After Natadola

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Opinion 
Crosbie Walsh

It's far too early to even guess at the medium to long-term influence of  last week's Engaging with Fiji meeting at Natadola, but with very contrary statements coming from participants and non-participants, some assessment it necessary.

The three statements about Fiji in the Natadola Communique (see below) which had the unanimous endorsement of participants were certainly supportive of the Bainimarama Government's Strategic Framework for Change,  elections in 2014, and continuing dialogue with Fiji, but as John Key pointed out, this does not necessarily mean that the Pacific leaders will call for Fiji's readmittance at the Forum when it meets in Vila next month.

It could, however, mean that Australia and New Zealand will be urged to relax their sanctions and re-engage with Fiji in a more meaningful manner.  They will have certainly lost some traction after Natadola, and they could lose more if they do not heed the Pacific undercurrents. So, some fine-tuning of their position may be expected, if only they can find ways to make changes without losing face.  An imminent major policy change seems unlikely.

Those seeking to detract from the importance of Natadola went to some lengths to downplay attendance.   Samoan PM Tailaepa said it was an "awkward invitation" which Pacific cultural protocol made it difficult to refuse. This sort of explained the attendance of other leaders -- but not  his own refusal.  Another commentator said Sir Michael Somare only went for the golf and Dr Derek Sikua for the opening of the Solomon Islands Chancery in Suva. And Australian broadcaster Philippa Macdonald said there were only three prime ministers among the 15 countries represented.  She did not say that this was an unexpected large  attendance considering the strenuous Australian efforts to discourage any attendance at all.  Australia wanted the meeting boycotted.

In fact, few Pacific countries were absent.  Of the larger Melanesian nations, only Vanuatu's PM (who, without due consultation, had cancelled the Melanesian Spearhead Group meeting that was replaced by the Natadola meeting) was missing, and even he sent his Foreign Minister.  From the  smaller nations originally invited to the MSG Plus meeting, Tuvalu's PM was present as was the Kiribati President. Representation from the northern Pacific did not include presidents or heads of government  because of a prior sub-regional commitment, but Marshall Islands, FSM and Nauru were represented, as were Timor Leste, Tonga, Niue, and the small territories of Tokelau and French Wallis and Futuna.  Cook Islands apologized saying it was preoccupied with its budget. Only Australia, New Zealand and Samoa were absent without explanation or apology.   It is difficult to palm off a meeting where 15 countries were officially represented as a gathering of nobodies, nincompoops  or toadies.

Australia's and New Zealand's absence did not unduly concern Sir Michael who said they did not really think of themselves as Pacific nations.

Recently, Australia's Foreign Affairs Minister Stephen Smith said that it is "difficult to have a dialogue with a military dictator who doesn't want to engage."  One consequence of Natadola is that Pacific Island leaders will now be even more aware that this is demonstrably untrue. In fact, the boot is on the other foot. It is Smith who does not want to talk with Bainimarama.  He has been twice invited to Fiji in recent months. The first time he and Murray McCully fouled up the invitation, and he turned down the invitation to come to Natadola. This was a deliberate  snub to Bainimarama, which  many  Pacific Islanders would see as discourteous and  not the Pacific Way.  The snub  also left the field totally open to Bainimarama, as his predecessor, Alex Downer, who thinks Smith should have gone to Natadola, rightly pointed out.

Australia's absence at Natadola and the probable absence of Julia Gillard and even Stephen Smith at the Pacific Forum meeting in Vila in two week's time, has led another commentator to say, "We are losing ground to a dictator  ...  That sends a regrettably clear message to the region as to our government's priorities."

This messsage would  have been read loud and clear at Natadola where leaders heard presentations urging a break from aid dependency, widening intra-regional trade and co-operation, and trade with Asia.

Addressing the meeting ,  UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (UNESCAP) representative in the Pacific, Samoan Iosefa Maiava,  told leaders there were many opportunities in the Asia-Pacific region, which the Pacific Islands can tap into, and that the Pacific needs to grow partnerships with Asian countries.  He said import percentage ratings show the Pacific was now importing more from the Asian region than that combined together of both Australia and New Zealand."

