of vote of equal value: This is clearly a case of gerrymandering
and involves the demarcation of constituencies using
geographical boundaries, and, in the case of the
indigenous people, along provincial boundaries resulting
in unequal distribution of voters. The use of provincial
boundaries for Fijian constituencies were first adopted in
the 1990 Constitution and is highly undemocratic. It
discriminates on an intra-racial basis and denies
indigenous voters a vote of equal value. For example, a
small province such as Serua with 2000 voters gets
one parliamentary seat the same as Nadroga with more than 11,000
votes. Similarly, the largest indigenous province, Ba,
with 16,750 voters has two seats, the same as Cakaudrove
in the north east with 13, 000 voters. In comparison, all
Indian communal constituencies have 6000 or more voters
current system of demarcating electoral boundaries puts
Fijians in the western areas of Fiji clearly at a
disadvantage. The objective is to ensure the continued
political supremacy of chiefs from the east and north who have
held the reins of power since colonial times. It should also
be noted that Fijians in the West, the cane belt areas, are
more closely integrated with the Indian community. It is not
mere chance that the 1987 and the 2000 coups were against
governments dominated by a coalition of Fijians and Indians
from the West. They presented a challenge to the status quo.
Both Dr. Bavadra and Mahendra Chaudhry were Prime Ministers
from the west.
of Power Sharing Provisions
political leaders, in their search for a lasting solution to
Fiji's racial problems and to avoid the excesses of the past
decade, espoused the concept of power sharing in the 1997
was a significant and deliberate paradigm shift from the
Westminster model of earlier constitutions, perceived to have
been unsuitable for Fiji's plural society and race-based
power sharing provisions of the Constitution are set out under
Section 99 (3) (5) (9) - (Appendix 1) and make it
mandatory for any political party with 10% or more seats in
Parliament to be included in the governing cabinet.
99 (3): The Prime Minister must establish a multi-party
Cabinet in the way set out in this section comprising such
number of Ministers as he or she determines.
In establishing the Cabinet, the Prime Minister must invite
all parties whose membership in the House of Representatives
comprises at least 10% of the total membership of the House to
be represented in the Cabinet in proportion to their numbers
in the House.
In selecting persons from parties other than his or her own
party for appointment as Ministers, the Prime Minister must
consult with the leaders of those parties.
Minister Laisenia Qarase has wilfully and deliberately flouted
this provision for a multi-party Cabinet. The Fiji government
is therefore unconstitutional and undemocratic.
the 2001 general elections, the only party, other than the
governing SDL Party of Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase that met
the qualifying criteria was the Fiji Labour Party (FLP) with
28 parliamentary seats compared to 32 seats held by the SDL.
The FLP led by former Prime Minister Mahendra Chaudhry
(deposed in the 2000 coup) is entitled to 8 Cabinet positions
under this criteria.
Qarase violated the power sharing provisions of the
Constitution by refusing Mr. Chaudhry and the FLP places in
his cabinet. The matter went to court and FLP's right to
participate in Cabinet has been upheld by both the High Court
and the Fiji Court of Appeal.
a bid to frustrate the process further, Mr Qarase insisted on
appealing to the final appellate court, the Supreme Court
which has yet to hear the case.
Fiji Labour Party having secured all 19 Indian communal seats
in the general election, is the only party representing the
interests of Indians in Parliament. Mr. Qarase's refusal to
accommodate the FLP in his Cabinet, is a violation of the
constitutional rights of the Indian community. It has also
denied the Indian community, constituting 44% of Fiji's
population and paying 80% of the country's taxes, its
legitimate right to a say in the national decision making
Prime Minister's obduracy in the matter is clearly an
extension of his racist and discriminatory policies against
the people of Indian origin as manifest in his affirmative
action policies for the indigenous people (on which more will
be said later in this report). In effect, Mr. Qarase whose
cabinet is composed largely of die-hard nationalists who
supported the 2000 coup, is fulfilling the agenda of the
instigators of the coup under the cloak of legitimacy.
can be no doubt that the underlying motive of the 2000 coup
was racial. Mr Chaudhry was removed as Prime Minister because
he is an Indian - this agitation against him as an Indian
prime minister began the day he took office.
it was a small group of disgruntled politicians who had lost
power, failed businessmen and a few big business interests who
felt threatened by his government's determination to stamp out
corrupt practices and move towards greater social equity and
justice. As usual, they hid their selfish agenda behind the
race card, whipping up emotions and arousing fears of Fijian
interests being threatened. Even then, the coup lacked popular
support and finally deteriorated into a violent power struggle
between indigenous forces.
his release, the post coup power bloc (the President, the army
and the interim administration - all made up of indigenous
Fijians) ganged up against him refusing to restore him and his
government back into office.
and the Indian-backed Fiji Labour Party had to resort to legal
battles every inch of the way to fight for their rights - even
then the post coup authorities (the President, the army and
the interim administration installed by the military) used
devious tactics to deny him political justice. The fact that
the courts have ruled in favour of Mr. Chaudhry and the FLP in
every one of the cases so far, only goes to prove the
legitimacy of their grievances.
internationally famous Chandrika Prasad judgement (a case
taken up by the Fiji Human Rights Commission on behalf of a
farmer dispossessed during the coup) by the Fiji Court of
Appeal in March, 2001 declared the coup illegal and the
People's Coalition Government the rightful government of Fiji.
It found that the Army commander had acted illegally in
abrogating the Constitution and in declaring himself executive
authority; that the interim post-coup administration was
illegal and that it did not have popular backing.
of complying with the court ruling, the Fijian oligarchy
staged its own coup. It executed a series of conjuring tricks
to circumvent the law in order to keep Mr. Chaudhry and his
government out of office. As the legal Prime Minister, Mr.
