Tuesday, March 31, 2009

(o) Fiji Media Free to Operate But with Responsibility: Leweni Clears the Air

Fiji Government and military spokesperson Major Neumi Leweni today said that the call for the closure of The Fiji Times is indicative of how serious Government views the need for the media to report with greater responsibility. “This Government has pleaded with the media industry for better understanding of our situation, and to help move the nation forward by reporting fairly, accurately and with greater responsibility given that we are dealing with matters of significant national interests. However, some sections of the media have continued to take a hard-lined approach. In any case, neither the Government nor the military intends to shut down the media here in Fiji,” he said.

He said the International Federation of Journalists and its Asia Pacific director, Jacqueline Park, can therefore rest assured that the media in Fiji will continue to operate with freedom because this is enshrined in our Constitution. Government's position on the media as formally conveyed to the recent Media Review Team sponsored by the Media Council of Fiji is that Government does not seek to control nor gag the media.

“The freedom of the media has been enshrined in all our Constitutions since 1970. In the 1997 Constitution, it is guaranteed under Section 30 of the Bill of Rights. In view of this Constitutional guarantee, Government wishes to pursue a cordial relationship with the media; a relationship which is both professional and objective, and which at the outset is complemented by Government's obligation to protect and uphold the public's interest. This is Government’s official position which was formally communicated in its submission to the Media Review Team. Having said that, I wish to emphasise that while Government is not against freedom of the media, it is however against the use of this freedom in a manner which is irresponsible, and not conducive to a stable social, economic and political environment. This is Governmen's principal concern,” he said.

The Media Review Team has submitted a report which is now currently under scrutiny by a sub-committee of the Media Council. I can only ask that this committee study the Report and put emphasis on measures that will guarantee reporting that is fair, balanced and devoid of political leanings.

Major Leweni said the comments made earlier by the Military's Land Force Commander, Colonel Pita Driti, therefore need to be taken in proper perspective. His comments echo serious concerns about the fact that the media has often abused its freedom and acted irresponsibly ahas been noted by numerous submissions to the Media Review Team. “The local media therefore has nothing to fear as long as they use their freedom guaranteed under the Constitution, with greater responsibility,” Major Leweni said. -- Source:Ministry of Information.  www.fiji.gov.fj/publish/cat_press.shtml/www.pacmediawatch.aut.ac.nz

(o) The Fiji Media Council and Government

The Fiji Media Council has 19 members comprising a representative of each contributing media organisation, an equal number of public members appointed by the Council, and an independent Chair. The Government is represented through the Department of Information. In February this year the FMC commissioned Australian Jack Herman, and Fiji citizens Suliana Sitawibau and Barrie Sweetman (l-r, photo) to review its work and make recommendations for improvement. The Review team received written submissions from 26 media, government and non-government organizations; interviews were conducted with a further 16, and an extraordinary meeting was held with the Media Council attended among others by Riyaz Sayed Khaiyum, CEO, Fiji Broadcasting Corp., and Peni Nonu and two associates of the Department of Information. Government representation is deliberately stressed. The Review report was released last week. (see full report here.)

The critical question was whether the media should be self-regulated or regulated by some arm of government. The Report concluded "The media have to be free to be critical of government and, while a media council is not the same thing as the media, it too needs to be free of government control. Any media regulatory body controlled by government runs the risk of government appointees who will see themselves as responsible to the government, not the people."

Most recommendations referred to the Council itself : the need for a higher profile; to be more active in promoting media standards ("it has appeared more frequently to be vocal about the need for media freedom, without a concomitant voice on media responsibility."); more commitment by media organizations ("need to commit themselves to a stronger observation of the Council’s pronouncements on questions of ethics and standards and to publish or broadcast outcomes of the Council’s complaints process promptly, and with due prominence.") The Report complimented FMC Chairperson Daryl Tarte and other unpaid volunteers for their excellent work in trying circumstances. It recommended the apointment of a paid administrator; the leasing of an office of its own; and the retention of both industry and non-industry representation on the Council.

The Review’s recommendations for the retention of, and improvements to, the Media Council are based on its understanding of the importance to civil society of a free and a responsible media. It believes that all campaigners for human rights should support a media free from government or other interference and free to report on matters of public interest and concern, as long as that media are subject to a regime of ethical principles that will ensure that their journalism is carried out in a responsible fashion, and that efforts are made constantly to raise those standards to a level commensurate with the place of the media in a free and civil society.

See also Josephine Latu's (Pacific Media Watch) commentary on the report.

Government and Media Need to Work on Relationship: Report Extract

"The relationship between a government and a free media is never an easy one. The adversarial nature of the relationship is exacerbated in Fiji where political instability has been a feature of the environment over the past twenty-five years. There is, as a result, a heightened sense of hostility between the government and the media, particularly when the media are seen as vocal opponents of government proposals.

"It is not the job of a media council to be a partisan of either side in this relationship. While it is connected to the media industry through its funding and membership, it has to be seen to be independent of it, arguing for both the freedom and the responsibility of the media. To achieve its object of keeping the media free, a media council needs to cultivate relationships with the executive, the legislature and the bureaucracy and use those relationships to be a strong advocate of press freedom. It needs the continued cooperation of the media industry to further its aim as a proponent of media responsibility.

"As an independent media council represents both the media industry and the general public who consume the media, it needs to be seen as a genuinely independent voice. To the extent that it may not have projected itself as a truly independent voice, pressing for both media freedom and an improvement in media standards, the Media Council has been perceived as not projecting itself sufficiently as a credible advocate for a free and a responsible media.

"Despite the level of the rhetoric from partisans on either side of the media-government adversarial relationship, it is the view of the Review that the Fiji Media Council has maintained a proper relationship with government. Certainly it has made strong comments when it has seen threats to press freedom emerging from government sources - but that is an important part of its brief, a fact that government needs to recognise.

