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Fiji citizens learn to assess democratic accountability and service delivery

Representatives from 15 Fijian government agencies, state-owned enterprises and civil society organizations in Suva came together to assess democratic accountability in service delivery.

International IDEA and the Citizens’ Constitutional Forum (CCF) organized a two-day workshop for participants to review the accountability mechanisms in Fiji, discuss concepts of democratic accountability and undertake a hands-on training of the assessment methodology, based on International IDEA’s Democratic Accountability in Service Delivery assessment framework. This framework can be contextualized to empower citizens of Fiji to strengthen accountability measures in delivery of public services.

To support the discussions and to provide practical and hands-on application of the methodology, International IDEA invited Ramon Fernan III of the Philippine Assessment Team to share the Philippine experience of applying the framework to assess democratic accountability in delivery of services in the aftermath of Typhoon Haiyan. Fernan’s presentation on relief and rehabilitation issues resonated with the Fiji participant’s recent experience with the devastating aftermath of cyclone Winston, which hit the Fiji Islands recently and the challenges associated with delivering essential services to affected communities.

Democracy and accountability mechanisms in Fiji

Since gaining independence in 1970, Fiji has experienced a cycle of elections followed by coups followed by new constitutions. In 2014, Fiji held its first democratic elections since the last coup in 2006.

Under the current system, Fiji has a single national constituency comprising of 50 members, which means that citizens can bring issues to the attention of any of the 50 members of parliament.

In terms of services, final accountability rests with the minister who is an elected Member of Parliament. Unresolved issues relating to quality or efficiency in the delivery of services flows up the accountability chain from the front line up to the permanent secretaries (heads of the department) and to the ministers, and ultimately parliament. There are, however, two distinct pathways for addressing service delivery matters. One pathway caters only to the indigenous people, the Itaukei through the Itaukei Affairs Board. The other, which covers all others and not excluding Itaukei, is through the Commissioners of Divisions which is accountable for services provided by all government departments. Issues about services are raised through the district officer up to provincial administrators and finally to the Commissioners of the Divisions. The final accountability chain is the minister. As for Itaukei people, issues about services are raised through the roko tui (14 roko tuis) and are brought to the attention of the Itaukei Affairs Board of which the current Prime Minister is the responsible minister.

Workshop methodology and Fiji

From the onset, workshop participants were informed that the role of ‘outsiders’, such as International IDEA, is limited to supporting and facilitating the transfer of knowledge and skills of the methodology, and sharing of relevant experiences from other countries where the assessment methodology was applied such as the Philippines, Malawi and Haiti.

The workshop presenters explained the concepts of democratic accountability, its principles, and the basic steps involved in conducting a democratic accountability in service delivery assessment. Across two days, the participants engaged in group and plenary discussions on how the tool may be contextualized in Fiji by identifying service concerns such as access to healthcare and relief efforts after a natural disaster, and possible gaps in accountability relationships in the delivery of these services. Discussions and lessons learned from the Philippine experience highlighted similar concerns and expectations of citizens for quality and efficient delivery of public services, either public or private.

The training was attended by representatives from Fiji’s government agencies led by a former Minister of Women’s Affairs and head of indigenous women’s group Soqosoqo Vakamarama iTaukei officials of the iTaukei Affairs Board, the main government agency tasked with social welfare and well-being of indigenous Fijians and Office of the Prime Minister. Other representatives included line agencies such as the Fiji Water Authority and Fiji Roads Authority and Ministry of Rural and Maritime Development; Members from civil society: Bua Urban Youth Network, Dialogue Fiji, ECREA, Fiji Council of Social Services, Fiji Women’s Rights Movement; and regional organizations: Commonwealth Local Government Forum Pacific and Pacific Centre for Peacebuilding.

A total of 33 participants (12 female and 21 male) were in attendance.

Results and Next Steps

At the end of the workshop, there was a general consensus on the usefulness and applicability of assessment of democratic accountability in service delivery. The discussions also centred on devastation of Cyclone Winston in March 2016, how the participants’ experiences mirrored those in the Philippines. By bringing together representatives from the government and civil society organizations, the workshop enabled the participants to explore sharing of information and explore collaborative efforts in addressing calamity relief and rehabilitation efforts.

International IDEA has previously conducted workshops for Melanesian countries on its citizen-led democracy assessment frameworks and has an on-going partnership with the Fijian Electoral Commission to provide technical advice and build capacities of the commission.

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