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Fiji: Local Govt Reform Vs. Benefits To Ratepayers

Govt's commitment to deliver the local govt reform to maximise benefits to ratepayers

The Permanent Secretary for Labour, Industrial Relations and Employment, Mr. Taito Waqa reaffirmed that the Ministry for Labour, Industrial Relations, Employment, Local Government, Urban Development, Housing and Environment is fully committed to undertake a holistic review and reform of all municipalities, as approved by Cabinet this year.

Mr. Waqa said that Government wants to undertake the Local Government Reform urgently, since it is public knowledge for a very long time that there have been numerous complaints received from ratepayers and the general public on the poor quality of certain services provided by municipalities. In response, the Local Government Minister, Hon Vayeshnoi, had presented to Cabinet early this year on the urgent need to implement this long pending Reform, which Cabinet approved.

Mr. Waqa reiterated that Cabinet also took into consideration the recommendation of Sir Paul Reeves in the late 1990s to urgently reform the Local Government. Unfortunately, this recommendation was not immediately implemented by previous Governments, and he assured that the current Government is fully committed to deliver this long pending reform for the benefits of all rate payers and the general public who have been suffering silently because their grievances have not been fully responded to fairly by past Governments. This is the main reason for the urgency to implement the Reform, and Government will not tolerate any hindrance in this process, both from within or outside of the Ministry.

Due to the complexities and challenges of the Reform, the Ministry will be working with international experts on local government matters, in line with Cabinet decision and is committed to complete the various phases of the reform within specific timelines as directed by Cabinet.

Mr. Waqa said that after the 3-member Review/Reform Committee is appointed, its Terms of Reference (TOR) will be published and the Ministry will ensure that the Reform is expedited accordingly.

The aim of the review is to rationalize and re-orientate municipal councils on delivery of services, improve efficiency, incorporate greater accountability mechanisms and to provide the necessary amenities, infrastructure and facilities for the ratepayers and residents of each respective municipality.

The review will also ensure that each municipal council has the administrative capacity as well as the necessary financial resources to be able to properly discharge its duties. In this respect, the review will also look at the development of each municipality in line with internationally recognized standards, incorporating well established practices of urban development in improving roads, drainage, street lights, market facilities, recreational facilities and better collection and accountable expenditure of ratepayer funds.

Mr. Waqa added that the review will also ensure that municipal councils practice good governance and to ensure that the municipal councils have a structure in place which promotes efficient and effective delivery of services. It will also look at the promotion of greater partnership, harmony and synergy between municipal councils as well as with the central Government with a view to achieving greater national development goals and objectives.

Mr. Waqa assured the ratepayers and the public of the independence in the appointment of the 3-member Review/Reform Committee which is currently under process, with due prudence in the use of tax payers' funds. In this respect, Mr. Waqa, confirmed that the budget to be utilized in the Local Government Reform will be sourced from within the Local Government portfolio budget of the Ministry and not from the Housing Assistance budget for squatter settlement, as alleged in the media recently. This is in line with the Cabinet Decision.

Mr. Waqa concluded that the final recommendations of the Review Team will be brought to Cabinet later this year.

[Taito R. Waqa]
Permanent Secretary for Labour, Industrial Relations and Employment
Friday, 11th July 2008

ENDS

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