#header-inner img {margin: 0 auto !important; #header-inner {text-align: Center ;} Fiji Coupfourpointfive: Prasad: Fiji's union movement must unite

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Prasad: Fiji's union movement must unite

Key notes from Biman Prasad's address to the Fiji Teachers Union today

"We are passing through a critical juncture in our history and this is an opportunity for all of to redefine how we build this country for the future"
Any semblance of democracy must be measured through a number of criteria and these should include (1) government’s responsiveness to the popular will and people’s input in whatever decisions are made; (2) respect for human rights and freedom of expression must be upheld at all times and clearly enshrined in the constitution; (3) civil society and media organisations must be respected and supported; (4) the rule of law to be respected in all circumstances, especially when the decision of a court is against the state; (5) free and fair elections, and (6) allowing an effective opposition to exist at all times.

Fiji’s 1970 Constitution had provisions for a review. In fact a review was conducted under the Street Commission, which recommended a move towards a more open and less communal electoral system. Leaders at that time, shirked away from their responsibilities in terms of making those progressive changes. Had they acted boldly, we might have been in a better place as a country today. The leaders
after the 1994 General election had more foresight and achieved a change in the 1990 Constitution through dialogue and discussion, an example we should try and emulate.

Countries pass through critical junctures. These junctures always provide us an opportunity to make good or bad decisions. Fiji has faced several critical junctures in past. We have not always used these critical junctures to create a virtuous circle of improvement and prosperity. Instead, at every critical juncture, we have gone back into a vicious circle of instability and decline. In the past, we have heard such phrases as democracy is a “foreign flower”, that we need time to have democracy, that we need good democracy, and so on. Today, we still hear from some of our leaders, religious leaders, businessmen and I can say some academics and teachers as well, that democracy can be postponed. One thing that we have not understood in this country since 1987 is that political instability has led to the gutting of Fiji of skills, investment, economic growth and prosperity. 

The link between political instability, democracy and economic growth is an important institutional determinant to explain the differences in growth amongst 5 countries. There is plenty of evidence in the literature that democracy may be the best form of government when it comes to providing stability and certainty regarding economic policies. Generally speaking, democracy is also good for developing inclusive economic institutions. 

Fiji has recorded on average a growth rate of just about 2 percent in the last twenty five years because of continuous political instability and lack of inclusive political and economic institutions. Many similar countries have spectacularly outperformed Fiji, growing at a sustained rate of more than 5 percent in the same period. Fiji has languished in poverty, unemployment, with a declining quality of public services and an increasing loss of talent through migration. 

Fiji saw some of the best talents migrate to Australia, New Zealand, Canada and America. The proud record of Fiji’s civil service before the 1987 coup was destroyed at all levels, with promotions and appointments generally reserved for indigenous Fijians. The policy of positive discrimination and indigenization of the civil service continued under the subsequent governments and it was most pronounced in the provision of scholarships and educational opportunities. While the Bainimarama government has put in a lot of effort to improve the performance of the civil service by advocating merit based appointments, it has not been too successful because of the culture of entrenched racism and provincialism that still exists. 

We are passing through a critical juncture in our history and this is an opportunity for all of to redefine how we build this country for the future. There are many elements in the government today who continue to paddle the culture of racism and mediocrity despite the governments stated intention. Equally there are some in opposition groups who are pushing for democracy yet they continue to paddle a racist view. It will be tragic if this continues. Now is the time to build an inclusive and a non-racist democratic Fiji. 

Democracy in the schools and clas 
I believe that while we may not have a democratic government right now, our society dreams of a democracy for its children. We want our children to grow up in a free, open, and transparent democratic framework.

Teachers have an important role in creating a school environment to fit the different needs of our children so that they can think for themselves and ask questions to enhance their understanding of the issues that affect them and that will matter in their lives. Questions like Why do you think your viewpoint is better than mine? How do we know? What is the evidence? What are the alternatives that will promote a better and engaged learning environment, and in their own way promote democratic values? By creating such a school environment we will avoid creating a ‘nation of sheep’ in the future.

As Gandhi once said “Democracy is not a state in which people act like sheep. Under democracy individual liberty of opinion and action is jealously guarded.” Teachers have an important responsibility in this regard. Since 1987, we have experienced a culture of fear and favour based on ethnicity. More recently we are increasingly experiencing dictatorial attitudes amongst leaders and managers in all sectors of our society; in the civil service, statutory organisations and in some non-governmental organisations and institutions. 

