Only a small fraction, much less than 10% of the Indian community, have big business interests and enjoy high incomes. The majority are labourers, workers and landless farmers, most of whom are struggling to make ends meet, the Party said.

A UNDP report on poverty shows that there is no noticeable gap between the the two major races, Indians and Fijians, when it comes to poverty. It found that, if anything, there were overall more Indian households living in poverty than Fijian.

The claim that Indians dominate the business sector is also a myth. They are largely in retail while the banking, insurance and tourism businesses are dominated by foreign owned White companies.