Dr. Ropate Qalo - Adjusting existing Structures ...
Mangi Nating Posted Sep 12, 2003 8:00 AM
Thanks Exile for informing me of this article...
Adjust existing structures to create a unique model of Pacific governance
What is on the ground at the micro level has become part of the ‘life-world’ of the Pacific people, which they regard as traditional. As such, it is regarded as an asset to build on towards a unique model of governance. In this paper, ‘Towards a Unique Pacific Governance Model’, delivered at the Asian Development Bank (ADB) Regional Good Governance Workshop on 29-31 July, Dr Ropate Qalo argues that existing traditional Pacific structures, adjusted correctly at the macro level, can ensure transparency, sustainability, participation, equal opportunity and equity. This will result, he says, in the needs of the grassroots communities and villages being met.
By Dr Ropate Qalo
“There is a strong need for discussion on how governance should be defined and applied within the Pacific, drawing on the structures of governance that already exist ‘on the ground’ in the Pacific. If adjusted correctly and realistically, there is no reason why existing Pacific structures cannot ensure transparency, sustainability, participation, equal opportunity and equity. Most significantly, good governance in the Pacific demands that existing structures must deliver services that address the needs of grassroots villages and settlements.
Since our island countries became independent, between 1962 (Western Samoa) and 1980 (Vanuatu), they have been afflicted with those who determine ‘what ought to be’, as opposed to working with the grass-roots and their Pacific ‘life-world’. Too many inappropriate ideas were introduced instead of facilitating an evolution of Pacific values steeped in equality and equal opportunity. As a result, the economic divide of macro and micro economics has dominated development in a way that is today benefiting only those who can ‘work the system’.
Independence as a pathway to improved living standards is being nullified by the macro views of those in authority. As a result, too many households at the micro level are unable to live with dignity - the rhetoric of independence only really applies to the macro and market savvy groups. In essence, governance is to do with the distribution and proper management of resources. There is no doubt we need appropriate mechanisms for offering employment through small businesses, agriculture and marine harvests. Unqualified political appointees are a major handicap, about which many of our countries remain silent, holding back our development. Increased work opportunities in these areas would, however, lead to reduced unemployment, economic growth and political stability.
From what is understood by the history of the term ‘good governance’, its definition and usage, it is obvious that without it, development cannot be sustainable. It also sits uneasily with democracy and the (un)just coercion of the masses into structural adjustment programs, for example. There is also a false assumption that democracy leads to economic development, as is shown in the debatable case of Singapore, which is always held up as an illustration. In this sense, governance is used interchangeably with government, making it vague in meaning.
Fiji’s Minister of Finance, in his 2003 Budget Speech, tried not to be vague. He said: “good governance is about being fully accountable to the people in an honest and transparent manner. Government has therefore seen the need to adequately resource our public institutions that serve to scrutinise the activities of Government and its impact on the public”. He went on to say that Government was putting more funds into the Auditor General and Ombudsman’s offices. Funds were also expended on the review of the Fijian Administration by Pricewaterhouse Coopers. Their report was reviewed by Government, which appointed another review team to review the first report. The Minister also reported the establishment of the Fijian Trust Fund, to which it allocated $20 million, which the trust invested on behalf of ethnic Fijians. While most Fijians would accept the investment on their behalf, some will question the ethics of investing $3 million in Fijian Holdings Limited. Good governance in this sense is questionable because it highlights the allocation of funds to the elite and an army of loyal followers who feed from them.
While the presentation by the Minister sounds rational, it is also institutional and macro in nature. At the micro level, even if it is televised, the meaning of the budget is vague and meaningless to the majority of the people. Our challenge, therefore, is to make governance meaningful at the micro level. In this respect we have to begin good governance at the level of local institutions, which are understood by the majority. In the case of Fiji, we have the municipalities, the Fijian Administration and the Advisory Council for non-ethnic Fijians. These institutions are to be targeted for strengthening in the case of Fiji. The same must be done in all South Pacific island states. It is at this level that good governance will consolidate the efforts of development through agriculture, business and marine harvests to improve education, health and living standards.
Earlier it was stated that the meaning of independence is to improve the living standards of individual households. This is being continuously nullified by perhaps the macro views of those in authority. Most infrastructure is limited to urban areas and this is followed by the continuing urban migration. In the meantime, many of our households at the micro level are not able to live with dignity because the rhetoric of independence is mostly about the macro. In the case of Fiji, it has been mentioned that 50 to 60 per cent of the population is close to, or below, the poverty line (earning less than $7,500 annually).
The poor are increasing in number at the micro level and yet there are people in the Pacific who deny this fact.
