Tuesday, June 30, 2009

(+) Melanesian Spearhead Group Wants Dialogue with Fiji

FijiLive reports a Vanuatu initiative for the Melanesian bloc to re-open dialogue with Fiji, closed since the Pacific Islands Forum suspended Fiji's membership.Click here.

(o) Minimum Wage Increases: Feedback and Comment


The minimum wage increases, though long overdue, have come at a bad time for a Fiji garment industry that in December 2008 employed an estimated 10,000 workers. Had employers voluntarily increased minimum wages a few years back when their profits soared, Wednesday's increase would have been less than 20%.

Since December there has been a 20% decline in orders, and several factories have reduced their labour force or cut working hours. While further layoffs may not be caused by Wednesday's wage increases, the increases certainly will not help. It's become a damned if you do or damned if you don't situation for employers. Retain today's workforce, with some workers paid more than before (but with many still paid below the poverty line), or cut the workforce leaving those made redundant with no wage income at all. One hopes garment employers (whose relations with their worker has been uneven, to say the least) will do all they can to be fair to their workers, while keeping their factories, if truly sustainable, afloat.

I have received two comments by email on the minimum wage posting. (It's easier for me if comments are added by clicking "comment" at the bottom of posts.)

The first was from 'Bhaiya':

"I hope that Bainimarama doesn’t buckle to employers’ insider lobbying yet again! Fr. Barr has done a lot of work on this and a number of ‘progressive employers’ have accepted that wages in Fiji need to be increased. The background on the [garment] industry is important. Many fly-by-night operators set up factories, made their money and took off, sometimes not paying the workers their wages! There were several cases of workers turning up to work to find the factory gates closed."[My encyclopaedic atlas, see picture side bar, has a section on most industries, including garments and clothing.]

The second comment sent via Wages Council Chairperson Fr Barr was from Mark Halabe of Mark One Apparel Ltd. markoneapparel@hotmail.com

Mark Halabe's Feedback (1-7) and My Replies (in red)
Thank you for the email and the attached article. Please allow me to make some brief comments:

1. Wages Council may have not have been active, but unions have, wages were increased over the last 3 years so it's not true that all workers had no wage increases.
Croz: Did all or any minimum wage garment workers receive increases? The increase (20%) is high compared with most other industries. This is presumably because "high" is needed to compensate for exceptionally "low."

2.
There is a 15% withholding tax when repatriating profits, (as for all export income industries).
Croz: Now, but not when the TFF and TFZ's were introduced or for some years afterwards. There are, of course, many ways to send money overseas untaxed, some of them legal. Local dividends were capped at 15%, half of the "normal" rate.

3. Government provided or heavily subsidized infrastructure, is not true! (for the garment industry????)
Croz: Was there really no infrastructure at the Valelevu TFZ when Mark One Apparel moved in? Or no tax concessions against infrastructural costs?

4. Cost of manufacture is still a critical factor when marketing Fiji as a competitor to Asia, even as we fulfill Walsh's wish list!
Croz: Fiji's garment industry, as presently structured, can only compete against Asia in "short runs" and quick delivery to Australian and NZ markets. The "wish list" is mainly Australia/SPARTECA's, not mine. See link on post. Economist Prof. Ron Duncan was made similar comments. He said "Despite a 17.5% price advantage over imports, the industry is still shrinking." See Fiji Times. I recall you agreed with some of his argument. Also see Storey reference* below.

5. Over the last 20 years less than 1% of gross income equated to profit, not a great investment, nor a great incentive to keep investing in Fiji.
Croz: Clearly unprofitable. But this is not due to high wages or unsympathetic governments. The industry has not adapted sufficiently to changing circumstances in terms of upskilling, plant, products, and markets. Again, these are not my thoughts but those of experts.

6. Since we last met all of my predictions have unfortunately come true, we are now down to less than 300 staff from (700 in 2007).
7. This year has been the worst in 20 years for Mark One and the industry, with little or no signs of improvement.
We reap what we sew (pun intended). This wage increase will only bring less and will not stimulate the economy as you [Fr Barr] have predicted. Time will tell and I hope for the sake of the Fiji economy that I am wrong."
Croz: I sympathize, I truly do because your reputation is as an honest and fair employer (certainly compared with many others as 'Bhaiya' observed, above), but as noted in the post, it is the nature of capitalism that non-competitive businesses collapse. If low wages only produced 1% gross income equating to profit, far more than low wages are needed to make the industry profitable.

Finally, Some Arithmetic
You were reported in the Fiji Times (10 Dec.) as saying the 20% increase would mean an extra cost of $300,000 a year to Mark One Apparel. I have some difficulty with this figure. There will, of course, be a "carry through effect" to some workers who are paid above the minimum wage, but if we take the $1.48 to $1.78 minimum wage increase as typical , we have an increase of 30 cents an hour (and those on $1.25 will receive only 25 cents), or $13.20 for a 44-hour week, and $673.20 for a 51-week year.

This multiplied by your 300 (and falling) staff results in $201,960, nearly $100,000 less than your figure. Excuse the pun, but that's a lot of bula shirts!


* For a very readable history of the garment industry's ups, downs and futures, read Dr Donovan Storey. Click here.

Monday, June 29, 2009

(o) What Do Fiji Citizens Really Think?

FijiLive runs readers polls that can be answered on line. Looking at 20 political polls since October last year allows some broad conclusions, with these reservations. Unfortunately, the polls are far from scientific. They are not random samples of opinion. We know nothing of the numbers polled, and nothing about the pollsters themselves other than that they ticked yes or no to certain questions. Some of the questions could have been better worded. We can be reasonably sure, however, that the results reflect the honest opinions of those polled. Here are some of the results:

On Chiefs and Church
Late last year in two polls pollsters were asked whether Bainimarama should apologize to the chiefs. 76 and 63% ticked No. This question has no value unless we at least know the ethnicity of the pollsters. A March poll asked whether the Methodist Church conference should be allowed also had little validity unless Methodists were fairly represented. 57% ticked no.

On Early Elections
Several polls asked about holding early elections as demanded by the international community. To secure $350m aid to help the sugar industry, 57% ticked yes. To comply with the PI Forum ultimatum, 58% ticked no (although 52% thought Fiji's suspension justified) but 64% thought the international community should not "relax pressure to hold early elections."

On UN Peacekeepers
On new hiring new Fiji peacekeepers, 66% ticked yes.

On Sanctions and Travel Bans
Four polls were on sanctions and travel bans. In December, 72% thought that Australia and NZ should "soften" their stance. This month 68% thought there was "too much unnecessary pressure" and earlier, in February, 62% thought Fiji's Pacific neighbours should not impose bans.

On the Internal Situation
There were four polls on the internal situation. In October last year 63% thought the NCBFF and People's Charter processes were "a waste of taxpayers' money." This was not a good question because we do no know the effect of costs on process. A more carefully worded question would not have linked the two. In April, 56% thought the President had done the right thing in abrogating the 1997 Constitution, but only 38% thought Fiji would return to democracy by 2011. Earlier this month, 81% thought the political parties should support the Government's initiatives to take the country forward. The first and third polls (NCBFF and 2011) seem at odds with the other two.

Conclusions?
What can be concluded from this hotchpotch? If the polls are at all indicative of public opinion, the overriding conclusion is that the country is deeply divided. Only on one issue was the poll clear-cut: 81% wanted an independent body to investigate complaints against lawyers!

