A Personal Note and Commentary
Readers will have noticed a reduction of postings over the past two weeks. This was due to a trip to Singapore for a family wedding and a short holiday in Java. Both events were memorable and instructive.
There were three wedding ceremonies, civil, Hindu (bride's immediate family) and Sikh (groom's family) and all were celebrated by family, friends, and neighbours from as far back as 40 years ago— Indians, Chinese, Europeans, Malays by race and ethnicity, and Hindus, Sikhs, Catholics, Protestants, Muslims, Buddhists, skeptics and non-believers by belief. I was reminded of the first Diwali gathering I attended in Suva in the 1970s when almost all races, ethnicities and religious beliefs were present. A microcosm of Fiji the Way the World Could Be.
The holiday in Java included visits to the incredible seventh to ninth century Buddhist temple complex at Borobudur and the contemporaneous Hindu temple complex at Prambanan, both of which reverted to jungle with the arrival of Islam. I had the impression that today's Javanese recognize no link with, and take no pride in, the achievements of their pre-Islamic ancestors. Such is the power of "universal" religions that claim unique holds on eternal truths, to the exclusion of all others. Half a world away in Fiji another people are still adapting to accommodate viable old and new iTaukei traditions and beliefs.
Urban Yogjakarta was an eye-opener. How such densities of traffic, comprising cars, trucks, motor and horse-drawn rickshaw, and motorcyclists, manage to weave in and out of each other's way, in the almost total absence of traffic regulations — and traffic accidents — defies explanation. I can only put it down to driver attentiveness, courtesy and the mutual need for survival. Had Fiji or NZ traffic regulations been followed, traffic would have ground to a stop.
I have previously commented on the lessons Pacific Island farmers can learn from their Asian counterparts, and the inappropriateness of some Australian and NZ technologies. The visit confirmed my view that Fiji and other Pacific Island countries would do well to organize visits to rural Asia by rural administrators, farmers and villagers . It is not a question of closing the door on ANZ but of opening new windows. Fiji is on the right track with its "Look North" policy.
Much has happened, and nothing has happened, in Fiji while I was in Asia. This apparent paradox is due to new events merely echoing, or being predicable reactions to, the same old themes.
- Qarase was acquitted of wrongdoing over the Fiji Holdings Ltd incident which to my mind indicated Fiji has an independent judiciary. Not so, said the government's opponents.
- My Fiji friends complained that Waden Narsey's articles are not published by the print media and I would join them if Wadan would omit the vindictive thrusts between his lines and give some credit where it is due.
- Government continues to
deny interference with the media, and calls for "reasonable"
reporting. Inevitably, media self-censorship continues. I am reminded of Nelson
"We as a nation are engaged in ongoing debate on how to give freedom of expression real meaning. If this is to be the case, people should not only have the right to hear what others say, but also themselves to be heard. Only in this way can they become active participants in changing their lives for the better." (my emphasis.)
- But how, when, and how will many in the Opposition abuse this freedom, are the questions for Fiji. I'm not sure a conciliatory move by the Opposition would result in an easing of the Government position. It may be too late for that. But their constant, ongoing accusations and criticisms of everything Government most certainly will not result in a more open media.
- The World Bank's approval for Fiji's economic reforms published last week ("There is quite a lot of optimism and the Fijian economy has recovered well from the financial crisis.”) could have provided a relatively neutral area for the Opposition to made at least one complimentary comment on Government actions, but no such comment was forthcoming.
- Fiji has been ranked highly in a Transparency International Global Corruption report for "ordinary people making a difference in fighting corruption" by saying they would report corruption. This, surely, must also be good news.
- A joint Commonwealth/New Zealand and European election needs assessment team visited Fiji last week to carry out a Gap Analysis/Needs Assessment and to identify the capacity needs of the Elections Office.
- Australia and NZ have again called on Government "to help build a credible political opposition in Fiji prior to the elections." And again the A-G told Radio NZ: “We don’t tell you what sort of opposition you need to have."
- The police decision not to proceed further on the videod beatings of an escaped prisoner last year, and the justification of their lack of action by the A-G, is another unnecessary blot on Government. Wrongs need to be corrected, even against criminals.
- So also, is the further delay in announcing the PM's and A-G's salaries. Some old political parties are claiming the PM receives US$700,000 a year, a most unlikely figure, but fair-minded Fiji would have welcomed action on the video and the salaries.
- The further delay until August in the promulgation of the new Constitution may, as Government states, be necessary with translations taking longer than expected, but the delay provides even more ammunition for the Opposition to question Government intentions on the constitution and the 2014 elections.
- Mike Beddoes, speaking for the self-styled United Front for a Democratic Fiji, wants Melanesian Spearhead Group countries excluded from election observer-status because they are "pro Frank." He sees no irony is his preference for Forum country participation, despite their "anti Frank" position. Beddoes also hints at Fiji's withdrawal from the MSG should his SODELPA party (the old SDL) form the new government.
- The old political parties are protesting that their asset declaration, required by the Registrar of Political Parties, was given, without tender, to the pro-government Fiji Sun. The advertisements will cost SODELPA $26,000, the FLP $7,000, and the NFP $5,796. They are contesting the absence of competitive tendering, not their responsibility for payment. The Commerce Commission will report on this next week.
- Finally, the announcement by the military that it intends to start a new recruitment campaign next month once again raises the question of the mono-racial composition of the RFMF. A government committed to racial, ethnic and citizen equality must surely seek to make its security forces — corrections, police and military — progressively more representative of the nation's population. I shall write more on this issue soon.
Meanwhile, new health clinics have been opened in Lautoka and Labasa, food banks will soon be opened in Suva, Labasa and Lautoka (the World Bank says 7.5% of the population is experiencing from "food poverty"), the A-G has helped Ba squatters retain their water and electricity supplies, fuel prices are to be reduced, there's been another bus fire, another murder and an incident where three men were held at gunpoint, sugar workers may take industrial action over delayed wage increases, and Hong Kong businessmen are in Fiji looking at trade possibilities.
As Allen Lockington would say: "Life goes on."