August 11, 2014

Prof Wadan Narsey: The continuing myths of “1 person = 1 vote = 1 value”

Professor Wadan Narsey
11 August 2014

Over and over, one hears claims from Bainimarama supporters that Fiji now has the most democratic electoral system ever, in which Indo-Fijians are now finally “equal” to indigenous Fijians, with “1 person = 1 vote = 1 value”.

New Zealand citizen Rajendra Prasad recently enthused (Fiji Sun, 30 July 2014) that “The 1970, 1990 and 1997 Constitution advocated ethnic voting whereas the 2013 Constitution has removed this provision and every citizen of Fiji is now on one roll. The basic precept of such provision is “one person, one vote, one value” for all.   Equality and dignity of every citizen is the rallying cry of this Constitution.”

While Rajendra Prasad’s article has many outlandish claims such as the great positive impact of Bollywood and rugby on multiracial harmony in Fiji, let me focus here on his myths about the new electoral system compared to the old.

Myth 1: That all previous electoral systems were biased against Indo-Fijians
Of course, previous electoral systems had ethnic constituencies, called Fijian, Indian and Generals (not to be confused with our current military generals) and there were some small biases, mostly in favor of the Generals.

But these ethnic constituencies were created after painful compromise between the political leaders of those times, to give emotional security to indigenous Fijians, who were afraid that the numerically superior Indo-Fijian voters would dominate elections under the common roll, as they probably would have before the Indo-Fijian emigration after 1987,

But even in those years, there were also mixed constituencies called “Cross-voting” (1970 Constitution), or Open constituencies (1997 Constitution) in which all citizens could stand, and all eligible voters could vote- effectively “common rolls”.

The electoral system under the 1970 Constitution did not stop the Indo-Fijian National Federation Party (NFP) from winning in the first 1977 election, nor the Indo-Fijian Fiji Labor Party/NFP Coalition from winning in the 1987 election.  They could hardly be called biased against Indo-Fijians, although the military coups that followed them certainly were.

Let us look at the 2006 results which Bainimarama has repeatedly claimed as “ethnically biased” against Indo-Fijians, supported by similarly wild allegations from from Australian citizen Father David Arms, here in Fiji to assist an illegal government with his electoral missionary work.

The 2006 election had both ethnic and Open (Common Roll) constituencies.

Basic fact: the proportion of seats in parliament held in aggregate by the Indo-Fijian parties (FLP and NFP) was 44% and only slightly less than their share of the total votes (46%),

Basic fact: the Fijian political parties (SDL, SVT, PANU, NAP) in aggregate obtained 49% of the votes, and a slightly higher 51% of the seats.

With similar results prevailing in 1999 and 2001 under the same 1997 Electoral system, it was clearly not racially biased against Indo-Fijians at all.

Indeed, in 1999, the largest Indo-Fijian Party (the FLP) managed to win control of the Fiji Parliament, with the same Alternative Vote electoral system, until they were booted out by the military.

It is a blatant lie and sheer propaganda to keep repeating that the 1997 Electoral system was ethnically biased against Indo-Fijians.

The real unfairness of the Alternative Vote system was to smaller political parties, both Fijian (NAP, PANU, SVT) and the Indo-Fijian party (NFP) in that when they could not win more than 50% of the votes in a particular constituency, their preference votes shifted to the larger parties who benefited.

Thus the Fijian SDL had around 44% of the votes, but a much larger 52% of the seats.

Similarly, the Indo-Fijian FLP had 40% of the votes but a larger 42% of the seats.

The Bainimarama propagandists should take note that the 2013 electoral system also discriminates against smaller parties and Independents, to the benefit of the larger parties.

Myth 2: “1 person = 1 vote = 1 value” in the 2013 Electoral System
The Rajendra Prasad quote I gave earlier (also echoed by Thakur Ranjit Singh, Satendra Nandan and many others) is the rallying cry of the Bainimarama Regime.

But the 2013 Electoral system has many inequalities which negate the “1 person = 1 vote – 1 value” claim, still frequently advertised by the Elections Office.

In a strictly proportional system, each of the 50 seats in Parliament would represent roughly 2% of the votes cast, or roughly 10,000 votes.

But under the 2013 Constitution and Electoral System, successful parties and Independents MUST obtain the 5% threshold, or a massive 27,000 votes, or they will be disqualified.

