A constipated nation

A constipated nation

By Yellow Bucket
Wednesday 10/04/2024

Contemplating seemingly endless amounts of rain pour from the sky over the last month or so and the ironic lack of water in our taps has not left YB in the happiest of places.

It seems, and this is a perception not necessarily a reality, that Fiji is stuck in an endless loop of recrimination and inaction. Reflecting on the best way to describe the feeling and CONSTIPATION came to mind. A little like that bloated feeling post an Easter weekend where way too many hot cross buns and Easter eggs have stopped up the normal digestive process.

As the Government tours the country seeking “consultation” on the next development plan, one gets the sense that those in power are desperately searching for answers as to what to do next. The consultations, largely led by bureaucrats, are a display of democracy but really, beyond hearing yet again about the dire state of our national infrastructure what’s the point. Years ago, pre a general election YB recalls a fijivillage news team interviewing citizens on the street about what they thought the next Government should do. A lady in the Nausori market summed it up “JUST FIX THE f!@#ING ROADS!”.

What the taxpayers need is a government that drives change i.e. FIX THE…….! In the words of the great Elvis Presley “A little less conversation, a little more action, please”.

This brings us to a key cause of our “constipation”. The coalition government inherited a nation carrying a fair amount of debt, whether it was too much is a matter for debate, the result of a nasty habit of wasting funds on vanity projects and handouts. However, it also inherited an economy recovering quickly, thanks to a tourism boom, and flush with cash partly due to lack of investment but also the $100 million a month arriving via remittances.

In short, not great but not disastrous, with opportunity for growth. As the year unfolds the global economy is decelerating putting pressure on our “golden goose” tourism and YB understands some economists in high places are suggesting Fiji may contract i.e. go into recession in 2024.

How to respond? Time to reach for the laxative and free up the spending. Now we are not saying go crazy, YB is just calling for the Government to spend what they budgeted. Yes that’s right the Ministry of Finance, which thanks to structures created by our previous Government, holds a firm hand on the public “purse”, needs to spend less time wandering the countryside and more time spending budgeted funds!

Second, stop talking about freeing up Government driven processes and make it happen. With bank lending interest rates at extreme lows entrepreneurs are announcing various projects but are they happening? Truth be told most, including a number not yet announced, are tied up navigating their way through our various regulatory ministries. It’s year two and the excuse, “look at what we inherited”, is wearing thin. Investors want action.

If all of that wasn’t enough of an entrepreneurial challenge once the project is finally approved they need the skilled talent to construct and ultimately operate. After some promising announcements re freeing up work permits etc YB understands approvals have slowed considerably leaving investors frustrated and angry.

Now to recrimination. The Justice system plays a critical role in cleansing society by holding individuals to account in open court for past criminal behaviour BUT when it is used as a tool for oppression, as it has in the past, or to exact vengeance it has the opposite effect.

With the return to democracy following the election of the Coalition Government, YB expected that a prime focus would be the rebuilding of an independent system of justice that was able to speedily hold those who have breached the law to account. We recognise the damage done over the last 16 or so years. It created a climate of fear with citizens waiting for that knock on the door to be told they were entering a process that meant potentially years of harassment and no hope of fair and independent justice.

Adding to the challenge is the fact that the previous Government’s passion for excessive and poorly reviewed legislation has left a multitude of legal trip wires running across Fiji society. These are, quite deliberately, particularly prevalent in the legislation surrounding our electoral system. These “trip wires” have been exposed of late by an Australian based whistle blower who has taken upon themselves to file a blizzard of complaints against a huge range of politicians and now members of the Commission. The complaints are no secret because they have been filed by email copied to pretty much everyone who is anyone. Incredibly in responding to these complaints various institutions are replying all! This public correspondence reveals a system paralysed by indecision with different bodies all pointing at each other to take action.

In the latest development, allegations have been made that the position of the Acting Supervisor of Elections, who was expected to have been confirmed early in the year, is now under threat.

At the heart of an effective system of justice is a process that protects the innocent and efficiently prosecutes the guilty. This in turn requires individuals at progressive levels in the process to be able to make decisions on the likelihood of guilt or innocence. It starts with the investigative officer and progresses up through Director of Public Prosecutions and then to the courts. At each stage calls need to be made as to whether the “case” in question has merit, i.e there is sufficient evidence. It is critical that this process be INDEPENDENT, particularly from political interference, sadly, in the past, that hasn’t been the case. This has led to nearly every case being passed on to the courts, trivial or not, clogging up the judicial process.

Every citizen must feel their rights are secure and held to account in a fair and transparent manner. If they don’t have confidence that this is the case, we open ourselves to the possibility of an endless cycle of vengeful prosecution. To stress criminal behaviour must be prosecuted but it must be proven “beyond reasonable doubt” by a justice system respected by all. Failure to deliver in this critical area will block our attempts to move on as a nation and the consequences will be far more severe than a sore stomach.

In summary, there is a growing sense Fiji is spinning in circles tangled in a variety of webs, some historical, some the product of an inexperienced public service and some the result of the lack of decisive leadership. Please someone take charge!

For more Yellow Bucket opinion pieces click: HERE

Opinion Note

Long time fijivillage users may remember the Yellow Bucket opinion column that ran in the years leading up to the 2006 coup. Well following the repeal of the MIDA Act we are delighted to announce that YB is back!

The Yellow Bucket is something of a Communications Fiji Ltd institution…. Yes it exists…. A real Yellow Bucket that the CFL team and visitors gather around after work to drink grog and discuss the day. Legend has it that every Fiji Prime Minister has at some stage enjoyed a bilo from the bucket.

The YB column ran from 2003 to early 2007 when it was shut down under extreme pressure from the military government. Later the MIDA Act specifically forbade any use of nom de plums or pseudonyms requiring every published article to have a named author.

So why the pseudonym. The YB column was and will continue to be a product of group thinking and discussion, so it would be impossible and a little unfair to attribute it to a single author.

It will continue to provide fact-based opinion offering context to the complex and constantly unfolding story, that is our home Fiji. We stress, FACT BASED…. No rush to judgement here ….. Our aim will be to run weekly but that could change depending on the situation.

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