So with Australia otherwise preoccupied, what has Fiji gained?

Fiji broadcaster Stanley Simpson thinks Natadola shows "recognition for Fiji's continuous engagement in the region and full participation in regional development, institutions and aspirations."   This view gains support from Kiribati President Anote Tong , "Fiji will always be an important partner for all Pacific Island states;" from Solomon Islands PM Dr Derek Sikua who said his main aim in attending was to "show support for Fiji," and in Sir Michael's  comment that "Fiji should determine its own destiny  ...Fiji is out of the Forum but as Pacific nations we need to look out for each other, that is why I'm here."

Somare  said Bainimarama "is the leader of his people. It is his responsibility. If we have to report back to the main Forum, we will tell them  'this is what's going on in Fiji' ... He has given a timeline for democratic elections. He's the leader and has been recognised now for almost four years and we have to allow him to determine the future of his own people ... this is what Fiji wants, we have to allow them to do what they want."

Three paragraphs of the Communique clearly show an understanding and, I think, an acceptance of the Fiji situation that is not shared with Australia and New Zealand.  They read:
5.    Agreed that Fiji’s Strategic Framework for Change (SFC) is a credible home-grown process for positioning Fiji as a modern nation and to hold true democratic elections;
6.    Agreed that important lessons could be learnt and shared within the region, from Fiji’s experience and Fiji’s implementation of the Strategic Framework for Change;
7.    Recognised the need for Fiji’s continuous engagement with the region and its full participation in regional development, initiatives and aspirations.

Discussion at Natadola was not limited to the Fiji situation. Hold your breath -- Joint ventures in fish processing, coral and marine resource protection, bilateral arrangements on mining exploration, education, investment opportunities, economic opportunities in Asia, climate change and sea level rise, the high cost of consultancy fees, the integration of tourism and knowledge-based economies, a possible regional police academy, modernising laws, co-operation  in trade, regional tourism, education, shipping, aviation, labour mobility, private sector co-operation, the efforts of he Pacific Conference of Churches on a sustainable Pacific development model, and the possibility of Fiji acting as a regional hub for a range of activities -- were also discussed.  A mini trade fair was also held during the meeting.

The two messages  I took from the meeting were, first, the willingness to foster Pacific Islands regional co-operation and solidarity, and the special attention given to the concerns of the Small Islands Development States; and, secondly,  the obvious support for the Fiji predicament.

In many ways, of course, Pacific leaders are between the proverbial rock and a hard place. Their solidarity will come under pressure when they return home and as Australian and New Zealand pressures resume.  But they have sounded a warning.  They are not happy with the way Fiji is being treated. They detect a whiff of bullying and neo-colonialism. They clearly want Australia and New Zealand to recognize Fiji's Roadmap and accept that elections will not be held until 2014.  Not all are heavily aid dependent.  They are receptive to suggestions of a closer Asian connection.  And, although they may not move for Fiji's readmittance to the Forum in Vila next month, they will be calling for more dialogue and less rigid exclusion of Fiji from regional fora.

How permanent their position is cannot be known. Somare and Sikua (and Vanuatu's Natapei) may no longer be prime ministers in a few month's time and their successors may march to a different tune.  But there will be another meeting at Natadola in a year's time.  Fiji's geographic position and regional importance will be unchanged .  And -- unless they play it right over the next few months --  Australia and New Zealand may well have drifted  just that much further away.

Indeed, there's evidence, even more telling than our present sub-antarctic weather, that New Zealand may have already drifted away.  There's  been little to no mention of the Natadola meeting and its important communique by our media, that is usually so quick to pick up even the smallest morsels of negative news from Fiji.  But I may been reading too much into this omission: Michael Field could just have taken the weekend off.


