Tonga Talks Sense, Downer Talks. Bainimarama on Forum; Rarawai Mill
|Dr Feleti Sevele|
LISTEN TO RADIO NZ NATIONAL AT 7:20 TONIGHT. PANEL DISCUSSION ON FIJI. http://www.radionz.co.nz/
VOICE OF REASON: TONGA WANTS DIALOGUE. In an interview with ABC's Bruce Hill acting as devil's advocate, Tongan PM Dr Feleti Sevele made these important comments:
SMITH TO ATTEND VILA FORUM. This is good news if it means Australia is taking the Pacific seriously. Panelists at a recent Lowry Institute meeting chaired by Sean Dorney thought it was not. It is good news if Australia's Foreign Minister heeds Sevele's advice, but it is not good news if Smith does not accept the urgent need for re engagement and new approaches to resolve the Fiji impasse.
- Engaging in dialogue was the best way of genuine progress to democracy in Fiji;
- The Forum wants dialogue;
- Dialogue does not legitimise the Fiji regime;
- " The future of Fiji in terms of its government, in terms of its development, of its democracy, is something for the people of Fiji to resolve, not for us from outside of Fiji to determine how we would assist;
- We would certainly like Fiji to come back and be part of the international community or the Forum according to the governor's rules and policies of the forum.
- "The forum wants to keep the lines of dialogue open and this is also said by Australia and New Zealand. We all believe that. If they need assistance, we should be willing to consider that.
- The alternative is to have no communication with Fiji and I don't think that is a wise course of action in the long run."
And it is very bad news if he adopts the strident policies now advocated by his predecessor Alex Downey who seems obsessed with Australia's "sphere of influence" and the obligations it brings. "If anything goes wrong in the region, there is an expectation from the outside world that Australia will fix it."
What then follows is a jumbled history of this troublesome nation: Australia's efforts to rebuild democracy; the eccentric commander of its military force; the coups due to ethnic tensions; the 2006 coup that "was very personal" and had nothing to do with ending corruption. Bainimarama's "real motive ...was being investigated by the police for his alleged role in the murder of two Fijian soldiers at the time of the coup in 2000." Where have we heard that before?
SO WHAT DOES DOWNER ADVOCATE? "Find policies which will encourage Fijians to force their dictator out of office; ... use its relationships with other South Pacific governments to ramp up the pressure...announce "retaliatory measures (for Sarah Robert's expulsion); lobby other South Pacific countries to take steps to put substantial pressure on the Fiji government; enlist other countries in the region to join Australia's sanctions against Fiji, deny any members of the regime any access to countries in the South Pacific.
"The message the Australian Government is sending out to the international community is a simple one: Australia does not have the diplomatic power to do anything about the situation in Fiji.
"That is a disaster. It is not only bad news for the ordinary people of Fiji who are suffering because of the illegal dictatorship which rules them, but it demonstrates Australia is not able to control the environment within its own sphere of influence. That makes Australia look weak and irrelevant."
If this how a nation defines itself, and I were an Australian, I would be ashamed.
FIJI DEFINITELY NOT TRYING TO UNDERMINE FORUM. Bainimarama said accusations by Australia and New Zealand that Fiji was undermining the Forum with the Melanesian Spearhead Group (MSG) Plus and then the Engaging Pacific Leaders meeting, was wrong. He said Fiji was more concerned about discussing its future and path back to democracy with regional leaders.
"There was no intention to undermine the Forum. If that is the way Australia saw it, then they are wrong, like they've been wrong from the start about what we doing in Fiji. What we are trying to do is get a Forum together so that we can tell Pacific island leaders what's happening in Fiji and how we intend to deal with it, leading up to elections in 2014."
possible closure of the Rarawai Sugar Mill in Ba, which stopped crushing three weeks ago due to its 31 year-old boiler being unable to generate enough steam, provides yet another example of how close to terminal the industry could be.
If Fiji's international friends really care about the long-term economy and daily livelihoods of ordinary people in Fiji, and not just the restricted freedoms of some members of its middle class, they would be helping to marshal international technical and financial assistance from the Commonwealth and EU.
Leaving this until Fiji bows to their unrealistic demands for an immediate "return" to democracy may be more than a whisker too late. Sugar used to be Fiji's major industry, directly employing thousands of people,with downstream effects on local urban economies in the West and North. If NZ politicians won't show more understanding of Fiji's situation, they should emigrate to Australia and, as we half-jokingly claim about our emigration losses, help raise the intelligence of both countries.