Monday, August 31, 2009

(+) Bainimarama's "Achievements": Two Opinions

The Opinion of Former Fiji journalist Thakur Ranjit Singh (Auckland)

There are certain common threads and factors that link the coups of Rabuka and Speight and the unstable political climate. They are:
  1. The Fijian Chiefs of Fiji, represented by Great Council of Chiefs,
  2. The Methodist Church (1 & 2 supporting Fijian nationalism),
  3. The sugar industry organizations, in particular, the Sugar Cane Growers Council, controlled by the Fiji Labour Party arm, the National Farmers Union, that provided support for Indian nationalism.
Collectively, these were the main groups that gave rise to the politics of race, a divisive political system and leadership, resulting in a divided people and a divided country, fractured and split on racial lines.

What Frank Bainimarama has done should have been done some four decades ago, in 1970 – the removal of institutions that divide people.Bainimarama has neutralised these three institutions.

Depoliticising of the Chiefly system, the Church and the sugar industry are the crucial ingredients that are necessary to push Fiji towards a democracy which should be able to deliver equality and social justice to all its people.

The Opinion of Rajendra Prasad, Author of Tears in Paradise and Former Ba Town Clerk

As the nation descended into anarchy, Indo-Fijians were used as decoys to "explain" Fijian marginalization. The 1987 and 2000 coups were to remove the supposed threat of their political dominance but the beneficiaries were the Fijian aristocracy. Ordinary Fijians suffered economic dispossession and their plight was no better than Indo-Fijians. Their own leaders were systematically fleecing them.

The military took a civilian role in the coup of 2006 when the civilian authority failed the nation. It is unfortunate that it has come to this [but] if everything goes in accordance with the road map and democracy is restored, the actions of the Fiji Military Forces in removing the Qarase Government will be viewed as an act of patriotism. Indeed, the easiest choice for them would have been to join the Fijian aristocracy and share in the spoils like the armed forces in countries like Zimbabwe.

Dispassionately, Fiji’s shredded democracy had become a victim of its own creation. A strong, vibrant, rich and robust nation was brought down to its knees by unscrupulous, corrupt and ruthless politicians through policies and practices that were divisive and destructive. They had corrupted democracy; disfigured and destroyed it beyond restoration. Let us hope that this singular endeavour, under the leadership of Commodore Bainimarama, as Prime Minister, gives Fiji a true democracy where no one drags a chain and no one wields a sword.

[Both statements have been slightly changed to assist those not very familiar with Fiji.]

What's New? Imode and Pacific Scoop

Readers may be interested in two new on-line publications on the Pacific. Both have sections on Fiji.

Imode (Island Mode ) is an incredibly sophisticated "glossy" with a wide range of topics on the arts, culture, fashion, jewellery and modern lifestyles of Island people in Australia and the Islands written and edited by an Australian-based team including Fijians. It also has news and opinion sections. Its coverage of environmental decisions made at the Cairns Forum meeting is worth reading. Its Fiji political coverage less so -- the Sydney pro-democracy march, and Jone Baledrokadroka ... again! The Pacific needs a glossy to challenge Westerners' Island stereotypes, but if there's to be Fiji political coverage, it needs to do more than echo what can be read in the mainstream media. If it doesn't, it will merely be confirming another type of stereotype.

The other publication is Pacific Scoop (AUT's Pacific Media Centre's page on the NZ independent on-line paper Scoop) that has tabs to items on all Pacific islands. Today's Fiji post is an item on Samoan PM Tuilaepa's (photo) invitation to Bainimarama to visit Samoa for dialogue, when less than two months ago he had only insulting things to say about him. But read on, you'll see Tuilaepa's attitudes are unchanged, and somewhat condescendingly, he seems to believe Fiji has something to learn from Samoan-style democacy (and Samoa nothing to learn about Fiji's problems with "democracy") . But then he also believes the matai system was in place 3,000 years ago. Malie toa!

P.S. David Robie writes about Pacific Scoop.

High Noon Quiz Answers 2

1. Elections; 2. Subscribe by Email; 3. Ana; 4.15 July 2007; 5. Mauritius.

6. Sugar milling; 7. Gold; 8. Hydro electric dam; 9. Fish cannery; 10. Tourism.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

(B) "The Indians Want Your Land"

Just as parents in the West used to warn their children, "The bogeyman will get you" to enforce compliance, extreme ethnic Fijian nationalists use "The Indians will get your land" bogeyman to justify the 1987 and 2000 coups, condemn democracy as a "foreign flower," demand the President and Prime Minister must always be Fijians, and  oppose all of Bainimarama's intended reforms*. Their real purpose, of course, is not the protection of Fijian land and custom, but the protection of power and privilege for the sections of the Fijian elite of which they approve.

The fears, of course, are quite unfounded, as the nationalists know full well.  Eight Acts of Parliament protected Fijian, Rotuman and Banaban customary rights, and the 1997 Constitution ensured there was no way of amending these acts unless the overwhelming majority of Fijian leaders wanted change.

The Acts in question are the Fijian Affairs Act, Fijian Development Fund Act, Native Lands Act, Native Land Trust Act, Rotuma Act, Rotuman Lands Act,  Banaban Lands Act, and the Banaban Settlement Act. The Constitution's Chapter 13 on Group Rights states any change to any one of these acts requires a (a) parliamentary bill, to be read three times and passed by the majority of members on the second and third reading, and (b) approval by at least 9 of the 14 Senate members nominated by the Bose Levu Vakaturaga, the Great Council of Chiefs who were then appointed by the President. So even if the other 18 members of Senate (9 nominated by the PM, 8 by the Leader of the Opposition, 1 by the Council of Rotuma) voted for change, which was extremely unlikely,  the GCC-nominees could prevent it. 