Economic considerations seem to moderate political positions (EU aid and UN peacekeepers) . Most pollsters did not approve external sanctions, threats and ultimatums (the Australian, NZ and PI Forum), but most people (64%) wanted some external pressure on the Government to hold early elections.

A high proportion wanted the political parties to support Government initiatives (presumably on the assumption this would mean a quicker return to democracy) which is a positive sign; but that only 38% of pollsters in April thought Fiji would return to "democratic rule by 2011" is less encouraging.

There was considerable support for "early" elections but an equally strong indication that many people did not welcome others telling them what to do.(56% approved the abrogation, and the response to perceived outside interference) But who they were, and why they thought so, we have no way of knowing.

A regular, properly constructed poll on key political issues could be an important tool for government. It would also give foreign government and agencies a more "independent" measure of Fiji public opinion than they have at present.

POSTSCRIPT.
Our own poll on whether Australian and NZ policies are too inflexible resulted in 73% ticking Yes and 27% ticking no. While only 46 people answered, it is good to see that people of different persuasions are visiting the site.

Friday, June 26, 2009

(+B) Minimum Wages and the Garment Industry: Government Keeps Promise But Could Make New Powerful Enemies


UPDATE June 27, 2009.

NARSEY: SMALL EMPLOYERS CAN SEEK RELIEF; LARGER EMPLOYERS CAN PAY

Economist Dr Wadan Narsey says “there will be no doubt that small employers will feel the pinch of dishing out extra wages" and those who think they cannot cope can show their audited accounts to the Wages Council. However, "larger employers have been making big profits for too long without raising wages [and] can comply with the minimum wage rate." A 20 percent wage increment would mean a dent of thousands of dollars in their profit margins, but the average worker has been denied increments for more than ten years and has been living under the poverty line for a long time. “It will make a difference to people who earn $70 a week. What can one buy nowadays with that much money?” Based on
FijiLive.

The news that the Government will go ahead with the minimum wage award, deferred from February,at employers' request, on July 1st has, understandably, received a mixed reception. Retail Association President Himmat Lodhia says the increase is unsustainable in the present economic climate and will result in layoffs and shorter working hours. Others called the increase "suicidal" and counter to last week's Reserve Bank pleas to keep inflation in check. Spokesmen for most industries think the increases will most affect small operators.

Wage Council Chairperson Fr Kevin Barr acknowledges the employers' difficulties, but thought the small increases would help stimulate the economy with workers having a little more to spend. Referring to the garment industry, he said the industry "should not expect to survive on the basis of poverty wages." Even after the increases an experienced garment worker on $1.78 an hour working for a 40-hour week will only earn $71, less than one-half of the $164 poverty line. They have received no wage increase, or allowances for increases in the cost of living, for over three years. No journalist apparently thought to ask the opinions of the workers concerned.

Background on the Garment Industry

The industry flourished after the 1987 Coup when the Government cut tariffs and import taxes, established tax-free factories (TFF) and tax-free zones (TFZ), and offered tax-free packages to attract foreign investors and entice local manufacturers to increase production. Overseas and local manufacturers were allowed to repatriate profits in full. Government provided or heavily subsidized infrastructure. Protected by preferential tariffs on exports to Australia, NZ and the USA, the industry flourished. At its peak in 2000-2001 the industry was responsible for 12% of Fiji's GDP, 33% of its exports by value (it's now about 14%), and employed 20,000 workers, or 29% of Fiji's wage workers, most of them women, and two-thirds of them Indo-Fijians.

From then it has been all downhill. The preferential tariff to the USA expired, SPARTECA* was extended(from 2004 to 2011) but to little effect (for the volume and value of exports decreased); factories closed or merged; most foreign firms left; Government withdrew its TFF and TFZ concessions. Owners complained of low productivity and competition, for low as their wages were, Fiji workers were paid four times more than their Chinese counterparts. Even before the 2006 Coup things looked bleak for the industry. The reality then, and now, is that the industry cannot compete with China. The new wage awards are a minute part of the problem. To survive, the industry has to upgrade skills and equipment, develop new products, find niche markets and improve productivity by better employer-employee relations, and decrease its dependence on Australia and New Zealand (Walsh 2006).

It is the nature of capitalism that inefficient firms collapse, and smaller firms are swallowed by bigger ones. Reseacher Wadan Narsey found no evidence of firms collapsing simply because of higher wages. The remaining firms should use this opportunity to upgrade their act. Their exports will be helped by the 20% devaluation of the Fiji dollar; Government has indicated it will help all it can, and Australia and NZ could assist with markets and skill upgrading. And once they are confident they will survive, the garment factory owners can bring back some of the untaxed profits they sent overseas in the "good years" and reinvest it, at a much improved exchange rate, in their more efficient factories.

Bainimarama has kept his promise (we will know definitely by next Wednesday) but the decision to proceed with the minimum wage award is a courageous one. Employers constitute a powerful political lobby, far stronger than un-unionized female garment workers, most of whom would have supported Bainimarama anyway.

The New Minimum Wage Rates
The July minimum wage increase will see current garment worker wages for beginners increase from F$1.25 to $1.50 an hour, and for those employed for over five months from $1.48 to $1.78. Over the nine industries affected, the increases are: garment, wholesale and retail 20%; road transport 5%; manufacturing, beginner printers 50 cents; building, saw milling, civil and electrical engineering 40-50 cents, hotel and catering 35 cents, security 30 cents. The Fiji dollar is worth 80 cents NZ, and 60 cents Australian.

* See SPARTECA report for Australia's highly critical view of the industry, and February Fiji Times article and comments
when the increases were thought imminent. I now see why the question was asked: What does it profit a man if he should gain the whole world and lose his own soul? Matthew 6: 19-21

Photo: Fiji Live.


(+) We Want One Nation, PM Tells Recruits

Click here for FijiLive report.

(o+) Think Pacific, not European

I am once again reminded about how little outsiders, and I am one of them, understand of Pacific Islanders. Pippa Brown's report on last night's public discussion in Auckland organized by the Pacific Media Centre on what it means to be a Tongan, led by the region's foremost activist on media freedom, 'Eakalafi (Kalafi) Moala is a case in point. Publisher, broadcaster, former pro-democracy MP, imprisoned, banned, multiple winner of the Media Freedom Award, author of In Search of the Friendly Islands (Pasifika Foundation), one might have thought he would have used the opportunity to denounce the Fiji regime and its curtailment of media freedom. That he chose not to do so does not mean he agrees with the regime. I think he saw no point in further denunciation. He sought a solution, a Pacific solution.

I quoted from Pippa's report:

Moala questions why the Pacific region is trying to solve the current Fiji political problem in an confrontational way.“Why not solve it in a Pacific way and let the Pacific sovereignty leaders meet Fiji and see how we can open up the dialogue,” he asks.

Moala thinks New Zealand is a country that is standing in confrontation with Fiji so Maori may offer a solution. Going in as an outsider hasn’t worked but to look at the issue as Pacific brothers may work. “It hasn’t been solved within the current framework so we need to find another one,” he says. He thinks the Forum had the right to suspend Fiji “but we don’t need to keep beating them up.” Moala says the heads of government in the Pacific Island Forum may have some conflict with the duality of the Pacific and Western frameworks.