Inequality 1
If any small Party or Independent does not get 5% of the vote (the threshold), these candidates will not be elected, even if their candidates get more than 2% of the total votes cast.

All their votes will be totally discarded and will be worth exactly ZERO.

Only the political parties which satisfy the 5% threshold will then share the 50 seats in proportion to their total votes, EXCLUDING the votes for small parties and independents which have been discarded.

In other words, the larger qualifying parties will get a higher proportion of seats than the votes they receive, at the expense of all the small parties and independents.

If for example the total votes received by those not reaching the threshold amount to, say, 10% of all the votes (quite a plausible result, I believe in the forthcoming elections), then the 5 seats that would have gone to them proportionately (10% of 50 seats), will go instead as bonus to the larger parties.

There are many small parties and 1 Independent contesting this 2014 Elections and I believe that most of the votes for them will be wasted and have ZERO value.

Small regional constituencies which would previously have able to elect their own Independent candidate to Parliament will no longer be able to do so, unless their candidate stands for some large party guaranteed to obtain the 5% threshold.

Inequality 2
If any Independent gets more than 5% or more of the votes (and is therefore elected), all those voters supporting this Independent will still have only 1 parliamentarian to represent them.

Had these voters voted for a large Party, this same number of voters would have elected between 2 and 3 parliamentarians to represent them.

The value of each vote for a successful Independent will therefore be worth only a third of the vote for a successful party candidate.  Hardly equal value of the propaganda.

Inequality 3
As I have explained in a previous article, once a large party gets it quota of seats, then the “successful” candidates are decided by going down the list of candidates ranked by the votes they receive.

Suppose the Leader of a successful Party gets 150,000 votes, while the remaining 49 candidates get 100,000 between them.

The Leader may be entitled to take the top 24 of his own Party, in order of votes received into Parliament.

His last successful candidate may have received only a few hundred votes, and will still be elected, while any number of candidates and Independents will be disqualified, despite getting far more votes.  In other words, totally unpopular candidates may creep into Parliament under the umbrella of their popular leaders.

Every vote for a large party is worth far more than a vote for a small party of Independent.

All voters remember to examine how many of the “successful” parliamentarians in the September 2014 Elections will get more than 10,000 votes, the likely average for parliament.

The Elections Office should stop the false advertising propaganda that “1 person = 1 vote = 1 value”.

The propaganda of “1 person = 1 vote = 1 value” will not stop racism

There is a ridiculous propaganda that the “1 person - 1 vote - 1 value” electoral system will end the racism against Indo-Fijians who can now live with dignity, and this is believed by many of them, helped by the massive advertising campaign calling everyone “Fijian”.

How patently unrealistic.

United States, Australia,  NZ, Germany all have had “one person=one vote=1value” electoral systems for decades, and everyone there are called Americans or Australians or New Zealanders or Germans, yet racism against non-whites (blacks, Aboriginals, Asians, Maoris,  Islanders, Arabs) is alive and well in all these four countries.

Racist attitudes in Fiji are also quite entrenched amongst all our ethnic communities, Fijian, Indo-Fijian, European, kailoma, and Chinese and they will not end because of military decrees calling everyone “Fijian” or perpetually repeating the slogans “1 person=1 vote = 1 value”.

Racism may even have worsened amongst some groups as a reaction to the dictatorial Bainimarama policies.

One would have expected Indo-Fijian leaders to keep in mind that with the continuing emigration of Indo-Fijians, the proportion of indigenous Fijian voters will keep rising above 60%, and all future parliaments under a strictly proportional electoral system, will have the majority of the parliamentarians elected by indigenous Fijian voters.

Will these elected indigenous Fijians parliamentarians be any different from the general Fijian community?

Indeed, how multi-racial are some of the members of Bainimarama’s indigenous Fijian team, which includes people like Inoke Kubuabola, Filipe Bole and Isikeli Mataitoga, some of the leaders of the coups in 1987 and 2000?

Throwing away the Multi-Party Baby with the Bathwater
One of the most unwise aspects of the 2013 Constitution, is the rejection of the 1997 Constitution’s Multi-Party provision that could have been of great value in establishing multi-racial co-operative governments.

Under this provision, any party with at least 10% of the seats (today 5 seats out of 50) would have been entitled to be invited into Cabinet.

This provision was not used wisely in 1999 by the FLP (to their cost) or the SDL in 2001.