Chaudhry had certain constitutional duties to perform - among
them the need to consult him to appoint a President.
acting President, Ratu Josefa Iloilo dismissed Mr Chaudhry as
Prime Minister in a move that was clearly unlawful. He
appointed a Minister in the deposed Chaudhry government (Ratu
Tevita Momoedonu) who owed him personal allegiance as his
chief, as puppet prime minister for 24 hours to get himself
elected as President and to have the usurper advice him on
dismissing Parliament. He then called fresh elections in late
August that year and installed Laisenia Qarase rather than
Mahendra Chaudhry as head of a caretaker government to lead
the country to elections.
the report of the Commonwealth observer mission declaring the
2001 general elections free and fair, it has now been
established that Mr. Qarase and his interim team in office had
abused $30 million of taxpayers' money to buy votes, so
determined were they to retain power. (Appendix 2)
Deed of Cession of 1874 which ceded Fiji to Great Britain is
generally regarded by the Fijians as their Magna Carta,
giving them inalienable rights over the colony's land.
Paragraph 4 of the Deed states as follows:
the absolute proprietorship of all lands, not shown to be now
alienated, so as to have become bona fide the property of
Europeans or other foreigners or not now in the actual use or
occupation of some chief or tribe, shall be and is hereby
declared to be vested in Her Majesty, her heirs and
clause clearly gives no such rights. However, Australian
Professor Spate regarded as an authority on the Fijian people,
in his 1959 report Fijian People Economic Problems and
Prospects explains the inalienable theory:
the original meaning and intent of these words, the whole
trend of British policy in Fiji…and repeated assurances from
the highest quarters have given prescriptive validity to the
principle of inviolability of Fijian lands."
the legitimacy of the claim, Fiji's migrant Indian population
has never challenged, and in fact has always accepted, the
inviolability of Fijian land rights. All they ask for is that
land be made accessible for their use on terms that ensure
reasonable long term security of tenure and rents.
ownership in Fiji
per the policies of the British colonial government, a Native
Lands Commission in the 1880s delineated native land, setting
aside 84% of all available land for Fijian and Rotuman use as
the following table shows:
84% native land was made inalienable - it could not be sold or
change hands even within the indigenous community. The 8%
Crown land also comprised about 200,000 acres (3.5% of total
land area) of what is known as Crown Schedule A&B Lands on
which more will be said later. Of the available freehold land,
the vast majority was held by Europeans and Part Europeans -
constituting 5.5% of total land area. Indians despite their
numbers (the largest population group) owned only about 1.7 of
total land area.
the past few years, the State has acquired more freehold land
with the intention of converting them to native land. Most
significant of these purchases has been the acquisition of
75,000 acres (constituting 1.7% of total land area) of
freehold land initially owned by the CSR Company. Add to this,
the 3.5% land area under Schedule A&B lands which was
converted to native land this year by the SDL Government of
Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase.
a result of these recent acquisitions, the natives now own at
least 90% of all land in Fiji. Despite this, the Qarase
government has allocated funds in its national budget to
purchase freehold land up for sale to add to the native
coffers as part of its nationalist agenda to return all lands
to native owners.
a landless community
restricted land available to other communities, it was
inevitable that as the colony developed and its population
grew, the pressure for land would increase creating conflict
among the races on the issue. Over the decades both before and
after independence, the vexed question of land has raised its
ugly head in various forms and shapes, emerging, particularly
after the 1987 coups, as a major grievance of the Indian
community which sees its landlessness as a gross form of
discrimination and a denial of its right as citizens of Fiji.
grievance has its roots in the fact that Indians, although
largely landless, is the main community engaged in commercial
agriculture in particular sugar cane cultivation. As such,
they are forced to lease land from native landowners on terms
and conditions that have been a continual source of friction
between the two communities.
statutory authority, the Native Lands Trust Board was
formed in 1940 to administer native lands and to lease them
out for agricultural, commercial and residential uses.
lands are reserved exclusively for use by natives. The surplus
is rented out. Reserves declared some 50 years ago remain not
fully utilised while the State keeps grabbing more State land
and converting it to native ownership (Schedule A&B lands
are some 200,000 acres, ownership of which could not be
determined at the time the Native Lands Commission sat in
1880. Schedule A lands are those that reverted to the Crown
because the land owning unit had become extinct and Schedule B
lands are those for which no claims were made at the time.
claim the land is theirs and should be returned to them. From
colonial times successive governments have from time to time
considered reverting the land to native ownership but could
find no moral justification for doing so.
issue was examined by the Commission of Inquiry into the
Natural Resources and Population Trends of the Colony of Fiji,
1959, headed by Professor Alan Burns. The Burns Report
said it could find no moral reason for the transfer and
advised against it:
our view there is no legal or moral reason why Government
should give up control of Schedule A or Schedule B lands,
which should be held in trust for the benefit of the Colony as
a whole for leasing or otherwise."
for the transfer of Schedule A and B lands became more
strident after 1987 but even the Rabuka military regime and
his government (1992-99) baulked at taking the final step.
