Pre-Forum Words by Crosbie Walsh

It's has already started but before the 40th Pacific Forum meeting closes on Thursday there's sure to be more.  The media has Pacific Islands leaders apparently saying one thing while meaning another, quite unlike their host New Zealand that has never changed its tune. I find the inferences a little patronising.



It started with a Michael Field report on the Engaging with the Pacific and special MSG meeting held in Fiji last week. Field's article was headed "Calls for Fiji to be Restored to Pacific Forum." But, according to later reports, the leaders changed their position after meeting PM John Key at a pre-Forum meeting. Key said there was a "consensus view" and "Fiji is certain to remain excluded."

This is a most strange and tactless comment. PM Key has still to meet with the Melanesian leaders who are supposed to be seeking Fiji's readmission.  He had only met with representatives of the Smaller Island States (SIS) and presumed to talk on their behalf about a consensus before Fiji has been formally discussed by the Forum's 15 members.  His presumed outcome may be presumptuous but even if it is not, he should be aware that outward agreement can be deceptive in the Pacific, and sometimes goes hand in hand with hidden animosity. NZ should be conscious of its big bully image, especially in Melanesia. 

The usual Pacific experts jumped on the bandwagon about the leaders' apparent about face. Tamara McLean wrote of the smaller states backing off in fear they could lose Australian and NZ aid.  Key's statement about a promised $7.9m for solar equipment in Tonga, McCully's $2.7m to be spent on tsunami warnings, and Julia Gillard's yet-to-be-announced aid distribution of $8 billion spread over five years, a big slice going to the Pacific, added to our understanding of why Pacific nations might be persuaded to change their stance. Field and Anya Levy fanned the flames of the leaders supposed fickleness with: "History has shown small island states do not necessarily go into bat for Fiji with regional superpowers offering much-needed aid and trade opportunities."

From the outset, I doubted the leaders had changed their position. It seemed more likely they had said something a little different from what Field reported. And so it turned out to be. Further down the article Field writes: ""The grouping does not specially ask for Fiji to be returned to the forum fold, but in diplomatic language they recall "the importance of Fiji's continuous engagement with the region and its full participation in regional development initiatives and programmes." Michael, in non-diplomatic language, you have contorted the truth and made the Pacific leaders look like fools or hypocrites.

Significantly, in what Field called an "an unusual statement ... they also endorsed Fiji's view that the international media do not report Bainimarama's achievements." They said they "supported the need to publicise and disseminate more and accurate information on the Fiji government's progress..." (I can only wonder who they were thinking of.). The leaders had previously called for dialogue with Fiji and endorsed its Roadmap to Democracy and commitment to elections in September 2014.

But to return to John Key. He also wants dialogue, and said NZ had shown willing with McCully's "several trips" to Fiji. Huh!  His last trip was in August last year.  He threw away  another opportunity when  Bainimarama extended an invitation to "come and see for yourselves."  When McCully, from Auckland, repeated all the anti- stories about Fiji,  Bainimarama withdrew his invitation saying it was pointless since their minds were already made up.

It is unfortunate that the  Minister  only knows what is going on in Fiji though hearsay, and even more unfortunate that he chooses only to believe what he wishes to believe. 

Today, despite the widely acknowledged failure of our isolationist policies, our PM said "we are in the right place." Fiji will not be readmitted to the Forum until it has taken "solid steps towards democracy."

He also said the SIS leaders (some? one? all?) had expressed doubts about whether elections would be held because Bainimarama "let them down a number of times."  He referred to the promise of elections soon after the coup, before it it became obvious that much groundwork would need to be done if meaningful elections were to be held. The groundwork started with the People's Charter and Roadmap for Democracy initiatives and has continued with many infrastructural and institutional reforms.  The second occasion was when, during a visit to villages in Vava'u during the Forum meeting held in Tonga, Tongan PM Dr Feleti Seveli persuaded Bainimarama to come up with a date, even if it needed to be changed later. What was intended as a proposed date was taken to be a promised date.

And all this, of course, preceded the Abrogation of the Constitution and the obvious need for the major constitutional and electoral reforms that will commence next year.  It is difficult to know what further can be done about "progress" on elections that are not due until late 2014,  but the early lifting of PER would at least allow political dialogue within Fiji which would go a long way towards restoring government credibility.

Unfortunately, in another twist of the tale, this remains unlikely while anti-government forces, backed unintentionally  by Australian and NZ support, continue with threats of violence and other actions intended to destabilise government, and delay or subvert the processes leading to elections.

Coincidentally, Fiji announced today that tenders for an electronic voter registration system will go out soon with work commencing in January and ending at the latest by 30th June 2012. The A-G, Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum said the system should eliminate voter and political party fraud, and prevent a repeat of the 2006 elections when the EU reported a voter turnout of 101 percent in a Vanua Levu constituency and a number of other registration anomalies including people being registered in more than one constituency.

