‘Inequality has gotten worse’ – Ratuva

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Department of Fiji Heritage staff Alumita Dimatemua assisting students during the Ratu Sukuna Day celebrations at Ratu Sukuna Memorial School yesterday. Picture: JONA KONATACI

Inequality and inequity have seeped into the fabric of society, in particular those who are marginalised, and left them with little to no support to get out of the cycle of poverty.

Professor Steven Ratuva, the pro-vice chancellor of the University of Canterbury, highlighted this during a public lecture on the late iTaukei statesman Ratu Sir Lala Sukuna that was held at the University of the South Pacific (USP) earlier this week.

He said the statistics showed that about 75 per cent of iTaukei lived in poverty, which was something Ratu Sukuna would have been very disappointed with.

“The inequality has gotten worse and worse,” the renowned Fijian academic said.

“A lot of the focus on development in the last few years, it’s been on the corporate sector, on the urban areas.

“The rural areas have been basically left behind and the poor have been left behind, except for giving them a few dollars which they use for the main things and then that’s it. Rather than any real structural reform to ensure that we address the issue of inequality.

“Equity-based systems is very important, particularly after reconciliation that we’ve had with the church and girmit, which paves the way for the future of Fiji in terms of how ethnic groups can come together politically.

“Political reconciliation is easy, but economic —to address the inequality — takes a bit of challenge, takes a bit of thinking as well. Some time ago, we had some affirmative action policies in place, but now disappeared.”

He said affirmative action itself was not bad, although the term was used in different countries to mean something terrible, as in Fiji.

Prof Ratuva said he had recommended countries like New Zealand to get rid of the term “affirmative action” and use “equity-based” instead.

“Now, in 2001, I have to start admitting some of these historical secrets, I put together an affirmative action plan. They asked me to do it, OK. The framework was very equity-based and I worked out in the equity index for different ethnic groups, particularly the iTaukei and other ethnic groups.

“In education, it was almost equal.

“But in the corporate sector it was one to eight. It was just too much really, and then other sectors as well. So, the idea was that you have to address those inequities with policies which make sense and which does not step on other people’s toes, other ethnic groups in particular.

“One of the problems from in Fiji over the years was that, what they did with affirmative action was they took it and used it for political purposes to buy votes, rather than to address the plight of the ordinary, poor Fijians.

“So there has to be a shift in the way we frame it from an entitlement. It was very much based on an entitlement that I am iTaukei, therefore I need affirmative action.

“Shift from that to equity. Because the poor from iTaukei communities would need that. Probably the most significant, the most workable and the most beneficial affirmative action in Fiji has been the area of education.”

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