The structure and functions of governance is still heavily dominated by a bureaucratic system that was defined by the work of Max Weber almost a century ago. Embedded in that structural construct are Adam Smith’s division of labour, specialisation and the fragmentation of work (The Wealth of Nations, 1776). The evolution of these structures and functions remain largely a mystery to Pacific people. In the case of Fiji, apart from the implications of our 2003 budget, this naivety was revealed in the collapse of the National Bank, with doubtful debts of up to FJD$220 million. The Commodity Framework Agricultural grants of $65 million and the latest scam of $16 million in the Ministry of Agriculture in 2000-01 are further examples. In these cases the total losses exceed FJD$300 million. Hypothetically, if $300 million was granted to small businesses of up to $300,000, creating a turnover at $100,000 each, this would facilitate 3,000 small businesses. If each business were able to employ another 10-15 workers on average, at the present wage level, another 30,000 to 45,000 people would be employed. This would increase paid employment by about 45 per cent. The ripple effect would be enormous.
It is obvious that our leaders are instead swayed more by narrow political considerations than market realities in relation to governance. In their decision-making and daily work, what appears to be missing is an appreciation of “what is” on the ground. The Pacific needs leaders who understand the socio-economic pre-conditions of the market economy, to establish a sense of responsibility and accountability pursued in good governance.
Traditional authority in Fiji is encompassed in the Fijian Affairs Act Cap 120, Laws of Fiji, under the Ministry of Fijian Affairs and the Fijian Affairs Board (FAB). A review of the structure and functions of the Ministry by an international accounting firm has been presented to government. A group of indigenous Fijians was subsequently selected and employed by the FAB with the blessings of the Great Council of Chiefs (GCC) to ‘improve’ the review. The final report is yet to be publicised. The GCC-FAB team is taking a long time to reach a consensus. It is becoming increasingly difficult for ethnic Fijians to agree to anything because more rational and legal knowledge, upon which our structures are predicated, is required. The great majority of Fijians are oblivious of this technicality, hence the looseness of decision-making, responsibility, accountability, transparency and, of course, equity.
In development terms, chiefs must look at themselves and their participation at the local level, rather than at the macro view. Chiefs must consult their own people and make them participate in decision-making. The current system appears to be cast in concrete and is sometimes used with limited understanding of the positive dynamics of societies today. Worst still is reference to the Biblical vernacular translation of certain sections of the Bible to justify rent seeking, nepotism and corruption.
The transition from a communalistic society to an individualistic market culture inevitably imposes a cognitive transformation. In the process we witness change, the emergence of new norms through hybridised or invented traditions and ultra right groups who demand preservation of the status quo. This view has not really been given the attention it deserves, but it holds the key to understanding the work that has to be done to stabilise governance in the Pacific Islands.
Social and economic aspiration assumes a type of good governance that ignores the Pacific ‘life-world’. It assumes a system of globalised market economy, but not the pre-conditions. These pre-conditions need to be understood in the Pacific context, by developing a ‘pathway’ that can guide interested people to learn and carry out financial and market activities properly through hands-on experience. This relates to the traditional authority where ethnic Fijians are always apologetic for everything they do and in the process rely on someone else to demonstrate and supervise them closely.
Many Pacific Island people see only the form and not the details. This is argued, erroneously, to be traditional. Much of what we do today follows traditional forms but adds market economic details, from traditions for birth, initiation, marriage and death to religion. These in themselves are part of the subsistence mindset of former times that are largely part of our socialisation. This mindset needs to change. One way to do this is through education. Another is through business. The very nature of business will help Pacific people modify their habits and take the best of their traditions to fit into development in a spectacular and impressive way.
A case study of a small business in Fiji that I have documented as an Action Researcher for the past twenty years has shown this. The small business is now in difficulty because of the cumulative effects of the coups, the Army mutiny, bad debt court cases and the ensuing depressed building market. The number of employees working at the business has dropped from thirty to fifteen. The remaining workers have been able to hold up for twenty years. Family members involved in the business improved their living standards and sent their children to university, seeing them take professional jobs, develop a farm, own houses and so on. Losing their court cases will probably mean the loss of twenty years of corporate memory from the only indigenous business in that sector. In this sense, the policy of Affirmative Action, or the Blue Print, has lifted their hopes and they have been putting proposals to Government with no success for the past two years.
As more extended families around the Pacific move from the traditional subsistence mindset to the hybridisation process with the market economy, good governance should facilitate their development, if careful attention is given to locating that element of trust and the ingredients of the pathway mentioned. Business, as well as education, is increasingly becoming the driving force to development of an appreciation of good governance, as business people demand predictability, transparency, accountability, participation and equity.
Adaptation, or hybridisation, is a research area that has not yet been delved into adequately, yet it is a process that the grassroots people of the Pacific have been engaged in, and will engage in perpetually, because it falls into their life-world. Ever since contact with the outside world, adaptation has been taking place. Obvious examples include education, language, religion and sport. These will continue because we live in a world that modifies traditions, producing a culture that is sensitive to globalisation because of its ‘globalised’ emphasis. This could be viewed as being intellectually simplistic, but it needs to be engaged politically, socially, economically, managerially and operationally to properly govern an ethnically diverse community. It poses a challenge that we must face: some of our culture needs to be changed to suit our time.
