The Theft, Wage Cuts, Chaudhry Takes on Government, the PER Regulations

WEEKEND READING. Allen Lockington's column, Michael Field on easing sanctions, Bainimarama on losing opportunity.

"PROUD FIJIAN" has just left this comment on the post about the the $½million theft. "Just saw a picture of the $20 note with the serial number starting with EB. The note was apparently presented by an Australian tourist who had received the note from Currency Exchange in Sydney." If the serial number is between 450,000 and 500,000, that's one of them. Only another 25,999 to go.

WORKERS WAGES TO BE CUT BY 15%? The Fiji Trade Union Congress is calling on the Fiji Sugar Corporation to enter into negotiations over a proposed pay cut for workers in the industry. The Corporation has announced a 15% pay cut across the board but the TUC says no discussions have taken place despite existing agreements with unions to enter into talks prior to any salary reduction.General Secretary  Felix Anthony says the Corporation’s plans are unfair as employees should not be held responsible for its cashflow problems brought on by recent mill upgrades. He has requested an urgent meeting with the FSC.

Chaudhry takes on Government
 Opinion by Croz Walsh

Mahendra Chaudhry's place in Fiji history is assured by the many roles he has played but how he is remembered will depend on which side you are on. It's hard to remain neutral about Mahendra Chaudhry.

Trade Union leader working on behalf of sugarcane farmers, leader of the Fiji Labour Party, Prime Minister of Fiji, brave hostage of George Speight, the real leader of the parliamentary opposition, short-term Minister of Finance in Bainimarama Governnment, protector of the poor, defender of his undisclosed Australian bank account, prominent Bainimarama opponent (phew!) ... the "Man" has now upped the ante by his almost daily anti-government releases on the FLP website and in the mainstream media. So much so that other media outlets have questioned whether Sharon Smith John's Information (and censorship) office is doing its job. One wonders why the cunning old fox has chosen now to intensify the attack. No one should ever under-estimate Mahendra Chaudhry.

He has been a constant critic of Government's efforts to de-politicise and improve the long-suffering sugar industry, although he's understandably shy about his own role in politicising the industry and contributing to its decline.  In a Fiji Times article published yesterday he blames sugar's problems on the  "ineptitude and inefficiency of the Fiji Sugar Corporation management ... We lost $100million last year because of the FSC’s incompetence and this year we will most probably see the worst-ever result in the history of the sugar industry in the country.” Here are extracts from the statement he made to the Fiji Times. Hear him out ...

“Farmers in the sugar industry are incurring unnecessary expenditure and losses because of the continued incompetence of the FSC management.

“While farmers are going through unprecedented difficult times and hardships, the FSC and the Government have resorted to having a series of meetings. Meetings will not resolve issues facing the industry. Close to 200,000 people’s livelihoods depend on the sugar industry and something concrete needs to be done because the sugar industry is going down the tube.”

I cannot speak on the inefficiency or otherwise of the FSC management, and there's no doubt there are major problems in the sugar industry,  but it didn't require much thought to work out how Mahendra's criticism would be received. The anti-government blog Fiji Today was quick off the mark with the  headline "Mahendra Chaudhry Continues the Fight in the Fiji Times" -- and they were not limiting his  "fight" to the sugar industry.

If Mahendra  is as concerned about the sugar industry as his own political future, Fijians would like to hear more concrete statements from him than "something concrete needs to be done." They'd want to hear what, and how he's going to help -- other than calling meetings and talking to the press. Some 200,000 people’s livelihoods could also depend on his answer.

The sad thing for Fiji is that too many of its more able people, people like Mahendra possessed of intelligence, ability, experience and support from large sections of the public, for reasons of principle, self-interest or a mix of both, continue to oppose Government in ways that cause it not to re-open the dialogue that is needed to implement the reforms political needed for a fair Fiji.

Such opposition plays into the hands of those in the Military Council who may not be as enthusiastic as the PM to return Fiji to parliamentary rule in 2014. And with every lurch to totalitarianism, Government's internal Opposition takes fresh heart, and the international community, that Fiji so desperately needs to help its economic recovery, trusts Government's stated intentions even less.

If Mahendra and others like him want to help Fiji's recovery, they need to be part of the solution, not part of the problem. It will take a while to restore trust between the Mahendra's and the PM (and, indeed, it may never happen) but positive, less accusatory, criticism would help, and require a measured response.  He  still has a choice to spin, or to break, the existing vicious circle of mistrust. How he chooses could define his ultimate place in history.

MOI CLARIFIES CHAUDHRY SITUATION. In reply to media enquiries as to whether the Fiji Labour Party’s (FL) website, which has been issuing daily press releases, will be subjected to censorship, Permanent Secretary for Information, Sharon Smith Johns said: “All media outlets must comply with the provisions of the Media Industry Decree 2010 as well as the Public Emergency Regulation (PER) provisions relating to the media as captured under Section of 16.”  Ms Smith-Johns added that Government has been working on forging a better partnership with media organizations to move the country forward and has been able to achieve considerable success in this regard. She said, “Most media organizations have responded favorably to the call for responsible and accurate reporting as they acknowledge that the media can play a constructive role in nation building.”-- Based on 2010 No:1416/MOI. See the MOI letter sent to the FLP. Click to enlarge.

MORE DETAIL FROM MOI.  This from the Permanent Secretary of Information: "Currently we are still under the PER (see section 16) below.

Section 16 -(1) – Where the Permanent Secretary for Information has reason to believe that any broadcast or publication may give rise to disorder and may thereby cause undue demands to be made upon the police or the Armed Forces, or may result in a breach of the peace, or promote disaffection or public alarm, or undermine the Government and the State of Fiji,  he or she, by order, prohibit such broadcast or publication.