However, it was being made to work in 2006 with the SDL/FLP multi-party government, until Bainimarama’s 2006 coup with the active support of Mahendra Chaudhry and other Indo-Fijian leaders, torpedoed it.

This provision would have allowed all minority groups (whether regional groups, such as all those from Vanua Levu, or ethnic groups such as Indo-Fijians) to be represented not just in Parliament, but far more importantly, in Cabinet.

How useful would this have been for Indo-Fijians who will live in Fiji for the foreseeable future and who still comprise 30% of the voters, decreasing further with time?

The saddest aspect of the current propaganda about the glorious equality of all races under Bainimarama, is that most of it is coming from Indo-Fijian intellectuals who have already made their decision to leave Fiji, and settle in the safety of Australia or NZ.

Rajendra Prasad’s concluding lines in his Fiji Sun article were:  “Will this election be won on deceit and lies, or will it be won on truth and understanding? Only time will tell.”

He should ask himself why the Bainimarama Government would need to spend millions of dollars on propaganda created by American PR company Qorvis, if it has truth and understanding on its side.

For certain, I can tell him that the propaganda that “1 person = 1 vote = 1 value” will not apply to the thousands of voters who wish to vote for small parties and Independents.

August 01, 2014

Prof Wadan Narsey - MIDA unaccountable while papers continue to censor

Sent to Ashwin Raj (Chairman, MIDA) and also as Open Letter to Editor
(The Fiji Times, Fiji Sun, Island Business) 
27 July 2014

Dear Mr Raj
I sent a Letter to you on the 3 July 2014, requesting your response to a number of matters concerning the development of the media industry but you responded to only one query- that you had requested the media to give you their general editorial policy.
You have refused to respond to the other queries directed to you as Chairman of the Media Development Industry (MIDA).
Nor have you asked the media why they did not print my previous letter on the salaries for Bainimarama and Khaiyum for the years 2010 to 2013.  This question has been publicly raised by not just taxpayers and voters, but no less than Mr Mahendra Chaudhry a former elected Prime Minister of Fiji, and also Bainimarama’s own former Minister of Finance who one would expect to have a clue or two, on this particular issue.
While we wait for the media to respond to what you had asked them, I wish to ask you again to respond publicly to the following questions which all media are still interested in despite your previous refusal to respond.
As a “level playing field” is an essential part of the development of a free, fair, competitive and transparent media industry, could you please inform the public what is your position on the continuing biases in the media industry itself:
(1) tax-payers advertisement funds being channelled by the Bainimarama Government only to Fiji Sun with The Fiji Times being totally denied.
(2) outright subsidies given to FBC via government budget and government guarantees of loans from FDB, with no such subsidies given to either Fiji TV or the other radio broadcasters, Communications Fiji Ltd.
(3) the clearly intimidating renewal of the license for Fiji TV on a six monthly basis, while FBC TV suffers from no such restriction
(4) While Fiji TV’s accounts are available to the shareholders, FBC accounts are not available at all to the taxpayers who supposedly own FBC.
(4) Mai TV’s “scoop” at obtaining rights to the broadcast of FIFA World Cup (a legitimate entrepreneurial transaction admired in the business world) being forcibly shared by decree amongst the other broadcasters, on financial terms dictated by the Bainimarama Government rather than negotiated amongst themselves as a market transaction.
(5)  have  you queried Fiji TV and the owners Fijian Holdings Limited why respected senior journalist and administrator Mr Anish Chand was sacked from Fiji TV on this year’s World Press Freedom day (as was related to you during the World Press Freedom Day panel at USP).
Given that you have personally made many public pronouncements that you want MIDA to be accountable to the Fiji public, I would be grateful if
(a) you would request the media to print this Letter to the Editor,
(b) so that the public and the media can also note that these questions have been posed to you, and can wait eagerly for your usual interesting response.

Yours sincerely
Professor Wadan Narsey

Discombobulated Bubu: The Chicken or the Egg or Bainimarama

The question today ragone is which one of these really cameth first?

The yolk of the matter is this.

The lovely Makereta Waqavonovono has a simple wish. To stand up and be counted like any of us ordinary citizens. SHE WISHES TO REPRESENT HER PEOPLE IN THE ELECTIONS. She is well educated, is a great thinker and gave up many years of her life to accumulate knowledge and wisdom, but because of this it seems she is being treated like a criminal, or but wait - is it perhaps because of precisely this that she may represent the threat to Bainimarama's aspirations?

