The Military and NGOs in Today's Fiji
• Colonel Mosese Tikoitoga criticises the Fiji Women's Forum, and a flood of letters in the Fiji media take exception to his criticism • Peni Moore, an NGO leader, is appointed to the Constitution Commission. An anti-Government reader calls her a “junta supporter” and rubbished the Commission • Peni answers Tikoitoga and her critic. • Fr Kevin Barr reminds Col. Tikoitonga and all of us on the essential roles of NGOs in today's Fiji. • Peni's critic, “Says it all” and I exchange words.
• Colonel Tikoitoga and the letters
The Fiji Sun (17.4.12) article had Col, Tikoitoga responding to letters criticising his earlier comment on NGOs, which among other things questioned their motives and said they were funded from foreign sources. He said government supported freedom of speech but said people should listen to both sides of stories. With the lifting of the PER, some government critics have been using it to criticise the Government. Realistically, he said, Government must also reply to give a clear picture and relate the true story to the readers.
The letters, by Chantelle Chand and Kolinio Meo, said his comments showed Government was “far from establishing the enabling environment for democracy to return to Fiji” and that his “comment regarding NGOs and their motives or agendas is disturbing and quite dramatic.”
• Pen Moore Replies to Tikoitoga
The latest member of Fiji’s Constitution Commission, Peni Moore, says she is not concerned about the military speaking out on matters surrounding the new constitution.
Military spokesman Colonel Mosese Tikoitoga last week warned people not to be swayed by non-governmental organisations and he said NGOs should make constructive criticism on the way forward. He was responding to calls by a women’s forum for the military to be excluded from the process towards a new constitution.
Ms Moore, who is an activist for women and children’s rights, says she is not sure what was meant but she is used to standing up to both the military and the police in Fiji.
“In my community, I am constantly having to work with police to prevent violent situations. I work with people who are threatening me. It’s OK, I’ll sit there and work with them. It doesn’t stop my work. I’m determined that people should have the right to speak.”
Peni Moore says women’s activists like herself are used to intimidation by the military which was much worse in 1987. – RadioNZI.
• Criticism of NGOs by Fr Kevin Barr
(Note: This letter was published yesterday by the pro-Government Fiji Sun which, in itself, shows a far higher measure of freedom of the press than existed only two months ago.)
If reported correctly, the words of the respected Land Force Commander, Colonel Mosese Tikoitoga, concerning NGOs are somewhat disturbing.
To warn members of the public not to be swayed by statements published by non-government organisations in the country on the grounds that all NGOs fight for or simply air the views of what their donors want (otherwise they will lose their funding) is insulting not only to all NGOs but also to their donors.
I do not know of any donor who makes their assistance conditional on an NGO submitting to their political, religious, or economic stance. On the contrary, most NGOs accept donor funds on the condition that they are free to do their work, express their views or advocate their causes without any interference from the donor. Of course, if a donor does not agree with the aims and objectives of an NGO, they probably won’t fund them. Moreover if the NGO does not fit into the categories for which the donor provides funds, they can’t expect to be assisted. So, for example, if a donor aims to provide funding for education, they probably won’t be funding projects for agriculture or housing.
Moreover Non Government Organisations are not government entities. They are not part of the government’s Civil Service which requires its members to suppress their own views and toe the government line otherwise they will lose their jobs. Again they are not part of the military establishment which expects its members to obey commands from the top.
NGOs are part of a democratic civil society which should be free to express their concerns and raise their voices on behalf of causes such as human rights, social justice, women’s issues, the concerns of the poor and those with disabilities. They may do charitable work but they can also be vocal advocates for certain causes. They may not always agree with one another either.
NGOs do not dance to the tune played by their donors – nor are they required to. NGOs are answerable only to their masters. Those masters are not the donors or the government or political parties but the people they aim to serve and, if necessary, protect – especially if they are victims of discrimination or poverty or have their basic human rights denied them.
Of course all NGOs should show respect for political, cultural, religious and economic differences and try to understand each other’s points of view. Moreover they should not be subversive in the wrong sense. However to be critical and to advocate just causes is not to be misunderstood or misinterpreted as being subversive.
Colonel Tikoitoga may have his disagreements with recent statements from the Fiji Women’s Forum and see them as unrealistic or untimely in view of the present government’s plans. He is free to express his views. But to draw a general conclusion that all NGO’s in the country are fighting for what their donors want (otherwise they will lose their funding) it totally unwarranted.
If the women had a sense of humour they could possibly retort that unless the Colonel fights for what his Commander wants, he too would lose his job. We respect his freedom to express his opinions (whether or not we agree with them) just as we respect the freedom of the Fiji Women’s Forum to express their opinions (whether or not we agree with them.)
- • “Says it all” and I exchange words in the Comments on News and Comments Monday April 23rd
- Says it all said... Croz, The appointment of junta supporter Peni moore on the so called constitution commission says it all. I doubt that this 'constitution commission', in which the people of Fiji have given no mandate whatsoever, will ever see the light of day.