"Given that the Department of Information, as a publisher, is a constituent member of the Media Council, the government has a direct voice in the development of policy within the Council. There is a suggestion that the Department has not used this opportunity to the extent that it might. This has meant that the government has not fostered its relationship with the Media Council to the extent that it might have.

"Both the government and the Media Council need to work on the relationship and it would be unfair of this Review to say that the Council needs to take the initiative. It is the Review’s belief that the government has no place in the regulation of the media and should encourage as far as possible, through its existing membership of the Fiji Media Council, the improved profile and more active attention to press responsibility recommended in this report."

Monday, March 30, 2009

(o) Driti Calls, Media Council Report, NZ Aid

Acting Military Chief Again Calls for Shut Down of 
Fiji Times
Acting Military Commander Colonel Pita Driti has attacked Fiji's largest newspaper The Fiji Times again - and also Fiji Television. He claims both news organisatons are biased against the military. Without specifying the instances of alleged bias, the Land Force Commander Pita Driti, in a military statement issued yesterday, said both media outlets should be shut down. 29 March. Fijivillage.com/Pacific Media Watch. 

Review Says Media Council Must 'Work on' Government Relations
The Fiji Media Council Review report says the council needs to take the initiative to work on the relationship between the government and the media.It says the relationship between a government and a free media is never an easy one. Titled "Free and Responsible: Towards a More Effective Media Council", the report says the adversarial nature of the relationship is worsened in Fiji where political instability has been a feature of the environment over the past 25 years.It states: "There is, as a result, a heightened sense of hostility between the government and the media, particularly when the media are seen as vocal opponents of government proposals."However, the report says it is not the job of the Media Council to be a partisan of either side in this relationship.

The report further states that the Media Council has been perceived as not projecting itself sufficiently as a credible advocate for a free and a responsible media.It is the review’s belief that the government has no place in the regulation of the media and should encourage responsibility as far as possible, through its existing membership of the Fiji Media Council

Prepared by a three-member team led by [Australian Press Council executive secretary] Jack Herman, and comprising [civil society advocate Suliana Siwatibau and [media lawyer] Barrie Sweetman, the findings are based on submissions and oral interviews. 29 March 2009. Pacific Media Watch/Fiji Broadcasting Corporation Ltd. * See full text of the Report at www.pacmediawatch.aut.ac.nz

New Zealand Aid: Criticisms of Proposed New Focus
NZ Foreign Affairs Minister seems bent on changing NZ's Aid focus away from poverty reduction to economic development.  One of his ideas for development is to subsidise certain Air New Zealand flights to Tonga, Samoa and the Cook Islands.  His proposals have met with strong opposition from the NGO community and others.  See Megan Anderson's report.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

(o) Beddoes Supports Driti's Call

Fiji Times 28 March. Full text. Ousted opposition leader Mick Beddoes supports Land Force Commander Colonel Pita Driti's call for restraint from political parties but he disagrees with his choice of words."However, any call for restraint and silence must apply equally to the military and (interim) regime leadership as well as their supporters," said Mr Beddoes said in a press statement today. He said if Colonel Driti could give him those assurances, then he would be silent  "for the duration of the political dialogue process". [Comment: I could not agree more.]

(o) Comment: What Fiji Needs is a Real "Period of Silence"

There's a pattern in Fiji kick-boxing. In each round one side (or the other) says something to which the other side reacts. Reaction follows reaction, until most gaskets are blown, exhaustion sets in -- and then it starts all over again. Nothing very new is said in these exchanges, no one modifies their previous position, no one feels any better, friends and enemies remain unchanged, and Fiji is not a better or happier or safer place. But that's the way it is as attitudes harden. In Fiji. In late March 2009. Over two years since December 2006. 
It's often difficult to identify the original  triggering comment because everyone's "luggage" is carried forward from the previous round. This week, if we take repeated finger-pointing against the military (as those behind the fire-bombings) as the starting point, Col. Pita Driti (photo) fired back with  threats to ban the SDL, NFP and certain NGO's from  Forum participation and close down the Fiji Times. "There is no place in the Forum for people who want to take Fiji backwards," he said, calling the repeated criticisms of the military and IG "incitement" and a threat to national security. 

 "...all the military is trying to do is  prevent Fiji fall(ing) into the abyss of lawlessness and disorder with mass genocides, ethnic cleansing and battle between warlords, let alone civil war now that is a national security angle that I am speaking from on behalf of the military as the final bastion of law and order". [Hey,where is this place? Ruanda? Bosnia? Afghanistan?] 

He was supported by acting PM Ratu Epeli Ganilau in more moderate words: "By criticising the media [Driti] is looking at what the media can influence in ensuring there is a stable and secure environment in the way they report ... If it is biased, obviously that has security implications that can create an atmosphere that will be inevitably hostile as we progress."

NFP president Raman Pratap Singh launched the first counter-attack, calling Driti's remarks "uncalled for". Mike Beddoes and Laisinea Qarase said they would comment later (and they did!). Media Council chairman Darryl Tarte (who earlier had said IG and military views were fairly reported) said he was unaware of any complaint.  "I thought the interim Prime Minister said they uphold media freedom as provided in the Constitution so how come Driti is talking about closing down the biggest media organisation in the country?" Fiji Women's Crisis Centre co-ordinator Shamima Ali asked on what authority is Driti threatening NGOs and political parties.  Driti told her to "stop getting involved in politics  (sic!) ... concentrate on tackling the rise in sex related offences, and stop blaming the events of December 2006 for the increasing statistics."

Rati Epeli and Darryl Tarte spoke reasonably, but you don't need to be very clever to see that all this gets Fiji absolutely nowhere. The only "wise" words in the whole round appeared to come from Col. Driti who called for a "period of silence ... to ensure the political Forum is successful."  I thought for one brief moment he'd seen a blinding light on the road to Nabua. But I was wrong. Insert the words "from the politicians and NGOs" between the ellipses ( ...) Only the IG's opponents were to be silent. 