Qarase, however, apparently had no qualms about rushing in
where 'angels' fear to tread. His government moved in soon
after the elections to table legislation in Parliament to
transfer the said lands to native ownership. It bulldozed the
legislation through despite strong pleas from the opposition
Fiji Labour Party to hold the land in trust for the use of
other landless communities.
can the Prime Minister justify giving more land to a community
that already owns close to 90% of all land in Fiji when
thousands of Indian tenant farmers are being made landless and
44 of the Fiji Constitution makes it incumbent on the
government to make provisions for affirmative action policies
to ensure effective equality of access to disadvantaged people
Parliament must make provision for programmes designed to
achieve for all groups or categories of persons who are
disadvantaged, effective equality of access to:
education and training
(b) land and housing; and
(c) participation in commerce and in all level and branches of
service of the State
and the eviction of Indian farmers
land problems in the 1940s and 1950s and the realization that
Indian tenant farmers (mainly cane farmers) were being leased
land on highly exploitative terms, prompted the British
Government before its departure from Fiji to regulate all
agricultural land deals under a liberal policy fair both to
tenants and landowners.
result was the legislation in 1966 of ALTO (the Agricultural
Landlord and Tenant Ordinance) which granted a minimum 10-year
tenancy with entitlement to two further 10 year extensions (a
maximum of 30 years) at a rental of 6% of the UCV (unimproved
capital value of land), to be reviewed every 5 years.
get the land back, landowners had to argue hardship before the
legislation was reviewed in 1976 following wide discontent
with certain of its provisions. Its successor ALTA, the
Agricultural Landlord and Tenant Act, kept the maximum 30-year
lease term but granted a straight 20 year lease at the expiry
of the first 10 years. Unfortunately, ALTA removed the
hardship clause which meant that at the expiry of 30 years,
the leased land had to revert to native owners since there was
no provision for further renewal in the Act - this significant
omission has come to haunt Indian tenant farmers now with
leases expiring. Hapless farmers are being evicted and made
destitute overnight by the hundreds. So far some 4000 Indian
farmers have been displaced and dispossessed on expiry of
30 years, however, ALTO/ALTA had brought a high degree of
stability and prosperity to the agricultural sector and, in
particular, to the sugar industry which in turn ensured
economic stability because of sugar's strategic importance to
the national economy. A point worth noting is that ALTA, while
it does not provide for lease extensions, does not actually
prohibit issuance of new leases under it for a further 30-year
Racial Politics and land
of its racial overtones, the land problem has always been a
volatile political issue. It has become more so since the 1987
coups which brought underlying racial tensions to the surface.
With leases due to expire from 1997 onwards, the political
leadership became conscious of the looming national
catastrophe should the land problem not be resolved amicably
and a successor to ALTA found. Quite apart from the social
consequences of the non renewal of leases, sugar is Fiji's
highest net foreign exchange earner.
following the 1987 coups, the racial environment was no longer
conducive to a satisfactory resolution of this impending
crisis in the cane fields.
returned to a flawed form of parliamentary democracy in 1992
with general elections held under the racist 1990
Constitution. Army strongman Sitiveni Rabuka returned as
elected prime minister albeit on a purely indigenous communal
ballot while the Indians were relegated to the role of
opposition. Although the Rabuka government in its 7-year term
in office continuously mouthed rhetoric on the need to find a
solution to the land problem, it lacked the political will to
by strong opposition to his leadership within his own party,
Rabuka dared not make any concessions to the Indians on land
about this time, a change in executive management took place
at the Native Lands Trust Board (NLTB), the statutory
authority which managed the leasing and administration of
native land. Under its new chief executive, Maika Qarikau, the
board shed its hitherto low political profile as a
quasi-government institution and became stridently racist and
political in its policies and public pronouncements.
sent tremors throughout the sugar industry and the political
landscape with his announcement that NLTB surveys had found
that 80% of landowners wanted their land back on the expiry of
ALTA leases. Long-held fears were finally coming true. The
Indian community finally faced the terrifying spectre of
landlessness and the looming catastrophe of social and
economic dislocation of evicted farmers on a massive scale.
was also very emphatic that the NLTB wanted all agricultural
leases under native land brought under the ambit of the Native
Land Trust Act (NLTA) and not issued under ALTA. But the
difficulty he faced is that the law requires all agricultural
leases to be issued under ALTA, irrespective of the ownership
of the land.
is an entrenched legislation which needs a two-thirds majority
vote in both Houses of Parliament before it can be scrapped.
This means that without Indian concurrence the legislation
could not be changed. However, the NLTB stance which was
adopted by the Rabuka government and all extremist Fijian
groups, needless to say, aroused the fears and apprehensions
of the Indian farming community.
a strategy to force Indian leaders to agree to their agenda,
the NLTB engaged in indiscriminate eviction of Indian farmers
from native land on expiry of leases. The game plan was that
by refusing to grant new leases under ALTA, the NLTB would be
putting pressure on Indian leaders who would be overwhelmed by
the large scale eviction of Indian farmers, and concede.
began expiring in September 1997. Since then, as the table
below shows, some 4000 farmers have been evicted from lands
they and their forefathers have farmed for generations. They
were kicked out without payment of any compensation for
improvements made to the land even though this was stipulated
under the terms of ALTA.
of Indian Farmers evicted since 1997
the 4221 leases expired since September 1997, 3323 are cane
leases. The tragedy is that of this total figure only 627 cane
leases have been renewed to sitting tenants. Many of these
are, however, only rural residential holdings and not farms.
justification for not renewing leases was that landowners
needed to farm the land themselves. Much of the land reclaimed
by the landowners, however, is fast reverting to bush with
consequential reduction in the sugar cane crop tonnage.
The $28,000 grant
Labour-led People's Coalition Government was of the view that
displaced farmers were the responsibility of the State and
should be assisted. The Social Justice charter of the
Constitution specifically required Parliament to make
provision for programs to ensure disadvantaged groups gained
effective equality of access to:
education and training
(b) land and housing; and
(c) participation in commerce and
(d) in all levels and branches of service of the State
was incumbent on the State to provide relief to tenant farmers
who were becoming destitute overnight with no source of income
to support their families and nowhere to go. The government
decided to allocate a rehabilitation grant of $28,000 as a
one-off payment with which they could start another
livelihood. At the same time, incoming landowner/farmer was
also helped by way of farm inputs and implements to the value
of $10,000 per farmer.