Postscript Monday.   I spoke too quickly.  He was pounding away on his personal blog. For readers who do not already know Michael Field's ideas on what constitutes informed, reasoned and balanced comment, and a journalist's code of professional ethics, access this link to his account of Natadola. His "sanatised" version could well be published by the mainstream media today. 

Comments

Anonymous said…
Croz,

Why are you ignoring the Mahen charges ?

It was either corruption when the PM deliberately ignored it and covered it up.

Or it's corruption now designed to silence a critic.

You have way too much faith in the PM and military.

Later
M.B.N
Anonymous said…
Who is the bully ?

I think you will find the Bully when it comes
to the likes of Kiribati is Frank and
Fiji. They rely on Fiji and are not
so silly to not be there and at least get
something in return eg climate comments.

What are the actions from this talk fest ?
. said…
@ M.B.N. ... You judge too quickly. The charges have not been ignored. I just haven't had time to think and write about them.

I spent three days last week researching for an opinion piece I wanted to write on the CCF and NZ Law Society accusations. It is still not finished. I posted a number of short items during the week but spent yesterday on outstanding domestic chores, and most of today on the Natadola article. Six hours for only 1,400 words. But that's how long it takes to produce an informative, reasoned, well balanced article.

Natadola has had hardly any mention in NZ and I'm hoping that what I've written will be picked up and used by someone in the media. For the moment, Mahen can wait.

You write "Why are you...? The question could be reversed. I'll publish any "informative, reasoned, well balanced article" you may care to write about Mahen, but note that the case is now before the courts.
natadola who? said…
Natadola. Pass that by me again Croz?
No mention in any Australian press. Good luck to whoever attended however. In Australia an election is looming - that might be the reason? And any party that said it was supporting a human rights abusing dictatorship, anywhere in the world,wouldbe cutting its own throat.
Apart form increasingly cheap holidays for me and the family in winter, the Fijian junta can look north, east and west. Just keep the holiday costs decreasing!!
Australian taxpayer said…
As an Australian taxpayer I don't think we can drift away far enough and quickly enough. By the time Fiji returns to democratic governance and rule of law it will be flat broke. Their problem, not ours.
As for the Chinese - they give Fiji 50,000 for a morning tea. They spend more every second buying our iron ore. Time perhaps for Fiji junta to get real....its the future of their kids they are throwing away. Mine are fine!!!
Anonymous said…
I think we now know why PIF needs a professional
office and can see that the non msg chin wag
does not
Anonymous said…
Minor win for the little dictator.

Only problem is he now has another date
set he probably won't meet.

And its not 2014 - he needs to have
constitution in place by 2013 and
as far as anyone knows he hasn't even
started yet.
Anonymous said…
Crosh
You are not researching into the CCF and NZ Law Society piece - you are waiting for your paymasters in Fiji to finish it and send it onto you for posting, isn't it?
Anonymous said…
M.B.N

Fair enough Croz. I'll be patient and
wait. When you have lived through this
and had your friends and family targeted
it's hard not to get uptight.

Make a enemy of PM and life becomes hell.
Please remember how wonderful you have it
being able to speak freely in NZ.

If they could just let go of the grudges
even I might be prepared to help.

Apologies if I offened.
. said…
@ Dear M.B.N. I'm not offended. And I agree with you wholeheartedly about the grudges. If only the mainstream media were more balanced, I would be more critical of the Government's ill-conceived actions, giving them credit where it's due, and questioning them where it is not.

But if you cannot accept my position and think me too unbalanced, try these for size:

http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2010/07/24/IN301EH5DC.DTL

http://www.michaelfield.org/natadola.htm

And then read what some other people commenting on this post have written.