Take your seats, ladies and gentlemen. The next round is about to commence. -- Crosbie Walsh [Based on items culled from all Fiji online newspapers.] 

Friday, March 27, 2009

Last Week in Fiji: Third Week of March

The week started with two minor parties insulting PNG's Sir Rabbie Namaliu and ended with molotov cocktail attacks on two homes. The rays of hope from the previous week's Political Party Leaders' meeting were soon blotted out as Fiji A and Fiji B again took turns to bat on a heavily trampled field with no umpires. 


Wed.18th.  "They're At It Again. This Time Sir Rabbie".  Two minor parties,  the CAMV and the General Voters' Party, criticized the nomination of PNG's Sir Rabbie Namaliu as chair of the PPDF, calling him a puppet to white Australia and New Zealand. PNG took offence and Sir Rabbie withdrew his nomination. Later, Mahendra Chaudhry siad he hoped Sir Rabbie would reconsider. The incident was aggrevated, if not caused, by poor reporting by the media. Sir Rabbie had been nominated, not appointed. PNG thought the Interim Government had made the remarks when in fact they had  nominated Sir Rabbie,who appeared to have the support of all except CAMV and GVP.  I saw it as an early attempt to derail the Political Party Leaders meetings and future PPDF.

Friday 20th. "An Apt and Wise Old Song (for Fiji Just Now)." I posted the blog's first song, Bing Crosby's  1940s "You've got to accentuate the positive/ Eliminate the negative/ Latch on to the affirmative/Don't mess with Mister In-Between."

Sun. 22nd. "Fom Stones to Rocks to Molotov Cocktails" commented on attacks on the cars and homes of Sakuisa Raivoce and Netani Rika. The Fiji, foreign media and IG opponents claimed they were political intimidation; hinted strongly that the military was involved; some accused the police of not taking the attacks seriously, and all demanded the IG condemn the attacks (which they did the following day).  I criticized intrepretations put on the stone and molotov cocktail events, and was criticized in return (see below).

Letters Between Two Friends

Dear Croz, One needs to separate Fiji media’s incompetence and malignance (towards the Interim Government) from the acts of political intimidation that are manifested by the stone-throwing vandals. The fact that the police have not been able to apprehend a single person after more than half dozen such acts does not reflect the ‘hands’ of those trying to discredit the government. There is a nasty underbelly to the IG that one needs to recognize!  Bhaiya*.

Dear Bhaiya,  I agree I didn't do a particularly good job in separating media shortcomings from the stone-thowing although, of course, in condeming both, I do recognize their difference. But I'll have to stick with my views on the stone-throwing. We can all agree the attacks were cowardly and criminal, but whatever many people may think, there is as yet no evidence that they were politically motivated, or carried out by the military or the "nasty underbelly" of the Interim Government -- and there may never be. They could just as well have been carried out by the IG's opponents. Your point that the Interim Government has a "nasty underbelly" is probably true, but so too does its opposition.  Not all of them were jailed with Speight after the 2000 Coup. Ironically, unless the culprits are caught,  the Government will be blamed whoever conducted the attacks. 

The media continues to report opinions and assumptions as facts, which are then used by its opponents to attack the Interim Government. The IG should be held to its word on reforms and progress towards elections, and checked when it acts wrongly. But the media should also be held more responsible.  Publishing one IG statement to  six anti-IG statements is not "balance.  And those with vested interests in opposing the Government -- who stand to gain most if it fails in its objectives -- should not be allowed to posture as democrats and upholders of the law. 

If well-meaning people in Fiji do not distinguish between opinion, assumption and fact, and do not look at all possibilities, the Interim Government is likely to be damned if it did -- and damned if it didn't. Kind regards, Croz.

The fallout from the molotov cocktail incidents continued into the next week, and demands the IG condemn the attacks continued long after they had done so. * Not his real name.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

(o) The Fourth Wise Man: Ratu Madraiwiwi

Former Vice-President Ratu Joni Madraiwiwi is a high-ranking chief, a prominent lawyer, and a intelligent, fair, clear-thinking man who has won the respect of people from many backgrounds and persuasions. The Roko Tui Bau is a great great-grandson of Ratu Seru Cakobau who ceded Fiji to the British Crown and a nephew of Ratu Sir Lala Sukuna, the architect of modern Fijian administration. 

Ratu Joni is a Fijian who believes in the equality of all races and all citizens; a chief who recognizes the need for chiefly and political reform; a Christian who respects those who hold other beliefs; and a lawyer trained to listen to others, ponder causes, consequences and linkages, speak with moderation, and respect the law.  He is also a warm, kind hearted man. I can think of no one in Fiji for whom I have greater respect -- although some postings on this blogsite show that in some matters our opinions differ.

Ratu Joni makes no bones about his political position. The 2006 Coup was illegal; the Interim Government is illegal and its methods wrong, however good its stated aims may be. Change cannot be pushed on people; it all takes time. The military should stay out of politics. The judiciary has been compromised; the media reduced to "self-imposed" sanctions, and  human rights have been abused. I suspect he agrees with some of the things the Interim Government says it intends to do, but is increasingly concerned about whether they really mean what they say. 

Unlike others who oppose the IG, his words are temperate; he avoids negative comment, and his advice is always directed towards the future.  How can the country get out of this mess? How can Fiji move forward?  Implicit in this position is recognition that when all this is over, " tolerance and reconciliation" will have to take on new meanings. This will not be Fiji  as it was after the 1987 and 2000 Coups.  It will no longer be Fijian against Indo-Fijian (even if that was what it truly was). Events since 2006 mean that brother will need to be reconciled with brother, family with family, neighbour with neighbour, and much more.  Modern Fiji has never been so divided.

This is why now, at this moment in time, all those seeking a way forward should heed Ratu Joni's advice.  