$28,000 grant was worked out on the basis of what it would
have cost Government to resettle and rehabilitate each
displaced farmer. Government thought it was a fair and
equitable long term solution to Fiji's vexed land problem.
total of 206 farmers benefited from the $28,000 grant
in the one year it was in operation before it was scrapped by
the illegal post coup regime - a cruel move that has caused
immense hardship to displaced Indian farmers and their
families. (Appendix 3)
The suffering of Displaced Farmers
suffering in the cane belts of Fiji since September 1997 has
been an unspeakable tragedy. The picture is grim - severe
social and economic dislocation as some 12,000 or more Indian
families - something like 60,000 men, women and children - are
forced off the land, and deprived of their livelihood.
Fiji, it is a completely new, and potentially explosive,
category of poverty - landless people with no prospects and
little chance of anything but bare survival. In the fast
deteriorating economic climate since the coup, there is little
likelihood that these displaced farmers will find alternative
and desperate, some of these farmers are now living as
squatters with friends and relatives or on neighbour's land.
In a number of cases, they were not even allowed to remove
their belongings or dismantle their homes by landowners eager
to move in. Schools in the cane district have reported a
marked drop in school rolls as farmers' children, unable to
meet expenses, dropped out of schools or as families of
evicted farmers migrated out from rural agricultural areas.
has also been widespread harassment and extortion. Farmers
desperate to get their expiring leases renewed have often been
forced by the landowners and the NLTB to run from pillar to
post. Landowners have demanded huge premiums for renewals and
on numerous instances farmers have fronted up with the money
only to find that the NLTB would refuse to endorse the deal.
The money is never refunded. (Appendix 5)
situation was particularly menacing in the months following
the 2000 coup when lawless elements from Fijian villages would
descend on Indian farmers, pillaging their subsistence crops
and demanding food and money almost on a daily basis.
families terrorised and dispossessed at the height of the coup
was widespread assault on Indian farms and properties, persons
and families of farmers in the mayhem unleashed by the 19 May
2000 coup. The victims received no protection from law
enforcement authorities. In Suva, mobs smashed, torched,
looted and ransacked Indian owned shops in the central city
area on the day of the coup. Loss and damage was estimated at
failure of the security forces, in particular the Police, to
take adequate action to curb the rioting, has often been
viewed by Indian victims as a racially discriminatory measure.
farming settlements in rural areas became the main target of
lawless elements. Although harassment was widespread even in
the cane districts of the West, the worst affected areas were
in the Tailevu/Naitasiri region and the island of Vanua Levu
in the north, which were the main centres of terrorist
Muaniweni Attacks and Refugee status
dairy farming districts, about 80kms north of Suva are
isolated settlements right in the heart of the province from
where coup-maker George Speight and his rebels in Parliament
come. The Indians in this area are small time farmers involved
in either dairying, pig rearing or in ginger, pineapple or
root crop farming.
are a minority group living in an area with heavy
concentration of indigenous Fijians. The two races have
generally enjoyed good relations, schooling, eating, drinking
and playing together.
greater tragedy of May 19 is that friendly Fijian neighbours
overnight turned demoniacal, terrorising the very people they
had lived harmoniously with over decades. The sudden attacks
left Indian farmers in the area shocked and confused.
attacks started on May 19, the day of the coup.Groups of thugs
carrying cane knives and stones stormed the settlements in the
afternoon demanding food and money. If refused, they came at
night. Homes were stoned, set on fire, looted, and families
are reports of women and girls being raped although official
statistics are largely not available because rape continues to
go unreported as it is regarded as a social stigma. (Appendix
families spent their nights hiding in the bushes to avoid the
mob. Complaints to the police and army were ignored. In
desperation, Indian families in the area turned to
"friendly" Fijians for protection but often had to
pay for this "protection" in both cash and kind.
terrorised Indians were given no protection by the
law-enforcing authorities. Farmers of one particular
settlement reported their crops and livestock (cattle and
pigs) were forcibly seized and taken to feed the rebels and
hundreds of their supporters in the besieged Parliament. This
incident won notoriety because farmers claimed a police truck
was used to cart the food. They even provided the authorities
with the registration number of the truck.
is evidence that the instruction to use the police truck had
come from the Police Commissioner himself, the man who had
conveniently disappeared at the time of the street riots in
Suva on the day of the coup.
for the victims, finally arrived from the Fiji Human Rights
Commission and NGO's which assisted many of the terrorised
families when they left their homes to take refuge in Lautoka,
a city about 300 kms away relatively free from the racial
tension gripping the south and east. (Appendix 7)
in August 2000, long after the Government hostages in
Parliament had been released, the terrorism continued,
spreading to other areas. Residents tell of nights spent in
the bushes in the cold and pouring rain, to escape the mob.
went around with pieces of paper telling tenants their State
leases were expiring and they should vacate. In the Dawasamu
area, even owners of freehold land were targeted and told to
leave. When they refused to do so, their homes were torched.
Once residents left, their homes were ransacked and in many
cases everything stolen.
and vehicles were seized and families forced to buy protection
from "friendly" Fijians by giving them money and
food in return. So many cattle were slaughtered during the
period of unrest, that its effects are now being felt by Rewa
Dairy Company which faces an acute shortage of fresh milk for
is noteworthy that despite a lot of lip service paid to
bringing the culprits to justice, the point is that to date
not a single person has been convicted by the courts for the
thuggery, arson and terrorism that was widespread at the time.
makes it very clear that Indians are denied the protection of
the law and recourse to justice in this country.
Land used as a threat to curb
demands for rights
dependence on native land has left them at the mercy of
indigenous landowners who, aware of the strategic weapon at
their disposal, have time and again used it to threaten and
intimidate the Indian community and to restrain and curb their
demands for equal rights, political in particular. (Appendix
threats have surfaced each time Indians have fought for their
political rights: eg. at the time of the 1987 coups and the
2000 coup; whenever cane farmers have staged harvest boycotts
in their struggle for justice and in protest against
exploitation. There have been threats of "blood will flow
in the streets", leases will be taken away and so on.
