June 17, 2014

Prof Wadan Narsey: Letter to Editor - Green sustainable development strategy in Fiji and mangroves

Letter to Editor (The Fiji Times, Fiji Sun, Island Business)
16 June 2014

Dear Sir

Many environmentalists would have been happy to hear the excellent speech made by the keynote speaker to the Green Growth Summit last week, Rear Admiral Bainimarama, who is quoted as saying that (The Fiji Times, 13 June 2014):

“We need to build green economies in which the driver of growth is a more intelligent and effective use of our resources, along with their sustainable management” and that “Fiji was taking the lead in the region”.

Unfortunately, the facts suggest otherwise.

As I have asked previously (with no answers forthcoming) could anyone in the Bainimarama Government responsible for the environment, explain who gave the permission for the massive destruction of mangroves in

(a) Nasese the extent of which can be seen in this Wikimapia map

(b) between Grantham Road and Fletcher Road, the extent of which can be seen in this Wikimapia map.

I would be grateful if  Mr Donald Singh would refrain from replying on behalf of the Fiji Government  as he did previously, without declaring his interest that his employer is one of the companies benefiting from this government’s largesse.

Professor Wadan Narsey

Note: Google Earth will also give you a good picture of any environment destruction that is happening anywhere in Fiji, such as in Lami, Veisari etc.

I have also previously put a video on Utube of the destruction of our mangroves.

Prof Wadan Narsey: Letter to Editor - Accountability of Fiji Roads Authority and PS Finance to tax-payers

Letter to Editor (The Fiji Times, Fiji Sun, Island Business)
16 June 2014

Dear Sir

It is positive that the CEO of Fiji Roads Authority is now frequently in print explaining what FRA is doing with the almost $1 billion (one thousand millions) of tax-payers’ money allocated to roads for 2013 and 2014.

But there have been no replies to several letters to the editor I have previously sent, requesting the Fiji Roads Authority  and the Permanent Secretary of Finance, to explain several matters of interest to the tax payers.

If they feel they are in any way accountable to the Fiji tax payers who fund them, can the PS Finance and CEO FRA please reply to these questions.

(a) who is auditing the expenditure by the Fiji Roads Authority

(b) what is the cost per kilometre of the new roads being build using these funds

(c) what is the total cost of the roads beautification around Cost U Less and USP.

(d) what is the total remunerations (salary and perks) of the top 10 persons employed by the FRA

(e) have tax-payers been responsible for any bad debts of the Black Top Company which closed down in Vanuau Levu.

(f) could the bridge over Nabukalau Creek be safely kept open as a single lane traffic for private and light goods vehicles, instead of closing it down totally OR was closing it down totally “proof of sorts” that the Public Works Department was not doing its job previously?

Professor Wadan Narsey

June 15, 2014

Prof Wadan Narsey: Election Issues 15 - How many voters do you really need?

OR “Do you really need 100% voter registration and 100% voter turnout to have a democratic elections”?
(The Fiji Times, 14 June 2014)

