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The Contemporary Pacific 13.2 (2001) 582-584

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Book Review

Confronting Fiji Futures

Confronting Fiji Futures, edited by A Haroon Akram-Lodhi. Canberra: Asia Pacific Press, Australian National University, 2000. isbn 0-7315-3642-8, xv + 321 pages, tables, figures, notes, bibliography, index. Paper a$30.

On 19 May 2000, just as this collection entered production, Fiji changed forever when failed businessman George Speight and his accomplices seized Mahendra Chaudhry's constitutionally elected government at gunpoint, then held them hostage for eight weeks in Fiji's parliamentary complex. A two-page "Stop Press" was inserted to detail these dramatic developments and warn readers that they provided "an unfortunate reminder of the salience of the issues raised" in this book. The observation is valid, although force of circumstances has highlighted a disjunction between a title contemplating Fiji's futures and preoccupations with the immediate past.

The collection is organized in two parts: the first is about politics, economics, and social inequality. Most of the focus is structural and institutional, dealing with the 1997 constitution (Yash Ghai); electoral process and outcome in 1999 (Satendra Prasad); the economy (Sepheri and Akram-Lodhi); institutional rigidities in economic performance (Birman Prasad and Kumar); social policy (Cameron); labor market deregulation (Chand); and women and work (Jacqueline Leckie). Part Two is about the "Fijian" question, and considers problematic reform attempts and the indigenous community (Sutherland); affirmative action and communal capitalism [End Page 582] (Ratuva); ecotourism (Korth); and the politics of identity (Robertson). Overall, the study concentrates on the twelve years from Fiji's emergence from Rabuka's 1987 coups to the false dawn of legitimized electoral contest in 1999.

Standing back from the details of this informed, generally well written material, what emerges from the twelve-year experience? At least five issues deserve mention, including Fiji's attempts to meet the needs of its indigenous people by affirmative action programs that failed through defective accountability; deep-seated resistance to change; rational prescriptions clashing with perceived realities; the fragility of Fiji's social capital; and the abuse of the politics of identity by those pursuing personal gain while claiming to remedy public economic disparities. Although well amplified by these papers, the onus rests with the reader to construe these themes now briefly considered.

Detailing the orthodox structural adjustment polices begun by Fiji during the 1980s, Sepheri and Akram-Lodhi note that an ostensible objective was to transform Fiji's sluggish growth and high tax habits into a more dynamic, outward-looking set of practices. State instruments were employed to balance private-sector growth with protections of indigenous interests, policies that expanded the scope of ethnically based patronage within the state and society. This encouraged the rent seeking that Prasad and Kumar characterize as income-generating activity, conducted to the neglect of productivity improvements and the detriment of national welfare. The collapse of the National Bank of Fiji is cited as a good example of how rent seeking emerged with notoriety in Rabuka's post-coup Fiji.

Yet as Ratuva notes in his excellent contribution, Fiji has never promulgated a coherent blueprint for affirmative action. He bemoans the state's inability to create an institutional framework that might foster profitability among ethnic Fijian businesses. For Satendra Prasad, the policies of structural adjustment pursued under Rabuka exerted uneven impacts throughout different communities, possibly aggravating long-standing provincial tensions. Overall, the damage done by failing to match economic liberalization with political reform emerges unmistakably from these essays.

Regarding resistance to change, three contributions deserve note. In his commentary on the 1997 Constitution, Ghai reveals how the pathbreaking Reeves Commission saw the political parties use their inquiry to incite supporters and incur animosities against other communities. The old vituperation across racial lines was accompanied by habitual internal disarray, Ghai claiming that the Reeves Commission erred on the side of optimism regarding the actual state of institutionalization, discipline, and coherence within Fiji's political parties. Conditions since 1987, moreover, offered few incentives to take ethnic cooperation seriously. Second, Prasad and Kumar's contribution illustrates the legacy of neglect that has dogged the antiquated, yet still...


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