Denial of access roads
have been other instances of excesses and injustices committed
against the landless Indian community. Settlements and schools
that are built on or near native land often find themselves
subjected to extortionate levies and rental for use of the
the case of schools, these have been forcibly closed and
students denied access to classrooms for days because
financially strapped school committees are unable to meet the
exorbitant rentals demanded by the landowners. (Appendix
are also cases when residents of a settlement are denied the
use of access roads unless they pay unreasonable levies to
nearby villagers or the landowning unit. This is clearly
extortion and a breach of fundamental human rights. (Appendix
tragic plight of Nabitu residents
case of Indian settlers at Nabitu is one of these notorious
incidents where residents have been subjected to harassment
and extortion for years for use of an access road. Despite the
case being highlighted in the Media, exposure in Parliament
and reports with the Fiji Human Rights Commission, the
residents of Nabitu are still suffering and attempts to
address this gross violation of their human rights has not
succeeded. The Fiji Human Rights Commission is finding it
extremely difficult to function effectively because of
financial constraints caused by Government's failure to
provide adequate funding for the Commission. (Appendix 14)
denied the protection of law
is clearly a criminal case yet the law has failed to grant
justice to these people. Even in the case of schools that are
harassed and forced to close, Police are often slow to take
any action against the offenders. Similarly, complaints by
Indian tenant farmers of harassment, extortion, unlawful
eviction from farms by members of the landowning unit are not
actioned by the Police. They are told the case is of a civil
nature and they have to take the matter to court.
Injustice and Discrimination
1987 the practice of institutionalised racial discrimination
by the State, disguised as affirmative action for the
indigenous people, has become blatant, in gross violation of
the principals and provisions of the ICERD Convention. It also
violates 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.
articulates strong principles of social justice and
affirmative action for the disadvantaged in society. In fact, Section
44 (Appendix15) of the Constitution, the Social Justice
provision, instructs Parliament to enact legislation aimed at
providing equal access on four specific State services. It is
very clear on a non-racial approach to affirmative action:
Parliament must make provision for programmes designed to
achieve for all groups or categories of persons who are
disadvantaged, effective equality of access to:
education and training
b) land and housing; and
c) participation in commerce and in all level
and branches of service of the State
goes on to specify definite criteria and timeline 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
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 not must not impinge on or deny the rights of
another citizen who is not a beneficiary under the scheme:
programme established under this section must not directly or
indirectly, deprive any person not entitled to its benefits
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.
Justice Act: discriminatory and unconstitutional
post coup interim administration backed by the military and
headed by Laisenia Qarase had come up with what it called the
Blueprint for Affirmative Action for the Indigenous People
(Appendix 16) as part of its ultra nationalist viewpoint and
to win popular Fijian support.
December 2001, the SDL government of Prime Minister Laisenia
Qarase bulldozed this Blueprint through Parliament as the Social
Justice Act despite strong opposition from all other
political parties to its blatantly discriminatory provisions.
obdurately pushing the legislation through, the Prime Minister
has revealed his dictatorial attitude and utter contempt for
the principles of and processes of democracy; not to mention
the arrogance with which he continues to flout the Fiji
Constitution when it conflicts with his racist policies.
pushing the programme through he defied the letter and spirit
of the Compact to the Constitution; he breached provisions of
the Social Justice charter and flouted prescribed procedures
and conventions for dealing with important legislation.
arrogantly ignoring opposition to the Social Justice Bill, the
Prime Minister was in blatant breach of The Compact
(chapter 2) (Appendix 18) of the Constitution which makes it
very clear that any such legislation must have the support of
6 (k): Affirmative action and social justice programmes to
secure effective equality of access to opportunities,
amenities or services for the Fijian and Rotuman people, as
well as for other communities, for women as well as for all
disadvantaged citizens or groups, are based on an allocation
of resources broadly acceptable to all communities;
the equitable sharing of political power amongst all
communities in Fiji is matched by an equitable sharing of
economic and commercial power to ensure that all communities
fully benefit from the nation's economic progress.
was a deliberate lack of public consultation on the
Bill. The Constitution makes it mandatory for important
legislation to be subjected to scrutiny by the appropriate
Parliamentary sector select committee which would call for
public submissions on the subject, particularly on
controversial subjects such as affirmative action policies.
SDL government gave a mere five days, two falling over
the week-end, for the committee to place advertisements in
local papers calling for submissions on the Bill from the
public, hearing the submissions and presenting its report back
to the House of Representatives. Within this highly restricted
time frame, the sector select committee had no time to
deliberate fully on the proposed legislation.
recommendation that the Bill be held back for wider
consultations, was ignored by the government. The government
was in such a hurry, it suspended House standing orders to
bulldoze this important legislation through during the Budget
sitting of Parliament just before the Christmas break. Similar
tactics were used in the upper House, the Senate.
marked contrast to this very hurried passage of the Social
Justice Act was the government's treatment of the Family Law
Bill following criticism from some indigenous clergy of the
Methodist Church of Fiji, a largely indigenous institution,
rather notorious for the fundamentalist and extremist stance
of a number of its senior ministers. The SDL government gave
the Methodist Church an additional four months to consult with
its members on the Bill.