The Elections Office has already registered more than 550,000 voters.
This is pretty close to the number of all potential voters in the country, aged 18 and over.
In September, these 550,000 voters will be asked to make a very simple choice between 5 or 6 political parties, and an Independent candidate or two.
So, here is an interesting question, whose answer can be read between the lines of my previous article (The Fiji Times, 6 June 2014):
How many voters do we really need to vote, in order to get the same result as if all 550,000 voters actually voted?
SHOCKING ANSWER:  If randomly selected throughout Fiji (e.g. by the Fiji Bureau of Statistics), you would only need about 10,000 voters to vote, and the result will be pretty much the same as getting all 550,000 voters to vote.
But as I explained previously, it would be a costly exercise to select a true random sample of 10,000 voters, and if the result is very close between any two parties, then even this random sample will not be good enough.
But remember that the Tebbutt Poll asks only 1030 voters and the Razor Team only asks 600 voters, as to which Party is most popular.
So despite having almost complete coverage already, why is the government still trying to register more and more voters at great taxpayers’ expense, virtually everywhere in the world except Timbuktu?
Is it to back up the frequent claim that this will be the most democratic elections Fiji has ever had?
Cynics might say that this is a “bit rich” coming from a government which has not bothered with voters or an elected parliament for eight years.
But two practical questions voters should consider are: will having all 100% of voters registered , or having all 100% of registered voters vote, make Fiji a more perfect democracy?
What is the voter turnout in most democratic countries?
Voter turnouts and democracy
Throughout the democratic world, the percentage turnout of voters for national elections show great variation without any significant impact on the democratic process.
Voter turnout can be around 50% (as in United States or Switzerland), or around 60% (as in India), or in the 70% zone (as in UK or France), in the 80% zone (as in Australia, Sweden or Germany), or in the 90% zone (as in Belgium and Austria).
Very rarely, the outcome might have been changed, if those not voting, had voted.
For a contrary example, there is a view that in a US election not too long ago, non-white voters in one state were deliberately discouraged from voting because they would have supported the Democratic Party and that state went to the Republicans by the narrowest of margins, also thereby giving the national presidency to the Republicans that year.
But that is hardly the case in Fiji even if some political strategists might be thinking that these extra voters being registered overseas will vote for a particular party (“the best laid plans of mice and men tend to go awry” – Robert Burns).
Voters should remember that in the past Fiji elections, only some 85% to 90% of all registered voters have actually voted, and that is pretty high by international standards.
There would have been very little difference to the outcome, if the remaining 10% to 15% not voting, had actually voted.
Often those not voting are old and infirm (remember that 4% of Fiji’s potential voters are more than 70 years old), or sick, or occupied in some other activity far more important to them personally than voting for a political party who will care little about them for the next four years.
In any case, most absentee voters would have voted in exactly the same way as their other family voters, making little difference to the eventual outcome.
But of course, it always makes a great media story (on television or newspaper) to show a hundred year old staggering along or being carried to a polling booth.  Hurray for democracy!
But political parties, candidates and voters should not suffer from any illusion  that all these extra voters being registered or the small numbers not being registered, will make any great difference to the final outcome in September.
A financially responsible government would ask:  are the extra votes worth the huge extra costs to tax-payers?
Please do note that money for the September election is flowing like water under the Niagara Falls.
When all the costs are added up, these elections will be the most expensive Fiji has ever had, ironically engineered by an unelected government.
Other democratic choices?
For months now, the public has been inundated with messages that in these September elections, Fiji people will have their say on the government they want.    Again, hooray for democracy!
But why don’t we take the same principle a step further, on other  important and contentious issues where national decision making is just as urgently needed.
For example, in addition to choosing one number from 280 numbers on the ballot paper, why not also ask voters (i.e. in a national referendum):
(1) which constitution do you want? (tick one):
A         The 1997 Constitution
B         The Yash Ghai Draft Constitution
C         The 2013 Bainimarama Constitution
(2) tick “Yes” or “No” to the question: do you want the GCC returned?
(3) tick “Yes” or “No” to the question: should all Fiji citizens be called “Fijians”?

These are contentious issues on which the people of Fiji can very legitimately give their collective view on, thereby making politicians’ lives that much easier:  “if that is what the people want, let them have it”.
Who knows, if all the Opinion Polls are reasonably  accurate, the September elections might see the Fiji First Party form government
the people’s democratic choice in the three referenda might give you the majority answering A or B to question 1, and “No” to questions (2) and (3).

But that would really test the Bainimarama Government’s commitment to genuine democracy, wouldn’t it?

June 11, 2014

ABC News for Australia Network: Censors gone but press freedom concerns remain in Fiji

Prof Wadan Narsey: Elections Issues 14 - Making sense of opinion polls

Professor Wadan Narsey 

Voters are being presented with the results of opinion polls by different groups of people.

Allegations are being made about polls being deliberately “biased”.

But there is no need to allege that results are being deliberately manipulated one way or another.

The reality of sample surveys is that errors in methodology can easily give “wrong” results, even if the pollsters are genuine in their intentions.

