“The test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much, it is whether we provide enough for those who have too little”.
Franklin. D. Roosevelt.
There is a real need to dislodge pseudo- Christian beliefs in Fiji, particularly the idea that wealth is a virtue and that some are destined for eternal material poverty due to some perceived spiritual failings.
At the beginning of the year, the Fiji times did a quick interview of 6 random people asking them about the increase in beggars on the streets. Four out of the six interviewed proposed that beggars should either go back to their villages or their relatives should take care of them. Sadly, these are solutions from people in a country where Christianity is the predominant religion and yet their main solution is not “what can we do to help them?” but rather “They should help themselves”.
Poverty is everywhere should you choose to notice it. The Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF) Analysis Unit found that 3.7 million U.K workers live in Poverty (JRF; 2017). This is 11.6 % of the total population of working adults. Another study in 2013 by JRF have found that; for the UK at least; there is strong evidence that poor housing conditions affects some aspects of child development and adult health. Substantial evidence also shows that housing costs creates poverty and material deprivation. (JRF; 2013).
In Fiji, the poverty analysis carried out by the Asian development bank found that the average household income for the years 2008-2009 is $FJD17,394 and 51% of households in the rural parts of Northern Fiji earned less than this (ADB; 2014). In Fiji’s housing situation, the statistics are even more dire when the same report finds that 140,000 households live in informal settlements (squatters) and lack basic amenities like piped water, sewerage and electricity.
With these statistics and studies its sad to see that Fiji’s political discussion is almost non-existent on this issue. The closest we have is a press coverage and an editorial by the Fiji Times reporting that all political parties agree that affordable housing program is needed in Fiji. That is; all parties except for the two largest parties; Fiji First and SODELPA (FT; 2018).
Why such a sparse coverage and interest? More coverage has been spent on arguing about a national identity rather than an issue that needs addressing now. Rising house prices in urban centres of Fiji means that home ownership is out of reach for many. Private renters face problems of exorbitant rental costs, rogue landlordism, discrimination and sub-standard housing conditions. Furthermore, housebuilding rests mainly on commercial builders who effectively control the market prices.
Since 1990, Public Rental Board (PRB) flats which had been established for social housing were now being rented at market rates under pressure from the world bank. Because of this pressure from aid agencies, the public-sector housing is no longer regarded as a State obligation (Sharma & Lawrence; 2005). So, we are left with politicians who want to next rule Fiji all agreeing that affordable housing is needed but failing to provide more meat on bones as to how this will be achieved. They need to provide answers to questions like what exactly is affordable housing and affordable for who?
Affordable housing has proved to be a point of contention in the UK with government struggling to reach a comprehensive definition of what exactly affordable is. In 2002, the Chartered Institute of Housing (CIH) pressed the government for a precise and appropriate definition of Affordable housing where the specific outcomes can be measured. The result was even more ambiguous. It stated that, “Affordable housing is subsidised housing that meets the needs of those who cannot afford secure, decent housing on the open market either to rent or to buy”.
So, in Fiji, the issue is not just getting all political parties to agree that social housing is a concern. It is drawing the two major parties away from race politics, getting them to outline long term housing strategies, defining unambiguous affordability specifications and helping the poorest in society get decent housing provisions to escape the prevalent poverty in Fiji.
Unless we make the political parties commit to long term housing strategies prior to the elections and hold them to their word, Fiji will be looking at ushering in a new government that does not have the political will to execute the changes needed. This includes ensuring that the poorest in our society get a decent place to live, their children have adequate study spaces and there is reliable supply of water and electricity and a good sewerage system to ensure good health.
Most importantly, we must check ourselves and the biases we hold – do we shout a bit louder when the issue is on something popular and remain silent on matters that most needs our collective voices? Are we adequately treating the poor with dignity and respect they deserve? It’s time we dislodge our miseducation, move away from race based politics and raise our voice for the poor in our Society.
- Asian Development Bank (2014). Country Partnership Strategy: Fiji (2014-2018) [Online] Available from: https://www.adb.org/sites/default/files/linked-documents/cps-fij-2014-2018-pa.pdf (Accessed on 07.05.2018)
- JRF Analysis Unit (2017). UK Poverty Report 2017 [Online] Available from: https://www.jrf.org.uk/report/uk-poverty-2017 (Accessed on 07.05.2018)
- JRF (2013). The links Between Housing and Poverty: An Evidence Review [Online] Available from: https://www.york.ac.uk/media/chp/documents/2013/poverty-housing-options-full.pdf (Accessed on 07.05.2018)
- N (2018) Parties Agree Cost of Housing an Issue, The Fiji Times (Dated 28/04/2018) [Online] Available from: http://www.fijitimes.com/parties-agree-cost-of-housing-an-issue/ (Accessed on 07.05.2018)
- U, Lawrence. S (2005) Public Sector Reform and Global Trends Vs Local Needs: The Case of a State Rental Organisation in Fiji, Journal of Accounting & Organizational Change 1,2 p. 141-164
- Image courtesy of Brian Long (Poverty in Paradise- Flickr)