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Corrupt Necessity (Part 1)

This latest coup has quite cleverly been labeled as a “clean-up campaign” by the criminals who committed it. According to them, it is a clean up campaign to rid Fiji of corruption. I can only imagine what such noble cause will lead to. For many, this is nothing about ridding any corruption, but simply another coup. A coup much the same as those committed in the past and one that will lead to future ones.

Few days ago I had conversation with a colleague, agreeing with the premise that corruption can be cultural. Ours is a society with two large and distinct cultures. The Fiji Indians (Indians) and the Indigenous Fijians (Fijians). Although what I will be writing from this point forward may sound simplistic and one without research backing, I believe it is central to our failings since independence.

The Fijians have what is commonly called a “kerekere” culture. A culture where borrowing and giving from and to friends and family is a norm. This maybe cultural to the Melanesians as it is similar to the “won tok” system of the Papua New Guineans.

The Indians are considered money minded and selfish. They will usually do anything to make a buck. They are usually independent and quite opposite to the Fijians in that sharing (“kerekere”) is something they will avoid at all costs.

Both cultures above live side by side, but live very distinct lives. Lives governed by completely different cultural values. It is a generally held belief that whereas Indians are very cunning and guile, the Fijians are naïve and gullible. This leads to automatic conclusion that Indians will with their guile use the system to their advantage leaving the Fijians behind and at times exploited. This was what gave rise to the first coup in 1987. The Rabuka led illegal act decided to usurp the political power all for the Fijians. Rabuka sought to right a lot of wrongs in the society. He sought to eliminate the perceived dominance of the Indians.

The elections in 1987 brought into power the Labour Party which was seen to be dominated by Indians. Even though the Prime Minister was Dr. Timoci Bavadra, the man in charge of the government purse was non other then the current man in charge, Mahendra Chaudhry. With dominance of Indians in the commercial sector, another Indian in control of the treasury was perhaps unpalatable to Nationalist Indigenous leaders.

Political Power vs. Business

After the 1987 elections, the Indians were seen as the dominant group in control of all aspects of the country. The Fijian leadership saw this situation as grave and knew very well, of the difficulties they will have in catching up to the Indians. They knew could not easily and quickly catch to the Indian commercial dominance. The one area that could rival the Indians in was the political power. The populous was neatly divided between half Indians and half Fijians. If the Fijians took control over the running of the nation, they could help themselves achieve success in business.

So started the series of coups to right the wrongs as seen by the Indigenous Fijians. Rabuka cemented his leadership for over 10 years. In his pursuit to balance the power he abrogated the constitution and commissioned a new one. His regime oversaw the imposition of “affirmative action” in favour of the Fijians at the expense of Indians. During this period, the National Bank of Fiji collapsed amidst allegations of corruption and the economy remained a slow growing one. The period saw the rise of a new group of elite Fijians. The civil service saw imbalance grow in favour of the Fijians. Indians were marginalised further and further with less and less opportunities.

Regardless of the elections between 1987 and 1999, the constitution remained biased and the government remained in the hands of the SVT (an elitist Fijian party). Without an effective opposition and through civil service control, the Rabuka regime ruled without proper checks and balances giving rise to a new level of corruption.

With a new constitution in place in 1999, the elections were won by the Fiji Labour Party headed by Mahendra Chaudhry. The party’s win was a democratic one and finally, for a moment it appeared that Fiji was heading in the right direction.

But the lack of success by the Fijians in the previous 10 years brought to surface the fears of Indian dominance once again. The Fiji Labour Party though, without paying due attention to such fears, powered ahead putting in place a range reform measures. Measures which weren’t well explained allowed the Nationalistic Fijian leadership to use and amplify the fears of the Fijian people.

This lead to the May 2000 coup which allowed the Fijian Nationalism to take control of the government once again. The nationalism was in the guise of SDL (a new Fijian elitist party) and Laisenia Qarase. With the SDL government in power another round of the Rabuka period was revived. Corruption continued unabated with scant regard paid to the issue by Qarase government.

The divide between the Indians and Fijians meanwhile continued with Indians becoming increasingly marginalised. Since 1987, the Indian population has decreased via migration from a majority to about 40% (my guess – the new census will perhaps confirm this). Indians have also it appeared, had given up any hope of political balance in the country.

This brings us to the current situation.

In part two, I will discuss the political history as I’ve seen it since 1987 and will attempt to tie the relationship between our cultures and corruption.

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