Readers will find it easier if they read through my tabular comparison of the Razor and Tebutt polls, with a genuinely good sample survey (even as low as 2%), run by the Fiji Bureau of Statistics.

Basically, if today we wanted to waste tax-payers’ money by asking all of Fiji 550,000 voters in an “Opinion Poll” to give their answers in the same secret way they will do in the polling booth in September (i.e. without telling any official how exactly they voted), of course, you will get a perfectly accurate answer, the same as you would get in the September elections.

To save some money, you could ask a genuine random sample of 20,000 voters, and you would still get a pretty accurate result of each Party’s support.

To save even more money, you could ask an even smaller 5,000 voters randomly selected by the Fiji Bureau of Statistics, to vote in the same secret way, and in my opinion, you will still get a pretty accurate answer, even if there will be some small errors.

BUT, a genuine random survey of even 5000 voters all over Fiji, urban and rural areas, including the outer islands, will cost you heaps of money, which no polling company wants to spend.

The possibility of sampling error becomes larger, as the sample size becomes smaller.

And if, to save money by not going all over Fiji, the persons polled are not truly randomly representative of all voters, then the results can be quite biased, or even worthless.

What happens then when you ask only 600 voters (Razor Group) or 1032 voters (Tebbutt Poll), using their particular methods?

What is a good opinion poll?
For any opinion poll, the possibility of systematic errors and biases depend on the following:

(1) who owns and/or controls the opinion poll? Could it lead to bias?
(2) how are the question asked and responses recorded?
(3) how randomly are the respondents selected?
(4) how many respondents are selected relative to the population of voters (which will be around 550,000)?
(5) how close might be the true party support results in the September elections, for both large parties and small?

Using these five criteria, I present a comparison of the Razor and Tebbutt polls with the independent accurate sample surveys done by the Fiji Bureau of Statistics.

Although FBS surveys are household incomes and expenditures or employment, the principles are exactly the same as in Opinion Polls.

Fiji Bureau of Statistics Sample Surveys
Razor Group
Tebbutt Poll
1. Could poll ownership bias results?

The FBS is part of government, representing all Fiji, and hence usually not seen to be biased in any way.

But there was a perception of bias in one Bureau survey with disastrous results.

The results of the 1991 Household Survey on incomes and expenditure, so soon after the 1987 coup, was seen internally by FBS to be totally unreliable, because most responding Indo-Fijian households did not trust the Bureau interviewers (who were mostly indigenous Fijian). The Bureau never published a Report on the 1991 Survey.
The Razor Research team and the Fiji Sun are both owned by CJ Patel.

The Fiji Sun receives more than a million dollars in advertising revenue from the Bainimarama Government, denied to its main competitor, The Fiji Times.

CJ Patel received preferential treatment in its purchase of the Rewa Dairy Company and continues to do so, with its imports of dairy products. CJ Patel’s Financial Controller chairs some of the most powerful government controlled boards such as Fiji National Provident Fund, Fiji Revenue and Customs Authority, and the several telecommunication companies owned by FNPF.

Voters naturally feel some doubt about the independence of the Razor Research results, even if they do not deliberately try to manipulate the results.
The Tebutt Polls is an independent company polling private company, but financed and the results published by The Fiji Times (as they used to do prior to the 2006 coup).

A Fiji Times article recently (24 May 2014) claimed

“The Tebbutt Times Poll was a scientific and objective measure of public opinion in Fiji, based on true random sampling and using globally-accepted measures and procedures.”

There are some doubts about the methodology, which I suggest below in Question 3.

Several prominent Bainimarama Government supporters have also claimed that the Fiji Times some years ago was biased against the Fiji Labor Party Government in 1999, and against the Bainimarama Regime from 2006.
2. What questions are asked and how?

The FBS asks hundreds of questions on all major items of income and expenditure.

All questions are on the Bureau questionnaire and the answers are all faithfully recorded by civil servants. Most questions are not of a sensitive nature and so householders answer quite honestly.

But often some of the households, especially the rich ones, will not give the true answers on how much income they earn, or how much they spend on alcohol, or luxury goods, or other sensitive matters.

