QARASE DEFENDS FIJI AFFIRMATIVE ACTION PROGRAM

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SUVA, Fiji (Fijilive, July 1) – Fiji’s Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase has indicated that the Government’s Affirmative Action Program will continue to favour Indigenous Fijians.

The Prime Minister also admitted that some of the policies have favored elitist Indigenous Fijians and will continue to do so in the future.

Speaking at a press conference held at Government Buildings, Qarase yesterday took time out to blast the Fiji Human Rights Commission Report on his Affirmative Action Programs.

He said the Commission’s report "is a politically inspired attempt to discredit the Government" and added that the report was a "paper analysis" that "does not hold substance."

The Commission has termed all of Government’s "race-based" affirmative action policies as "unconstitutional" and called for affirmative action policies to be based on needs not race.

The report was prepared after a complaint last year by the Fiji Labor Party, the Citizens Constitutional Forum and the Fiji Teachers' Union on the various race-based programs.

Human Rights Commission director Dr Shaista Shameem, says many rural Indians are even poorer than Fijians and help should go to those who need it regardless of race.

The Commission had also noted that over 22,000 Indigenous Fijians classified as High Class in the Household Income Expenditure Survey have benefited directly from Government's Affirmative Action Program.

Qarase confirmed that elitist Fijians have benefited from the Affirmative Action scholarship schemes.

‘Take scholarships for example, there is no income threshold for Fijians like in the multi-ethnic scholarship," he said.

"Maybe some elite Fijians are benefiting from these programs, but the objective there is to get the numbers of Fijians (regardless of income) well qualified rather then aiming at the specific needs."

"But the intention there is to bridge the gap between two ethnic communities.

"So long as I am in this position, Affirmative Actions will continue," Qarase said.

During the press conference the Prime Minister failed to acknowledge the reports findings that "the poorest groups in the rural sector are not indigenous Fijians, but landless Indo-Fijians and other minorities."

When asked whether the various Affirmative Action programs would be based on needs rather then race after its promised review by the Government Qarase indicated it would continue to be race-based because "it’s based mainly on needs, the needs of the Fijian people."

"It’s just accidental that they (Indigenous Fijians) are an ethnic community, but their need is there."

Maintaining that Indigenous Fijians are "very much behind" in the economic front Qarase said the programs will continue on the basis of race because Fijians "need" the programs to "bridge the gap" between them and the Indo-Fijian population.

Yet Qarase said he does not know if the programs "are bridging the gaps because our Indian communities are moving ahead much faster."

He added that there were changes that the "gap may actually be widening" and the Prime Minister said he would personally want the various Affirmative Action programs to continue.

One of the inhibiting factor as noted by the Commission’s report was while 20,000 Indigenous Fijians living as squatters were directly eligible to the blueprint, the report found that none of the 18,797 Indo-Fijians enjoyed the same benefits.

Fiji Labor Party leader Mahendra Chaudhry has threatened to pull out of the multi-party Cabinet arrangement with Qarase’s Soqosoqo Duavata ni Lewenivanua (SDL) Party if Qarase fails to removes "all vestiges of racial discrimination" from the affirmative action program.

July 3, 2004

Fijilive: http://www.fijilive.com

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