Comments

Anonymous said…
why do you say anti-government forces are unintentionally backed by NZ and Oz?
There is every indication that these forces are intentionally aided and abetted as a means of securing NZ and Oz foreign policy objectives.
How else can they be seen to be "influential players'? They have to resort to this sort of destabilisation because their so called 'smart' policy keeps getting their 'man in Havana' kicked out. Real smart.
sounds like someone else said…
" I'm trying to recall when he (McCully) made his last trip. It was at least two years ago."

When was your last trip to Fiji, Croz?

"It is unfortunate that the Minister only knows what is going on in Fiji though hearsay, and even more unfortunate that he chooses only to believe what he wishes to believe. "

Pot Calling Kettle....
sara'ssista said…
so givem your reasoning, would it be possbile that when bainimarama extracts his 'support' for his plans and 'progress' from the melanesian brotherhood, they might just be saying what he want to hear?? 'outward agreement can be deceptive in the Pacific, and sometimes goes hand in hand with hidden animosity'. if that is the case what is their 'support' worth?
me said…
Croz,

I'm now more confused than ever. Your earlier postings and the Fiji media seemed to suggest the MSG was 100% behind the military government and ready to push for their reistatement back into PIF.

Now it seems all they have said is they wish to continue dialogue with Fiji (Everyone including AU and NZ has said that). And they want to help restore democracy...well everyone wants that as well.

The only difference I can see is they accept 2014 as te date for the election. It now only two years away and given very little has been done to actually prepare for those election (they admit it is not a priority yet) then any date before then is not realistic. I think Au and NZ actually know this now too.

The big questions is what if they miss 2014. Does the PIF and MSG just accept a ongoing Military government.
end game said…
I think it is important to remember not one Island country has ever actually supported the coup. Frank would have you beleive he has everybodies support. What you have is MSG countries saying they acept the reality Fiji has a military government now and still want to engage and they want to see democracy returned and they will help with that.
yea yea said…
Perhaps you could help us Croz by getting hold of the offical communique from the MSG meeting that talks about their official position. I can't find it. That might clear things up. As it stands your owns posts seemed to suggest it MSG was 100% all guns blazing in support of Fiji's suspension being lifted.
shoe on the other foot said…
I wonder if any of these elected men was thrown out of power by men with guns what would happen. Would they happily return to their villages and say "I OK with this and I'm OK for the men with guns to rule for the next 8 years and I'm OK with never being allowed to participate in government again"

Somehow I doubt that very much.
A Queasiness about Dialogue? said…
It is more than 'unfortunate' that Minister McCully only learns what is going on in Fiji through hearsay: it is a downright disaster and, what is more, a dereliction of his duty to this region. Dereliction - a strong word and it is used with strong opinion and deliberate judgement. There is a duty to the Region as a whole to be properly informed. Being properly informed means being informed at first hand.

This will not disappear this view. This view will come back to haunt. There is no justification for this queasiness about dialogue or exchanging views at first hand. The NZ Trade Commissioner in Fiji has the guts to meet face to face: why not then the New Zealand Foreign Minister?
more please said…
Why is Fiji not sharing its more detailed plans with the people of Fiji ? What are they scared of.

I would like to see the presentations given at the MSG meeting. It is discusting that they get a update whn we don't.

I would also when the PER is going to be lifted so genuine dialoge can begin.....or has the military decided to skip that part and just push on with their "we no best" attitude.
An expensive farce in 2012? said…
The proposed electronic voter registration system for Fiji is all very well: can we afford it? Alternatively, can we NOT afford it? Given that in 2006 despite the vigorous nay-saying of the Observers, the General Election was NOT free or fair. It was rigged from the beginning via the registration process with biased and corrupt ennumerators. The prejudice of these ennumerators, who were authorised to enter private dwellings could be cut with a knife. Then, the orchestrated errors that were made were invigilated by others who were also corrupt. And this, long before a vote was cast.

So, the process in 2012 had better be clean and seen to be clean throughout. Failing this, the entire exercise will prove an expensive farce.
Our Men in Havana said…
Our 'Man in Havana' appears to have been President Anare Tong of Kiribati. Good for him! All parents would surely agree with him that 'bad boys' are still members of the family. While they remain so, it will be much easier to modify their behaviour. Throwing them out of the nest only serves to antagonise and entrench their thinking. Ask Fidel Castro, whose brother Ramon now leads Cuba. Cuba may be a communist state and therefore a one party state. It has many achievements which are commendable and which it generously shares with others: the Health Service and the professional training of doctors and specialists for one. It is not habitually prone to poaching from those who can ill afford to lose medical staff. On that one count alone, Cuba will be 'amigo verdadero' to Fiji! So, with President Tong....that makes two.

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