FIJI REGIME TAKING OVER ANOTHER ELECTED BODY

Editorial

FijiSUN

SUVA, Fiji (Dec. 9, 2008) - We love to complain about them. We love to be irritated by them. We almost love to hate them. But municipal councils play vital roles in our daily lives. And we can always vote them out if we don't like them. At least we could. Not anymore.

From January 31 the councils will be dissolved and their functions will be taken over by paid administrators appointed, one presumes, by the interim government. This appears to be a recommendation by the team, also appointed by the interim government, asked to examine the running and overall affairs of the municipal councils.

The report has not so far been made public even though the interim government appears to have accepted some or all of its recommendations. Why the secrecy? If, as we all hope, the services provided to ratepayers and municipal dwellers will be improved by this measure it should be clearly understood and accepted by those most affected. Instead they are kept in the dark. It's just another example of the lack - or absence - of transparency by a regime that preaches the opposite.

The people of Fiji will be watching very closely and there will be intense interest in just who those appointed administrators will be - and what (and how) they will be paid. There will be even greater interest in the length of time they will be expected to serve - for this will say much about the regime's determination to restore democracy in Fiji. Of course there was and is inefficiency in local government. There have also been instances of corruption and abuse of office by elected councillors as well as employed officials. But at the same time there is no doubt that municipal councils brought democracy to our doorsteps.

Councillors live in the communities they seek to serve. They are highly visible and usually readily available to listen to the grievances of their constituents in ways that national politicians cannot hope to match. They are the living proof of the adage: all politics is local.

It remains to be seen how available the new administrators will be to the people who will be expected to pay them. The danger - and it is still only that - is that, like their bosses in the interim government, they will feel no need to respond to public opinion being appointed rather than elected.

This raises the inevitable question: to whom will these administrators be accountable? To whom will they report?

We do not yet know the answer to that but there is very obvious scope for apprehension. Much of it would be removed - or confirmed - if the interim government would only tell us very clearly what its intentions are.

The people deserve to be told.

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