So the results can be biased downwards for the rich households. But results are fairly accurate for the rest of the 95% of all households.

For both Razor Research and Tebutt Poll

Respondents are asked “face to face” these questions,

(1) Who is your preferred Prime Minister?
(2) Which is your preferred party?

Some respondents are not likely to give an honest answer to either the Razor Research Group, or the Tebbutt interviewers.

As the moderate Leader of NFP has said, there is a climate of fear in Fiji where Regime critics have been punished, civil servants’ employment terminated, resources denied people who do not support government, and recently, even a scholarships terminated for the exercise of a basic human right.

What respondents say to interviewers or even if they agree to sign up for the political parties registration, does not indicate how they will actually vote.

The “liu muri” or “aage piche” factor is very much alive and well in Fiji amongst all ethnic groups, and also amongst all political parties.
3. How are the respondents selected?

The sample households are selected in a very random and technically sound way from all the households in the country, based on the last census information.

The sample comes proportionately from urban and rural and remote areas, including outer islands and Rotima, and the four divisions.

Hence a truly random survey is logistically extremely difficult with Bureau staff wading through rivers, walking long distances where there are no roads, and hence very expensive (over $2 million).

BUT, the results are pretty accurate about the whole country and accurate generalizations can be made about many variables.

Note however, that many rich households will refuse to answer questionnaires from the Bureau, and often they are replaced by poorer households, so the results are not representative of the rich.
The Razor group is asking people around bus stations in major towns.

How they are selected is anybody’s guess.

The Razor Group are hoping that they will get a mixture of urban and rural people.

Will that urban/rural mixture be around 50% as it is currently in Fiji?

Quite unlikely and the public are not given the detailed break-downs, so we are no wiser.

Will the Razor Group get all classes of voters in Fiji by asking bus travellers?

Not likely as bus travellers are generally the poorer people?
The Tebbutt Poll, asks respondents from Suva, Lami, Nasinu, Nausori, Nadi, Lautoka and Ba. i.e. mostly urban Viti Levu.
It is not clear how random these selections are.

They may get a good break-down of responses of urban groups by ethnicity, age and gender, but not of rural Fiji or Vanua Levu.

The recent Tebbutt Poll was done between Monday and Wednesday when rural people are unlikely to be in towns.

If rural Fijians for example have different views on FFP/Bainimarama and SODELPA/Temumu, then even the Tebbutt Poll results will be biased probably in favor of FFP/Bainimarama.

What might be the extent of the bias because of the lack of proper random sampling?

We don’t know.
4. How many households/persons in the sample survey?

The Bureau’s random sample numbers have been around 3,000 to 5,000 households, or about 2% to 3% of all the households in the country.

A 2% sample of all 550,000 voters would require a poll of 11,000 voters randomly selected from ALL OVER FIJI.

But of course, the FBS surveys ask questions about hundreds of variables, and tries to get solid results for divisions, ethnicity, urban/rural and provinces.

Since Opinion Polls ask very simple questions (as in 2 above), the sample size for the “Political Opinion Poll” can be much smaller than 11,000.

But how much smaller?

The Razor Team only asked 600 persons (300 were from the Central Division, 200 from the West and 100 from the North).

This is probably far too small a number, and we don’t have any idea of the urban/rural, ethnicity, gender, age breakdown.
Since Opinion Polls ask very simple questions (as in 2 above), the sample size for the “Political Opinion Poll” can be much smaller than 11,000

But how much smaller?

The Tebbutt Poll interviews just around 1032 persons.

The results are probably accurate on urban voter views, if respondents give honest answer (see 2 above).

But will rural voters vote the same way as urban voters?
5. How close are the true expected answers?

If the true answers are very close, than the sample result can give you a wrong opinion.

For example, the Fiji Bureau of Statistics sample survey results for average household incomes in 2008-09 were as follows:

Fijian $17,000
Indo-Fijian $15,500
Others $34,000

Since “Others” includes Europeans, Part-Europeans, Chinese and Rotumans, one can very accurately say that the Others’ average household income for ALL households in Fiji is almost certainly more than that for the two major ethnic groups, perhaps double the average for Fijians.

