Accountability and Governance in Fiji

  • Usman W. ChohanEmail author
Living reference work entry



“Accountability and Governance” in Fiji refers to the extant and historic architecture in Fiji for the fostering of institutions that promote accountable development, oversight, and governance; in terms of their current capacities and challenges, in the influence of historical experience on their abilities, and in the degree of coordination between these institutions.


In Fiji, the objective of fostering more effective governance and accountability has been met with the need to reconcile a series of dichotomies, including those of centralization versus regionalism, of indigenous demography versus multiracialism, of Commonwealth (colonial) structures versus autochthonous structures, of military versus civilian bureaucracies, and of immediate governance requirements versus long-term planning (see Appana 2003; Nath 2006; Rika et al. 2008; Chohan and Jacobs 2016). The pendulum has swung periodically in favor of one element over the other since independence in 1970 (and even before), as evidenced in periods of military rule, or in several waves of exodus of Indo-Fijians, or in the process of power-centralization. As a result, while many accountability institutions and governance best practices are found in Fiji, their work can be described as disjointed and working in an uncoordinated manner (Chohan and Jacobs 2016). The purpose of this chapter is to delineate those elements and present an overarching portrait of their interaction in a Fijian context, and then to suggest areas of interest in governance reform as well as areas of future research.

Overview of Fijian Accountability Institutions

Fiji is an independent republic in South Pacific that can be characterized as post-colonial, archipelagic, multilingual, biracial, primary-resource based, Commonwealth, and parliamentary. It exerts a substantial economic, political, and intellectual influence within the community of Pacific Island nations due to its comparatively large size, including a population base of nearly one million citizens (World Bank Databank [ŴBD] 2017).

After gaining independence in 1970, Fiji maintained numerous institutional legacies of the British colonial period, including a Westminster parliamentary system for representation, legislation, and oversight (Chohan and Jacobs 2016), as well as provincial councils for indigenous affairs (Rika et al. 2008). However, political instability led to coups d’état in 1987, 2000, and 2006, which then created periods of military rule that diminished the force of independent accountability institutions, and also sparked an exodus of Indo-Fijians who were highly active in these institutions, including in the parliament, the executive bureaucracy, the judicial system, and the audit office (Nath 2006). It also led to a centralization of power that fed tensions with the decentralizing forces that had sought to empower Fiji’s rural population, which was 70% of the total population in 1960 and still accounts for 45% today (WBD 2017). Furthermore, the participation of civil society and the media in governance and accountability was markedly reduced in this period.

As such, the disruption caused by political instability and consequent regime changes has meant that, at one level, many accountability and governance institutions have not been able to deliver fully on their mandates due to their intermittent functionality (see Appana 2003; Nath 2006; Rika et al. 2008; Chohan and Jacobs 2016). At another level, it has also meant that, whenever these accountability institutions have been recreated, or have reasserted their role in the governance process, they have worked in a disjointed fashion that has not sufficiently coordinated their mutual purpose of fostering better governance (Chohan and Jacobs 2016).

Accountability Institutions Today

In the past several years, the subjacent political tensions have eased, and this has allowed various types of reform to be instated at a large scale. Principal among these is the new Constitution of the Republic of Fiji [CoRF] that was promulgated with a view towards serious attention to transparency, accountability, and governance (Chohan and Jacobs 2016). The terms “accountability” and “transparency” appear numerous times in various parts of the constitution, and issues of accountability represent an entire chapter (among 12 chapters) within the constitutional document (CoRF 2013). In fact, Article 1, Chapter 1 of the constitution begins by stating that Fiji is a republic founded of values of “good governance,” “transparency,” and “accountability,” (CoRF 2013).

The constitution embodies a new impetus for accountability institutions to restart or re-enhance their work. Institutions of particular import include inter alia the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) of Parliament, the Audit Office, the Judiciary. The constitution also leads to inferences about greater room for addressing governance and accountability through civil society and through the media. There is today a greater emphasis being laid on public consultation in governance areas such as the budget process, where civil society and media groups are becoming more engaged.

However, despite its robust form and strong push for governance and accountability, the constitution does not encompass all of the institutional possibilities that would meaningfully serve Fiji. Chohan and Jacobs (2016) raise the example of a Parliamentary Budget Office (PBO), which is not explicitly mentioned in the constitution, as an institution that would bolster those entities that are mentioned in it. They argue that a PBO could serve a dual purpose. First, it could serve as a mechanism for budget accountability by introducing fiscal expertise that is nonpartisan into the budget process. Second, the PBO could help to coordinate the work of existing accountability institutions in the budget process, including the PAC and the Audit Office, which have historically worked on budget issues in a separate manner with only incidental or intermittent collaboration (Chohan and Jacobs 2016). This is not to be confused with their independent mandates, for coordination in this sense still implies that these accountability institutions will effectuate their duties independently, i.e., in collaboration but not in collusion, as part of the democratic process of oversight. The PBO is but one important suggestion, but future research must delineate other possibilities that are pertinent to Fiji. One example of this may be a Citizen’s Budget, which seeks to simplify an understanding of the fiscal process for the general public so as to engage citizens more directly and broadly in national budgeting. Again, future research should consider which other governance institutions and mechanisms would best be suited to the Fijian context.