A Personal Aside

I taught 'Eakalafi at Tonga High School in the mid-1960s. On my recommendation he became Dux and Head Prefect. Years later, in 1997, in the school's golden jubilee magazine he wrote Walsh was "the man most responsible for motivating me in leadership in those days" and went on to say "I have never met Walsh again since I left school, and he probably does not realise the impact he made on my life." Malo 'aupito, 'Eakalafi. You make me a lucky man. Most teachers are left wondering if any of their work has "made a difference."

That's another thing to learn about the Pacific: its physical distances are huge, but nearly everyone is connected in one way or another, and time has no meaning when old friends meet.

Photo: Te Ara.



Thursday, June 25, 2009

(-) FNPF and DPP Dismissals: What's Going On?

On June 11 PM Bainimarama congratulated the FNPF Board; on June 24, following a "review of the functions, objectives and board membership of various statutory organizations and other State-related entities" he thanked them again as he dismisses all but one of them. What's going on?

The Board, usually appointed by the PM in consultation with the Minister of Finance (Bainimarama holds both positions) consists of six members, two each nominated by employers, the trade unions represent employees, and two members represent government. With assets totalling over $3 billion and control over 8% of Fiji's wages and salaries (and another 8% from employers), more than government wisdom is needed to run the Board.

A business involving members' savings, retirement pensions, member house purchases and improvements, discretionary assistance with medical and educational expenses, and investments that include 100% ownership of the new Intercontinental Fiji Golf Resort and Spa at Natadola* and the $80 million (sic!) it seeks to recover from the jinxed Momi Bay tourism development (NZ investors in Bridgecorp lost $107 million in this fiasco), such a business needs experienced business heads, free to express their opinions.

"We had a meeting at the weekend and reviewed the function and objective of the FNPF board,” said Bainimarama. “We have to operate cost effectively and reduce the Fund’s exposure, and ensure we make wise investments to maximize benefits to the members.” Just like that! It is unclear how replacing one pro-Government majority Tweedle-Dee Board with another of Tweedle-Dums will achieve these results. One might have thought that Government's best moves at present is to keep things as they are, and avoid alienating anyone further.

According to the Coupfourpointfive blog neither employers nor unionists were consulted on the dismissal of their representatives, but since most of the old board were Bainimarama supporters it hardly seems likely the move was made to remove opponents of whatever plans Government may have for the FNPF. One early outcome is that the FTUC whose nominees were dismissed has said it will not allow its members to accept FNPF appointments. Its rival union. the FICTU, has always assumed an anti-government position and is unlikely to be invited to the Board. With this union stand-off Coupfourpointfive predicts Government "will change the criteria of membership to the Board [drop employee and possibly employer representation and pick all six members] from personalities who sympathize with them." For details on the people involved, see the Coupfourpointfive blogsite.

* 216 rooms, 35 acres. Vijay Singh-designed 18-hole golf course.

Assistant Director of Public Prosecutions Dismissed

In an equally disturbing move, Coupfourpointfive and three Fiji daily newspapers, report that the Assistant Director of Public Prosecutions, Andie Driu, has been dismissed after being accused of being "disloyal to the government of the day." She had apparently said she would remain neutral and follow the law. She was sacking by the recently appointed Acting DPP, John Rabuku. Driu was one of three Assistant DPP's. Her dismissal leaves only one Assistant DPP, the other resigned late last year and has not been replaced.

Wages
The only good news is that it seems Bainimarama is keeping his promise to enact the minimum wage legislation on July 1st.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

(o-) Inclusive Dialogue Only Way Forward: Beddoes


In an phone interview with RNZI today, General Voters' UPP leader and former Leader of the Opposition Mike Beddoes (photo, centre) said the only way to resolve the political situation was the way we've always done it, by dialogue. He predicted Cde Bainimarama's "road map" will come to nothing unless the dialogue is inclusive, involving all parties. Without this, the changes sought by the Government will be reversed by the Government eventually elected. Speaking of PER, the Public Emergency Regulations, he said that it stifled pro-democracy voices and prevented moves towards dialogue. Even his comments on this interview put him at risk. "All it takes is one individual to [mis] interpret what I'm saying, and I'll end up in jail."


(+) Race Used to Divide the Nation

There is no room for racial discrimination is this government, says interim PM Cde Voreqe Bainimarama. Speaking at Dawasamu, Tailevu yesterday Cdre Bainimarama said the interim government was committed to eradicating discrimination at all levels. "I will not tolerate racial discrimination as a way of dividing people of this nation."

This may mean having to write a new constitution "so that racial discrimination, a tool previously used by many politicians to win votes, is eradicated."

Cdre Bainimarama said Government did not want a repetition of the 2000 [Speight coup] event where little trust was shared by Fijians and other races and drove many people to parliament to support rebel leader George Speight for no reason. FijiSun.



(+) 2006 Coup Different from 1987 and 2000 Coups

Prime Minister and Army Commander Cde Frank Bainimarama said the 2006 military takeover led by him was different from the 1987 military coups and George Speight's civilian coup in May 2000.

Speaking to 400 soldiers on Infantry Day at QEB this morning, Commodore Bainimarama reiterated that the 2006 takeover is to wipe out corrupt politicians and eradicate racial politics in Fiji.

He said some politicians and chiefs thought that they would benefit from the 2006 takeover as they did in 1987 and 2000 but he said they failed.Bainimarama also called on the soldiers not to forget the events of 2000 when soldiers lost their lives during the mutiny.
FijiVillage.
June 23 2009

Monday, June 22, 2009

(+) Snippets: Irregular if not Corrupt: Shady Deals by "NZ Businessman" Ballu Khan and Provincial Chiefs; PER Extended; New Constitution; Police Crusade


Corruption?
One of the reasons given for the 2006 Coup was the need to mount a "clean up" campaign to control corruption. To date no major incidence of corruption has been proved in the Courts, although several cases are pending.

Now FijiVillage reports on two new cases, the first involving "New Zealand Businessman" Ballu Khan; the other involving four provincial chiefs.

The Fiji Development Bank has demanded the Native Land Trust Board repay $3 million to the FDB that was loaned by businessman Ballu Khan and the company Vanua Development Corporation.

PM Frank Bainimarama (photo, in collar and tie!) wants to know how the NLTB, that is supposed to be the trustee of native land, could act as guarantor for a loan to only one individual who does not even own any native land. The current NLTB administration has declined to repay the loan saying they were not the ones who guaranteed the loan in the first place.

Bainimarama has also revealed that a known provincial council building currently rented by the government only belongs to four chiefs from that province and the land belongs to a few Indo-Fijian businessmen.This only came to light after the government made the decision to move out of the building and the chiefs said the decision to vacate the building will lead to losses for the provincial council. It was then discovered the chiefs, and not the Provincial Council or the people from the province, owned the building on land owned by some Indo-Fijian businessmen.

Public Emergency Regulations
PER, due to expire on July 10 and renewable on a monthly basis, has been extended for a further month, supposedly due to the number of meetings to be held over the few weeks. An announcement that at least some of the present restrictions on the media and public meetings would be lifted would have been better received, and could have marked the beginning of a new dialogue.

New Constitution?
Bainimarama has announced that discussions on a new constitution will commence shortly. As previously stated in this blog, the endeavour will have little support, internally or internationally, unless it is accompanied by inclusive dialogue.

