(+) When What's Not Good May Be Not So Bad: Some Thoughts for Minister McCully

When National became Government in NZ many hoped to see a more realistic and helpful policy towards Fiji, and or a while things looked promising. But now, having restored minimal functionality at the Suva High Commission, the relationship looks substantially unchanged.

Speaking recently  to RadioNZ International  Foreign Minister Murray McCully  said there was a lack of "good news out of Fiji" since its suspension from the Pacific Islands Forum a year ago.  He added that "the [Pacific Islands] Forum leaders  unprecedented step of suspending Fiji's membership was more about punishing Fiji for failing to comply with the organization’s democratic ideals." He hadn't expected the suspension "to prompt changes by the interim regime" but it was needed to uphold principles. [It could also have been used to warn other Pacific nations not to support or follow Fiji's example.  What was not said was that, in international politics, stability is often more prized than principle.] 

I have commented elsewhere about how the "punishment" (that had no expected outcome!) has unintentionally heartened government opponents, strengthened the hold of the military in civil government, and adversely affected the livelihood of ordinary Fiji citizens, and I'll say no more on this, or comment on what the choice of a word like "punishment" tells us about NZ's attitude to Fiji. Instead, I'll focus on the word "good" that means different things to different people.

The Word "Good"
For the Minister, it probably means no restrictions on the Fiji Times, no Public Emergency Regulations, no detentions for their breach, engagement with the old political parties, "freedom" for the Methodist Church hierarchy,  and, most of all, "democratic" elections yesterday. I doubt he would extend "good" to include a flash assassination or a quick mutiny but many of those whose company he keeps would think these drastic measures "good."

Unfortunately, the Minister's apparently worthy democratic aims are not quite what they seem in the Fiji context (hence the need to place so many terms in speech marks), and none will be realized anytime soon because what the Minister sees as "good," Bainimarama sees as "bad." For Bainimarama their adoption would mean jettisoning the Roadmap and the People's Charter. He would have allowed the coup to fail, dozens of policies and schemes would be left up in the air, and  nothing "good"  would have been achieved after nearly four years of sacrifice and effort.

Many people sympathetic to what Bainimarama says he seeks to achieve share Minister McCully's concerns about a number of actions by the Fiji Government. Many have been spelt out on this blog, most recently in the ten serious concerns I expressed about the draft Media Decree. We have also frequently noted that the Fiji Government too often reacts excessively to situations, and seems quite unconcerned with its poor PR.

But we have also noted the many good things government is doing, or is trying to do, and noted that none of them (not one) is ever mentioned in the so-called independent mainstream media, or acknowledged by the Minister's government.