Let me explain with an example. Embracing our culture and building houses at exorbitant prices of more than $50,000 in villages around Fiji is common. Assuming there are 10,000 houses at this price around the country, the total value is half a billion dollars. Because this investment sits on communal land, however, it loses its financial value. By our rule of thumb on housing investment, there will be an annual loss of 10 per cent on that value, or $50 million. From the illustration above it is clear that building expensive homes in villages is rationally questionable in market terms. This is especially so when one’s life saving is poured into a house in the village, although because of that location, its potential dollar value is unacceptable to banks as collateral. Logic tells us that a steady flow of investment return will enable someone eventually to build in the village. This makes this issue one of good governance of individuals and of their hard-earned cash. Prudence at this level is the foundation of good governance, in any reasonable view.
Reflecting on all of this, it should not be difficult to understand that adaptations or hybridisation must take place to ensure better returns on investment. The structure of the koro/village, tikina/district and yasana/province is interesting to revisit. Good governance in this model is very much determined by good leadership, if we are to realise the values of traditions and those assumed in the market economy.
Good leadership in the Pacific is, however, still very much based on charismatic authority. Politicians complicate the issue with promises or statements that mean something else to the untrained ears and minds of the voters. A good leader will see that the legal-rational authority is adopted and strictly used. In essence, it means that the councils make decisions only after carefully examining the agenda in discussions, possibly with experts’ involvement. Some might argue that this is already happening. If so, it is only in form and not in the details that would ensure proper examination and better results. The case of the National Bank of Fiji and the failure of various Ministries and government departments in public money use testifies to this fact. However, leadership is vital in this model and so it is in any other model. Those who use the model only for political reasons are reckless and insensitive to the mounting poor of the country.
To digress slightly, the number of people in villages now on welfare is increasing. The recipients see the money as gifts from government, subsidising the unsteady remittances from urban relatives. In addition, the homogeneous romanticised village is becoming more and more individualistic, as it always really was. Fijians only become communal in rituals, as is the case in any other society. While Fijians are communal only on occasions of traditions, by and large they are individualistic. It is this reality that must be examined, harnessing the positives and turning them into the dynamics of their traditions. The lack of primary research in this area is a concern, just as the cut and paste consultancy reports that are referred to by some as research are a cause for concern. It is clear that good leadership using the rational-legal authority will allow adaptation or hybridisation that will allow Pacific Island structures to develop. These processes will be unique as each society inputs what is judged valuable in their life-world.
The structure and functions in Fiji can be observed in all the countries of the South Pacific. They are colonial constructs, tempered by our forefathers’ life-world. They used them as it suited them in their lifetime, even with the added task of appeasing their colonial masters. In the case of Fiji, other institutions like the FAB, the Native Land Trust Board (NLTB) and what was known as the Fijian Development Fund Board (FDFB) were established. All these institutions were known in villages, districts/islands, provincial and national levels.
A more detailed study is found in the book, ‘Decentralisation in the South Pacific’ (Larmour, P. & Qalo, R. et al 1985). The revisiting of the decentralisation policies could now be viewed along with good governance, twenty years after that publication. The finding then shows not only similarities in structure in Micronesia, Melanesia and Polynesia but right across these Pacific life-worlds. The Pacific Worlds website www.pacificworlds.com illustrates these similarities more vividly with the Northern Pacific: with Hawai’i, Federated States of Micronesia (FSM), Republic of Palau, Northern Marianas and the Marshalls. Their life-worlds, with ours in the South Pacific, are generally similar in that the people are very protective of what they deem to be their culture as a group. In addition, their structure includes the traditional value of equity and equal opportunity.
Individually, a person may be entitled to his or her human rights, but institutionally, the lines are drawn and in clear traditional terms. This may be termed as their social capital, which not only underpins the societies in the Pacific, but is the glue that holds them together. Those who overstep it are criticised and looked down upon or even banished.
In the Fijian world of today, the word beci is used. Fijian societies are careful that they are not perceived as beci. To be associated with a misdemeanour is a subject of being beci, causing guilt, embarrassment and shame. But the ambivalence or confusion between the traditions and so-called modernity has deculturised some to encourage them to dismantle by ignoring our evolving unique institutions of governance. The repulsive impact of the three coups in Fiji shook our governance to its foundations. What emerged was the surety provided by our traditional governance model that prevented a civil war on three occasions. It is fortunate that our forefathers have built enough traditions into our hybridised institutions to give them stability when attacked by the nefarious forces of ignorance or camouflaged greed. In this sense, the hybrid model of governance in the Pacific is unique. Until such time as Pacific islanders accept the rational-legal culture of their governance in our local institutions, our development will be inertial but unique. The evolution of the same structures with fine-tuning through adjustments that have been mentioned in passing will make it more efficient and sustainable. In this way, our unique Pacific Governance Model will be passed on to the future for more adjustments and fine-tuning to suit their time.”
Dr Ropate Qalo is the Head of the University of the South Pacific’s School of Social and Economic Development. He can be contacted at [email protected]
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