Police Crusade Ends Today

The five day controversial Police Crusade Ruggers for Christ ended today with a march from the Flea market to Sukuna Park. The public was invited to join former National rugby representatives share the changes through Divine Intervention.



(+) Former NZ PM Mike Moore Labels Aust. NZ "Tarzan Act" Policies "Failure"


Former NZ PM and former WTO Secretary-General Mike Moore (photo) has criticized Australia's and NZ's policies towards Fiji, calling them a failure. He says a "game changer" is needed to break the present impasse. Click here for a short Fiji Times Report, and here for the full interview of Mike Moore and former ACT MP Ron Mark by TV interviewer Paul Holmes.

Extracts:

Mark. I think New Zealand and Australia quite clearly recognize that the last thing they want to be doing is severely impacting upon the ordinary people of Fiji and it's a very difficult line to be walking when you're trying to get the regime to accept change and to adjust, but at the same time not wishing to severely harm the livelihoods of the ordinary Fijians.
Holmes. Yeah, but at the same time when you bring economic pressure, try and bring economic pressure to bring a regime to its senses, you are in fact trying to put economic pressure on the ordinary people aren't you so they bring the pressure on the regime?
Moore. Is that possible though? It'll be the World Bank not the IMF. This represents a huge diplomatic failure by New Zealand and by Australia over several decades.
Holmes. What does?
Moore. What's happened in Fiji. What is foreign policy about? Foreign policy is projecting and protecting your interests and promoting your values, and building up over many years those values and those interests. We have failed. Now having said that this is not going to be solved by beating our chest doing the Tarzan act, and pretend, you know, we criticize the Americans or the Aussies for being belligerent, and then we beat our chest and lecture and poke our fingers in the face of [Fiji] military people who don't particularly like that. This has to be worked through, you need a game changer, I know some people who are working on a game changer now, and this will not be resolved by hairy chested pp.

They went on to discuss the UN engagement of Fiji peacekeepers, both Moore and Mark applauding the good job they do and the difficulty the UN has in obtaining peacekeepers. Both thought the Aust. NZ request to the UN to cut Fiji peacekeepers was unrealistic.

Asked by Holmes about his "game changer" remark, Moore replied: "Yeah, there has to be a game changer there to allow people to move, keep their dignity and keep their faith ... but here's New Zealand, we beat our chest about this coup but we're very silent about coups in Thailand and elsewhere ..." Moore was vague about who the game changer could be.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

(o) Media Free-run: Typical TVNZ News Coverage of Fiji


NZTV1 News has just finished. It included a two minute feature on Fiji with Australian Foreign Minister Stephen Smith predicting the imminent collapse of the Fiji economy, due to the world crisis and mismanagement, with a fleeting camera shot of you-know-who still in military uniform, the odd soldier or two, and a series of shots of a squatter settlement, replete with raggedly dressed children and a "grocery" store containing one lonely tin of food, included, presumably, as visual proof of Fiji's economic collapse. Tomorrow I expect my neighbour -- who watches TV to keep up with the news -- to tell me that's what happens in dictatorships, all that poverty and tin shacks. I'm tempted to reply, "You can always have proper gander if you've got the proper geese!" but I won't. He's a typical well meaning Kiwi bloke.

Obituary. Ron Crocombe MA (Victoria), PhD (ANU), Professor Emeritus (USP), Pacific Scholar

Copies of emails received, the obituary by USP Vice-Chancellor Rajesh Chandra, a general report and her account of the Auckland church service, at which sons Tata and Kevin spoke, by AUT journalist Pippa Brown, have been stored on the web by MediaFire. Click here to download. For further links, see below. See also PacificMediaWatch blog
NEW. And Pacific Media Centre blog.

For over 50 years Ron's name has been known and respected throughout the Pacific Islands. He first influenced me when, as a masterate student in 1960, I read his critique of NZ policies in the Cook Islands, where he had been a district officer. This writing and his book on land use in Rarotonga, that unravelled traditional and colonial influences, were ground-breaking for their time. We had not long started to question the munificence of colonial rule.

From the Cooks Ron went to PNG where he was director of the New Guinea Research Unit (1962-69) and then to the University of the S
outh Pacific. There he founded the Institute of Pacific Studies to encourage Pacific writers. He wrote The New South Pacific, based on extension lectures: a mix of history, anthropology and Ron, that caused many to rethink their notions on the Pacific. There is much, much more, but I have no doubt that his most important contribution was in helping young Pacific Islanders, who up until then had been fed a diet of European education and values, gain confidence in themselves and their cultural heritage. Today his former students number among the Pacific's leaders and foremost academics. His later writings were among the first to draw attention to the increasing importance of Asia in the Pacific.

Ron never retired. For close to 20 years he commuted between the home he shared with wife Marjorie Tuainekore* in Rarotonga and his ongoing Pacific commitments in various parts of the world. Only a month ago he emailed me expressing dismay on what he took to be my pro-Fiji government stance. It was not the first time we had differed but I'm sorry that our last exchange was not more convivial. He was a man with whom you would occasionally differ, but never stop respecting. His knowledge of the Pacific was encyclopaedic, and his dedication to good Pacific outcomes unmatched. Ron died of a heart attack in a bus to Auckland airport, on the way home from Nuku'alofa, Tonga, where he'd been inducted as a Fellow in Futa Helu's 'Atenisi University. He was 79.

Kua hinga te totara, Haere te kaiako nui, Haere, Haere, Haere

* Marjorie was until recently Director of the Centre for Pacific Studies at Auckland University.

See also David Robie's and Bij Lal's obituaries in Cafe Pacific.





Saturday, June 20, 2009

(+) Government Continues Public Service Improvements

FromFijiLiveJosefa_serulagilagi psc chair FL Click here “PS undergo quarterly reviews under PMS”

Permanent Secretaries will undergo more frequent reviews under the Performance Management System.
These are the words of Public Service Commission Chairman Josefa Serulagilagi who said, while the review of civil servants performances will be carried out on a yearly basis, the review for Permanent Secretaries will be carried out more often.
There is an audio file attached to this story. Please login to listen.
Meanwhile Serulagilagi adds from here on civil servants will have to prove themselves to be eligible for a pay rise.
With government now targetting to put all civil servants on contracts, he said this will enable PSC to implement the merit based increment system.
Serulagilagi adds there will no longer pay increments across the board for civil servants.

(+) State speaks out on PACER Plus - Fiji Times Online

State speaks out on PACER Plus - Fiji Times Online

(+) A Hard Question: Aust. and NZ, Friends or Bullies?


Don't walk in front of me; I may not follow. Don't walk behind me; I may not lead. Just walk beside me and be my friend. -- Albert Camus (1913-1960).


One of the great attractions of patriotism - it fulfills our worst wishes. In the person of our nation we are able, vicariously, to bully and cheat. Bully and cheat, what's more, with a feeling that we are profoundly virtuous. -- Aldous Huxley (1894-1963).

Statue: The Thinker by Auguste Rodin (1840-1917). Source: Wikipedia.