Here is a short list of some of the things they could have reported and acknowledged:
  • The Corruption Clean-Up Campaign, a major reason given for the Coup, continues. The Fiji Independent Commission Against Corruption (FICAC)  investigated and laid 161 charges against 47 individuals in 2009.Some 4,365 complaints were received, of which 44 percent were resolved without going to court. Government audits and accountability reports continue to reveal irregularities. Department and Ministry annual auditing is now enforced. The huge backlog of complaints against lawyers is being addressed as are accusations of transfer pricing.
  • Structural Reform and a more efficient Civil Service. The IMF recently complimented Government on  these measures, and many citizens have noted a more polite and helpful civil service.
  • The EconomyIMF also commended Govt on its fiscal and monetary policies that have done much to counteract the severe effects of the global financial crisis and the massive destruction to infrastructure after the January 2009 floods. Low interest loans have been obtained from new sources -- China, India, Malaysia -- to fund development. Micro-credit is being advanced to encourage small local businesses.
  • Development initiatives. An improved and social physical infrastructure is another of Government's Roadmap goals. This includes work on roads and bridges, rural and outer island development (Rotuma now exports food to Tuvalu; nursing stations and small business initiatives in several areas), more emphasis in food security, and agriculture (rice, dairying, vegetables, copra use for biodiesel), and land reform. Some two-thirds of the 6,406 cane farms where leases expired between 1997 and 2010 are back in use. Most leases have been renewed with existing tenants, others with new tenants, a few leases have been subdivided for subsistence and cane farming, 1,670 have reverted to the landowners, and 374 leases were still in the process. Land leases are no longer a political weapon and lease money is being paid to the actual owners, not to chiefs and others in the former gravy train.
  • Race and racism are not longer political weapons. Government has started the long uphill road to create a common "Fijian" indentify for all citizens. All citizens will be treated equally while respecting their ethnic differences. Race-based parties will not be allowed to stand in the 2014 elections. This situation must not be confused with NZ where the Maori ethnic minority has its own party. Some critics have questioned Bainimarama's sincerity because of continuing dominance of ethnic Fijians in the Military. I think this will continue in the short-term for strategic reasons. 
  • Government measures to tackle poverty in a hostile economic environment include retaining VAT (GST) at 12.5% and excluding basic food items; food vouchers for the most needy; introducing minumum wages levels; assistance with school tranport, school fees and textbooks; help for squatters and more low-income housing, and many rural development measures, some of which are noted above.
  • Social justice. Elections that do not bring social justice are not truly democracy. The one-man one-vote elections planned for 2014 will prevent repeats of the legislated racial discrimination practices under the Qarase Government.
  • Meanwhile, Government has taken a number of steps to produce social justice, in addition to those noted concerning the poor and rural dwellers. The New Women's Plan of Action (WPA) 2010-2019 will see women enjoy equal participation at decision-making levels that are especialy important to women. The five areas include: employment; decision-making;violence against women and chldren; reproductive health issues; basic services such as housing, water, sanitation and transport; and women and the Law. 
  • A Decree has been passed to prevent children abuse and child trafficking; the UN has commended another Decree on HIV/Aids; the backlog of legal cases and complaints against lawyers is being cleared; an estimated 1,200 public servants injured  during working hours will be paid all outstandingcompensation claims backdated to 2001. That's right, 2001, five years of the Qarase Government! The latest compensation to be paid is to a widow of a Fijian soldier killed in Fiji's UN engagement in Lebanon 31 years ago. And our Government has complained about cuts to Qarase and Rabuka's parliamentary pensions!
  • The People's Charter. I doubt Minister McCully would disagree with any one of the Charter's stated aims or with Bainimarama's Roadmap other, of course, than with the timing of elections in 2014. Public dialogue is occurring and progress is being made on the Charter, but not as much and as fast as many would like.
  • Meanwhile, grassroots (if not elite) support for Bainimarama is clearly growing,  most especially among ethnic Fijians. He is being judged by deeds that affect ordinary citizens, and he continues to receive matanigasau (traditional apologies) from villages and tikina all over Fiji  that had previously opposed the Charter, on the advice of their chiefs and Methodist church ministers.  This is not the usual route to democracy and things could still go wrong, but success would be more assured with the Mininter's understanding,  if not actual support
  •  Finally, although cut off from its traditional friends, Fiji continues to receive international recognition, soft and low interest loans and technical assistance from non-traditional sources. NZ and Australia's influence in the Pacific could be eroding. The Minister should not underestimate the possible erosion of New Zealand influence.
Disclaimer:  This material is not covered by copyright and may be used without acknowledgement by the media.          -- Crosbie Walsh

    Comments

    alterego said…
    VAT in Fiji is not 10% ... it has been 12.5% since 2003 - http://www.adb.org/documents/books/ado/2003/fij.asp

    There was an attempt to raise it to 15% in the 2007 budget presented to parliament a few weeks before that government was thrown out - http://www.fijitimes.com/story.aspx?id=51060

    An announcement by the new regime calling off the increase followed soon after - http://www.fijitimes.com/story.aspx?ref=archive&id=53384

    And you're missing one vital statistic in your FICAC stats: they only managed 8 convictions in 2009.