Speaking to a Fiji Institute of Technology forum reported by  Fiji Village, he "called on political parties to consider the conditions put forward by the Interim Prime Minister in order to take the country forward [and]  accept the conditions put forward in relation to the People's Charter and Electoral Reform. Bainimarama [he is reported to have said] has made it clear that changes will take place before any steps towards elections take place ... Political parties at this stage have no choice but to accept these changes as Cdre Bainimarama has made it clear that the changes will have to be put in place first ... Once political parties take this into consideration, then we will be able to get an indication as to how and what government has planned in terms of elections."

Ratu Joni obviously does not approve of Bainimarama's position, but he is a realist.  For that reason (and because the alternative could be much worse) opponents of the IG should (and this is my opinion) "play it exceedingly cool" over the weeks leading up to the President's Political Dialogue Forum. The Forum is the only bright star on the near horizon. Wise men should follow its course
-- Crosbie Walsh [Section in speech marks based on  Fiji Village "Consider Bainimarama’s Conditions", 25 March."]

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Reactions to the Bombings: Press Headlines and Comments

Symbols (- o +), see Notices at bottom of page.
Photo of Police. Fiji Village

UPDATE 24 March: Calls continue for Government to condemn the attacks even after it has done so. Yesterday Interim Defence Minister Ratu Epeli Ganilau said "such cowardly acts will never be condoned and police will do all they can to make sure those  responsible are brought to justice." Today he said, “At this point in time, we do not know who was behind the attack or [if it was] politically motivated or not. These people are unknown to the police and for all we know, this could be a move to discredit the government.” Fiji Live. Calls continue also for the military to condemn the attacks. Fiji Live reports "Information Dep.Sec. MajorNeumi Leweni saying people should stop pointing fingers at the military, and if they have evidence, they should take that information to the police who are conducting the investigations." He said the military will assist police if required and have condemned the attacks. [The report actually had "condoned," not "condemned." I presume this to be a typographic error!] There have also been calls for Police Commissioner Teleni to resign to which General Voters Party (GVP) secretary Fred Caine responded: “I want to tell all the politicians that they need to stop criticising the police but work together with the police through the neighbourhood watch zone. I believe more in finding a solution to all this rather than joining the bandwagon of criticising in every check point.” He did not think the Police Commissioner should resign: "The Commissioner is only one man and no amount of criticism will do any good to this nation."Fiji Daily Post. 

Fiji Times 

(o) State in Conflict [?] Over Security Concerns."The interim government will meet tomorrow to discuss whether or not security should be provided for civilians who have been the target of mystery attackers, says interim Defence Minister Ratu Epeli Ganilau. He said he would meet Police Commissioner Esala Teleni for an update on the progress of investigations on the recent spate of attacks. However, Mr Teleni said police would not provide security unless it was specifically requested or if it was deemed absolutely necessary." [Where is the "conflict?"]
(o) Labour Condemns Attacks. "After labelling as unfair the Fiji Times editorial today which criticised the party for its 'deafening silence,' Mr Vayeshnoi condemned the attacks ..."
(-)Take a Stand, Beddoes Tells Interim Government. "Calls are mounting for interim Prime Minister Voreqe Bainimarama, interim Defence Minister Ratu Epeli Ganilau* and Police Commissioner Esala Teleni to publicly condemn recent mystery attacks and articulate a desire to do everything possible to bring the perpetrators to justice."[* see below]
(-) (NFP) Party Shocked at Intimidation
(-) It's Deplorable, Says (Fiji Times) Fussell
(-)NGOs Condemn Terror Attacks (FNGOCHR)

Fiji Live
(o) Thugs Use Bombs on Houses: Police

Fiji Village
(o) Still No Lead to Homemade Bombs
* (+) Such Cowardly Attacks Will Never Be Condoned: Defence Minister (Ratu Epeli Ganilau) "Such cowardly acts will never be condoned and police will do all it can to bring those responsible to justice."
(o-)Come Face-to-Face: Colonel (Sakiusa Raivoce)
(-) Netani Rika Calls for Fair Treatment. ..."'there seems to be special treatment given to members of the interim government when they have their homes robbed.' However, Deputy Director for Information Major Neumi Leweni said the matter had been handled by police and has refused to comment further."
(o) Fireball Attacks on Prominent Figures
(-) Curb These Violent Attacks - (Ro Teimiumu) Kepa

Fiji Sun
(o) Security Boss to Attackers: You Can Run But You Can't Hide (Sakiusa Raivoce)

Fiji Daily Post
* (+) It's Not On!  "Ratu Epeli Ganilau who is currently in Vanua Levu yesterday said those caught should be dealt with by the law.'That is not on,' he said. 'People caught should be arrested and taken to task ... We (the Interim Government) do not condone such acts and any law abiding organization and citizen would not and never condone such acts,' the Cakaudrove chief said."
(o-) Be Civilised Says NFP. "The National Federation Party (NFP) has called on the people to take a more civilised approach in showing their grievances.NFP general secretary, Pramod Rae last night said they were not happy on the way things were happening in the country especially for those who opposed the interim government and spoke their mind."
(-) Kinivuwai Slams Police Inaction. "Soqosoqo Duavata ni Lewenivanua (SDL) Party National Director Peceli Kinivuwai has slammed the inaction of the Fiji Police Force in dealing with the spate of vandalism against prominent people. And Kinivuwai is calling on Police Commissioner Esala Teleni to do his job or resign and get someone more capable."
(-) Cowards Take Cover in the Dark. "SDL national director, Peceli Kinivuwai said ... 'The acts are of those lamulamu who take cover in the dark and fire their weapons.' He added that SDL did not condone such acts of terror by people who cannot stand up and say ‘I did it’. And he has called on the police to take a more serious approach in getting the culprits to justice."