It is now two and one-half years since Australia and New Zealand started to apply pressure on Fiji to hold elections that they saw as synonymous to democracy. The pressure started with travel advisories, later relaxed but with enduring TV images, and travel bans on anyone even remotely associated with the Fiji Interim Government. This was quickly followed by severe aid cuts, even to projects not administered by the Fiji Government. Appeals to the Commonwealth and the European Union to stop economic aid to the already seriously sick sugar industry followed. The industry is Fiji's second largest money-earner and employer. Then the UN was asked to dismiss its Fiji peacekeeping soldiers, despite the repatriated income it earns for hundreds of ordinary Fijian families. And then pressure was applied to at least some Pacific Islands Forum members to vote to suspend Fiji from Forum membership.

[A cynic might add that Australia and NZ have not applied trade sanctions, despite urgings from some vocal overseas-domiciled anti-Government groups. But then trade favours NZ (and probably Australia) six to one, and sanctions could hurt our exporters, and open the door to rival exporters from other countries.]

It should be obvious to any independent, intelligent observer that these policies have not worked. Elections are no closer. Indeed, the whole situation is far worse than it was, and Australian and NZ policies could have contributed to the deterioration.

A hard look at Fiji points to several possible undesirable outcomes
:

(1) The Interim Government will continue in its dictatorial path (when a more relaxed atmosphere could have produced genuine dialogue, reconciliation and a pathway to a truly more democratic Fiji) ;

(2) There could be a major confrontation between anti-government Fijian ethno-religious "forces" (spurred on by assumed Australian and NZ support) and the military;

(3) There could be a revolt within the military. This could result either:

(a) in the removal of Bainimarama and the Military Council (in which case we will have a failed coup, six torn-out pages in Fiji's history, and, in all likelihood, Fiji will return to the unresolved issues that prompted all its coups), or

(b)
in the revolt being crushed, and hopes of reconciliation and dialogue being pushed even further down the road.

Fiji is in a deadlock (not yet a stalemate) that can only be broken by moderate people, most especially ethnic Fijians, who can influence the Interim Government.

The emergence and influence of such a group would be greatly helped by realistic Australian and NZ policies (or even backdoor diplomacy) that allowed the Interim Government to step away from its siege mentality.


Now Read On

Despite the obvious failure of their exclusionist policies towards Fiji -- and the growing body of informed opinion in both countries that has called for flexibility -- the Pacific giants continue to press on regardless.

  • Fiji was excluded from the PACER (Pacific Agreement on Closer Economic Relations) two-day meeting in Apia, Samoa, this week. Negotiations will begin in earnest after the next Pacific Island Forum meeting in Cairns in August. Fiji will again be excluded. Meanwhile, a new Chief Trade Advisor's office will be temporarily housed at the Forum headquarters in Suva -- until it is moved to Vanuatu. Auckland Law Professor Jane Kelsey, however, states that Pacific countries cannot legally reach agreement on trade issues without input from Fiji. “PACER," she says, "is a separate legal instrument from the Pacific Islands Forum. Suspending Fiji from the Forum does not legitimise excluding them from any discussions on PACER. Therefore any decision made by the parties to PACER, in the absence of Fiji, doesn’t have a lawful foundation.” Prof. Kelsey says Fiji had previously been one of the most rigorous island nations in demanding caution over PACER, so its absence could allow New Zealand and Australia to fast-track the deal.
  • Some 32 civil society groups (including churches and trade unions) have also urged caution about PACER, but Australia and NZ seem bent on pushing forward as quickly as possible. The groups want national consultations and research before formal negotiations are even considered. Maureen Penjueli of PANG (Pacific Network on Globalisation) said Pacific governments had outlined the need for such an approach in a draft road map for negotiations, but Australia and New Zealand had rejected this approach and were instead demanding negotiations be fast-tracked.
  • Australian Foreign Minister Stephen Smith, speaking after meeting with his NZ counterpart Murray McCully in Wellington yesterday, said Australia and NZ will continue to demand that the UN stop using Fijian peacemakers until Fiji holds elections. Fiji has up to 2,000 troops on peacekeeping duties with UN security forces around the world, including in Iraq, Lebanon, East Timor and Africa. The UN has agreed not to engage new recruits but McCully said NZ is not happy with the UN’s “unhelpful” reaction to the situation in Fiji.
  • PM Bainimarama said he is aware of a number of approaches which Australia and New Zealand have made to “cripple Fiji’s economy", including approaches by Australia to the Chinese government to reconsider its aid and funding assistance to Fiji. It is truly ironic to ask China to support human rights in Fiji on the 20th anniversary this month of the massacre in Tainanmen Square.
For further reading on PACER click on PIF FAQ; and for a contrary view click on Jane Kelsey.





Wednesday, June 17, 2009

(+-) Religious Intolerance: How Can You Dialogue With People Like This?

POSTSCRIPT. Coupfourpointfive raises a valid question: Why hasn't Sanatan Dharma complained on behalf of Hindu police officers? Is this because its president, Dewan Maharaj, is pro-Government? One might also ask why all other religious institutions have not protested, and why Coupfourpointfive singled out Sanatan Dharma? And why it allowed such irrational and racist comments to its posting on this issue. Coupfourpointfive usually sets a far higher standard.

The hold that Christianity, in its many forms, has over many ethnic Fijians -- and its fusion with Fijian ethnicity and Fijian politics, is difficult for people outside Fiji to appreciate. It it for this reason -- to show how difficult it is for the Bainimarama -- or any other religiously-diverse and ethnically-balanced government - to take the country forward, that I have broken a promise to myself. I'm going to publish the latest comments from RawFijiNews, one of the less rational blogsites that invariably mixes religion with its anti-Government politics. And then I'll look at the equally disturbing "Government" flip side.


Raw Fiji News Blog

RFN claims its sources have revealed that, despite the Government ban, the Methodist Church will go ahead with its annual conference scheduled for August. "This latest defiance from the Methodist Church," it states, "against Frank Bainimarama’s junta is something that will determine Fiji’s destiny in the coming years. Most christians in Fiji believe that the junta will succumb soon. There are even talks that Frank & Co. will seek assistance from the church as prophesied by Steven Penny* in 1997."
[sic!]

To which "mrx77" (the photo accompanied his post) added, "I take my hats off to the Methodist Church leaders, members of the clergy and all devoted members for their stand. Lets show this illegal government who has the majority followers.Lets show this illegal government that strength is in the number of people you have. Lets show this illegal government that people power is mightier than their guns. Lets show it to them. POWER TO THE PEOPLE!!! Oh my, I have never been so proud to be a Methodist."

Even more to the point "Voresara" respondent said, "Thats more like it. Come on people no one and I mean no one will fight your battle for freedom accept yourselves or ourselves to be precise.
Lets do it…its now or never…God bless Fiji. Oh I forgot… I hope they are prepared to shoot ministers, preachers, women and children. When that happens I am coming home to die."

*Steve Penny is the driving force behind the SP Ministries on Australia's Sunshine Coast. It is typical of the many evangelical, charismatic fundamentalist Christian sects that have gained influence in Fiji in recent years.

And Teleni's Ideas on "Government" is Just As Bad

Equally disturbing is Police Commissioner Esala Teleni's recent invocations of the New Methodist Church, of which his brother is the main minister, to mount Christian "Crusades" to reduce crime. That is arguably just acceptable. At least it's in a good cause. But to insist that all police officers must attend in totally unacceptable. Fijian youths, the most involved in petty crime, may turn to god and renounce crime as a result of these crusades, but it is clearly a breach of a basic human right -- and one would have thought contrary to the way the Interim Government seeks to lead the country -- to insist on attendance by officers who are not New Methodists, or even Christian. Even the choice of the word "crusade" is an affront to Muslim officers. Police spokesperson Ema Mua said "the crusade [funded by Government through the community policing budget] is the only [sic!] strategy the Commissioner Esala Teleni and senior police officers hope will reduce crime in the country and police officers who are against the idea have every right to leave the force." Local rugby stars "share their personal testimonies" at the crusades that so far
have been held in Suva and Lautoka.