People's Coalition Government (PCG deposed in the 2000 coup)
had also rushed through a Social Justice Bill in July 1999 as
an interim measure. The Bill was, however, non discriminatory,
based on the principle of need, of social and economic
disadvantage and not race.
was because the PCG was constrained by the Constitution to
have this consequential legislation in place by 27 July 2000
or else all existing programmes would have lapsed and
government would not have been able to legally spend money on
1997 Constitution had specified a definite time frame of two
years from its effective date of 28 July 1998 within which the
legislation had to be in place. The People's Coalition
Government which had come into office in May, 1999, in order
to comply with the law, decided to validate all existing
programmes and then go for a review of the legislation
following proper consultations with the people.
under the Social Justice Act
on the SDL proposed Bill in Parliament on 7 December, 2001,
former Prime Minister Mahendra Chaudhry denounced it as
unconstitutional and unlawful:
Bill as it stands is unconstitutional and unlawful. It is
discriminatory and racial in outlook in relation to a number
of programmes contemplated under it.
has the potential to breed resentment between the various
communities because of unequal treatment that it gives to
certain communities whose members face the same disadvantages
as members of the favoured communities who will be able to
access the programmes mentioned in the schedule to the Bill.
This aspect of the Bill has the potential to undermine
reconciliation in our nation at a time when we most seek to
build the bridges of ethnic goodwill and understanding among
our different peoples... The most dangerous and iniquitous
aspect of the Bill is that it portends the creation of a
racially segregated society in Fiji.
is no doubt that the Bill, if enacted in its present form,
will deny justice to all our people. It will deny equal rights
and equal opportunities of access to half the citizens of
(Fiji) under the guise of affirmative action. It will be a
travestry of the principles of social justice enshrined in our
Constitution. And worst of all, it will not help the vast
majority of the indigenous people in whose interest this
legislation, we are told, is being enacted. "
start off with, government has not given the selection
criteria it used to qualify the indigenous community as a
disadvantaged group, despite specific requirement in the
Constitution (Section 44) that the criteria used to select a
group for affirmative action be made very clear.
of the 29 affirmative action programmes listed in the Act do
not comply with the equality provisions of Section 38 of
the Constitution. At least 12 of the 29 are racially
discriminatory and offend Section 38: Programmes
1,2,7,10,12,13,14,15, and 28 being particularly objectionable.
action policies in Education for indigenous children have been
in place since independence. These include:
allocation of a special $5.5 million grant for Fijian
education administered by the Fijian Affairs Board for
from this, 50% of all State scholarships are reserved for
the indigenous community
lower qualifying criteria for Fijian students for entry
into tertiary institutions - entry marks for Fijian
students are much lower.
lowering of standards has actually had a detrimental effect as
shown by the very high dropout rate for Fijian students at USP
- averaging at about 68%. The failure rate for FAB
scholarships is as high as 76%. There has also been much abuse
with a number of scholarships being awarded to children of
well to do Fijians instead of on merit.
this favoured treatment, the Qarase administration has singled
out the indigenous community for further preferential
assistance in Education under the Social Justice Act, in
addition to the policies and special allocations already in
apart from the wastage of State funds on students lacking
merit, the policy is a source of much ethnic resentment. At a
time when hundreds of Indian children of displaced farmers are
dropping out of schools out of poverty and even urban-based
children are facing hardships because of the economic crisis,
the government's favoured treatment to one ethnic group has
left the Indians and other disadvantaged communities feeling
deprived and frustrated. (Appendix 19, 20)
select for special assistance Fijian and Rotuman students in
Government run schools and in non-government schools. It
excludes all non-indigenous students even though they may be
more, or just as needy. It fails to distinguish between needy
or disadvantaged indigenous children and those who come from
wealthy parents; just as it fails to target the needy of all
provision is discriminatory to the point of being ludicrous.
There are only two government primary schools in the country
and 12 secondary schools. The rest, catering for almost 98% of
students, are schools run by religious or other community
organizations. All are multi-racial schools.
do you explain to a needy child sitting next to an indigenous
child who has received assistance from government in terms of
school fees, text books etc that he is not entitled to
government assistance because he is not a Fijian or a Rotuman.
Just because of his race he does not deserve assistance from
government in that integrated environment.
policy is ludicrous and impractical: take an instance where
government supplies computers, resource materials etc in an
integrated school. How do they ensure that only the indigenous
student benefits from the assistance? Or is it to be the
practice here for such schools to be excluded!
Programme 3 the targeted group is students in "neglected
and poorly managed schools." How come poor management
qualifies for affirmative action? The criteria should be all
under-resourced schools in urban as well as peri-urban centres.
13, 28 - Scholarships: there is a huge disparity in the qualifying
criteria for scholarships between the different racial groups.
While the non-indigenous community only access this programme
if their annual family income does not exceed $10,000, there
is no limiting income criteria for Fijian and Rotuman
students. This is not only blatant racial discrimination, it
also fails to provide a means test within the indigenous
community, and is open to abuse.
means that the children of the very rich in their communities
have the unfair privilege of being educated at taxpayers'
expense. Such practices make a mockery of affirmative
action policies and deny equal access and opportunity to those
who should really be helped.
actual implementation of the Act has exposed the extent to
which discrimination is being practiced against Indian
students and schools. An example is given below:
capita grant for secondary school students: The People's Coalition
Government had increased this grant to $18 per student.
Post-coup the interim administration had dropped it by 50% to
$9 per child ($US 4.5) because of financial constraints at the
should have been restored by the SDL government but was not.
At the same time, the government reduced the remission of fees
for secondary school students from $1.345 million to $800,000.
This is largely seen by the Indian community as a conspiracy
to deprive the poor and needy Indian student (and other
minority communities) of State assistance.
a time when the country is still suffering from the after
effects of the political upheaval of 2000 and levels of
poverty have escalated, the disadvantaged of other communities
are denied assistance while indigenous students continue to
receive stepped up financial and other assistance from the
government under its affirmative action programme (the Social
the government has allocated special funds for text books and
other resources for indigenous schools but has ignored the
needs of other schools.
a result of this discriminatory policy in education and the
rising poverty, the school roll instead of increasing yearly,
as it should, has dropped from 68,000 in the year 2000 to
about 62,000 current.
