VIII. CONCLUSIONS AND RECOMMENDATIONS
The environment of Fiji does not face the same demographic and economic pressure as that found in many other countries. The degree of land degradation as not as high as in many of its Asian neighbours and the rate of deforestation is much lower than in western Melanesia. In addition, the levels of industrial pollution associated with a heavy manufacturing and agricultural pollution that is common in Europe are absent, and Fiji does not suffer from the congestion and air pollution associated with large Third World cities. Yet despite those advantages, Fiji has serious environmental problems. Those problems are not measured by their severity or extent, but rather by the levity and ineffectiveness that serious, albeit incipient problems have been treated. Particular problems include: degradation of land resources; unsustainable exploitation of marine resources; and the environmental impact of increasing urbanization. Fiji is too small and too vulnerable for such problems to be ignored for any length of time.
As a small island nation, Fiji has a fragile environment on which it depends heavily for economic, social and cultural reasons. It is important for Fiji to be able to continue to rely on its natural resources without unnecessarily upsetting the balance of its fragile environment. Yet there is a general lack of environmental concern among policy makers and the community at large. That attitude probably stems from the fact that Fiji does not face immediate and conspicuously serious environmental problems. Policy makers are more immediately concerned about income and employment generation, which is reflected in the national and sectoral development policies and plans.
Fiji’s land, forests, rivers, and coastal and sea resources have traditionally served as the main source of livelihood and community security. To a large extent, that situation still prevails. But while dependence on natural resources continues, it has changed a great deal in its nature through the introduction of the cash economy. This has affected the close interdependent relationship of the landowners with natural resources as ell as their attitudes towards conserving those resources for their own use and for future generations. Traditional conservation and generally sustainable resource utilization are tending to give way to active exploitation for cash revenue and often non-sustainable use of land and other resources.
The lack of official environmental concern has persisted since independence, with environmental issues receiving low priority in development policies and plans. Fiji’s environmental laws are now antiquated and fragmented. Where environmental problems have been dealt with, that has been done at the sectoral level and not as part of integrated national policy.
While environmental concern does exist among the communities of Fiji, it tends to be muted. There is no significant lobby group through which community concerns over the environment can be articulated. It has been international agencies and donors that have been a major driving force behind an awakening to environmental issues in Fiji. They have provided the catalyst for a series of important reports on the Fiji environment over the past decade: the National Environmental Management Programme, the National State of Environment Report, Capacity 21 and the National Environment Strategy. Those reports have culminated in the proposed Sustainable Development Bill.
All the reports reveal major weaknesses in environmental management. Among the common problems identified include:
If environmental legislation is to be successful it needs the full support of the nation at all levels. Politicians are usually swayed by the demands of the public or influenced by international aid donors. Demands by aid donors have made an impact. However, there is little public lobbying for environmental concerns or issues. That is as much to do with an unwillingness or inability to articulate concerns as it is with environmental awareness. Thus part of environmental public awareness programmes must also be directed towards developing a capability and willingness to articulate environmental concerns. There has been encouragingly close community consultation in the development of the Sustainable Development Act. The future of the Bill appears good since it has received good support from the business community, which recognizes that it creates the “rules of the game” and a “level playing field” in competing with firms that are damaging the environment.
The integration of environmental concerns into economic decision-making is also weak. The various committees responsible for macroeconomics advice and decision-making do not include members who are responsible for the environment. Indeed, there is a major need for a cadre of environmental economists to be developed within the government service, particularly for CPO and the Department of the Environment.
At the sectoral level, environmental considerations are taken into account to a certain extent through EIAs. However, EIAs are not mandatory and only apply to identifiable new development projects. Most environmental degradation has resulted from ongoing activities. Furthermore, there is very little monitoring of projects once they have started.
Many of the requirements for improving the sustainability of currentdevelopment practices were identified in the National Environment Strategy of 1992 and in the reports leading up to the formulation of that document. Many of the recommendations are being implemented or are under consideration. However, the efforts of Fiji remain far short of incorporating environmental considerations into economic decision-making, particularly at the macroeconomics level.
