The Fiji Times »The Question of Poverty – Is Ethnicity Relevant?
The government summarily dismissed Kemueli Naiqama from his post as government statistician and head of the Fiji Bureau of Statistics.
We are informed that Mr. Naiqama had violated the Statistical Surveys Act and, therefore, the terms of his service contract, by allowing the 2019-2020 Household Income and Expenditure Survey to include “non-data. verified ”on household poverty levels in Fiji by ethnicity. and religious.
What is surprising about this is that previous surveys and analyzes of poverty in Fiji, such as, for example, the survey undertaken for the Fiji Bureau of Statistics by Professor Wadan Narsey on the incidence of poverty in Fiji in 2008-2009, included an analysis of poverty based on ethnicity, ie iTaukei, Indo-Fijians and other communities in Fiji.
In this 2008-2009 poverty survey, based on the population living below the poverty line, Professor Narsey found that while the overall poverty rate for all of Fiji was 31 percent (compared to 35 percent in the 2002-2003 survey), the poverty rate by ethnicity was 31% for iTaukei (compared to 35% in the 2002-2003 survey) and 32% for Indo-Fijians (compared to 36% in 2002 -2003).
He concluded that the poverty rates for iTaukei and Indo-Fijians were almost the same. Let us now turn to the results of the “unauthorized” 2019-2020 survey on household income and expenditure.
The overall incidence of poverty in Fiji was 29.9%. Of these, the poverty level among iTaukei households was 22.33% and 6.82% for Indo-Fijians.
How to explain this enormous disparity in the decline in the poverty rate by ethnicity?
And does that explain why this government insisted that the 2019-2020 HIES survey not include a breakdown of poverty levels in Fiji by ethnicity?
Or is it because this government fundamentally believes that we should not see our country as comprising a society of ethnic communities, but only as a political community of individuals?
There are those who believe that we should only see ourselves as individuals.
All that matters is that we are all Fijians as a common identity and we belong together as one political community by our common and equal citizens.
On this basis, the poverty survey should have focused only on households regardless of ethnicity or religion. political, social and economic rights are based solely on the rights of each individual.
In contrast, those who welcomed the expanded scope of the HIES 2019-2020 to also show relative poverty levels in Fiji based on ethnicity argue that this is very important because we are more than just a political community of people. individual.
We are also a society of communities, and it is in our collective interest to ensure that economic and social development opportunities and outcomes equitably benefit all in Fiji, as individuals and as communities.
No one should be left behind. For there can be no long-term assurance of peace and stability in Fiji if one or two communities feel marginalized and deprived of equal opportunities to participate in and benefit from the economic and social progress of our country.
And let’s not forget that the iTaukei represents over 62% of the total population of Fiji.
Thus, I commend Mr. Naiqama for his courage in simply imitating what was done in previous poverty surveys conducted in 2002-2003 and 2008-2009 by including an analysis of poverty based on ethnicity. a household.
I must admit, however, that analysis based on a household’s religion was quite unnecessary.
- JIOJI KOTOBALAVU served as PS in the Prime Minister’s office under four of the Fijian Prime Ministers – Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara, Sitiveni Rabuka, Mahendra Chaudhry and Mr. Qarase. The opinions expressed in this article are its own and are not necessarily shared by this journal.