Here is her letter.

It is plain to see she is being blocked by one of Bainimarara and Kaiyum's vacuous decrees churned out to protect their first race to the polls: 

Meanwhile back in the barn, we have the judge in this case called Chen Bun Young who JUST HAPPENS to be a former associate of the Electoral Commission Chairperson. 

The court is being asked to rule on the meaning of who/what is an "ordinary resident of Fiji" (under section 56 (2) (c) of the Constitution and section 23 (5) of the Electoral Decree 2014)


UPDATE 1st August 2014
As predicted - the Decree-churners have stayed up all night and churned out another amendment to the decrees that would rule Makereta out of the Elections.

They are trying their best folks to win the race to the polls by deceipt and desperation.

However, It ain't going to happen as the WILL of the collective is far more powerful than any of Bai and Kai's decrees.


July 27, 2014

Prof Wadan Narsey: Fiji Times - The facts on Poverty and Social Justice

Professor Wadan Narsey
The Fiji Times, 26 July 2014

[Qualification: There are many voters who believe that an unelected government, deemed illegal by the highest Fiji Court of Appeal, should not be changing policies on taxation, government expenditure and public debt for eight years. One founding slogan for the American War of Independence was: “no taxation without representation”.]

Economies can show high rates of growth, but have mixed results on the poor:

(1) the poor can  become poorer, because the cost of living increases more than their incomes (some evidence of this).

(2) the poor can become poorer because of increased Value Added Tax, while the rich can become richer because of reduced direct taxes reduced (some evidence of this).

(3) the poorest can become better off even as the rich become richer, and income distribution can still become worse (no evidence of this).

As with the economic growth analysis, the analysis of changes in poverty may also be broken into two periods: one of increasing poverty between 2005 and 2011, and the second between 2011 and 2014 when many positive budget measures were brought in in the areas of education and infrastructure especially.

The likely changes in poverty are examined through household survey data form the Fiji Bureau of Statistics, the Wages Councils, changes in taxation, and the annual budget measures of the last three years.

Changes between 2002-03 and 2008-09
The FBS Household Income and Expenditure Surveys (HIES) for 2002-03 and 2008-09 give the changes in poverty between these two survey periods, with four years during the Qarase Government, and two years during the Bainimarama Government (the Bainimarama coup took place in December 2006).

Poverty between 2002-3 and 2008-9:
* in rural areas increased from 40% to 43%
* in urban areas reduced from 28% to 18%.
* Fiji as a whole, reduced from 35% to 31%.

Given the declining agricultural output in the sugar and non-sugar sectors, one can say confidently that rural poverty would have increased steadily through this entire period, both under the Qarase Government and the Bainimarama Government.

But because of the overall cumulative positive economic growth rate of 15% between 2000 and 2006, urban poverty under the Qarase Government would have been decreasing.

Changes in poverty between 2004-05 and 2010-11
The first year of this period was under the Qarase government, while the remaining five years were under the Bainimarama Government.

Assuming that the patterns of remittances were roughly the same throughout, the Employment and Unemployment Survey (EUS) data for 2004-05 and 2010-11, can be used to examine poverty at both the individual worker level, and also at the household level.

The EUS data at the household  level indicate that the percentage of population in households below an estimated poverty line, changes as follows, between 2004-05 and 2010-11:
*  in Fiji overall, poverty increased from 30% to 45%
*  in rural areas, poverty increased from 34% to 55%
*  in urban areas, poverty increased from 25% to 35%

The EUS individual worker data indicate that
*  poverty of the workers depending on subsistence increased from 35% to 67%.
*  the poverty of employees not covered by Fiji National Provident Fund, increased from 50% to 60% (those covered by FNPF remained the same at 20%).

This last result is not surprising given Governments’ failure to implement Wages Councils (next section).

Government failure to implement Wages Councils
The poorest wage earners who are not represented by unions are supposed to be protected by the ten Wages Councils, set very sensibly at different levels for different sectors depending on how well each sector was doing.

For most of the post-coup period, the Wages Councils were under the Chairmanship of Father Kevin Barr.

Unfortunately, Father Barr’s Wages Regulation Orders were postponed year after year by the Minister for Labor under orders from the Bainimarama Government, because of unethical pressures by employers and the Employers’ Federation.

