November 10, 2012 12:00:00 AM
Fiji’s new Constitution should ensure that social justice and the common good reign supreme and not allow corporate greed to dominate our economy and politics and keep our people in poverty.
This was the statement of Ecumenical Centre for Research, Education and Advocacy’s Father Kevin Barr during the Constitution Commission’s seminar on Constitution and Poverty at the University of the South Pacific last night.
“Our constitution provides one important way whereby steps can be taken to eradicate poverty in our land and provide guidelines for true people-centred development through principles of social justice and the common good,” he said.
“We have so much poverty and inequality in Fiji and our Constitution must address it directly and seriously.”
“Poverty is a multi-dimensional problem with a variety of causes, solutions and implications for society. There is no one easy quick-fix solution. But it is important to note that poverty and inequality most often result from a complex system of power relationships built into the structures of society.”
“Currently in Fiji there are at least about 35% of the population living below the poverty line and another 30% living not far above the poverty line. Thus roughly two thirds of our population either lives in poverty or close to it,” said Father Barr.
He said while the 1997 Constitution (chapter 4) contained a bill of rights which spelt out the rights of citizens in Fiji, it talked about our rights to the things which should keep us out of poverty but did not say how these rights can be delivered in reality.
“While human rights can be enshrined in a constitution, we need to keep in mind that human rights must be made actionable through appropriate legislation and people must be made aware of those rights and how they can claim them.”
“People must be empowered to mobilise themselves and demands those rights and structural changes need to be made in society if people’s rights are to become effective.”
Father Barr said the Constitution needs to spell out the rights of all the people to their basic needs and it needs an economic/political system which is people-centred and works for the common good – not for the benefit only of a few.
“Moreover the Constitution needs to spell out principles whereby, at the time of elections, political parties must publicly account for contributions they receive from the private sector or individuals.”
“The Constitution should also demand that government pays special attention to the poor and marginalised in society and ensures that everyone can meet their basic needs and poverty and gross inequality are eliminated,” he concluded.
By Reginald Chandar