And it gets worse! The Police Commissioner has banned the drinking of yaqona (kava), a no-no to New Methodists, in all police quarters and barracks. Yaqona had previously been banned from police stations and police posts in a move to instill greater discipline and professionalism by former Police Commissioner Andrew Hughes who was deported soon after the 2006 Coup. This ban is different. Yaqona is an important social drink in Fiji. To ban it from police residences is as good as telling police officers they cannot entertain their friends in their own home.

The message to police officers is join the "crusade"-- or leave the force. Drink yaqona at home -- and start packing. Both edicts must be totally unacceptable to all reasonable people.

But the main issue is far bigger. And it will be pasted in large letters on national and international billboards.

Here is a government that says it wants a democratic, multi-religious, multi-ethnic Fiji where all people are treated fairly and equally, that seems to be condoning, -- if not actually promoting -- its diametric opposite.

Bainimarama may need Teleni -- but not, surely, at any price!


Monday, June 15, 2009

(oB) More Kava in the Blood: Lessons from the 1987 Coups


Peter Thomson is a sixth generation Fiji Islander, born in Suva, schooled in Lautoka, fluent in Fijian, with a passing knowledge of Fiji Hindi, who now lives in Sydney. Last week he presented a paper to the joint conference of the NZ-Fiji Business Council and the Fiji-NZ Business Council in Auckland. He was the key mover in establishing both councils and their counterparts in Australia some years ago.

The paper is entitled "The Lessons of '87" -- lessons he sees as very relevant to the 2006 coups, despite their different origins. He was a secretary to two prime ministers, Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara and Dr Timoci Bavadra, and permanent secretary to the Governor-General Ratu Sir Peni Ganilau following the 1987 Coup.* His book Kava in the Blood is a personal account of those years. He is a man who, as they say, "has been around;" he knows something about coups and he knows a lot about Fiji.

Where does he stand on the 2006 coup? "I know in my bones", he said, "there are better ways than military intervention to change governments and troublesome policies [but] neither am I in the camp of those
whom one witty blogger describes as 'We Love Fiji So Much We Want to Destroy It from Overseas Front.'"

He sees
Australia's and New Zealand's policies as unhelpful and damaging -- "They hurt the country when good friends would have been expected to lend a hand ... It should be glaringly obvious to [both governments] that continuing measures to isolate Fiji and choke off its income will come home to roost not just on Fiji's damaged economy, but on all of us in the South Pacific Region."

His advice to the Interim Government-- "Work with the media, not against it ... The solutions to Fiji's recalcitrant problems lie in an ongoing process of national dialogue towards reconciliation and reform". To those who think the Military Council will not budge, he says "If the carrot is enticing enough and if an accord is one that everyone can work with, the military will be on board. There is no shortage of intelligent people in the Fiji officer corps, and they know there are imperatives ahead that make a reconciliatory accord a better prospect than the current course."

He has this advice for the people of Fiji: "They must embrace acceptance of a common destiny ... reject hard-line political leaders who polarize their respective communities ... a new generation of moderate leaders [is needed]"

He looks to Fiji's many "bridgebuilders ... who are prepared to sit around the kava bowl ...[and] help the hardliners come to the middle of the meeting ground. [They are to be found]... in the churches... political parties ... the business sector ... the Great Council of Chiefs ...and in the Military Council."

To read the full paper,click here. You will be taken to the web storage programme Mediafire from where you'll be able quickly to download the paper. It's well worth the trip to cyberspace.

* Peter Thomson has also been Permanent Secretary for Information, Fiji Consul-General in Sydney, First Secretary in Fiji Embassy, Tokyo, Senior Assistant Secretary in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of Fijian Affairs, and district officer in Taveuni, Macuata and Navua.


Friday, June 12, 2009

(G) Government to Work on Timetable, Reforms for Elections

Update. FijiLive reports the PM as saying "a national roadmap" to be launched in the "next couple of weeks" will replace the Presidential Political Dialogue Forum. A political leaders' meeting will be used as "a forum for government to launch a roadmap” and the United Nations and Commonwealth will be invited to sit in the political forum discussion.

I will delay detailed comment on this latest Government release on its "way forward" but as it stands it does not look good. The absence of UN and Commonwealth participation is not as great a concern as the suggestion that the whole Dialogue and People's Charter process has been put aside. Government cannot surely intend to "go it alone" on the reforms, but that's what this "half" release infers! We'll have to wait and see.

Fiji Village June 12 2009

The Government will not go back to the United Nations and the Commonwealth to try to continue with the Political Dialogue Forum. PM Bainimarama said the Government will now work on the timetables and reforms before elections are held.

Bainimarama had earlier written to the UN and Commonwealth to facilitate the Political Dialogue Forum talks.

Meanwhile, the United Nations has confirmed they have not received any communication from the government of Fiji since the 9th April meeting of the interim government and the political parties in relation to the President's Political Dialogue Forum. The UN said it remains available to discuss Fiji's return to constitutional democracy through early elections.

However, the UN added any form of future engagement in assisting a dialogue process can only be based on the fundamental principles outlined by the UN and Commonwealth and that is, that the dialogue be independent, inclusive in participation, time-bound and without prejudice as to its outcome.



(+) Snippets: Complaints Against Lawyers to be Investigated

Q.What's the difference between a lawyer and God?
A. God doesn't think he's a lawyer.

So far 50 lawyers have registered with the Chief Registrar's office; the remainder have until the end of the month to do so. Graham Leung, a staunch opponent of the Government and former Fiji Law Society president, has decided not to practise again in Fiji and will not be one of them. FLS's lawyer registration duties were annulled following the Abrogation of the Constitution, and many observers feared this could lead to anti-government lawyers (and the appointment of judges under the same decree) being denied licences. So far this does not appear to be the case.

A new unit is to be established within the office of the Chief Registrar to investigate 283 pending cases against lawyers. More than one complaint may pertain to a lawyer, but 283 seems an extraordinary high number of complaints given that the Fiji Law Society has only about 168 registered members. Acting Chief Registrar Ana Rokomokoti (photo) says about five complaints are received a day. The complaints, some dating back to 2000 that should have been investigated by the Fiji Law Society, include malpractice, misconduct, deliberate attempts to delay cases, trust fund account violations, incompetence, negligence, discrepancy with costs charged to clients, failure to follow client’s instructions and failure to communicate with clients.

Public complaints against the FLS was one reason given by Government for the FLS's now diminished role. Based on FijiLive report.

Coupfourpointfive reports that three police officers involved in a brutal attack on fellow officer Raj Shavendra Prasad have been suspended from duty on no pay pending an investigation by the Police Complaints Department. Prasad has also been reinstated. See also my earlier post on May 29 "Snippets: Police Brutality..."