Monday, March 23, 2009

(+) From Stones to Rocks and Rocks to Molotov Cocktails

UPDATE (Events since the main post was written)
In the early hours of Sunday morning, 22 March,  the homes of (former Colonel) Sakiusa Raivoce, a security firm recruiter for Iraq ,  and Fiji Times chief editor Netani Rika were attacked by molotov cocktails (bottles filled with an inflammatory liquid, and fitted with a wick). Rika says he (and Fiji) know who the attackers were. Raivoce said he did not, but said the attackers fled in the direction of Nabua (and the military barracks). Police are treating the attacks as "serious" and possibly linked to previous incidents.  

It is possibly significant that earlier, on Monday 16th, anti-Government blogger Raw Fiji News  claimed to know from "within the military" that Raivoce was "on the stone-throwing hit list ...[adding] ...The recent spate of cowardly violence by some grown-up indigenous Fijian men, believed to be soldiers, is all planned by Ului Mara, Pita Driti, Epeli Ganilau and Frank Bainimarama." 

It is now even more important that the Interim Government condemn these attacks and that the police succeed in apprehending the offenders.

Pro-Democracy Head Says Rocks Thrown at House

Journalist Tamara McLean has a short four paragraph article on the stoning of Attar Singh's car, syndicated by AAP (Australian Associated Press) to umpteen papers in Australia and NZ. It is worth mentioning because it demonstrates how one short news release can travel so far and influence so many people, as it disperses fact, assumption or falsehood, balance or bias, merely by the press of a  computer key.  

The Auckland Herald heading read "Pro-democracy head says rocks thrown at house." Singh was referred to as a"pro-democracy politician". Wrong.  Attar Singh is the chairperson of the anti-Interim Government Fiji Movement for Democracy. Its membership? Two Fiji and one regional NGOs, two trade unions, and three political parties opposed to the Interim Government. The political parties are the small United People's Party, representing Fiji's "other" races, the National Federation Party (Singh is on its national executive!), and the Soqosoqo Duavatu ni Lewenivanua (SDL) party of former PM Lainesia Qarese. The trade unions are the Fiji Teachers' Association, headed by anti-government Tevita Koroi, and the the smaller of Fiji's two umbrella unions, the Fiji Islands Council of Trade Unions, to which Koroi's Fiji Teachers' Association is affiliated (!), and of which Singh is the National President!  

If you can't quite follow this, the so-called "pro-democracy politician"wears three hats. He is  an NGO head, a political party executive and the president of a trade union. But he is not a politician. He has stood unsuccessfully for parliament three times, in 1999, 2001 and 2006, when he won 6% (!) of the votes in his constituency. The National Federation Party is an Indo-Fijian party that  has lost ground to the Fiji Labour Party that won the 1999 election, to be ousted from power by the "Speight" Coup of 2000.   So, the article is factually incorrect. Singh is not, and never has been a politican, and the NGOs aside, the membership of the Fiji Movement for Democracy  suggests it is far less concerned about democracy than returning the old SDL Government to power.

The second error of fact is that the "Fijian police have refused to comment on why prominent Fijians are being targeted." The police did nothing of the sort. They said investigations were proceeding, and that the case was difficult because it was dark and there were few witnesses.  If they later "refused to comment" to Ms McLean, it was probably because they had nothing to add to the earlier statement. [For the record, it is the Fiji (not Fijian) Police and Attar Singh is an ethnic Indo-Fijian.]  

The remainder of the article is supposition based on bias.  There is as yet no evidence the attacks were "politically motivated"as the article claims--although it does appear so. Neither is there any evidence, as lawyer Graham Leung is reported to have said, that "it was obvious these 'acts of terror' were being perpetrated by those acting on behalf of the Government." Mr Leung, is it not also possible they could  be perpetrated by opponents of the government,  precisely because their actions would not be "obvious?"  They could even be anti-government soldiers!

Indeed, it defies logic that the Government is behind these attacks at this critical time when it is seeking the support of  political parties in advance of the President's Political Dialogue Forum.  If the hooligans were anti-Government, their actions could help to derail the Forum. If they were pro-Government, their actions give anti-Government elements the high moral ground. Either way, their actions do not help the Forum process.

Attar Singh is rightly grieved by this cowardly attack. It is understandable he would blame the Government. But belonging to a pro-democracy movement does not of itself make him a democrat.  If I judge him wrong, my apologies, but he seems to have rather too many irons in the fire to sound totally convincing on democracy. 

But Singh and stoned cars apart, it is disappointing an experienced journalist was so careless and so biased, and an experienced lawyer so uncritical of the "obvious", and so categorical about blame where it may --or may not-- be due.  

They may, of course, be correct but for the moment there is absolutely no evidence to back their claims.  Had Ms McLean made it quite clear that the article contained expressions of opinion, I would have had no bone to pick with her or with Mr Leung. Their error was in turning opinion into fact, and their "sin" in seeking to persuade others to believe them. 

Friday, March 20, 2009

An Apt and Wise Old Song

(For Fiji just now)

You've got to accentuate the positive
 Eliminate the negative
 Latch on to the affirmative
 Don't mess with Mister In-Between

You've got to spread joy up to the maximum
 Bring gloom down to the minimum
 Have faith or pandemonium
 Liable to walk upon the scene

(To illustrate his last remark
 Jonah in the whale, Noah in the ark
 What did they do
 Just when everything looked so dark)

Man, they said we better
 Accentuate the positive
 Eliminate the negative
 Latch on to the affirmative
 Don't mess with Mister In-Between
 No, do not mess with Mister In-Between
 Do you hear me, hmm?

Click here to hear popular American crooner Bing Crosby and Beth Midler sing the whole song.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

(+) They're At It Again. This Time Sir Rabbie

Hardly had I posted an item on the stoning of Attar Singh's car (in which I raised the outside possibility that it could have been by anti-Interim Government supporters seeking to embarrass the IG and derail the PPDF) when a a further development gave support to my "outside possibility."

