Draft village bylaws
The iTaukei Affairs Board must be commended for this culmination of a series of workshops which I understand has begun in two of the 14 provinces. At a quick glance though, the draft bylaw reminds me of Fiji’s 19th Century indirect colonial rule. And when the iTaukei were finally freed from bondage, in 1967 and urbanisation boomed. I wonder, given the reduction at 49 per cent occupation in our rural areas, and if what appears to be a draconian draft village bylaw was to be formalised without a thorough consultation with those who will be affected by it whether directly or indirectly. Our villages might suddenly become empty. Furthermore, what of the social and economic implications? The following are some loud thoughts: 1. Aside from ensuring children to go to school, the draft is silent on children’s protection against any form of abuse including child labour. The Ministry of Women, Children and Poverty Alleviation’s recent announcement that 683 cases of child abuse have been recorded thus far in 2016 is a stark reminder that the welfare of the child should be paramount in village governance; 2. There is no protection against dominant voices of certain Christian denomination which burden the people (including recipients of Social Welfare protection), with obligations that are not Christ-like;
3. There is no protection for the voiceless against decisions made by villages, districts and provincial councils which threaten family well-being
4. While keeping the village wealth is listed as a role of the turaga ni koro (village head), the draft is silent on the responsibility of the customary owners of the land and the sea including the iqoliqoli; 5. While I am not saying that witchcraft is only prevalent in rural areas, where it is containable however, witchcraft, a push factor for rural to urban drift, and a root cause for family and village conflict, should be addressed. And where are the mainstream churches? Having said the above, my overall question is, what is so wrong with the villages developing their own bylaws in consultation with Police, other relevant government agencies and civil society organisations, should they wish to? It is already happening in some villages and working quite well.