The margin for error (or the percentage of time you would be wrong) with this particular conclusion would be very small indeed, perhaps less than 1%.

What about comparing Fijians with Indo-Fijians?

An ordinary member of the public might say that the Fijian average household income is definitely higher than that of Indo-Fijians by $1500 or by about 10%.

But the statistically smart person would remember: “hey, did I not just say that the very rich households often refuse to be part of the survey?”

And “did I not say that even when they are, they under-state their true incomes to the Bureau interviewers?”

So the Indo-Fijian average income from the survey is biased downwards: in reality, the true Indo-Fijian average income in all Fiji might even be higher than the average Fijian household income. i.e. the OPPOSITE of the survey results.

So it can be with political parties whose support throughout Fiji is about the same: read the opposite.
For both Razor Group and Tebutt Poll

Supposed that an Opinion Poll says that the “margin of error” for their results is 20% of the percentage support the poll reports for each party(usually they all claim much lower % margins of error).

Suppose the poll results are:

Party A has 45% plus or minus (20% of 45%)
i.e. the true support could be anywhere between 36% and 54%

Party C is 15% (plus or minus (20% of 18%):
i.e. the true support is between 12% and 18%

You can conclude, almost certainly, that the September 2014 elections will have similar ranking results.

Even if there are maximum errors, the ranking will not change: Party A will have roughly three to four times as many elected persons as Party C.

But suppose that the poll says that Party B has 40% plus or minus (20% of 40%):
i.e. true support could be somewhere between 32% and 48%

Then while the Opinion Poll reports that Party A will have more elected parliamentarian than Party B (45% is more than 40%), if you allow for errors, the reality after the September 14 elections, based on the same poll may be as follows:

Possibility 1. Party A may have the lower possibility of 36% while Party B may have the higher possibility of 48%.
i.e. Party B may have more in parliament than Party A (opposite of the apparent poll result).

BUT neither will have absolute majority,

BOTH will need a coalition to form government.

Possibility 2 Allowing for errors in the other direction,

Party A may have 54% (i.e. absolute majority)
and can form government on its own, without any coalition.
While Party B could have a mere 32%.

In summary : Where a Party’s support in the September elections is going to be close to that of another Party, then the opinion poll results today may not be good predictors of who will be the larger party.

This applies equally to the small parties as well.

While the Razor Research team results are not necessarily biased because of these relationships, the intelligent voters cannot avoid a perception of the possibility of bias in favour of the Bainimarama Regime, especially when the internal Razor Research processes are not available to public scrutiny.

What of other opinion polls?
There are online opinion polls run by various blogs, where the readers can click on the possible answers and the blog site automatically adds up the numbers supporting the various options.

While the respondents are anonymous, and no one knows how many times they can “vote”, the blog-sites are already known to be either opposed or supportive of the Bainimarama Regime.

Most of respondents therefore also probably have similar opinions to that of the blog-site, so the results may be inherently biased.

Sometimes, “opinion polls of taxi drivers” are used by lazy international journalists. Landing at Nadi sloshed and jet-lagged from their flights from London or Sydney, they want to want to write a quick story on Fiji’s politics, before heading off for fun and frolic to Denerau.

But 70 percent of voters do not regularly travel by taxis, hence the taxi-driver poll is also unreliable.

Then you can have the “1 person opinion poll”.

Making the rounds on the Internet currently are stories that Nostradamus five hundred years ago predicted the victory and even the name of India’s latest Prime Minister, Narendra Modi.

So here is this “Narseydamus Opinion Poll” with 3 predictions:
1.         There will be a hung parliament (i.e. no party will win more than 25 seats) with two large parties very close in the results, so there will probably be a coalition government;
2.         There will be the rise of a third party whose support might even approach that of the two large parties, with the third smaller party being the “king-maker”.
3.         At least 1 Independent candidate will get more votes than at least 10 of the parliamentarians elected under the umbrella of the larger parties.

But I would not put any of my hard-earned personal money on the “Narseydamus Opinion Poll.