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By Shailendra Singh

SUVA, Fiji Islands (June 12, 2002 - Wansolwara Online-USP/Pasifik Nius)---Bad governance is the "root cause" of the chronic economic and social woes bedeviling Pacific island countries, a seminar in Suva heard today.

The Deputy Vice Chancellor of the University of the South Pacific, Professor Rajesh Chandra, said Pacific countries had performed poorly over the last two decades compared to island states in the Caribbean and Indian Ocean, which received less aid.

In opening remarks at the joint "Country Update for Fiji" seminar organized by USP and the Australian National University, Prof. Chandra said good governance was needed at national, sub-national, corporate and civil society levels, urging decision makers to lift performance.

"We need truly democratic and participatory societies; we need full accountability and responsibility from those in positions of power; we need transparency so that people can clearly see what is being done and why; we need the rule of law and respect for rules and procedures."

He said there was a need to "demonstrate to every citizen and to the world that our systems work; that no individual is above the law or able to manipulate it, and that there is genuine and demonstrable commitment to good governance."

Good journalism was critical to ensuring good governance, added Prof. Chandra, adding this was why USP was providing additional support to its journalism program, including F$ 250,000 (US$ 117,425) for a new building expected to be in place next year.

"We believe that a good journalism culture that is professional and competent and given to solid investigative reporting is the cornerstone of good governance in the region."

Turning to Fiji, Prof Chandra said three coups in 15 years had cost the country F$ 500 million (US$ 234,850,000) while the unrest in the Solomon Islands had almost bankrupted the country.

He said the challenge for Fiji and Pacific island countries is to understand the nature of the new economy, including the fact that a firm and serious commitment to good governance is needed to have a decent chance of competing for investment globally.

He highlighted the need for island countries to understand and embrace the new knowledge economy. It thrived in high quality education and training systems and countries that had harnessed the power of these new technologies were making international headway, while those that lagged behind would become marginalized. He hit out at telecommunications monopolies in Fiji and other island countries, as they were an impediment.

The USP, he said, was providing high quality, cost effective and internationally recognized training in response to human resource needs of the region, particularity in information systems and technologies.

A panelist, economist Dr. Biman Prasad, said local and foreign investment was low in Fiji at 12-15 percent of the GDP. He said it was a misconception that pushing through economic reforms without rectifying Fiji's political anomalies would improve the situation.

Economist Father Kevin Barr and USP sociologist Prof. Vijay Naidu said poverty had increased in Fiji as a result of the May 2000 coup and that government's poverty alleviation programs were largely ineffectual.

Government claims that F$ 157 million (US$ 73,742,900) allocated for poverty alleviation was misleading as only around $13 million (US$ 6,106,100) was actually used for destitute allowance, with the rest distributed to other ministries under the guise of poverty alleviation, said Father Barr.

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