In a feature, "PM's Office in Damage Control as PNG Queries Insults," the Fiji Times reports anger in PNG after it was reported the "[Fiji] interim administration rubbished the integrity of former PNG prime minister Sir Rabbie Namaliu after rejecting him to be chief mediator at the upcoming President's Political Dialogue Forum."

Jone Dakuvula, the Forum Coordinator, having earlier refuted media reports that Sir Rabbie had been appointed as chief mediator ("no such decision   ...the matter is still to be decided by the political parties meeting on April 9") NOW had to deny the latest misinformation. In fact, he said, it was the IG that had recommended Sir Rabbie to the Commonwealth.The PM had made no comment about Sir Rabbie, either at the meeting or publicly to any news media in Fiji. 

"The misreporting of this matter by the news media in Fiji is entirely due to the activities of some persons who leaked confidential information from the UN and the Commonwealth Secretariat."He labelled the accusations "mischievous" and threatening to long-standing good relations with PNG. 

In a press conference on Tuesday, PNG's Prime Minister Sir Michael Somare and Foreign Minister Sam Abal had slammed reports that Fijian politicians had labelled Sir Rabbie as a "puppet of Australia and New Zealand". 

Meanwhile in Fiji, in a not very well timed move -- given that the media is implicated in all the leaks and misinformation concerning last Friday's meeting  -- anti-IG NGOCHR chairperson Virisila Buadromo called for an end to media intimidation in Fiji by the interim government.

One might ask who is trying to intimidate who?  Who spread this malicious information? Why the car stoning?  And most important: why such acts now, just as progress was seen to be made at last Friday's meeting?  

It does not stretch the imagination to suppose these acts aim to strengthen the hands of the Interim Government detractors, derail the PPDF, and tip the political balance to their advantage. Whether they are the result of a string of unco-ordinated events or a well organized campaign we do not yet know. But it is beyond belief that they are acts instigated or condoned by the Interim Government.  Someone else is "at it" again.  -- Crosbie Walsh.

Fiji Live reports (19 March 2009) Sir Rabbie Namaliu has withdrawn his name from the list of candidates proposed to chair the President’s Political Dialogue Forum (PPDF) after it was reported "Fiji's political parties (sic!) called him a puppet of Australia and NZ."  In fact, only two minor parties of the 19 attending the meeting were involved. They were the Conservative Alliance Matanitu Vanua (an ultra-extremist ethnic Fijian nationalist party) and the General Voters Party (one of two small parties representing "other races").  Neither party had a seat in the old parliament.  [Sir Rabbie's withdrawal is a setback for the PPDF and national reconciliation. Their statements, thanks to the media, had the desired effect.] 

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Last Week in Fiji: Second Week of March


Monday 9th.  
"Who Owns the (PI) Forum?"  A background paper  the Forum by its former Director of Economic Governance, Dr Roman Grynberg, in which he discusses the debate on whether or not Australia and New Zealand should be members, and their near "ownership" today.

"Un-Pacific Neighbours". Extracts from Thakur Ranjit Singh's article in the Fiji Times in which he answers statements attacking Bainimarama by Samoan PM Tuilaepa.

"What, Exactly, Did the Ambassador Say?" in which I expressed doubts that US Ambassador McGann's speech to a Prophet Mohammed's Birthday meeting had been accurately reported.  The press reported that he'd urged Fijians to put pressure on the Interim Government.

Thursday 12th.  
"PM's Unwise Decision on PPDF Meeting" in which I gave reasons why the PM's decision not to invite the SDL party was unwise. [It later transpired the media had got this wrong. The SDL was invited.]

"Media Did Distort What Ambassador McGann Said." I read the speech.  Most of it was on American-Muslim relations and religion generally. Only passing refererence was made to Fiji. The Ambassador urged people to put pressure on all leaders, not just the Interim Government.

Friday 13th.  
"How to Stir the Pot by Pramod Rae" in which I traced day-to-day reporting on the leak to the media of UN/Commonwealth letters adressed to the PM. Pramod Rae took over two days to admit he had leaked the letters, during which time "everyone" condemned the police for searching the Fiji Times offices. I thought Rae this a political stunt by Rae.

"Fiji Leaders Agree on PPDF Agenda" reported the agreement and, citing the media, the appointment of former PNG PM Sir Rabbie Namalui as chairman. 

Saturday 14th. 
"At Last Some Good News." The leaders comments about their meeting, and a correction that the meeting had not appointed Sir Rabbie as chairman.

Sunday 15th.  
"You Can't Please Everybody: Reactions to the Pre-PPDF Meeting" focussed on Fiji Daily Post negative reporting and Prof Brij Lal's concern that the question of the military had been deliberately left off the agenda.  I  thought the military would have been included under anther heading. [It is under the People's Charter"]

"Statement on Pramod Rae Leak by Jone Dakuvula." The PPDF Coordinator said publishing the confidential letters could  lead to the UN and Commonwealth opting out of their PPDF role. 

Compulsory Retirement Age

The Court upheld the Public Service Association's determination to change the compulsory retirement age for civil servants back to 55. It had briefly been lifted to 60. The action will not win friends among older civil servants and their trade unions but it will open doors for promotion and recruitment.  Several thousand school leavers and hundreds of graduates are unemployment.  Exemptions to this ruling will include professionals whose skills and experience are in high demand.

Related New Zealand News

NZ Axes Pacific Programmes 

Labour Party spokesman Phil Twyford has criticized Foreign Affairs Minister Murray McCully's decision to axe $1.95m from the Fiji-based NGO, Foundation for the Peoples of the South Pacific, that operates in seven Pacific Island nations. 

Twyford claimed "This is an example of McCully meddling in the aid programme ... It shows the minister's hostility to the kind of high quality grassroots development work that NZAid is doing around the Pacific and ... demonstrates his willingness to medal and intervene."  McCully countered by saying most of money funded  FPSP salaries and overheads that did not meet his criteria of funding projects which made a "tangible" difference to people's lives. NZAid to the Foundation's youth and mental health  ($1.6m) and disaster risk reduction ($1.5m) programmes will continue.

