III. EXISTING INSTITUTIONS AND MEASURES FOR INTEGRATING ENVIRONMENTAL CONCERNS INTO DEVELOPMENT PLANNING AND DECISION-MAKING FOR SUVA CITY
A. Institutional arrangements for environmental management
Environmental administration and the legal framework within which it operates has evolved in a piecemeal fashion in Fiji over the past four decades. The lead was taken by the Ministry of Health which maintained theoretical control over certain aspects of the environment through its Public Health Act, 1955. The Ministry of Labour, through the more recent Factories Act, complemented the Ministry of Health in areas dealing with working conditions. Even older "environmental" legislation can be found, such as the Birds and Game Protection Act, 1923. Other legislation enacted from time to time could be considered partly environmental in orientation, such as the Forest Act, 1963 or the Fisheries Act, 1941. The Land Conservation and Improvement Act, 1953 could be used to protect land from degradation. However, those agencies in effect gave little attention to the environment, and it can therefore be said that environmental management did not occur in any comprehensive way.
Environmental concerns have been raised through the various five-year development plans dating from 1970. A National Environment Council was recommended in Development Plan 7 in 1980, but it was not implemented. In the early 1990s, the idea resurfaced and an operational structure for the Council was proposed by Pulea (1992). That recommendation has now become an integral part of the draft Sustainable Development Bill.
The first real coordinated effort by the government in environmental management was to set up the interministerial Environmental Management Committee (EMC) in 1980. The Committee was established with the aim of developing a coordinated cross-sectoral approach to environmental planning and management issues. However, EMC evolved primarily into an advisory body, with its coordinating role limited to consideration of the environmental implications of public sector development proposals and projects.
By the end of the 1980s it had become clear that the government needed a more formal approach to environmental issues. The response in 1989 was the establishment of the Environmental Management Unit (EMU) within the Department of Town and Country Planning (DTCP) of the then Ministry of Housing and Urban Development. The main functions of EMU were to provide policy advice to the government on environmental matters. It was also expected to conduct environmental assessments referred to it by government departments. In 1992, EMU was elevated to a full government department, the Department of the Environment, while its parent agency was enlarged to become the Ministry of Housing, Urban Development and the Environment.
The Department of the Environment has operated effectively as a technical advisory committee on environmental management and development issues. However, the Department lacks influence over the economic planning process, and a lack of effective central coordination of national environment initiatives remains.
Recognizing the need for sustainable development, the government in collaboration with the World Conservation Union prepared a National Environment Strategy for Fiji which was completed in 1993. The National Environment Strategy led the way for the drafting of the Sustainable Development Bill which was completed in November 1996. The Bill is expected to be enacted by Parliament towards the end of 1997.
The Sustainable Development Bill will provide an opportunity to adopt a legal mechanism under which development decisions can be made on a sustainable basis. Under the Act, each ministry responsible for the management or administration of social, economic, environment, or natural resource matters will have to formulate sustainable policies. Thus, in terms of the Suva environment, the Ministry of Housing, Urban Development and the Environment will be responsible for formulating urban environmental policies as well as broader environmental policies. Those broader environmental policies will contain statements on national priorities concerning the environment. It will also include different objectives sought, and programmes and initiatives that are to be implemented. The policies will then be submitted for approval by the National Council for Sustainable Development (NCSD), that will be created by the Act. According the Bill:"The National Council for Sustainable Development will provide effective and coordinated decision-making on sustainable development planning, policies and implementation planning, policies and implementation programmes, and where necessary to provide for environmentally sound and sustainable resource use and allocation. The National Council for Sustainable Development Chairperson will be the Permanent Secretary responsible for local government and the environment. The Council will be made up of the Permanent Secretaries of: Foreign Affairs; Lands, Mineral Resources and Energy; Finance and Economic Development; Regional Development; Agriculture Fisheries and Forests; Public Works, Infrastructure and Transport; Tourism; Health; and Marine Affairs. Also included will be statutory authorities (e.g., the Native Lands Trust Board and the Ports Authority) and private sector representatives. Significantly, the President of the Local Government Association, who is currently the Lord Mayor of Suva, will also be a member. The Director of the Environment will serve as the Secretary."
Under the Act "an effective sustainable development policy formulation process will be established within every government ministry, department or statutory body that holds responsibility for the management or administration of social, economic environmental or natural resource matters." In accordance with those national environmental policies, these entities will have to formulate an environment management plan. The plan will be required to contain a summary of resource inventories and to evaluate the impact of current and proposed activities on the carrying capacity of natural resources. It will also include an implementation programme outlining policies, programmes, and mechanisms. The responsibility for the environmental management plans for Suva City and the Greater Suva area will lie directly with the Ministry of Housing, Urban Development and the Environment, directly through DTCP and indirectly through the Suva City Council (SCC).