Discrimination on Land
desperate need for land for non-indigenous communities has
been highlighted in an earlier section. It therefore, creates
serious feelings of resentment and alienation when the Qarase
government instead of addressing the plight of the
disadvantaged in this area, provides assistance under the
Social Justice Act for Fijians to acquire even more land.
There is no shortage of land for the indigenous community -
much of their reserves are lying idle and waste.
- Provides interest free loans to Fijians who already own 90%
of all land in Fiji, to buy back ancestral land. This is
highly discriminatory and completely ignores the land needs of
other communities who are in fact landless.
particular, one has to note the humanitarian needs of
thousands of Indian tenant farmers who are being made homeless
and destitute overnight as their native leases expire and are
not renewed. The State has made no provision for the
resettlement and rehabilitation of these displaced families.
Even though it is required under Section 44 of the
Constitution to do so.
Discrimination in small business equity scheme
- is racially discriminatory. To qualify for the assistance,
the criteria for the indigenous community is that assets or
annual turnover or both must not exceed $100,000 but this is
reduced to $50,000 for other communities.
- There has been strong criticism from Indian political
parties to a soft loan scheme from the Fiji Development Bank
(justified as affirmative action) put in place by a previous
government. The scheme is open to all communities with the
exclusion of the Indian community.
have been other special government loans and grants to the
indigenous community such as the $20 million loan (likely to
be turned into a grant) to help Fijians acquire equity in
was used to capitalise Fijian Holdings, an investment
arm of the Fijian people which buys shares in blue-chip
companies and has been hugely successful. Unfortunately, the
benefits have largely accrued to a few elite Fijian families,
including the Prime Minister and a couple of other Cabinet
Ministers, who own the largest shares.
discrimination against the disadvantaged Indian, added to all
others, have made Indians feel like third class citizens, if
not pariah, in the country of their birth. Poverty studies
have shown that Indians are just as poor, if not more because
of their landlessness, as the indigenous community.
Discrimination in the Public Service
Indians are clearly at a distinct disadvantage in the civil
service and the armed forces yet the Social Justice Act fails
to address this grievance. Indians comprise only 34% of the
civil service - a situation clearly in breach of the
of the Social Justice charter of the Constitution is very
clear on equality of access to State services and employment:
the purpose of this section, an ethnic community is to be
taken as having effective equality of access to a level or
branch of service of the State only if it is represented there
in a number broadly proportionate to its number in the adult
population as a whole, unless its under representation is due
solely to its particular occupational preferences.
racial imbalance gets even worse in the upper echelons of the
service. For example, of the 21 Permanent Secretaries only two
are Indian. In the diplomatic service, out of eight heads of
mission only one is Indian. Two others are being recalled to
make way for SDL appointees, people closely associated with
the 2000 coup.
government departments also have a distinct anti-Indian bias:
the Public Works Department, for instance, no longer has an
Indian on its staff. This is also quite obvious in the
Ministry for Fijian Affairs.
discrimination also takes place in the allocation of State
scholarship awards for tertiary institutions, in the granting
of training opportunities both locally and overseas and in
appointments to boards and committees of statutory
Discrimination in the Security Forces
State has taken no action to address the serious racial
imbalance in the armed forces. Racial imbalance in the army
has been there from colonial times but there has been no
political will to redress this situation. Indians have a token
representation in the army - they constitute 0.6% of Fiji's
4000 soldiers. While representation in the Police force is not
as bad, in recent years, particularly after the 1987 coups, a
noticeable imbalance has emerged more so in senior positions
must be noted that the Fiji army has been a serious
destabilising force in Fiji politics and in race relations
here since 1987 when it staged its first coup to overthrow a
democratically elected government. Even though Fiji was
returned to civilian (but unelected) government within 7
months of the first coup, it was the army that held the actual
reins of power and called the shots almost until general
elections in 1992.
2000 again, a special forces unit of the Fiji Military Forces
stormed Parliament on May 19 using arms that had been secreted
out of the FMF arsenal to take government members hostage. The
army took over executive control soon after and negotiated the
release of Prime Minister Mahendra Chaudhry and his members 56
could have restored the status quo and returned the People's
Coalition Government to office on their release but chose not
to do so. The army command conspired with the President and
the interim administration to ensure that the results of the
coup were maintained after making sure that George Speight and
his co-conspirators were safely out of the way.
Police Force which has been infiltrated by army personnel
since the appointment of Isikia Savua, a former soldier, as
Police Commissioner. There is evidence of complicity in the
2000 coup of Commissioner Savua and some of his senior
officers. Indeed, the rebels in Parliament claimed Savua was
to have been their prime minister after the overthrow of
Parliament but had ditched them at the last minute. (Appendix
at the time of the coup, Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara who was
deposed by the army two weeks after the terrorist takeover of
Parliament, has publicly accused Mr. Savua and army Commander
Frank Bainimarama of engineering his removal.
Mr. Savua the crime rate, violent crime in particular has
escalated to dangerous levels, and the Police rate of
detection and arrests have fallen markedly. The main targets
are the Indian community.
moral of the story is that the Indian community and Indian
politicians can no longer trust either the army or the police
to safeguard their rights and ensure the security of an
elected government. Indeed, Fiji can no longer rely on the
security forces to maintain law and order.
is a very serious state of affairs and must be addressed if
Fiji is to return to lasting peace and multiracial harmony. It
cannot allow the rights of almost 50% of its citizens to be
trampled on at whim by disgruntled elements playing to their
own selfish agendas.
parity in the security forces is a must if the Indian
community, in particular, is to be ensured enjoyment of their
human rights and entitlements.