(2) In order to give effect to subsection (1) above any broadcaster or publisher upon direction by the Permanent Secretary for Information must submit to him or her all material for broadcast or publication material before broadcast or publication.

The Media Decree is also in force which explains to publishers or broadcasters the requirements needed. For instance Part 4 –Content Regulation of the Media Decree states

23. The content of any print media which is in excess of 50 words must include a byline and wherever practical the content of any other media service must include a byline.

The Ministry of Information is working with publishers and broadcasters in assisting them meet the requirement in this transitional period, it is better to advise and work with the media at a time like this, which is what has been done with the FLP web site.  The Ministry met with the FLP today and came to an amicable agreement with regards to the content on the web site."

Ed. note: I think the arguments in favour of lifting PER far outweigh the reasons for keeping them in place  but Mahendra Chaudhry knew what they were and chose to ignore them.


Anonymous said…
"The Corporation has called for a 15% pay cut across the board"? Yes, for Board members FIRST. Lead from the front and the employees may follow. But board members remuneration must be slashed and all their perks withdrawn before the employees have paycuts. No more going back to the bad old days: the Fat Cats sit high and dry while the poorest paid are culled. Those were disgraceful years and Mahendra Chaudhary more than most knows it. What did he do about it when he was able? That is the salient test that must be applied to him personally and to all like him.
PER said…
Remove the PER as promised and let the media authority start to do it's job. PS should not have such over reaching power.
hard to stay positive said…

Are we to just forgive and forget everything ? It's been nearly three months since the media decree came into place and we where promised the PER would be lifted. Yet another broken promise and it looks like it may be with us for some time yet.

It we just accept this and pass over it, be positive and try and support the PM and Military are we not just encouraging them not take any of their promises seriously ?

As it stands now they are accountable to no one. They no longer feel the need to even explain decisions or address concerns. I am really struggling to remain positive and helpful in this environment.

Are we to believe the PM's latest comments about presenting proof on corruption to him ? Seriously if I presented proof of corruption on one his military council I would receive a swift threat for sure and probably worse. Evidence of wrong doing by the foreign minister was contained in recent report but i don't see any action being taken there. And of course there is that old issue of the PM giving himself back pay - I can't see the PM investigating himself.
Llooking for Suger minister said…
What did MH achieve when he was fiance minister - nothing

What has the PM achieved as sugar minister - nothing

It seems they both have something in common but unfortunately neither will go away.

We never stop hearing from the PM about the poor performance of the SDL government but he applies no such critic of himself. Same goes for Mahen - he was a major part of this government and again applies not critic of his own role.
Excessive censorship said…
This really is excessive censorship, The sort we see in wartime. Is the Fiji military at war...with its own people?
Cicero said…
@ Ed. note

Cannot agree with this afternote about the lifting of PER at this time. The opening of a new trial for a most serious offence and the calling into the courts of several others in the same category of seriousness require the Public Emergency Regulations to be in place. All is quiet and well. Why change or challenge that?
MJ said…
@Hard to stay positive

The media decree, while it is in place, is not in full effect until the 3 month deadline for reduction of foreign ownership down to 10%. One that occurs the PER should be lifted as promised. If we get past the end of the month and it is not lifted then I will agree that the promise has not been kept and will join the critisism of the government.
SOE said…
@ hard to stay positive....

Quite understand how you and so many must feel. We pay taxes and we have paid taxes for years and years to what effect? Taxation becomes Public Money: all public money must be fully and equitably accounted for. No one remunerated by public money is to be exempted from accountability. That is what must be positively and permanently put in place in Fiji: the capacity, the understanding and the determination that no tax dollar should ever go to waste. Then, we see how economies may progress and development ensue across the land. Only then......This is why the reforms will take much longer than anyone might suspect. They must be firmly entrenched and public money must never again be hi-jacked for personal, individual gain: if it is - that is the most basic definition of corruption. Know it when you see it. Smell it - it does have a distinct odour. Report it and insist upon outcomes: the investigation and charging of those involved. There are bold and brave individuals within Fiji doing this now. They are determined that corruption must end. The courts will be the ultimate arbiter of who is guilty based on sound evidence. THe Courts of Fiji bear a huge responsibility and we need to assure them full capacity: human resources and administrative. Why has the international community not assisted Fiji readily to obtain these? That is the question to ask?
ProGov said…
Dear Croz
I feel it is time to comment on the sad state of blog sites reporting on news in Fiji. Whilst those that strongly oppose the current government cry ‘media freedom’ and condemn censorship their double standards amaze not only me but others that have attempted to comment on blog sites.
In the last week I have commented on several issues posted on coup four and half but none of the comments have been posted. All comments were worthy of posting and none contained the usual personal attacks that are found all over that site. However they chose not to post them. They seem to only give voice to those that are against the current government, so much for freedom of speech, perhaps they don’t want to hear the truth!
My other issue is the personal attacks that are now becoming popular again, derogatory remarks that have no bearing on the person or subject being written about, these are too numerous to mention.
I realize that you can do nothing about this, but it’s a worthy point to bring up to your readers, and perhaps highlight that there are many who wish to add comment on other blog sites but they simply will not be published.
Anonymous said…
Croz, with al due respect, your views on Mr Chaudhry suggests that you are in bed with Frank and Co! You suggest that Chaudhry should tell us what he will do to revive the sugar industry instead of saying "something concrete" must be done. Well, it's not his job to lay everything on a silver platter. The Minister responsible for Sugar should come up with solutions. No doubt Mr Chaudhry has got the solution, give the country for him to run and see how he takes Fiji out of the doldrums!

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