It is our responsibility to guard against that kind of environment. Teachers unions must promote a culture of meritocracy and performance when it comes to promotions within the school system. Our societies and communities which run schools continue to perpetuate the ethnic dimensions in the school system. Here, I wish to congratulate Minister Filipe Bole and the Bainimarama government for at least symbolically removing the ethnic dimensions in the naming of the schools and introducing zoning of the schools.

3. Status of teachers 
In Fiji we can safely say that as a country we have been able to continuously improve our educational objectives, policies, programmes, curricula, text books, physical infrastructure and generally improved facilities for our children. However, teachers remain the single most important factor in determining the quality of teaching.

Secondly, the social status of teachers is also important. The social status of teachers in Fiji in the 1970s and 1980s was very high. There was public recognition and acceptance of teachers as leaders and leading opinion makers in society. They were respected by students and communities alike as promoting moral and ethical standards in society. That status is less evident today. 

And parents must also take some responsibility in not helping enhance the status of teachers by not meeting their obligations for the provision of quality education. The Fiji Teachers Union and the Fijian Teachers Association must also take some responsibility for the decline in the social status of the teachers. 

Thirdly, the economic status of teachers is also very important. While the pay in some categories of the civil service is commensurate with teachers’ pay, they do not commensurate with the expected role and commitment expected from the teachers. In 2012, the starting salary of primary school teachers was $13,504, which was less than the annual wage of electricians and plumbers. This means that the starting salary of primary school teachers close to the poverty line income of about $10,000 per year. 

Recently, President Obama, speaking about teachers, said: “In South Korea, teachers are known as nation builders and I think it’s time we treated our teachers with the same level of respect.” In Fiji, we need to ask the same set of questions: do we treat our teachers with respect? Are we providing them the tools and the environment for them to achieve the status they deserve in our society? Are they paid well?

The status of teachers has also been affected negatively in an environment of political instability and uncertainty. This has been the case since 1987 and there is no end in sight as yet. Many experienced teachers and school administrators had to leave the service abruptly to migrate as a result of the discrimination they perceived in the civil service. Teacher training, remuneration and working conditions remain static and have hardly improved over the last twenty-five years. 

To make matters worse, the Bainimarama government implemented an ill-conceived retirement policy, which effectively shuts out productive and experienced teachers after the age of 55. This policy has now been included in the draft Constitution, and will thus commit all future governments to retire teachers at 55. Retirement age is a policy matter and NOT a constitutional matter.

4. Role of Teacher Trade Unions in a democracy 
The decree restricting trade union rights is not in the long-term interest of workers or democracy. The government should remove those and other restrictions on the trade unions in the country. It is unfortunate that the Bainimarama government has engaged in an unnecessary process of union bashing. Additionally, the provisions in the political party decree and now included in the Government 2013 draft Constitution are thoroughly undemocratic features.

The Fiji Teachers Union has a proud history and has been led by prominent teachers who became effective politicians. The FTU has been a good training ground for leaders and indeed over the years they have produce many good leaders.

Union movement world-wide is faced with dwindling memberships and it is becoming more difficult to organise and attract members. Members of unions are increasingly demanding returns to their membership. They are demanding better rights, wages, salaries and working conditions, and unions are finding it difficult to provide these. The changing structure of the economy from agriculture and manufacturing to services is also a factor. Service workers are mobile, often on short contracts, and are reluctant to join unions. However, the good news is that unions in some part of the world are adapting to these new challenges. They are seeing their union members as customers. They are providing more services to their members. The union movement in Fiji must look at some of the new business models to see how they can adapt to the changing times.

Let me also say that while some trade unions and their leaders have not always been principled, this should not be used to penalize the whole union movement. At this point I want to make this call again and say that the Union movement in Fiji must unite. Leaders have to set aside their differences now and work towards a common goal of restoring democracy and worker’s rights in this country. Some union leaders have made terrible mistakes in this country by pursuing their personal agendas and
compromising their principles after the 2006 coup.

This is a critical juncture for the union movement and they can either waste this opportunity or grab this opportunity to unite. If they don’t unite now, they are unlikely to unite in the future. Even, after we have a democratically elected government, unions are likely to remain weak and fragmented.

5. Concluding Comments

There is no doubt that the aspirations of all Fijians are generally the same. Whether we like the Bainimarama government or not, whether we are aligned to his government or not, whether one is a soldier, civilian, Christian, Hindu or Muslim, rich or poor, we all want peace, prosperity and freedom. 