    Careful Mr. Walsh ... you need better facts if you're offering them to the media.
    Croz Walsh said…
    Alterego, Thanks for the correction. on VAT.
    Human rights abuse is good? said…
    Military takeover of an elected government is GOOD?
    Military telling a government what to do and not vice versa is GOOD?
    Dragging people to a military camp and cowardly bashing and killing them is GOOD?
    Want more GOOD? Are you describing GOOD or DELUSIONAL?
    Nive said…
    To Walsh
    Why is NZ's (or Aust's) opinion of Fiji important? Living in Australia, NZ is an irrelevant country. As for Australia's foreign policy on any country, it stinks. Australia regards Israel as its friend. Israel is the worst country in the world in terms of human rights abuses on the Palestinians. It's as if the Jews never learnt a thing from the holocaust. Australia joined USA in the illegal invasion of Iraq. Australia took too long to realise that the Tamils were using Australia to raise funds to fight the Sri Lankan govt and people.

    To Human Rights abuse....
    Did you live in Fiji from 1987 onwards? Rabuka's regime was many many times worse in every way. That was an illegal coup, done for selfish reasons. Yet Rabuka is not in jail. What you have now is good times compared to 20 years ago. Come on Bainimarama, put Rabuka in jail, for the thousands of people whose lives he ruined, for the country he ruined.
    Croz Walsh said…
    @ Human Rights. Please check out what the article aimed to do. That is, respond to Minister McCully's "no good" statement. Your comment concerns "bad" issues that I've covered elsewhere. To be relevant to this posting, your comments need to address the items listed as "good." Do you think any of them "bad?"

    @ Alterego. Two further points. You also missed one vital statistic: 44% of the cases have been resolved without the need for court action.

    There's also the Police man, Tax man, and Customs Officer convictions reported over the past week. None of these were part of the original FCIC cases, many of which would require forensic accountants to unravel, but they do show that work against corruption is continuing.

    I recall the Fiji Times calling on the Qarase government to act against rampant corrruption. Are you suggesting concern about corruption is unnecessary or exaggerated?
    Kumala Vula said…
    Croz,

    Has it ever occurred to you that all the so called achievements you have listed have been achieved at the back of Fijians who have no say in matters of policy that affect them? Nor even the right to question the decision making of the illegal regime?

    Are you actually saying that should all be disregarded as long as there are progress made as "reported by a silenced media?

    How perverted have you become in your old age? Fijians rather have their freedom than being ruled by an illegal regime period. That is what elected politicians in NZ like McCully stand for and are advocating - a return to democratic rule so Fijian can decide who rules them.

    I would love to see you in Fiji come the return of democratically elected government, not one installed by the military. You are so blinded by your obsession to just ignore the illegalities of the illegal regime by highlighting their so-called achievements. Fijians don't want to lose their soul just to gain some progress at the behest of the illegal regime.

    Your lack of understanding of Fijian culture shows in your shallow appreciation of the "apologies" being made by Fijians during Voreqe's tour. Fijians will always seek forgiveness and apologies to maintain harmony and welcome to visitors. It does not mean they agree with their policies as they will refrain from criticising others just to maintain peace and not to be rude to others, especially where they are despots who rule with the force of arms. As well, since all of Fiji know that to get government assistance you have to be in their good books and be seen to be supporting the illegal regime.

    Best you desist from voicing your shallow monologue about Fiji and better still why not just offer your services to Frank as an advisor or even as a Consul in NZ to represent and be his voice in NZ. At least that way you will get the recognition you seem to be craving and get paid for it.

    Moce mada Croz Bainimarama.
    Anonymous said…
    vinaka Croz, u have summed up really well!too many ostriches running around !!!

    Ranadi
    Invictus said…
    Kumal Vula:

    There's no point in berating the voice of reason.

    This man is merely pointing out the mass correction of the injustices accrued under the morally bankrupt Qarase's government.

    You on the other hand are justifying your existence at the expense of those that were systematically animalized by inebriated lowlife thugs.
    Getreal said…
    Corruption

    The point about FICAC that you are missing, Croz, is that these cases are minor. The regime has not moved against the really big corrupt cases because they are either in the moneyed class and backers of those currently in power or are in the government themselves.

    So much for the clean up campaign.

    And how do you view the fact that the salaries of the PM and his merry men in Cabinet are no longer handled by the Treasury but have been out-sourced to a private accounting firm. Take one guess at who owns the company? An aunt of our illegal Attorney General! If this is not corruption at the very top of the system - I ask you what is?