McCully awaits the results of two reviews into the future of NZAid, one on its structure and possible re-integraton into MFAT; the other on its policy on poverty elimination. NZAid has an annual budget of $480m.

It also looks likely that the Pacific Divison of NZ's Immigration Department will be scraped following a report showing leadership, financial and strategic problems. The report found service and compliance problems to be most pronounced in the Auckland office, and the Apia, Suva, and Nuku'alofa branch offices. The Division had worked well in filling access quotas but there were major backlogs and questions about the quality of decisions. It was common for applicants to queue all day for a form in Apia. In Suva, one applicant referred to the line of up to 100 people as the "queue of shame". Queues formed at 4am in Tonga. Despite these shortcomings, the report said the division should remain a separate body. [Condensed from Martin Kay, Dominion Post.]

Concern Over NZ Government's Move to Change Focus of NZ Aid
Click here for full report.

The United Nations Development Fund for Women has expressed concern over signals fromNZ Minister of Foreign Affairs Murray McCully that NZ aid's focus will change  from poverty elimination to economic development. The UNDFW is joined by the Council for International Development representing 91 aid-related NGOs in opposing this sharp shift in focus. Click here to access the new NGO website on this matter. 

(o) Revisiting the International Bar Association's Damning Report

 I was never very happy with the IBA Report. There was an imbalance in those contacted. The Interim Government seemed to be blamed for all of Fiji's legal and custodial inadequacies, even those from before the Coup.

It was just too anti-Interim Government which, to some extent, could be expected. The Interim Government had denied the IBA Team entry to Fiji (as a result of their first visit when they interviewed mainly anti-Goverment people) and the Attorney-General's refusal to join their telecommunications did not help.

But others in the legal profession could have been contacted about Chief Justice Daniel Fatiaki's dismissal and other charges made by the IBA Team. Testimony did not have to rely on Graham Leung, Dor Sami Naidu and other anti-Government people.

Nonetheless, despite these misgivings I agreed with the Report that the dismissal of the Chief Justice was illegal.     Until today.     Read on ...........

IBA Member Disputes Fiji Report

Fiji Times 18 March 2009. Full text.

A counsel to the Tribunal which was looking into the removal of former Chief Justice Daniel Fatiaki has raised concern on the report released by the Human Rights Institute of the International Bar Association titled Dire Straits: A report on the rule of law in Fiji.

Clive Grossman, QC, a member of the International Bar Association, said the report contains grave misstatements, is highly misleading, and above all no attempts have apparently been made to verify any of the facts from sources other than from Fatiaki's solicitor Graham Leung. He confirmed he has made enquiries and has ascertained that no one concerned with the Tribunal was ever contacted by the delegation to obtain a balanced view of the facts.

Grossman said the report's statements are wrong which said the charges were "vague" and not particularized but in fact great care was taken in framing the charges and full detailed particulars were provided to Fatiaki's legal team in respect of all the charges, and there was certainly no complaint by them that they were prejudiced by any of the details, nor did they ask for the charges as framed to be better particularized.

According to the QC, he cannot imagine who imparted to the delegation the idea that the "general understanding" was that the charges laid before the tribunal were false or inappropriate. He said he can authoritatively state that no difficulty whatsoever was experienced in finding the evidence to underpin those charges.

He is concerned that the entire report brings the IBA to disrepute. He stressed that it is of course easy to bash Fiji as it is at present one of the international community's whipping boys, and he doesn't know whether it deserves to be.

The Interim Attorney General has supported the issues raised by the Queens Counsel. However, Fiji Law Society President Dor Sami Naidu believes the findings by the International Bar Association are factual.

Who Dunnit? Attar Singh's Car

All major English-medium newspapers ran articles on last week's night-time stoning of Attar Singh's car. All those invited to comment by the media (except Government spokesman Major Neumi Leweni) called upon the Interim Government and the Police to condemn this and other recent similar actions. The attacks would seem, as Mike Beddoes told the Fiji Sun, to be the work of "elements linked or sympathetic to the Interim Government."

The Police said the enquiry was especially difficult: it was dark and there were few witnesses.

Major Leweni
said, "The Interim Government does not need to be told what to do." But I'm afraid it does, if it does or says nothing. The DepSec. of Information could have approved, condemned, or said he would respond later. The one thing he could not do was not answer the question. This could --and no doubt has-- been taken as approval. Showing no knowledge of (civilian) tactics, he has played straight into the hands of the IG's opponents.

Other comments included:

SDL party NatDir. Peceli Kinivuwai:
"The attacks are...typical of police states with no respect for law and order ... The incident is clearly part of a systematic campaign of intimidation aimed at critics of the interim regime,”
Fiji Daily Post.

Former parliamentary Opposition leader, Mike Beddoes:
"... despicable and cowardly and was counter productive to the successful outcome of the President’s Political Dialogue Forum meeting last week ... the attacks were not random and come after similar incidents against Fiji Times Editor Netani Rika, unionist Kenneth Zinck and other known figures who have openly expressed their views against the military-backed government."
Fiji Sun.

CCF ExecDir.Rev. Akuila Yabaki:
The attacks are following a clear trend, targeting a particular group of civil society members members who may possess similar views on democracy ... Interim Prime Minister Commodore Voreqe Bainimarama should condemn these attacks as a matter of priority and assure civil society members of their safety.” Fiji Live.

Movement for Democracy Fiji DepChair., Emitai Boladuadua:
"The Movement will not be intimidated by those who use the cover of darkness to terrorise families of known advocates of democracy, human rights and rule of law in the country." Fiji Times.

My Comments

There would seem to be three possible lines of enquiry:

1. The attacks are by persons with
pro-IG links. This seems the most probable explanation. If correct, I'd want to know whether they were officially approved (which seems most unlikely) or if anyone in Government or the military knows or suspects who these misguided culprits might be.