There are also a few institutional innovations mentioned in the 2013 Constitution that have yet to be put into effect. The most important among these is an Accountability and Transparency Commission (ATC). Article 121 of the constitution stipulates that the ATC will be an independent oversight commission that will work institutions such as Parliament. However, the constitution does not delve with specificity into the ATC’s mandate, and since the ATC has not been created as of this writing, its future performance and success within the accountability architecture of Fiji is still indeterminate.

Fiji is engaged in a process of wide-ranging economic reform, including economic diversification away from its primary industries (notably sugar), the restructuring of several core state entities, prioritizing foreign investment, and developing Fiji’s human capital. This reform process means that governance, along with its concomitant enhancement of the democratic leverage of citizens (Stapenhurst et al. 2008), is a matter of significance and immediacy.


There are a series of dichotomies which have influenced the course of governance and accountability in Fiji. In terms of centralization versus regionalism, there is a larger degree of centralization today than in the past, which is influenced in part by events including political crises and military rule, but also because of demographic factors such as urbanization drawing citizens in from more remote parts of the archipelago. In terms of indigenization versus multiracialism, accountability and governance institutions reflect a concerted effort towards bringing racial harmony and leveraging the benefits of diversity for Fiji’s institutions. In terms of its Commonwealth legacy, despite several episodes of expulsion since 1970, Fiji maintains many of the same accountability institutions found in the Commonwealth community, such as Public Accounts Committees and a Supreme Audit Institution, and these are finding renewed participation in the accountability process since the promulgation of the 2013 Constitution. These are also part of the process of initiating a more longer-term approach towards governance processes such as budgeting. However, Fiji would benefit from several other institutions that are not yet in place, such as a Parliamentary Budget Office, a Citizen’s Budget, and the Accountability and Transparency Commission that was mentioned in the 2013 Constitution but has not been put in place as of this writing.

As such, significant scope still exists for improving the standard of accountability in Fiji both at the national and subnational levels (Rika et al. 2008; Chohan and Jacobs 2016). The purpose in all of this should be to enhance the democratic leverage of Fijian citizens (Stapenhurst et al. 2008). Nevertheless, in light of the jagged and uneven path that Fiji has taken in the nearly 50 years since independence, the emphasis must not be on innovations in the accountability architecture, as much as it should be on (1) making existing institutions more robust and (2) on increasing the degree of coordination between them (Table 1).
Table 1

Timeline of governance, politics, and accountability in Fiji




Indigenous Fijians manage governance issues through societies founded on kinship ties that center around village life in settlements interspersed across the islands. Power is endowed to local chiefs who exercise independence and do not impose a centralized governance architecture


European contact: Europeans arrive under auspices of missionary work and trade


King of Fiji: Cakobau claims the titled of Tui Viti (King)


Confederation of Fijian Chiefs established


Constitutional monarch: King Cakobau adopts a symbolic role in constitutional monarchy, with legislature and cabinet dominated by settlers from Australia


Fiji becomes a British colony


Legislative Council reconstituted as a partially elected body, with European male settlers enfranchised and Fijian chiefs given an indirect input


Partial enfranchisement of Indo-Fijians


Indigenous Fijians enfranchised


Responsible government introduced with devolution of power to Fiji


Fiji gains independence from British rule


Constitutional crisis in Fiji, with inability to form government post-election, governance and accountability institutions face headwinds


Two military coups d’état, Fiji’s expulsion from Commonwealth, Fiji becomes a republic


New constitution institutionalizes a preeminent position for indigenous Fijians


Governance and accountability institutions suffer substantial shocks and adversity


Constitutional conference leads to a new constitution that is generally accepted by leaders from major political parties


Coup d’état and political crisis


Latent political, economic, and ethnic tensions continue to derail the work of governance and accountability institutions


Coup d’état and political crisis


The previous 2006 coup d’état declared illegal, restoration of the work of certain governance and accountability institutions quietly begins


A new constitution (CoRF) is promulgated to replace the 1997 constitution. It lays an emphasis on accountability, reform, transparency, and governance


Large-scale economic reforms are underway. Accountability and governance institutions begin a concerted effort towards exercising their mandates. However, in some instances, the process is not complete, and in some cases, while the process has successfully been reinstated, there is a lack of coordination with other accountability institutions



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© Springer International Publishing AG 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.UNSW CanberraUniversity of New South WalesCanberraAustralia