(-+) Brij Lal’s Speech that Could have Been


Thanks once again to Coupfourpointfive, this time for publishing the address Prof. Brij Lal would have given to the Accountants' Conference had Government not decreed otherwise. Its publication by at least two blogs supports a point made in his speech: “The whole exercise of controlling speech is futile and self-defeating.” To read the full address on the topic of ‘Fiji and the International Community: Acceptance or Isolation: Are these the only choices?’ click here.

Summary

On Fiji's relations with the international community, his main points were: Fiji cannot go it alone; Australia, the EU and New Zealand want to help but need evidence of “progress” from Fiji; China's interests in Fiji are limited. “Many initiatives contemplated by the interim administration [IG] are praiseworthy, and I have no doubt that there would be a meeting of minds on many of them. That is why there is an urgent need of tact and diplomacy.”

He thought the situation had deteriorated sharply since April 10th The Constitution has gone. The political dialogue process has ceased. “There is now no pretence about finding a solution to Fiji’s political problems in a timely fashion, in consultation with its friends in the regional and the international community. Fiji is now telling the world: we will find solutions to Fiji’s problems on our own terms, in our own time …. we are the guys who are on the right side of history; we are doing the right thing; why doesn’t the world understand us? “

On where Fiji should go from here, he said elections must be held earlier than 2014 if Fiji is to win international support. He agrees that elections alone will not solve Fiji's problems but asks what kind of political culture the Government want to create. He says a non-racial electoral system will not remove race as a factor in politics. He thinks the military want a permanent place in politics, and that their “utopia” will delay elections long after 2014. He says the Government should spell out what is wrong with the 1997 Constitution. He thought the Constitution’s compulsory power-sharing provision addressed “the most fundamental problem that has beset Fiji since the inception of party politics in 1966” in that it enabled one community, the Indo-Fijians, to share power. He said the Constitution was partly based on “‘Consociationalism … a grand coalition of elites representing different segments of society...”

My Comments

Brij blames the deteriorating situation on the Interim Government alone. No mention is made of the role of Australia and NZ, the Fiji media, the “Qarase” faction, and others who constantly placed obstructions in the IG's path.

Elections are not held to satisfy the international community. Fiji will only hold elections (hopefully before 2014) when the system under which they are to be held is decided upon, and when race has been removed as the factor. The Government has made quite clear the “political culture” it wants to create.

Brij continues to see Fiji's problems in purely racial terms. The 1997 Constitution was an improvement on the decidedly racist 1991 Constitution, but the Great Council of Chief's provision, the reinforcement of race by its electoral provisions, and the parliamentary “power sharing” provision effectively deprived Fiji of a parliamentary Opposition, need revisiting. True, future modifications were expected, but none occurred in the next ten years. His “grand coalition of elites” is based on racial “segments of society.” Fiji is, and can be, “segmented” in many more ways.

I do, however, share Brij's and many other people's concern about the never-ending role of the military in Fiji's politics. I also sometimes doubt their real intentions but, for the moment, they have the benefit of my doubt.

In sum, Brij warns of everything that has, and can, go wrong. Wisely so, perhaps, but we already know most of them. He supports an agenda rejected by the Interim government. I would like him to have proposed some new ideas on the “way forward.” Perhaps a hypothetical redrafting of the 1997 Constitution, with the benefit of hindsight, or the drafting of a new Constitution that would win wide support? Photo: Fiji Times.


Wednesday, June 10, 2009

(-) Graham Leung's Address to Accountants

There can be little doubt the invitation to Brij Lal, Richard Naidu and Graham Leung, three prominent anti-Government people, to be keynote speakers at the Fiji Institute of Accountants' Conference, meeting at Nadi today, was intended to deliberately provoke Government. There was no way Graham Leung's "call to arms/stand up and be counted" address, copied below thanks to Coupfourpointfive, would be allowed during the Emergency, although with no media present (another Government stipulation) no more harm would have been done than by Coupfourpointfive and this blog publishing his address. The Conference was allowed to proceed, sans media and keynote speakers. Graham Leung is a former president of the Fiji Law Society. To read his address in full, click here.




I do not share all his views but his general account of Fiji's coup culture is fair, and the ideas he advances towards the end of the address on how to resolve the political situation are a good starting point for discussion. Photo: Fiji Times.

(o) Emergency Extended: Poor Call


PER (the Public Emergency Regulations), introduced on April 10th, extended in May, have been extended again for another 30 days until July 10th due, says Government spokesman LtCol Neumi Leweni, to the security situation in the country, but he did not say what the security concerns were.

Could the "concerns" include expected backlashes from the Methodist Conference, now cancelled by Government, despite the Church saying that politics will not be discussed? Or the Fiji Institute of Accountants' Congress due to start on Friday, but with keynote speakers anti-Government Brij Lal, Graham Leung and Richard Naidu now removed from the billing at Government insistence? (The reasons the Institute invited them are pretty transparent but I doubt the trio's oratory would rouse the masses.)

Or a once again hostile print media only temporarily held in check by the Regulations? Or revived negativity from the ousted political parties, at present totally silent in Fiji for the same reasons? Could there be a split, or tussle for power, within the military as was rumoured, and denied, last month? Should the overseas-inspired plot to "remove" Bainimarama as advocated by one anti-Government blog, and repeated anothers, be taken seriously? Or is it the threat of a nationwide stop-work protest, or the politically-tinged prayers? Or is PER reimposed merely to prove -- if proof is necessary -- that Government is still in charge, and nothing, no nothing, will stop it "completing the work it initially set out to do”? If so, it will need a lot of help and PER may not be the best way to get it.

In something of an understatement, Leweni accepted that "the initial period of the re-building process would naturally be difficult for some members of the public to understand [but he asked for] public understanding and active support." He did not explain why someone should support something they did not understand, or why Government does not explain more fully so they can understand. And what, it might be asked, is Government hoping to re-build? The judiciary is almost back in place; umpteen decrees have closed holes left by the abrogated Constitution. But politically, for the past two months it has merely reacted to perceived political threats, when it also needed to be pro-active, picking up on the People's Charter process, and clearly showing the way forward.

Leweni, incredulously, went on to say that "Fiji as a whole benefited from the emergency regulations...The absence of politics from the national agenda, for instance, is contributing positively to the peace and stability of the nation. People are now more focused on their lives, families and work without being distracted by the divisive and fragmentary views that were prominent in the period before the emergency regulations were implemented."

What Fiji needs if it is ever to achieve the peaceful, harmonious society, free from discrimination and corruption, that he talks about is more, not less, politics. Politics is the lifeblood of all democratic societies. The People's Charter is politics. Dialogue is politics, and politics dialogue. Both proceed from the assumption that there is more than one way of looking at every situation, that reasoned disagreement is healthy and leads to better conclusions. I think, and hope, he means the often one-sided reporting of politics, and not politics per se.

The sorts of change envisaged by Leweni has the public playing only a passive role. Just keep your heads down while we, the Government and military, fix Fiji for you. Surely this is not what Government wants. The particularly sad thing about PER is that there has been no public political discussion. The baby has been thrown out with the bath water! PER has paralyzed civil society turning its more intelligent members into "monkeys" who are allowed to hear, speak and see nothing. This is PER's biggest casualty. Surely the Government has sufficient support, and a sufficient number of erudite people to put its case to the public, expose the arguments of the opposition, and protest publicly about one-sided, biased journalism. Government needs to argue its case to win back the "middle" ground. And it needs the media to do that.