It is generally believed that “a successful nation has three attributes: politically it is free and democratic, economically it is prosperous and equitable; and socially, it is peaceful and cohesive”. We are at a juncture in our history where our economic, social and political problems have become chronic and are no longer temporary. Our economic problems have become structural not cyclical. We have a deteriorating infrastructure, and lack investment and confidence, all of which adds up to poor economic growth.

Our growth rate in the last 25 years has been poor but, especially in the last 7 years, it has been dismal. The average growth rate has been only 0.6 percent of GDP and with this level of growth we can hardly achieve acceptable levels of services and facilities for our people and generate enough jobs for them. Formal sector employment has not grown in the last six years. Much of the employment created has been mainly in the informal sector. Indeed, close to 40% of those employed are in the informal sector, where wages are very low. While the 2013 budget has increased the tax threshold, it is not going to address the concerns of those employed in the informal sector and in some of the lower paid private sectors. 

The failure of the wages council to address the appropriate wage rise for those workers in these sectors will continue to keep many families in the poverty trap. Indeed, the immediate prospect for employment looks bleak. The National Employment Centre (NEC) data show that since 2010 a total of 26,000 unemployed persons have registered but only a small number – around 1,400 - have been able to secure full time employment. More challenging is the high level of youth unemployment. 12,000 out of the total of 26,000 are between the age of 15-24 and of these more than 6,000 are females.

Some estimates suggest that probably 18-20 thousand women have left being fulltime housewives to try and make ends meet within the households. Additionally, we see more and more underemployment where people are idle and working for few hours. Wages and salaries have not risen much in the last six years and, if we take inflation into account, real incomes of most households have deteriorated. The incidence of national poverty has increased and it is definitely more than 31% in 2008-2009. Some estimates now put that to 45% and it could be approaching 50%.

While it makes sense for government to borrow to finance infrastructure it should be careful about the total national debt, which has increased from $2 billion in 2006 to more than $4 billion in 2012. What we need more than ever is a national and collective leadership to address the chronic problem of low growth, low employment, low confidence levels and low investment. This can come through inclusive political and economic institutions for all our people and these can be achieved through inclusive political dialogue.

In a recent paper I said the following and I think I was very generous: In the area of economic policy, the Bainimarama government has done some ‘cleaning up’. This includes dismantling the telecom monopoly and not pandering to powerful indigenous Fijian interest in land and other natural resources, and also dealing firmly with powerful business interests. On the negative side, the overall thrust of looking inward to consider import substitution strategies may be a regressive step.

Commodore Frank Bainimarama, notwithstanding the many controversial decisions on issues since the military coup of 2006, has the best chance as a Fijian leader to leave a legacy of good economic and political institutions for the future generations. Commodore Bainimarama and his government is probably at a stage where it needs support and probably better advice on its strategy in moving the process of building confidence and national reconciliation in a sustainable manner. It is also incumbent on Commodore Bainimarama to deal with the issue of the Fiji military – its size, its role in future and how to prevent more coups.

However, it is now extremely disappointing to see the twists and turns with respect to the planned adoption of the new Constitution and the proposed elections. Any Constitution and Election imposed against the will of the people will not be sustainable. The Bainimarama government can leave a legacy if it adopts a principled approach towards the formulation of the new Constitution and provides an environment for free and fair elections in 2014.

It is not too late for the government to form a Constituent Assembly to debate both the Ghai draft and the Government 2013 Draft and arrive at Constitution which could have broad support in the country. However, if we continue with the twists and turns and do not adopt an inclusive and transparent process to implement a new constitution and have free and fair elections, we will not be able to restore confidence in this country in the short to medium term. Our economic woes are likely to continue.


Anonymous said...

the professor's overall message for the re-building of an inclusive democratic fiji is a good one.
but some weakness in his analysis.
I point out two quick ones:
1. the civil service continues to be rather shitty not only because of "entrenched racism and provincialism" as pointed out by prof.BC but also because of the militarization of the civil service. I don't know how he missed that.
2.it is not up to commodore bainimarama "to deal with the issue of Fiji' Military - its size, its role in future and how to prevent coups". the Fiji military does not belong to Commodore bainimarama. It is for the people of fiji to deal with that critical issue and make a determination on the place of the Fiji military in fiji society of the future.

Radiolucas said...

Frank Bainimarama's motto has been from 6 November 2006: no debate, no discussion, no criticism, no way but his way.

The cassava patch sprinter is a mad king, leading us all in his madness.

Anonymous said...

Sorry, Biman. Not impressed. Too much palaver chasing too few thoughts. You're trying too hard not to upset Cranky Franky, but how else will you ever tell the truth?

mark manning said...