Discrimination in Housing
Housing assistance in rural areas - this is confined to the
Fijian, Rotuman and Banaban communities. Government will
provide two-thirds of the approved cost of the house in rural
is again highly discriminatory based on a race criteria. Since
poverty surveys have shown that Indian households in rural
areas are poorer than any other community, it would seem that
they are the more disadvantaged group and should be assisted
UNDP report on poverty found that housing was a major problem
in both urban and rural areas with 20% of the urban population
living in ac single room dwelling while 50% of all houses are
occupied by an extended family.
of the squatter population in the Suva city area shows that
the problem of housing is felt among all communities with
Indians being slightly worse off.
intolerance has become a feature of life in Fiji since the
resurgence of Methodist fundamentalism in the wake of the 1987
coups. Attacks on Hindu temples and desecration of Holy books,
statues of deities occur at regular intervals both in urban
and rural centres.
the time of the 1987 coups, religious intolerance was at its
peak with coup leader Sitiveni Rabuka banning all activities
on Sundays including transport facilities and sports at the
instigation of his Methodist supporters. Anyone found
breaching the ban was arrested and often subjected to torture
and beatings - invariably the victims were Indians.
1987 coups also for the first time raised calls for Fiji to be
declared a Christian state. Again the agitators were Methodist
fundamentalists and indigenous extremist groups and they
managed to get it included in the 1990 Constitution. It was
removed from the more liberal 1997 Constitution but the call
is revived from time to time - evidence that religious
intolerance is still prevalent among some sectors of society.
generally held perception that Indians are rich and do not
need affirmative action programmes are false. Studies dating
back to the early 90s show that there is no wide disparity in
levels of poverty between the two major races. In some sectors
such as the rural sector, Indians, in fact, have been found to
be poorer than the indigenous population.
speaking, levels of poverty are uniform among all racial
groups - it is a very serious social problem in Fiji. The
latest poverty survey by academics at the University of the
South Pacific show national poverty levels post-coup could be
as high as 60%, incredible as it seems. Clearly affirmative
action programmes cannot be confined to the disadvantaged in
any one race. There are equally disadvantaged people in all
communities. Any government that wilfully ignores this fact
can only be branded racist.
on poverty is usually difficult to get because there has not
been any official surveys within memory. The latest
independent survey is by the United Nations Development
Programme (UNDP) published in 1997 but using older data. The
report found that Indians are just as poor as any other
community in Fiji, if not more because of their landlessness.
Similar conclusions were reached by a World Bank country
report on Fiji in the early 1990s which found that overall
poor Indians just edged out the indigenous population.
highlights of the UNDP report are as follows:
- Indians constitute 54% of all poor households in rural areas
compared to 42% Fijians and 4% Others. On a national level
Indians constitute 50% of the total poor households. The
Fiji does not have a clearly defined rich or poor sector.
Poverty pervades all communities."
- Almost one-fifth of Indian children under five years are
underweight for their age and one-third in the 5-9 age group.
Across all communities: at least one in five children in Fiji
live in households that cannot afford a minimally sufficient
diet, health care, education costs, adequate accommodation and
other necessities of an adequate standard of living.
findings are based on data from the Household Income and
Employment Survey of the Bureau of Statistics dating back to
1991-92. There is absolutely no question that the situation
would have deteriorated greatly over the years, and in
particular after the 2000 coup.
Fijians are not a Disadvantaged
it must be pointed out that indigenous Fijians are not a
disadvantaged group unlike indigenous communities in a lot of
other countries. The provisions of the draft Convention on
Indigenous People does not apply to the indigenous people in
Fiji. This was also made very clear to Fijians here by the
Commonwealth Secretary General Hon Don McKinnon when he
visited Fiji at the time of the May 2000 coup.
in Fiji have always been a protected people, their rights and
interests are secure and entrenched:
paramountcy of indigenous interests, when in conflict with
that of other communities, is guaranteed in the Compact to
the 1997 Constitution. They have separate administrative
apparatus topped by the Great Council of Chiefs which is a
quasi-political body that looks after Fijian affairs and
safeguards their rights.
President of Fiji is always likely to be a Fijian since he
is nominated by the Great Council of Chiefs and appointed
by the President. They have a stranglehold on other key
constitutional positions: Commander of the army and navy,
Commissioner of Police, the Chief Justice. Apart from this
the Auditor General, the Attorney General, the Ombudsman,
most of the chairmen of statutory boards are ethnic
Fijians. Almost all top civil service positions
members of the Great Council of Chiefs exercise the power
of veto over any legislation that deals with entrenched
Fijian rights over land and other resources, and Fijian
customs and institutions
own 90% of all land in Fiji
own all the fishing rights, mineral resources, forestry
led and dominated governments have held power in Fiji for
the past 30 years. Anyone else who has taken over have
been swiftly removed (1977,1987,2000).
can be no doubt that Fiji's current government has
deliberately embarked on a path that aims to exclude and
marginalize the Indian community both politically and in terms
of their social and economic rights. In doing so, Fiji has
flouted key provisions of the ICERD Convention.
State itself is guilty of institutionalising racial
discrimination. It has formulated, legislated and implemented
policies which are strengthening racial divisions within the
major races and creating a disintegrated, apartheid society.
In this, the State has also blatantly flouted provisions of
the Fiji Constitution on formation of a multiparty government,
social justice and race relations in general.
within the Indian community at being relegated to the position
of third class citizens is very obvious. In the two years
since the May 2000 coup close to 11,500 people, mostly
professionals and people with skills have emigrated overseas.
The United States embassy in Suva has been staggered by the
fact that 250,000 Fiji people, mainly Indians, have applied
for its Green Card lottery. This is a quarter of Fiji's total
population. It shows the extent of despair and disillusionment
within the society.
measures are undertaken to arrest the dangerous racial path on
which Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase and his government is
headed, Fiji has no hope of returning to a stable, integrated
society. Indeed, the danger of Fiji developing more and more
into an apartheid society is quite real.