A Fijian Life

Why 2014 Elections Won’t Change Shit in Fiji

I was in the shower when I heard the unmistakable hiss of the town council’s garbage truck yet I had to peer out of the window just to make sure. There it was. Bloody unreliable. Most days it would roll around 4.pm. but days like today it rocks up at 8.45 in the morning. Pulled down a t-shirt and shot out with soap suds still clinging around my ankles. I had to whisk our rubbish bins to safety and bring them inside the compound. In the last 6 months, our bins have been stolen twice. Blink and it’s gone. Some neighbors have long given up on bins and now just plonk overspilling supermarket plastic bags on the sidewalk, making it a field day for the mongrel packs. The street’s an eyesore on Mondays and Fridays…nonetheless, there are more entertaining theatrics happening in our island nation right now. The build up to the national elections next month.

Big things are being talked about, my friends. Smart economic reforms, new national policies, revamped land tenure proposals, cutting living costs by 50% (!). Of course, we’re lapping it up. After almost 7 years, politicians and the public alike get to air these matters that have long been suppressed. Scents of change are swirling in the late August island breezes. The youth who will be voting for the first time in their lives have a fire shimmering in their loins for the change and revolution they’re about to bring in the country’s history. Business houses have gone in hibernation mode in the hope that when they wake up sometime in October, the playing fields will still be there if not greener. The old and weary praying for the status quo; not another coup. And here I am on a Wednesday morning in peri-urban Viti, worried about my darned rubbish bin instead of being concerned that I have an election decision looming on my head.

I’ve…read a few of the manifestos, heard some of the debates, scoffed at some of the promises, joined in the heckling and making fun of some poor candidate and though being highly entertained by the political hoopla, I feel sincere…sympathy for all those standing in the elections. It seems that as a people we have suddenly shun all our responsibility and are purely going to hold all these poor men and women candidates solely accountable for our country. There’s only so much an election can bring about with it and with the way we all have put our feet up, I don’t see much changing after the 2014 elections. How?

Our Disregard For All Things Paid by Our Tax Money…

We’ve all blamed the government for the poor services provided by the Health Ministry especially in the local hospitals. But drive down the Suva-Nausori corridor and you’re bound to see bedsheets on people’s clotheslines with CWM stamped on them. (See. Those aren’t complimentary things you can take home, acha!)

If you’ve driven from Suva to Nadi at the end of a full day’s work, you’d know what a death trap that highway is. And I’ve seen genuine efforts by all past governments to make it safer. Due to long unlit stretches of the highway, light reflectors on the road are regularly embedded to mark the lanes. No sooner they are replaced that they are scooped out by the locals for fishing purposes.

No economic reform is going to make things better if we don’t take due care and properly utilize services which are already being provided. On our expense no less.

Our Ignorance of Rules That Make Sense…

Remember the jay walking fine imposition in Suva a couple of years back? I personally thought it was a great move. Shame it died out. Because as a driver, there is no worser feeling in the world than having a kid run in front of your vehicle and thinking you’ve hit him.

It’s our Backyard Syndrome.Take a Fijian to Osthralia and the fellow will throw his trash in the bins and wait for the light to turn green. Bring him back to the motherland and it’s might as well we’ve put him back in the caves.

Our National Laziness… 

Once every few Fridays, I would get a call transferred through the payroll clerk asking to ‘handle’ the caller. It would normally be a spouse of some employee based onsite demanding why their husbands weren’t getting paid for full hours. I remember an employee’s wife once argued with me that she was getting up at 6.am. to make roti parcels for her husband and that she sends her husband to work every single day! She wouldn’t believe when I told her that he only turned up for 2 in a week. It was only after I suggested that she check in the kava stalls in the town market during working hours that she calmed down!

The award rate for unskilled workers in the construction industry has been raised some 4 times in the past 6 years. It has gone from a $1.87 to $3.03 yet most unskilled workers still take home the same net amount they would’ve had 4 years ago. More money is simply no incentive for the average Indo-Fijian man. If he can still earn 100 bucks a week (same as he earned 2 years ago) AND get 2 days off to be kava-doped, vvhy not? The non-renewal of farming leases in the 90’s has created a certain bred of lazy Indian men. (separate post coming up on this)

I understand unemployment is a national issue and I’m no economist. But I’ll have it out there that lack of jobs is not the sole cause of this problem. Go on, call any Ministry of Lands department as you read this – the person answering the phone will practically be yawning no matter what time of the working day it is!

Our Identity Crisis…

Let me tell you about the delusion of ‘around the grog bowl’. We’ve all grown fond of our yagona. And we’ve gotten attached to the good times around it. In our fondness, we’ve taken the camaraderie around the grog bowl and mistook that as a sign of national unity. Take that grog bowl away and slide in a boardroom table between same group of people – will they still be as amicable on the same topics? Grog has mystic powers to make us only temporarily put our differences aside.

Identity matters and labeling everyone as ‘Fijian’ has ruffled feathers. For the indigenous iTaukei population, I can understand just how important it is to retain an identity special to them. The recent statements by certain parties on racial superiority has scratched some not so healed wounds. For the other majority of Indian descent, this has become a respect and equality thing. Indians came to Fiji as slaves. Generation after generation of those who chose to stay behind, have broke backs and toiled on Viti soils treating it as their homeland, building the country to what it is today. To not call the Indian descendants a ‘Fijian’ is a like slap on their faces. A reminder that they are still second class, still slaves. By denying them the right to call themselves Fijian, in a way, girmit still hasn’t ended for them.

And there is nothing funny about our identity issues, dear reader. An entire election could be lost on this agenda only.

Our Naiveness… 

That democracy is the answer. They know and you know and I know the circumstances around this election. We are all aware of the pre-determined playing field, the altered rulebook, the undeserving who are allowed to play and the worthy who have to watch from the sidelines and the new, fair ballot paper design. This 2014 elections is shaping up to be one of the biggest farces of the Fijian political history and like complete baboons, you and I have jumped on the bandwagon on our way to freedom and liberty via this so called democratic process.

Done for the international laudation. This upcoming election is more of a formality. To cross off the t’s and dot the i’s, to tidy up the paperwork and seal it off with the right bureaucratic tape. It doesn’t really matter which party comes into power in September because for our problems, this…election is not going to make them go away. These are issues that are deeply rooted in our social cultures. Every time we think we are over our race and prejudice issues, we are all very unpleasantly reminded that it’s not. And till such a time, we have all evolved and ready to let it go and take responsibility of our own selves, you my kaibiti friends can go back to hugging your empty lands, the girmityas can go back to drinking grog and guising work and till the slaves get to come home, the rest of you mixed lots can strum your guitars in the meantime. And I’ll just sit here and safeguard my rubbish bins, I guess.

*

Disclaimer: All views expressed are my own. No racial discrimination is intended. Do not copy or publish without prior consent.

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