(+) Just Back from Fiji
Author of Tears in Paradise, the 125 year story of Indians in Fiji, Rajendra Prasad, has just returned to New Zealand from Fiji. This is what he had to say of his trip in Indian NewsLink, NZ's highest circulation Indian newspaper.
During my recent visit to Fiji, I was amazed at the widespread normalcy powerfully evident, in most urban centers, depicting the social, political and economic pulse of the nation.
Fiji has not escaped the impact of the global recession, and is additionally suffering the sanctions imposed by Australia and New Zealand against the Interim Government led by Commodore Josaia Voreqe Bainimarama.
The Reserve Bank of Fiji devalued the Fijian Dollar to sustain liquidity.
Fiji is struggling but not panicking. As Australia and New Zealand ease their sanctions and as tourism picks up, the country’s economic performance may be better this year.
Further, the expected high price for sugar may assist in restoring stability, notwithstanding the decline in sugar output.
The promise of 99-year farm leases to farmers could reinvigorate the agricultural sector, which was savaged when Indo-Fijian farmers suffered massive eviction, leaving the rich and productive farmland fallow.
After a decade, most farmlands are now covered by bush. Many villages are silent and somnolent, as those who once gave it life were herded out because they were Indo-Fijians.
There is hope that the Interim Government may restore these farms to productive use, securing the interests of landowners and tenants for mutual benefit.
Improved race relations
Race relations have improved remarkably. The previous governments used racism to retain their dominance. The Bainimarama Government has doused the flames and if it continues on its path, the small embers would extinguish by itself, as sanity, reason and understanding nourish the hearts and minds of the people.
I traveled to Suva from Ba twice and met many people and none of them spoke against Commodore Bainimarama or his government. The radio talkback shows praised him and talk around the proverbial kava bowel was appreciation. But this is not to claim that there are no critics. Clearly, they are a minority and comprise supporters of deposed Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase or his SDL Party.
Few things were obvious, to which the public has responded positively. Civil service is being purged of corrupt officials. In the last two years, 50 officers from Works and Transport Ministry lost their jobs for abuse of authority, nepotism, fraud, corruption and bribery. Eleven other departments are under investigation. Those who indulged in corruption in the past have realigned with the dictates of the Interim Government, aware of the dire consequences.
The civil service has been reinvigorated and officials have awakened from their slumber, responding to the new era with pace and urgency.
Mr Bainimarama visited Raki Raki and Ba rural areas to connect with the farming communities. Anyone can send him a text on 01 and raise their concerns. We complained about the bad condition of road that served our village and found roadwork undertaken in about two days.
The crime scene
Most people felt that crime was on the decline. For the first time in the history of our village, arsonists who habitually carried out the annual ritual of burning sugarcane plantations were restrained. Those village thugs, engaged in extortion, using strong-arm tactics or glib tongue, have largely been disabled.
The legal profession is being regulated by the Government, sending a strong message to practitioners that they cannot now dodge or evade, after dispensing their services recklessly.
However, organised crime including raiding service stations, business places and homes of business owners are of concern. The authorities continue to target the perpetrators of such crimes but with measured success.
Politicians are in forced hibernation. Many may never return to the pasture that they relished, as the El Nino effect on Fiji’s political landscape may continue until 2014. The Great Council of Chiefs was dissolved over three years ago and may never meet again.
The Methodist Church has been forced to retreat to the pulpit and its role restricted to the spiritual realm. It cannot hold its annual fête, collecting millions of dollars from its members and using the forum to indoctrinate them with the political ideology of the nationalists.
The Interim Government has taken some bold initiatives that no elected government would have had the courage to undertake. Hopefully, it would be able to restore the desires, dreams and aspirations of the people of Fiji – a country where all its peoples’ will look at each other as equal citizens, and not with the racial tag.
Reprinted, with thanks, from Indian New Week.
Reprinted, with thanks, from Indian New Week.