It's not rocket science!
All Fijians have to respect the Rule of Law under the Constitution and if any are not happy, leave.

Anonymous said...

It is way too late for this gang and they have no intention of re-embarking on the Ghai Constitution or the CA. They much prefer the treasonous path

Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

Biman just give it up. What are you pitching for? The seed you are planting is just to gain mileage for your political ambition. Ain't working at all.

Useless Professors said...

In typical Biman fashion, the presentation pretends to be hard-hitting, but skirts around the main issues, with a lot of double-talk, bit of criticism mixed with masi polo of cranky franky just to be on the safe side. Hollow, meaningless presentation, just like Biman himself, who always covers his own arse. With gutless professors like this, no wonder USP is up shit street. You could learn a thing or two about sincerity from Wadan narsey, Biman.

Anonymous said...

@Useless Professors

Trues up to the max bro! Typical Biman. I've lost respect for this guy like other academic pretenders at USP now.

Anonymous said...

Quote, In 2012, the starting salary of primary school teachers was $13,504, which was less than the annual wage of electricians and plumbers, unquote.

You just have to laugh at the ease of which some of these so called academics show how out of touch they are with the real world.

Why should he assume that a primary school teacher should have a higher status and pay than a plumber or electrician ?

How does he actually know the wages earned by plumbers and electricians ?

Sounds to me like this snob looks down on anyone that has the skills to use both their brains and hands at the same time.

Sorry idiot but your primary school teachers had the same choices as others, they chose the easy route and now want to whinge.

It's a case of supply and demand and technical hands on skills where everything is not determined or measured by reading a book are thought more highly of in this day and age, and appropriately paid for.

Anonymous said...

well at least the Vice Chancellow, President, ceo, and chief academic Rajesh Chandra is not a pretender. He is 100% Bainimarama goli!

Anonymous said...

Biman must not mix race AND the Group Rights of indigenous Fijians . Indigenous Fijians have a right to their collective and resources just like any private landholder. They must be consulted and given a fair return on the use of their lands and resources.He is pandering to the Regime's intention through Decree 36 2010 to give government authority (through illegal PM Bainimarama) the use of indigenous lands and resources.
In trying to promote this view he is myopic to the views of indigenous Fijians and their attachment to their customary lands.After having lived here and lectured at USP as an academic he has failed like others to appreciate this point. This in my opinion may hide an underlying "racist" attitude against indigenous Fijians which is shared by others like his colleague And like others who have said it he is just trying to cover his arse by giving supporting comments to this regime and by this he is not an academic but a well educated ball polisher.
Vijay Naidu.

Third grade professor said...

Give me a straight shooter like Wadan Narsey any day over hypocritical, third grade professors like Biman, who pretend to represent the public but have one eye on their fat USP salaries and another on their political career.

Self serving, smooth-talking and sophisticated regime ball polishers and political animals like Biman should be exposed for what they are: opportunists of the highest and most cunning order.

Anonymous said...

Biman is a snake - very cunning. He was a Bainimarama supporter all along...and when he discerns that the inevitable will happen, he now declares publicly that the regime was unproductive all along. Why didn't you, as an "ECONOMICS PROFESSOR" advised the regime earler as Wadan Narsey has been doing.
Guys, if you look at the Economics department at USP, you will find that most of those who were/are appointed had a South Indian Labasa connection.
This is nepotisim at the highest level through the influence of this man!

USP should get rid of him and his croonies quickly to minimise the rot.

USP's naked emperor VC Rajesh Chandra said...

Anon @ 1.27pm

Regime lackey, USP Vice Chancellor Rajesh Chandra is quite is quite the pompous idiot.

Look at all titles: USP Vice chancellor, President, ceo, chief academic...combine that with the coverage he is getting on usp website, it's enough to make even the North Korean dictator blush.

If only this Bainimarama goli was doing something useful at usp!

Anonymous said...

Well said Anon 1.52pm.

This is for so-called profesor biman so he can understand us Fijians better:

"For the Fijian community, their land is an extension of themselves. It is part of the
Fijian soul, and the concept of the "vanua" - the land and the people - lies at the heart
of Fijian identity. Land represents life and sustenance, race and culture, and Fijians
cling fiercely to their ownership of it - Ratu Mosese Volavola.

Anonymous said...