    You need more? One Minister gets his salary handed to him cash every month so as to avoid paying his bank debts!

    Dont's be so blinded by the regime's rhetoric that you dont see what is really happening.

    FICAC is a joke now.

    Getreal
    Name and Shame said…
    Getreal - I've long been of the opinion that politics, not the eradication of corruption, was the reason behind the establishment of FICAC and that the larger cases it 'tries to try' are also politically motivated.

    Your revelations go to emphasise that this could well be the case however I'd be grateful if you would name the Minister so that further enquiries can be made
    Croz Walsh said…
    @ Getreal. Re. the big fish who have not been caught. This is where forensic accountants, that Fiji lacks, are needed. NZ could offer their help.

    I suspect there's some truth in your other allegations, but action IS being taken against some corruption, and this -- never acknowledged by Minister McCully or the overseas media -- must surely must be a "good" thing. My article was directed at the NZ Government's unbalanced view of happenings in Fiji. Not all good by any means, but not all bad, either.
    Junta little fish said…
    @croz
    Is there anything more corrupt than taking over a government at the point of a gun? Perhaps there is - paying yourself 30 years leave pay!!!!
    Some reasonable thinking people might also say soldiers of the FIJI MILITARY taking people to the barracks and kicking them TO DEATH is not such a good thing either?
    However unlike Fijians, you live in a democracy and can express your view in support of such people whose human rights abuse record will one day come back to haunt them.
    Croz Walsh said…
    @ Junta.. I know three wrongs don't make a right, but why no comment on Rabuka and Speight's overthrowal of legally elected governments, or Rabuka being made a life member of the Great Council of Chiefs? Incidentally, the coups were acts of treason or sedition, not corruption.

    On the pay issue that could involve corruption, my understanding is that it was unpaid back pay. I'm not very comfortable with this explanation but then I'm also not comfortable with the conflict of interest involved in Qarase's buying FHL shares, and other pre-2006 Coup issues. Why is it that so many people opposing Bainimarama do not mention what happened before the 2006 Coup? I make no claim that the Bainimarama government is without fault. Many of its shortcomings have been reported on this blog. But the posturng and lack of balance by many of those opposing him "gets up my nostrils."
    Corruption Fighter said…
    You say the IMF praised the economic management of the military dictatorship. That can only be based on the most selective reading of what they said. What they actually said included the following:

    "Growth has been sluggish in recent years because of delays in economic reforms, worsening terms of trade, and political developments that have strained Fiji's international relations and hurt business confidence."

    The IMF acknowledged the "commendable efforts to restrain current spending and limit the overall fiscal deficit in 2009" - ie all the cuts to spending. But these spending cuts were needed urgently because of the damage done to the economy by the coup.

    Make no mistake the worst is yet to come. The IMF will require the regime to make huge cuts to spending or big increases in taxes. VAT is certain to go up. There will be no help with foreign exchange from the IMF without much tougher economic policies which will not make the regime popular.

    And let's be clear about one thing: the IMF welcomed the decision to throw water on the flames (but much more is needed) but did not endorse the act of arson that started the fire.
    Why bother? said…
    Croz, what's the point of engaging with your critics like this? You've said what you think. That's the end of it. It wouldn't matter what the evidence was. Idiots like the White Kumala will always give you a hard time. Because for them, having an immediate election is the only answer. Nothing else matters. Why? Because they're obviously among those who benefited from the previous regime and want their privileges restored. They're blind to the reality that Qarase and his cronies only governed for one section of the population.

    I saw Qarase sitting by himself in a coffee shop in Suva on Friday. Talk about a sad figure. He really looks like a broken, irrelevant man. A couple of affluent-looking Fijians came up to shake his hand but most people just ignored him. He's totally lost his mana and had to queue for his coffee like everyone else. That's the way it should be for the racist throwback he is. Qarase and his SDL kai vata belong to the past and people like the White Kumala will just have to get used to it. They had their chance to build a better, fairer nation and blew it.

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