2. The attacks are
not politically motivated. They were conducted by the same (or by different groups of) vandals for "kicks." This seems the least likely explanation but it should not be discarded too early.

3. The attacks are by persons with
anti-Government links seeking to gain political mileage for acts which the public will --incorrectly-- blame the Government.

This last possibility is the least likely but the tactic has been used many times before throughout the world. Perhaps the most infamous example was when the Nazis set fire to the Reichstag (German parliament) and successfully passed the blame to their main opponents at the time, the Communists. The Nazis gained, and the Communists lost, public support.

If I were a Government adviser, I would
immediately condemn these attacks, and do everything I could to bring the culprits to justice, starting with an enquiry among my supporters.

I would also ask why now? Could it have something to do with the PPDF? Who stands to gain most by these actions at this time? Surely it is NOT the Interim Government.

Monday, March 16, 2009

(G) Statement on Pramod Rae "Leak" by Jone Dakuvula

See my earlier posting "How to Stir the Pot by Pramod Rae"

"The person that has provided information to Fiji Live of the names of those recommended by the Commonwealth and United Nations has dishonoured the specific request from the United Nations Secretary General and the Commonwealth Secretary General (so stated in their letter) that confidentiality must be respected by political parties and stakeholders in the political dialogue process.

It was the National Federation Party spokesman Pramod Rae who first leaked the letter of the United Nations and Commonwealth Secretary General to the media last week claiming he was legally obliged to do so and that it was in the interest of the media to know.

If this type of leakage to the news media of confidential information provided by the United Nations and Commonwealth continues, then political parties should not be surprised if the UN and Commonwealth decide to withdraw as independent mediators.

The person or political party responsible for this will then be responsible for undermining the political dialogue they have been calling for. This concern has been expressed in a letter to Political parties from the Secretariat.

Jone Dakuvula, Co-Ordinator.

POSTSCRIPT. I note the Fiji Times in reporting Mr Dakuvula's comments added the "confidential" names of the nominees. Click here

Sunday, March 15, 2009

(o+) You Can't Please Everybody: Reactions to the pre-PPDF Meeting

Almost everyone (minor party GVP and CAMV party representatives excepted) seemed content with the agenda agreed upon by political leaders at Friday's Political Parties Leaders' Forum meeting. Former PM Laisenia Qarase spoke highly of the meeting. Former Opposition Leader Mike Beddoes was reported as saying the Forum went well and that everyone was presented an equal opportunity to express their views freely on all matters listed on the agenda. He added that the outcome of the Forum was significant considering how things had turned out in the past six months. Even the press was enthusiastic. "Political Leaders Find Some Common Ground" (Fiji Times); "Beddoes Happy with Forum Outcome" (Fiji Sun); "SDL Hails Political Party Meeting" (Fiji Live).

But not so the
Fiji Daily Post. Its Saturday super-large front page banner headline read "No Change, No Polls". The paper went on to write about "an ultimatum issued to political leaders " ... by the Interim PM who was reported to have told the meeting that there would be no elections "if the participants failed to agree on a new electoral system." This may well be so but no reference to this statement was mentioned by any other paper; no participant mentioned it; it was not even given the status of a direct quotation by the Post; and since no journalist attended the meeting, one is left wondering what the Interim PM actually "told the meeting."And why spoil an otherwise happy day! [See "Bainimarama Urges Unity", below.]

Someone else not at the meeting,
Professor Brij Lal, must have been phoned by the Fiji Sun for his comments on the agenda. The Sun (15 March) reports him as saying "This [the absence of direct reference to the military] is a glaring omission because unless the role of the military is publicly discussed, there can be no assurance of democratic rule in Fiji." I agree with him but the Constitution, that Bainimarama and many others want to see amended, was also not specifically mentioned. Those attending the meeting would ensure both topics will be discussed under item one of the agenda: The democratic experience in Fiji. [I'm wrong. It will be discussed under People's Charter.]

Prof. Lal warned a "set agenda would not be welcomed by the UN and Commonwealth, who had been requested to facilitate the PPDF. [They] will not sully their reputations by getting involved in a sullied process. The Commonwealth communiqué is clear: it wants the dialogue process to be open, transparent and unprejudiced about the final outcome. They will not come in to endorse a pre-arranged agenda," he said.

On this, I do not agree. Most agenda items are usually decided before meetings. Why should they not agree to a pre-arranged agenda? How can an agenda agreed to by all parties be "a sullied process"? The task of the UN/Commonwealth is to facilitate, not set the agenda. That is the sole responsibility of Fiji. I think Prof. Lal, presuming the worst, responded too quickly to a newspaper enquiry seeking a negative response. He could have waited until the dust had settled and a clearer, less ambiguous, view of what the agenda entailed had emerged.

Not to be outdone in "anticipatory negativity", Fiji Women's Crisis Centre Co-ordinator Shamima Ali, welcomed the decision to include 15 NGO and civil society groups in the PPDF, but then added "inclusion should not be conditional on who supports the coup and who doesn't." Fiji Times 15 March. [Of course. Why anticipate the worst?]

Bainimarama Urges Unity
Fiji Daily Post 13 March. Text in full.

Interim Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama is urging all political leaders to put their negativity aside and support the People’s Charter. Speaking at the Political Party Leaders Forum at the Parliamentary Complex in Nasese, Bainimarama called on leaders to unite and move forward. “Pointing fingers at one another and continuing to engage in the blame game is neither helpful nor constructive,” he said.“More than ever, now we must recognise that the only way to move forward is to tackle years of systematic problems by reforming. “To face our global economic challenges we must make paradigm shifts, be positive and resilient and promote equal citizenry, we must be one nation,” he added.

Bainimarama told the leaders at the forum that they must unite as one.“We must be creative and innovative to mitigate our risks and we must become self sufficient. “We can ill afford to view the situation through narrow religious, ethnic, political, personal vantage points or as advocates of foreign interests,” he said.