Peace, of a fashion, and stability can be imposed on a country, but not harmony. The future society Government envisages requires that the public play an active role in its formulation. If the People's Charter is to be adopted, the public has to adopt it, and for this, meetings, discussion, debate and press releases are needed. Major discrimination and corruption will only end when the public expose and condemn them. People of all races need to condemn the racist bigots among them, and all religions should condemn their religious fanatics. The Government, by legislative measures and institutional changes, can assist the process but only the people can bring about lasting change.

There may be good reason to extend PER at this point in time, but the public needs to be informed why. PER must be progressively relaxed, starting with the more responsible media and non-government organizations. There is a risk, of course, in relaxing the Regulations too early, but there is a far greater risk in relaxing them too late. The Government's top-down, heavy-handed approach can only work for a while. If it does not soon show more faith in the basic good sense of "middle Fiji" and behave more in line with its stated good intentions, it will fail, and all that has been achieved since 2006 -- and all that it wants to achieve -- will fail with it.

It is a strange and ironic twist, but Government's decision to extend PER will leave many of its supporters hugely disappointed (because it will further alienate "middle Fiji") while those opposing the Government will be delighted (because Government has played into their hands).

Monday, June 8, 2009

(+) Methodist Leaders in "Denial"

"It is time the Christian churches step away from politics once and for all for the benefit of the nation. For too long the failure of the churches to separate their pastoral role from national politics has fanned the flames of unrest." Fiji Times editorial March 17, 2009.

What a pity! There seemed to be some hope for a Government-Methodist rapprochement after Rev Akuila Yabaki's plea for dialogue (see previous post.)

But no. Fiji Live reports the Methodist Church's stance is unchanged.

I can understand the Church's refusal to sack Revs Lasaro and Kanailagi (photo), as requested by Government, but not for the reason given. I also have reservations about two other Church statements. My comments refer to elements within the Church; not the Church as a whole.

Gen.Sec.Rev.Tuikilakila Waqairatu said the Church does not believe the ministers have offended. If this is the case, members of the Standing Committee need to look very closely at the Church's Christian foundations. Their immediate offence is the use of the church to derail the Bainimarama government, and defying the Emergency Regulations. This is arguably an offence or not an offence, depending on your perspective. Their more general offence is the crime against humanity sort. Both men are extreme Fijian nationalists, far more than church ministers. They have been engaged in what most of today's Christians would say are immoral and unchristian acts: they have preached racism and supported racist causes for over 20 years. And during all, or most, of this time they have been senior officers of the Church.

The Rev.Waqairatu says, "The Church’s involvement in politics is for the spiritual and moral aspect." This is true, up to a point. The Methodist Church is the major part of the lotu of the lotu, vanua, matanitu trilogy. But the Church has allowed Lasaro and Kanailagi's decidedly unspiritual and immoral political preaching to go on unchecked for 20 years. It has helped-- or at least not stopped -- their election to high office within the Church. By not standing up against the racist taukei faction, the Church is thus seen to have supported three racist coups, and two political parties and two governments with racist policies. It is this brand of politics, not the spiritual or moral -- in which they have definitely been involved -- that the Government asks the Church to renounce. And it would insult the Church leaders' intelligence to pretend they did not know so.

The Rev.Waqairatu also called on the Government "to consider the spirit of love, compassion, morality and responsibility in the direction they move in." I find this "pot calling the kettle black" request ingenious. One must ask where were Lasaro and Kanailagi's love and compassion when they advocated actions and policies that, to varying degrees, insulted, hurt or impoverished thousands of innocent people between 1987 and 2006? Do they still excuse the desecrated temples? The refugee camps filled as Methodist Fijians threatened isolated Indo-Fijian farmers? The affirmative action policies that left one-half of Fiji's poor untouched? Or the displaced Indo-Fijians who moved into squatter areas when their cane farm leases were not renewed, as urged by taukei Fijians? Can they imagine how it feels to be a second class citizen, even when you are a sixth generation Indo-Fijian? Have they forgotten Qarase's proposed legislation that led to the 2006 Coup? Or the tens of thousands of Indo-Fijians who have emigrated? None of this, of course, was really about Indo-Fijians. They were merely the scapegoats. There were deeper causes and more devious reasons for the coups, but where was the Methodist Church then? Why were these human rights abuses not denounced from its pulpits? How can it allow two men so grievously marred to serve in the Church? How can it instruct Government on the spirit of love and compassion when its silence let the Laraso's and Kanailagi's have their way?

A Personal Note
For the record, I was at the receiving end of a Rev. Kanailagi attack in July 2002, a month before the Church's annual conference. Speaking to a public audience on poverty I said churches, and particularly the Methodist church, because of its numbers and its means of fund raising, needed to find ways of easing the poor's church donation burden, an issue then in the news because of similar remarks by MP Mike Beddoes. In 2002 Rev. Kanailagi was a Senator nominated by the Qarase Government. While speaking on the President's address to both Houses, he called "a Professor Walsh" every name under the sun: a fly-by-night expert, a person ignorant of the relationship between lotu, vanua and matanitu, ignorant of and insensitive to Fiji's cultures and faiths, a communist, an atheist ...

But that was nothing to what he called the
Fiji Times and Five One. They were "agents of evil ... of some foreign agencies planning against Christianity and the indigenous people [note the coupling] ... poisoning the country with false accusations against the Methodist Church." How, he asked, could one expect fair reporting when "all the reporters were Indian?" He welcomed the Cabinet decision to review media laws.

What goes around, comes around. Reported in The Daily Post July 7, 2002. Need more be said! The Church had hoped to raise about $2.4 million at this year's Conference. Photo: : Matuvuvalu album.

STOP PRESS. METHODISTS MODERATE STANCE - A LITTLE
Rev.Ame Tugaue told
FijiLive the Church will make a fresh attempt next week to meet with PM Bainimarama in a bid to convince the Government to allow the annual church conference to go ahead. He said political issues proposed on the agenda had been removed, but ...



The Church and Intellectual Accountability

"The problem is not that the Methodist Church is involved in politics but that it has failed to reason publicly its many intrusions in politics [or been] compelled to justify its ethno-nationalist ideologies within the context of a multicultural society. The Methodist Church in Fiji can once again meaningfully contribute to the ordering of society, but only if it is held intellectually accountable for its actions and inactions over the past twenty-two years."
-- Sudarsan Kant. Read his full comment by clicking "comment" under "Methodist Church Should Consider Dialogue."

Sunday, June 7, 2009

(+) The Mad Hatter's Petrol Party

Coupfourpointfive has published six photos of a Saturday May 30th arson attack on the Knolly Street office of the Fiji Post & Telecommunications Employees Association, of which Attar Singh, a very vocal Government critic, is the secretary.

They are: an empty plastic bottle (smelling of petrol); a jug (used to pour the petrol through an open louvre window); the charred lounge floor; a charred chair; a charred office table, and " A farmer's hat normally worn by soldiers was left lying on the steps of the front door entrance to the office."

I would prefer to have commented directly on this post but Coupfourpointfive has not accepted my comments on three other previous postings, and my emails to one of its bloggers have been rejected by the server. Two equally well-meaning blog sites should speak with each other.

My comment would have been brief: "If your post was intended to implicate the military, the "evidence" would have been more persuasive had you not included the soldier's hat left so neatly at the front door."