To measure the appropriateness and effectiveness of implementing resource management plans for all areas of Fiji, including Suva, the Ministry of Housing, Urban Development and the Environment will be required to keep an account of the state of environment. That will include giving a Fiji dollar value to the entire environmental capital as well as any additions or subtractions to the capital which occur during the audit period. The Auditor-General, whose current role is to undertake financial audits of government ministries, departments and statutory bodies, will be given the additional responsibility of auditing the Ministry of Housing, Urban Development and the Environment environmental accounts. The Auditor-General will provide an evaluation as to whether the Ministry of Housing, Urban Development and the Environment has properly disbursed its annual operational budget in accordance with government sustainable development policies. The Auditor-General will then be required to prepare a report for the Ministry of Finance which, in turn, will pass it on to Parliament. In that way enforceability of most national policies can be achieved through direct links with the budgetary approval process. Each ministry will therefore be accountable not only for finances but also for the resource(s) in their charge. The budget allocation for each public institution responsible for the environment will be determined by the state of its environmental resource and its past performance.
A notable feature of the policy formulation, implementation and audit process under the Sustainable Development Bill is the lack of direct participation by local authorities, such as SCC, although the President of the Local Government Association is a member of NCSD. There will, however, be increased use of mandatory Environmental Impact Assessments (EIAs) in the town planning process with the implementation of the Sustainable Development Bill. That will link the SCC town planners, via DTCP, to the Environmental Assessment Unit of the Department of the Environment. Yet, by and large, power and responsibility under the Sustainable Development Bill remain with national bodies and not with the local authorities. It is the central government agencies that will be required to develop and adopt a comprehensive national policy for environmental and resource management. It is hoped that will, in turn, provides goals, direction and guidance for local government entities such as SCC. For the significant urban populations in the Suva region, outside SCC, there is no currently no local government.
The Sustainable Development Bill is a pioneering form of environmental legislation and Fiji is therefore seen as a case study for the international community. Nowhere else has such a comprehensive effort been made to integrate environmental considerations into decision making. Thus the Fiji experience, if the Sustainable Development Bill is implemented, will be of international significance. There are, however, several worrying indications that which suggest that the Sustainable Development Bill will be difficult to implement. The basic concern is that the country is not yet ready for such comprehensive legislation, given the available finance, technology, and administrative and political leadership resources. A major reallocation of resources will be required, given the budgetary and staff ceilings under which the public service now operates. Several ministries have either vacant posts or employees who could be reassigned as well a suitable staff who could be retrained as environmental officers. However, such reorganizational efforts will meet with resistance unless the implementation of the Sustainable Development Bill is given the highest level of political commitment.
Legislation has an important role to play in achieving the desired environmental and sustainable development objectives of the Sustainable Development Act. However, Fiji has a poor track record in the area of legislation enforcement. Thus it is not surprising scepticism exists that successful compliance with so large and complicated a form of legislation can be achieved.
A problem of mindset exists among economic policy advisors that needs to be overcome. Many are of the view that development can only achieved through traditional macroeconomic policies directed at economic growth, full employment, balance of trade and price stability, and that macroeconomic indicators such as gross domestic product (GDP) are used to measure the performances of such policies. However, traditional macroeconomic policies and their performance indicators do not consider the two-way relationship of dependency which exists between the economy and the environment. The philosophy behind the Sustainable Development Act is different, and a change in mentality for successful implementation is therefore required.
Perhaps a more serious constraint to the successful implementation of the Sustainable Development Act is the entrenched negative public attitude to the enforcement of those laws which are of an overtly non-criminal nature. Attitudes which have built up over the years of neglect with regard to enforcement are now becoming more and more difficult to modify. That is particularly true in urban areas such as Suva where there is no special respect for an environment with which most residents have no traditional affinity. The problem of enforcement has become clearly evident with recent efforts in Suva and other municipal areas to require compliance with the Anti-Litter Decree which came into force in March 1992. The difficulties encountered in that area are indicative of the lack of environmental awareness which exists among a significant proportion of the population.
Yet those problems are surmountable. Furthermore there are positive
aspects to institutionalized planning and the decision-making process in
Fiji which are favourable for the implementation of the Bill. Fiji has
the advantage of an effective central decision-making machinery that has
been in place since independence. Its strengthening will, however, need
to be accompanied by a collective determination among public servants and
decision makers to use the machinery if issues such as sustainable development
are to be effectively mainstreamed. Environmental awareness at all levels
will be critical to ensuring that this effort succeeds. There is much to
lose if the Sustainable Development Act is not enacted and implemented.
Fiji will have missed an opportunity which is unlikely to present itself
again in the foreseeable future. As a consequence, the state of the environment
in Fiji will continue to deteriorate. The international community will
have lost the opportunity for valuable lessons from this pioneering effort
to integrate environmental considerations into decision-making.