While the stagnating economy after the 2006 coup may well have been an important factor for some employers, not a single employer ever showed their audited accounts in justification for their inability to pay, to the Wages Council Chairman (Barr) or the Labour Minister.

After postponement for four years, small partial adjustments were allowed, which did not keep pace with the large increases in the cost of living, and most of these workers, already extremely poor and numbering about 50,000, slipped further into poverty (as the EUS data indicates).

Eventually, Father Kevin Barr was sacked as Chairman of Wages Council, after accusing the Bainimarama Government of practicing “crony capitalism”, and threatened with expulsion from Fiji (Father Barr is an Australian citizen).

Then there was the National Minimum Wages debacle by the Chairman of the Commerce Commission (Dr Mahendra Reddy), who with great public fanfare, set a “scientific” national minimum wage of $2.32 per hour, only to retreat into silence, when the Bainimarama Government unilaterally, again under pressure from employers, reduced it to $2 per hour.

Regressive taxation: taxing the poor and helping the rich
There has been a false claim that because of the raising of the income tax threshold to $15,000, the poor now do not pay any tax, but the reality is that all consumers pay tax through VAT, on essential and non-essential expenditures alike.

Since 2006, the Bainimarama Government has changed the taxation system heavily in favor of the rich and increased the burdens on the poor:
(a) VAT has been increased from 12.5% to 15% increasing the cost of living for the poor;
(b) Income tax at the highest income levels has been reduced totally unnecessarily from 30% marginal tax to 20%, lower even than all our neighbouring countries, thereby increasing the after-tax income for the rich (except for those earning over $270k).
(c) Corporate tax has also been reduced totally unnecessarily from 28% to 20%, with most foreign companies repatriating their increased profits.

These tax reductions have probably given back more than $150 million to the rich, and the lost revenues regained by taxing the poor and the middle classes more, through the VAT.

Income distribution and social justice has worsened in this period.

However, there have been some positive measures for the poor through budget measures in the last two years.

Changes in poverty 2011 to 2014: high growth and budget measures
The period 2011 to 2014 has seen an average growth rate of 3% growth rate, massive infrastructure investments amounting to more than $1 billion, and the continuation of the remittance receipts from abroad (now amounting to more than $370 millions according to RBF figures).

While there is no data to assist, almost certainly, poverty will have been reducing between 2011 and 2014 but annual budget figures also have a bearing on household poverty from the government expenditure side, which may be picked up in future household income and expenditure surveys.

The Bainimarama Government in the last three years has also brought in comprehensive subsidies on bus fares and tuition fees, and increased access to scholarships and loans for tertiary education. Commitments have also been made to make pre-schools free.

These are all clear and much appreciated benefits for the poor and there is statistical evidence of the positive effects.

The EUS data indicates that between 2005 and 2011,  the percentages of children attending  school have increased by 4% at primary schools (to almost complete coverage now), and by 7% at secondary to reach 88%, and by 7% at tertiary ages to reach 40%.

Almost certainly, the improvements in school attendance have continued to grow after 2011, especially at the secondary and tertiary levels given the easier access to scholarships and loans.

Of particular benefit to Indo-Fijian families is that there are no obstacles in their children’s paths to higher education, whereas previously there used to be quotas on scholarships, and limited access to loans.

These education policies by the Bainimarama Government counter, to some extent, the changes in taxation policy described above, but not for those poor families without children at school.

Note that the awarding of scholarships in select areas based totally on academic merit has meant reduced access to indigenous Fijians in these areas.

Given that the emigration data indicates clearly that qualified non-Fijians are far more likely to emigrate than indigenous Fijians, then the current ethnically blinkered scholarship policies, are likely to lead to severe skill shortages in the future in those areas.

Another recent positive measure has been the allowances for the elderly which is of some assistance to the destitute.

More importantly, the building of rural roads and other socially necessary infrastructure on water and sewerage throughout Fiji (especially in the poorest Northern Division) will be of great assistance to the rural poor, facilitating the marketing of their produce and better access to essential urban services, and improving their livelihoods and standards of living.

However, these future benefits will only eventuate, if the increased infrastructure expenditure translates into higher economic growth, which can pay for the current large increases in Public Debt, which will otherwise be a burden on the future generations of the poor and middle classes.

It also depends crucially on the Republic of Fiji Military Forces respecting the democratic outcome of the September 2014 elections and staying clear of politics whatever the result.