Best wishes, Croz
Joe said…
Croz, tell us more about MC charges. What actually transpired? Was Russell Hunter correct, and deported for revealing the truth as we know now?, not that we did not know then!!!! What is actually going on? Is MC seen as a threat to 2014 election? We need to know about any new charges against MC apart from being cleared by Brisbane lawyer and an accountant back then. We really have to know to give any credibility to this govt. I am not pro or anti MC, but we have to know this one for sure.
Anonymous said…
If New Zealand and Australia are 'drifting that much further away'....then what about the positions of: Japan, Korea, Indonesia, India, Sri Lanka? All are democracies, some are Commonwealth Nationa and they are all prepared to allow Fiji the latitude to deal with its internal problems in its own way. Korea is now in the news with its own pressing situation. Yet, it still found the wherewithall to send a cultural group of very high quality to Fiji to entertain and to educate ordinary Fijians. It is this refined sense of who deserves what that is most appreciated. In fact, this is justice most acutely observed and those of us who so enjoyed the Korean cultural display are deeply appreciative. We do not often have the opportunity for such interaction. Our children in Fiji merit this.It will not be forgotten by them into adulthood.
Anonymous said…
@ After Natadola

After Natadola, attention will be returned to Denarau and the Denarau Investments associated fiasco. We note that Andy Haden and others who purchased villas at the Fiji Resort & Spa property with tax concessions allegedly offered to them, have now apparently received no income since September 2008. The position of the Fiji taxpayers is to be considered here as well as that of the disappointed investors. Will the NZ Herald weigh this, one wonders, in its balanced reporting? The taxpayers of Fiji have had a gutful over twenty years of malfeasance and mismanagement of the Fiji economy. When, oh when, will the New Zealand Press and the Michael Field's and Ms Dreaver's turn to the plight of the Fiji taxpayers? "No taxation without representation" - a tenet of democracy. But in Fiji there has been no full representation of any taxpayers since 1970!
Anonymous said…
@ Anonymous

The Mahendra Chaudhry charges are of interest most because they suggest that a Minister of Finance might have avoided paying taxes to his own exchequer. Since the Global Economic Crisis had then to hit, perhaps he had insufficiently understood the impact it would wreak on his own Portfolio but also on the Fijian people? So, timing has a role here although it does not in anyway affect the relevance of the charges. There is most certainly a conflict of interest issue and it will be educational for all Fiji taxpayers to see how this is dealt with by the Fiji Justice System. The interests of all taxpayers will loom large. Will they be served?
White Frangipani said…
Well thought out summary of the Natadola meeting. Most mainstream media in Oz and NZ (bar TVNZ's TVI news, Radio NZ, The Australian, Brisbane Courier and the ABC) did not report on the “Engaging with Fiji meeting at Natadola” last week. Why? Is it because the mainstream media are a fraternity like an "old boys club" and worldwide the media have their noses really out of joint with the Fijian Government? I also think the word has got out that your blog is a threat to some because the first lot of comments now being posted on some of your blog postings always give the same negative message and have become a bit boring to read. Here is some positive news for those living in Fiji. The poultry market is being opened up and liberalized. Some of my friends in Fiji who are not so well off will benefit from this move. How I LOVE their Fiji chicken curry and roti! Yum!: More take up poultry farming - 26/07/2010 [07:47] http://www.fijivillage.com/?mod=story&id=260710ec0174c46f374be22ed2f9e6
Anonymous said…
As a taxpayer, I really hope that the resolutions of the meeting are fully implemented soonest. In particular the part where the Pacific free's itself from aid dependence. Can't wait to see our hard earned money being spent to improve our infrastructure, build more schools and invest into science and technology. Why can't we leave these guys alone? China will take over? So what, let them deal with the brilliant leaders who rule the Pacific. Oz and NZ should look North themselves: There is a lot more interesting business to do with Asia and mostly these are partners we can see eye to eye with. The notorious beggars of the Pacific who have nothing else in mind but to lay their hands on unearned income should be freed from the colonial joke, hopefully today.
Anonymous said…
NZ Media...

For all the rants about NZ's media by Croz he forgets the stark contrast and difference between NZ and Fiji. In NZ you are free to make your own comments, hell you can even happily run your own blog without fear of death threats or financial retribution.