The government has failed to provide sufficient support for the Department of the Environment to adequately undertake the tasks expected of it. The Department has inadequate core funding (it secures most of its funding through specific aid funded projects) and staffing (staff levels are only half the minimum recommended in the National Environment Strategy. That indicates a persistent lack of government will to commit itself to the issue of sustainable development. The Department of the Environment needs to be adequately staffed, both in numbers and qualifications, otherwise there will be little point in proceeding with the Sustainable Development Bill. However, in the current atmosphere of declining overall staff ceilings in the civil service that will be a difficult task, and can only be achieved through the reallocation of staff within the service. In fact, with the changing role of government in the development process some departments are greatly over-staffed. One example is the Extension Division of the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry (Asian Development Bank, 1996). But any major reallocations of staff will require an unprecedented level of cooperation between ministers/ministries and PSC.
The enactment of the Sustainable Development Bill should proceed as soon as the necessary consultations have been completed and any appropriate modifications made to the draft legislation. However, it must be recognized that the Bill merely creates the necessary legal and institutional framework and is far from sufficient in regard to ensuring the occurrence of sustainable development. Monitoring and enforcement mechanisms need to be strengthened in parallel with legislation. For the Bill to achieve its objectives there must be strong and ongoing political commitment and, perhaps more importantly, a sustained desire on the part of the civil servants who administer the Bill to make it work. Those civil servants will need to be provided with the required technical skills to do what is expected of them under the Bill.
Legislation has an important role to play in achieving the desired environmental and sustainable development objectives. However, because of Fiji’s poor record in that area, particularly with respect to enforcement, it is recommended that economic incentives and environmental awareness be given more attention in support of achieving compliance.
Strengthening the planning and decision-making machinery along the lines of the Siwatibau (1996) report is required if there is to be a mainstreaming of environmental considerations. As with the enactment of the Sustainable Development Bill, those institutional reforms provide only the necessary framework.. That strengthening will need to be accompanied by a collective determination among public servants and decision makers to use the machinery for promoting sustainable development.
As already recommended in this paper, a macroeconomist with a strong background in environmental economics needs to be appointed to a senior position in CPO. Consideration should be given to hiring an expatriate to hold the position until a counterpart officer is identified and trained. A key function of the macroeconomist would be to serve on the Macro Economic Committee as well as other committees which deal with the formulation of macroeconomic policies. The dearth of environmental economists within the system needs also to be rectified if environmental considerations are to become a systematic part of economic decision-making.
A variety of institutional arrangements and structures exist among the ministries. Some have established Environmental Management Units or Enforcement Units and Planning Units, while others have none. There is very little coordination or even interaction between the units. The establishment of environmental management units in all line ministries, as required by section 19 of the Sustainable Development Bill, is an important prerequisite to achieving the required coordination. Given declining overall public service staff ceilings that will require a reallocation of staffing requirements within those ministries. For example, within the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry some production extension officers could be reassigned and retrained as environmental officers, and then located within the existing Land-Use Section where they could provide technical support for LCB.
With Fiji’s high level of dependency on international trade, more attention and resources need to be devoted to monitoring environmental developments in the international arena. In particular, attention needs to be given to the protocols being negotiated under WTO. As a contracting party to WTO, Fiji will need to understand the implications of the environmental provisions, as they will bring with them responsibilities and, even more importantly, create commercial opportunities for informed Fiji exporters.
A greater effort is required in the area of collecting and analysing environmental statistics in support of policy formulation, EIA, monitoring and enforcement. The first step is to make effective use of the various environmental information systems that have been established. For that to occur sufficient staff, trained in the use of such systems, must be available. They will need to use the data bases on a regular basis as well as be able to meet the need to share the data among the different ministries requiring environmental information. Trained staff are also required in developing and using the United Nations System of National Accounts as that will allow the valuation of environmental and social considerations, and is required under section 25 of the Sustainable Development Bill.
PSC should give a much higher priority to environmental studies through its allocation of government scholarships to the University of the South Pacific or overseas training for specialist or postgraduate environmental studies. That should include environmental economics at both the undergraduate and postgraduate levels. Priority areas of expertise that have been identified include environmental economics, macroeconomists with environmental training, and environmental information system management. Training to support the implementation of the Sustainable Development Act will require assistance from donors and international agencies.
The donors and international agencies have already provided considerable assistance and support in the preparation of the Sustainable Development Act, but continued support will be required to ensure its successful implementation. That support is vital not only for environmentally sustainable development in Fiji, but also because of the international implications, The Act is a pioneering stage in environmental legislation for which Fiji is a case study. If successful, the benefits from the experience will be shared with the region and the world as a whole.