Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Fiji communalism and individualism

from w
Here's an interesting article that is an interview concerning the payment of lease money in Fiji as it used to be done communally but the new government sees fit to emphasise payment to each individual in the mataqali. Everyone has to have a bank account and does it include children? The article was in the Fiji Sun newspaper which is quite biased and almost wholeheartedly supports the Bainimarama government.

Communalism Versus Individualism

March 17

 by Nemani Delaibatiki, SUVA
Some iTaukei say the two concepts can work together. Others say they are incompatible and cannot mix like oil and water.
Communalism has a powerful impact on iTaukei. From time immemorial, it has defined the social dynamics of the iTaukei community. It was reinforced by the British colonialists with laws that virtually confined iTaukei to villages to protect and preserve indigenous interests, assets and culture from negative foreign influence. Social cohesion in villages was achieved through the cultural practice of communalism.
Individualism was perceived as a threat to this cohesion. It was viewed with cynicism and even contempt because it threatened the very heart of communalism.
The conservative wing says that Fijians cannot write off communalism. An advocate and a landowning unit (LOU) trustee, who wishes to remain anonymous, says the decision to pay lease money to the individual bank accounts of iTaukei landowners is a capitalist idea. He strongly feels that money should still be paid to landowning units via their trustees who should distribute it to members.
In an earlier analysis on the issue, I highlighted that that direct payment to landowners was in their best interests. Trustees, some of whom have been accused of abuse, have infuriated the landowners. The trustee, defended the trustees. Here are excerpts of his statement:
Fiji Sun: The direct deposit of lease money into individual iTaukei landowner’s bank account is a significant development.
Trustee: Surely it is a significant development from an individualistic, if not capitalist, standpoint, where one can have the freewill choice as to how or where the lease money is used. However, it must be noted that such lease money is being derived from communally-owned property (native land) and not private or freehold land. A good analysis need to take into account the socio-economic imperatives of communalism (social obligations with ‘money’ being the enabling factor to fulfill such obligations). In order to understand and appreciate the monetisation of communalism, especially in a village setting or the seat of the vanua (tokatoka, mataqali, yavusa), then one has to actually live it, taste it, and be part of it. That is, the trustees committee. Of course, just like any other organisation in the public or private sectors and even NGOs, trustees are not immune from the being subjected to risks of abuse or misuse etc. No trustee is perfect and that is why we have laws that exists as safety nets for all citizens or landowners whose monies are being abused by their trustees.
So, as a true iTaukei that places high value to solesolevaki (working together),veirogorogoci (consultation), (social ideal of a real kaiviti which are in direct contradictions with western culture of capitalism), the individual distribution of lease money to landowners can be perceived as an opposing force to our (iTaukei) social structure or system of political economy.
Fiji Sun: It will be welcomed by many landowners because it eliminates the landowners’ trustees’ committees, a level of bureaucracy that is fraught with high risks of abuse.
Trustee: As the saying goes, a little bit of knowledge is too dangerous! Many landowners are questioning the motive behind this ‘directive’. It is an open secret that the directive to TLTB was triggered by numerous complaints from landowners against their own trustees, especially from those with big lease monies. Against this backdrop, many landowners would be perfectly happy with this new distribution mode because it’s money direct into their pocket (personal bank account), especially those who are not directly or indirectly partake in the affairs of their vanua such as “soli-ni-yasana’ (provincial levy), tavi ni mataqali (clan contribution) to yavusa (tribe), vanua, etc. All these communal obligations which are inherently social in nature requires money per say.
There is ‘no one-size fits all’. Not all LOUs are same. They are distinctly different across Fiji. Some LOUs are rich in their upholding the spirit of solesolevaki (working together) orcakacakavata (unite), se duavata (unity) na kena dau vakayagataki na (use) lavo ni lisi (lease money). My own LOU is a classical case where we still want to maintain the status quo. My people work hard to earn a living and when it comes to lease money, we collectively decide on how to use it – especially on social obligations like funeral etc.
Fiji Sun: Some years ago the trustees committees were set up as an interim measure while work started to electronically connect the iTaukei Land Trust Board (TLTB) to the Vola ni KawaBula (VKB) or iTaukei Births and Death Registry.
Trustee: Interim measure may be true but it was better than the previous method of lump sum cash distribution to the various locations in Fiji.
Fiji Sun: When Government introduced the distribution of equal lease money to landowners, TLTB wanted to pay individuals through their personal bank accounts.
Arguably, this is a silent way to suppress or kill the economic strength of LOUs that thrives through co-operation, communalism, collaboration of their members. We are dealing here with monetary benefits derived from communally-owned land that are leased out by TLTB. It follows then that such benefits (lease money) should/must be collectively-received via a collectively-agreed bank account whose signatories must be collectively-agreed by the members of the LOUs. What is intrinsically wrong with that? Of course, basic rules are set out for the trustees as per the usual Deed of Trust (DOT). There are governing laws to fix trustees for any deviation from these rules. TLTB can be the enforcer for such rules spelt out on the DOT.
Fiji Sun: The integrity of some of the trustees have been called to question because of alleged abuse. The TLTB, the Ministry of iTaukei Affairs and the iTaukei Lands and Fisheries Commission are aware of it.
Trustee: This is an undisputed fact. However, the solution (individual distribution) should not be imposed on the LOUs who have not inherited any problems from their DOT or trustees. It should be implemented to MOUs on a case-by-case basis.
Fiji Sun: Some landowners are not happy with some of the trustees because of the general lack of transparency and accountability. The issue of governance has been a major challenge to some of the committees. It has become an embarrassment to national iTaukeileaders who have worked tirelessly over the years to change the mentality and mindset of people. They have been trying to change the long-held perception and stereotype that cast doubt on the iTaukei credibility or integrity to manage projects that involve finance. The poor example of some of the trustees suggests that this malaise still exists in the iTaukeicommunity. The trustees are appointed by the landowners so they are accountable to them. If they were accountable to higher authority, would they have performed better?
Trustee: This is a rather reactive way of addressing the issues of lack of transparence and accountability on the part of trustees. These issues can be easily addressed through TLTB. TLTB should be empowered to have a financial oversight on the usage of lease monies by LOUs. A simple and effective method of empowerment is to require trustees to submit annual reports on the usage of their lease monies and must be ‘cleared’ by 60 per cent of its members before submitting such report to TLTB. Disbursement of future lease money to the LOU’s bank account is contingent on each LOU submitting its annual report to TLTB. This ensures the integrity of trustees…
Fiji Sun: That is why the quicker the Government rolls in those reforms, the better it would become all around.
Trustee: Reforms are good but not to the expense of LOUs that thrives in or valuessolesolevaki (working together) or communalism rather than individualism.
Fiji Sun: The trustees were informed and trained to operate under a set of rules designed to help them stay out of trouble. But they will become history now. And landowners will have cause to celebrate, because the first lease money payment for those in Ba, Kadavu, Bua and Cakaudrove, will go into their individual bank accounts by the end of next month.

Trustee: This is a precarious statement from a iTaukei entrepreneur perspective that understand and appreciate the significance of managing communally-owned resources atmataqali level or tokatoka level. One has to fully understand that the vanua (land or themataqali or tokatoka who actually owned the land) and its communal obligations are inextricably linked. I believe those advocating this view have not experienced the social and economic benefits of collectively-managed funds through the trustees who have financial and commercial disciplines. As stated earlier, not all LOUs are the same. They have their own unique features, characteristics, and weakness and strengths, depending on the quality of traditional leadership.

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