Interestingly, the 1970 Constitution provided communal seats as follows, reflecting the roughly equal numbers between the two major races:

Fijians - 22
Indians - 22
Others - 8

That the leaders of the time balked at taking definitive steps towards adopting more open seats is understandable, especially at that juncture of Fijian history, when not many ordinary i-taukei were well-educated and sufficiently informed AND "worldly-wise" or astute to-the-many-conniving-ways-of-the-world... to make the necessary, far-sighted and informed decisions and most importantly, to see it through - to sustain them, esp. with respect to all matters of control (both the direct and implied)- over their natural resources of which they are both owners and custodians.

Yes, it's always been about land and our natural resources given the nature of resource ownership in this country.

The draconian manner in which illegal AG Aiyaz & other shysters and their greedy cohort are pushing and rushing their agenda through, without proper and free engagement, informed consultations and transparent dialogue, between and with all stakeholders, is only making matters worse and will prove detrimental for the country in the long run.

Like many, I'll not be surprised if the junta calls for an early surprise election. TIME has never been on their side. The longer they hold on to illegal power - the more people are beginning to see the Naked Emperor and their Naked Empire for what they are - full of lies and deceit, all the way to the bank..

Yes, I totally accept that the previous Fijian administrations have been found wanting, but these treasonous assholes have done FAR MORE damage to the country than all previous administrations combined!

Lessons abound for everyone from this 2006 coup, esp. for the i-taukei! Enlighten & update yourselves or pay the price of your selfishness!

We all want a more just, equitable, prosperous, free Fiji but the junta is not the vehicle to get us there. Not then (Dec 2006), not now, not ever!

Anonymous said...

Hmmmm... just noting now some of the earlier comments... @ 1.52p.m. yes, I understand where you're coming from... of course, it's all about resource-control.

I simply don't understand how people like Biman think they can pull wool over people's eyes by asserting (indirectly) they know better than the resource owners of this country how to better manage natural resources. On the other hand, why can't resource owners seriously take steps to assert better control over what they own through the first steps of EDUCATION, EDUCATION and QUALITY EDUCATION! Cut out the greed, the biases, the corruption in and amongst the i-taukei or this is what we get: having to deal with the Bimans of this world.

I recall some 2 or 3 years back, a speech Mr. Biman from USP gave at some public seminar. He was "clearly" a strong coup-apologist trying very hard (unsuccessfully I should add) to come across as an impartial academic. Mai yaso.

Anyway, I was amazed at how he strongly emphasized that its time the people of Fiji focus on PEACE and PROSPERITY. Imagine that! This was his statement coming on the back of the junta's open attacks and threats of violence and torture on anti-coup, anti-junta dissidents! The cheek of him to suggest that the people should focus on "peace and prosperity."

Too bad that no one in that audience had the nerve to throw a shoe at his face and tell him that its PEACE AND JUSTICE that are the two sides of the same coin, and NOT his bullsh!t "peace and prosperity".

If you're reading this Mr. Biman from USP, pls don't ever forget:

~D.D. Eisenhower

Peace brother... and Justice! Acha.

Anonymous said...

The higher the human ape climbs the more arse it shows. USP Vice chancellow,puppet has done that - very ably! But to be fair to him he is not the only. there are other arse showing human apes both in USP and outside who have done that by taking up high posts in the illegal Bainimarama regime or trying to defend the regime as lackeys.
if anyone has doubts about this climbing high and showing arse phenomenon remind yourself about the dog stealing ambassador!

machiavellian said...

To Anon@ 3:57pm:

I can vouch you comment about abuse of position, cronyism and rot created by Bimans disastrous and unethical leadership at faculty of business and economics. Biman is machiavellian. He appointed his friend Dr Rohit Kishore from Labasa through back door.

Rohit Kishore is supporter of Bainimarama and before he was the permanent secretary in government. Rohit Kishor is failed academic from Australia but Biman show favourtism and appoint without advertisement. Rohit kishore was fired from USP for academic fraud. He is now running Suva hotel. Biman is failure as head faculty but talk big in the media only to save face. All talk no substance. He should resign when rohit sacked for academic cheating but biman have no shame or honour.

Anonymous said...

Biman preach one thing in public and practice the opposite. Too much talk of transparency, accountably and fairness but not practice as dean of FBE. Just like his guru mahen chaudhry, he do opposite of what he preach to others.

Big yawn said...

I was at this FTU convention and dozed through this boring, rambling, vacuous, neither here nor there presentation. This so called over paid professor is repetitive and he is boring.

Big yaaawn.

Anonymous said...

FICTU/FTUC merger will not happen because neither Attar not Felix wants to give up their political grandstanding.It is for their selfish political vendetta that there will not be any merger. Workers in Fiji will continue to suffer because of these two individuals.

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