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35+ years of activism & feminism in Fiji

Published

29 September 2020

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Fiji Women's Rights Movement

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Press Release: Human Rights Audit of Fiji boards shows troubling governance and a lack of ethnic and gender diversity

Press Release: Human Rights Audit of Fiji boards shows troubling governance and a lack of ethnic and gender diversity

29/09/2020

FWRM’s new report, which conducted a human rights and gender audit of Boards’ composition reveals troubling findings of a lack of diversity and gender equality on governance boards in Fiji.

The low numbers on some Boards also point to poor governance, as they are either below statutory minimums, or below global good practice, and not large enough to be diverse and independent, with a significant 82% of such Boards with less than 7 members.

Global good practice suggests that governance boards, especially those of state entities, should have around 7 members in order to reflect the diversity, a wide range of skills and competencies, and crucially, independence. It is less likely to reflect this variety with only 2-4 Board Members.

FWRM believes in the ideals of multiracialism, human rights, gender equality, good governance, democracy and the rule of law and that Board appointments must reflect all these values.

The audit also shows that a significant number of Boards have low numbers of Board members, either in contravention of their parent and enabling legislation or below standard global good practices on recommended minimum Board numbers. A significant 31 of 38 or almost 82% of such Boards have less than 7 members.

Based on publicly available information 5% or 2 of 38 Boards have only 2 members, including Fiji Airports Limited (FAL) and the Legal Aid Commission (LAC), only men in both, and well below global good practice.

An example of a Commission board appearing to contravene its own enabling legislation is the Legal Aid Commission Act, which requires 7 members, but has currently only 2 men, no women and no non-government independent members, violating rules of good governance as well as diversity.

There is a significant gap between Board good governance membership numbers and practice in Fiji. Of 38 Boards, 31 or close to 82% of Boards have less than 7 members. Eight (8) Boards or 21% have 6 members, 8 or 21% have 5 members, 7 or 18% have 4 members, 6 or 16% have 3 members and 2 Boards or 5% have only 2 members.

The 6 Boards with only 3 members include Post Fiji Pte Limited (PFL) and Fiji Broadcasting Corporation Pte Limited (FBC). The 7 Boards with only 4 members include Fiji Roads Authority (FRA) and Unit Trust of Fiji (Management) Limited (UTOF). The Boards with only 5 members include Air Pacific Limited, Civil Aviation Authority of Fiji (CAAF), Land Transport Authority (LTA) and Reserve Bank of Fiji (RBF).

Examples of Boards with member numbers below that required or suggested by their enabling legislation include CAAF which should have at least 6 and not more than 9, but has only 5; LTA which should have 7 members, but has only 5; the RBF which should have 7 Directors, appears to have 5; and the FRA which should have a minimum of 5 members, but has 4.

FWRM suggests that a fundamental widely recognized principle of good governance is that “power should not be concentrated in the hands of so few”. These are public Boards of entities owned by the people of Fiji. Groups should be fairly represented on them in sufficient numbers to protect the public good and independence, to reflect gender and ethnic diversity and to have a wide range of skills and competencies to protect the interests of the people of Fiji.

In reality, for government boards to reflect proper gender and ethnic diversity, independence and a range of skills, there need to be sufficient numbers. There appears to be continuing debate on this subject but there is an emphasis on ensuring that there is a diversity of opinion and experience, and enough directors to be able to operate effective Board sub-committees where the bulk of the work should be done, but not so many so that the Boards becomes unwieldy.

 

FWRM is equally concerned that the governance board representation does not reflect the population diversity of Fiji. According to the report, indigenous Fijians make up 58-60% of the population, approximately 32% are Fijians of Indian or South Asian descent and 8-10% consists of various ethnic groups and mixed ethnicity.

“There is very little to no diversity on many governance boards in Fiji. Men make up 50 per cent of the population but make up the significant majority of board members, at around 79 per cent,” said the Fiji Women’s Rights Movement.

“At the same time, Indigenous Fijians are underrepresented on governance boards relative to their population size. Thirteen per cent of boards have no indigenous Fijian participation at all, and 37% have less than 30% indigenous Fijian participation. In commercial entities, indigenous Fijians are somewhat more poorly represented.”

According to the audit, indigenous Fijians comprise 32% of Board membership. Indian Fijians are 10 points higher than indigenous Fijians, at 42% of Board members, whilst other ethnic groups are 26%.

“The report states that overall, men, Indian Fijians and other ethnic groups are overrepresented in both gender and diversity dimensions of Board leadership, with other ethnic groups being the most privileged, of all groups,” said FWRM.

Women who perform secretarial functions and record board minutes are not Board Members with fiduciary responsibilities, says FWRM, and are not counted as Board Members.

As a disclaimer, FWRM states that the report is based on available data as it is extremely difficult to get updated information, and it is willing to alter its findings if it is provided with updated information.

“Women already face multiple forms of discrimination because of their gender and this is only exacerbated further by the lack of opportunity to gain experience and privileges that some groups seem to have.”

According to the report, it is stated that companies with greater gender diversity in their leadership teams outperform those with less—often by as much as 30%.

The lack of diversity on governance boards threatens the progress Fiji has made towards improving human rights and also contradicts Fiji’s commitments.

“The Government needs to ensure that their boards are representative of Fiji’s diversity in line with their policies and international commitments to promote gender equality and diversity. The report shows strong evidence that diversity in boards improves overall performance,” said FWRM.

“This is a crucial step forward to improve human rights and gender equality in Fiji.”

The full paper of 20 pages is available on our website and Facebook page (@fwrm).

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For more information please contact Communications Officer Maryann Lockington on email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or mobile (+679) 8677330