Fiji is a completely different story. First everyone self sensors through fear, second the brave few who speak up face intimidation (deportation if a expat). So if we want to wax lyrical about unbalanced media lets look at Fiji.
Anonymous said…
Natadola over

Well the Natadola meet is over and Mr Military PM can soak up his little PR victory. It's good for the ego and probably deserves another one of those self awarded little medals he gave him self for "peace and humanity and.....what ever !

It's good to be the King and be able to flex your muscle in the little of Pacific.

Dreams over - now back to reality. The economy ? Suger industry ? A constitution maybe ?
Anonymous said…
@ White Frangipani

Some of the comments my be old and boring but the passage of time does not excuse the sins of the past. This government has set some very high standards for itself but failed to live up to those. It's needs to admit it many errors and own bias. Perhaps the Mahen charges is a case of doing this but everyone is asking why now.

This government says the right thing but time and time again it does not practice what it preaches.

I do agree chicken curry and roti are one of Fiji's gems !
Anonymous said…
Looking BACK

Just read the quote on the side of this blog from former PM. "I believe there will be peaceful reaction by thousands in a few days time...."

I actually think there might have been and there might een be now. Except for the fact the military are thugs. People could stand the first bashing but it would be the retribution that followed for the next 4, 10, 5 years that make people sit on their hands.
Sense of desperation said…
Is there a sense of desperation emerging in the junta camp? As a taxpayer I am more than happy for my $$ to be spent on my own country and let the other Pacific countries subsidise Fiji. That is their choice. There has been too many handouts to beggars. Money is better spent in countries like Samoa which are well governed, respect the rule of law and are moving forward.
If Fijians want to be ruled by their military who cares? It is making holidays on their beaches dirt cheap for us. I'm happy with that.
As for India and China, it was just announced on Australian radio that we have achieved record exports to these countries. Maybe they can now pick up the aid handouts for the beggars of the Pacific?
For me, I'm just happy to get my holidays in Fiji subsidised by the military junta - keep it up and have as many coups as you like!!
Anonymous said…
Oh Mahen Mahen you forgot to read history.. as in the infamous words of a Brazillian dictator who is long consigned to the dustheap of Latin America coups," For my corrupt friends anything.. for my enemies the 'Law'."
Fiji is moving forward? said…
Anyone who thinks Fiji is moving forward should go and ask the poor indo-Fijian sugar farmers? The only people making money in Fiji are the military (all ethnics) and their hangers on. The rest, especially the destitute indo-fijians, are really struggling.
Anonymous said…
Let's be honest here. Australia was not invited to Fiji to engage...Fiji could have done that anytime. Au was ivited to be lectured too and to sign an acceptance of Frank.
That's why they did not attend.
SOE said…
The notable use of sarcasm in many posts demonstrates an incapacity of understanding about Fiji. Sarcasm is not part of our culture. We might use it for the benefit of others and their dubious amusement. We fall flat on our faces if we seek to engender a shift in understanding. Rather we may unwittingly make a whole range of issues "no go" or "tabu' areas. There is a heavy-handed approach so often evident in the not-so-carefully-crafted, often throw-away replies. This is sheer folly when considering a situation so fraught with complexity. And upon which so many livelihoods depend, so many young people with aspirations which might well be thwarted by those who crassly "demand discounts" and delight in the prospect of "Fiji Beggared"?
Cicero said…
@ M B N

There is a hint that there is a failure to fully appreciate the damage done by those who use their undeclared "Conflicts of Interest" to subvert or submerge the proper and reasonable interests of others. Especially in a democratic state but not only there.

It is very simple. A Prime Minister of any nation must act and be seen to act in the best interests of ALL in the nation at all times. Should he/she have a conflict of interest in this (and that would not be difficult!) then a cogent explanation must be forthcoming. Listen to PM David Cameron (no failure of clarity there?); Listen to President Barack Obama - ditto. Conflicts of Interest are inherently corrupting: of those who indulge in them and of those who are on the receiving end of them. Conflicts of Interest must be revealed transparently and resolved. Turning your back to the people is no way to resolve them. Indeed, it begs many questions and it is the fundamental test of leadership.

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