(o+) How to Kickstart the Economy: Government Needs to Set in Motion, and Sell, a Credible Process
Several people responded to Rajendra Prasad's account of his Fiji trip. One, signing himself Tears of Tedium, thought Rajendra's reflections a "once-over-lightly approach to the Fiji economy."
"Talk to anyone in the business community," he said, " and they'll tell you new investment is zero. That, coupled with the dismal outlook for sugar, continuing EU sanctions, cyclone fallout, etc. ought to be ringing loud alarm bells. Cheap airfares aren't going to save the country either, only destroy Air Pacific as a viable carrier."
I replied: "I'd be pleased to hear ... what advice you'd give to local and overseas protagonists ... what, realistically, do you advise to 'take Fiji forward'?"
He did not comment on the role of overseas protagonists, and thinks Government is the only local protagonist (I think him wrong but we may define protagonists differently. Stakeholders would have been a better word) but this is how he responded on what Government can do.
In my opinion, it is wise, informed advice given by someone who knows business; basically agrees with what Government says it is trying to do, but who thinks they could be making a far better job of it. And I agree. Here is what he said:
Well, Croz, my advice to the local protagonists (and what other protagonist is there, realistically, apart from the regime?) is to move a lot quicker on two vital fronts. Because until it does, international confidence in Fiji will continue to be adversely affected.
The first is to begin the process of electoral reform that will demonstrate, in a practical sense, that Fiji really is committed to holding elections in 2014. Had this process already started, perhaps the EU might have reinstated its aid. We were told there'd be a national forum in January to map the way forward for a return to democracy. What's happened? As far as I can see, nothing. Can't find a chairman? Try harder.
The second is to address the chronic lack of discipline, strategic planning and, especially, lack of basic communication, that characterises the regime. It's simply not doing enough to get a positive message across to the international community. Whether or not it's governing effectively isn't enough. It needs to be seen to be governing effectively and working towards the restoration of democracy. As far as I can see, there's no concerted effort to address this woeful shortcoming, even with the regional media.
Let's take, as an example, the regime's treatment of the Methodist Church. It wonders why the rest of the world sees this simply as a case of religious persecution. But it doesn't do a jot to explain the stand-off more fully and present the evidence we all know is there of the church's pernicious influence in national life.
Even your own correspondents have demonstrated contempt for the notion of an effective PR campaign to explain the regime's case. But then have the gall to constantly complain about the failings of the regional media when they (inevitably) embrace the message of the regime's vociferous and smarter opponents. The evidence is undeniable. Be willing to join the battle or be prepared for defeat, as a matter of course, in the court of public opinion.
Bainimarama and the Military Council seem to think that it's enough to be demonstrating to the country that government is being conducted more transparently and effectively. We know that compared to the last government, that is pretty much the case. But what the international community sees is a military dictatorship with no mandate other than the gun whacking its opponents around the head while promising to relinquish the reins of power in four year's time. Promises, promises.
Set in motion a transparent and credible process to deliver on those promises and you've gone some way to meeting the concerns of your critics. Then go out and sell that process vigorously (by opening up the country to selected media, among other things) and you've got some hope of regenerating investor confidence. Do nothing and the country continues to stagnate. Don't take my word for it. Talk to senior members of the business community in Fiji. The overwhelming sentiment is: "there's nothing happening" and "these guys have no idea".
And that's a disaster for Fiji.