With a Lower and Upper House overwhelmingly Fijian (as they are likely to remain whatever the outcome of the present political situation), even the most minor change not wanted by Fijians was just as probable as seeing a real bogeyman. Is it any wonder the Constitution was not translated into Fijian!

* The Interim Government has no intention of removing these laws, although changes may be made to the operation of the Native Land Trust Act to permit a fairer distribution of land rent moneys, and the powers of the GCC are likely to be removed.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Lockington's Everyday Fiji ... Life Goes On

Allen Lockington is a self-employed customs agent and business consultant who has regular articles published in I thank Allen and Connect for permission to reprint some of them in this political blog. They remind us that life goes on, whatever the political situation. And it's good to know that.

Backyard garden

Reading the story of Mr. Manoa Mate (Fiji Times 15/6) and his 300 kg yam is an inspiration. The story says that he planted it in his backyard in Nepani. Nepani is a housing estate, wow.


What is the possibility of printing stories of people who plant in their little back yards to supplement their meager wages?

Now is a good time for government to import good inexpensive farm implements to get the people going like Manoa. Fiji TV can also start a show titled ‘Agriculture in the back yard’ showing what people have achieved.

If things go well the only people buying root crop and vegetables should be tourists and those who don’t know how to plant and those who have no backyard.

While on the story of gardens, a friend of mine has a cassava plantation near the golf course in Banaras Lautoka. Someone was stealing his cassava so he lay in wait to catch them. He was shocked when he saw that the thieves were the familiar faces of a mother and her two children. They live in the same neighbourhood. My friend followed them home so that he could confront the head of the house – the dad and husband. But he left it at that when he realized that he was a lay preacher, he was too shocked to do anything more.

...Life Goes On will be published every Saturday for the next few weeks...

Friday, August 28, 2009

(o+) Former Fiji Diplomat Urges International Attitude Change

His Credentials
Born in Fiji, 16 years in the Fiji civil service, district officer, permanent secretary to the Governor-General when the 1987 coup occurred, author of Kava in the Blood about the coup (he was arrested on the first day), Fiji diplomat in Tokyo and Sydney, and now a private consultant in Australia on Pacific Affairs, Peter Thomson (photo) has recently returned from a visit to Fiji where he had a one and a-half hour one-on-one talk with PM Bainimarama. Click here to listen to what he had to say in an ABC Counterpoint programme. The interviewer is Paul Comrie-Thomson.

Thomson's comments are best heard in full and in context but for those in a hurry, these are the points I found most interesting:


Reasons for the 2006 "Bainimarama" Coup
In talking about the reasons for the 2006 coup he drew attention to one cause that had slipped "under the radar," the military's opposition to Qarase's Indigenous Claims Tribunal Bill that would have opened the door to multiple, conflicting indigenous claims to all freehold land in the country, and made lawyers "fat for 30 years." The other bills opposed by the military were the Qoliqoli Bill that would have seen a similar scramble among mataqali (tribes) for exclusive foreshore rights, and the Tolerance and Reconciliation Bill that would have freed the Speight 2006 coup-makers from court and jail. [We need to be reminded of these three racially-motivated bills when talking about human rights abuse by the Bainimarama government.]

Bainimarama seeks to remove all vestiges of institutional racism

He talked with Bainimarama about the "way forward" and left convinced Bainimarama would not allow the ethno-nationalist agenda of the past to resurface, hence his actions against two of the drivers of ethno-nationalism: the Great Council of Chiefs and sections of the Methodist Church. All vestiges of institutional racism will be removed. Thomson was happy about this. There was no threat to Fijian interests, but an unanswered question was how to protect the interests of ethnic minorities in a new constitution and new electoral system.

Australian and NZ "smart sanctions" disastrous
Australian and NZ "smart sanctions," especially the travel bans on senior government personnel and their families, made it difficult for the Governmnent to operate and were indirectly supporting a return to the racism of the past. He urged these government to accept the reality of the status quo, drop the sanctions, and engage in positive dialogue to speed up return to civil government and elections.

America and China
On American policies, he said America had followed the Australian and NZ lead since World War II but he thought "cracks in confidence" were emerging as our policies had failed and as Chinese influence increased. The Chinese ambassador saw Bainimarama almost daily; the Australian High Commissioner was not allowed by Canberra to meet him!

Public Opinion in Fiji "shifting"
Asked about public opinion in Fiji, he said Fijian opinion was "ambivalent" but there did seem to be a "shift" towards Government since his last visit. Non-Fijians (about 40% of the population) were worried about the economy and human rights but he thought they were generally behind the Government. Mu>He hadn't found even one person, of different political persuasions, who supported the "smart sanctions."

What will the future bring?
Asked about future scenarios, he said foreign governments can continue to isolate Fiji, and drive it towards what he called the "Burma Road:." He could not dismiss the possibility of an insurrection. He found his option "repellent" and condemned the outgoing chair of the Pacific Forum' s recent call for an uprising "irresponsible." The best option (for Australia and NZ, but also by interference, for internal actors also) is to work with the Government in a positive way to lead Fiji to elections by, or before, 2014.

When time permits - but soon - I urge you to listen to the full interview.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

The Chaudhry-Qarase Arranged Marriage (Amended)

It was certainly not love at first sight, they hated each other for years, but for several months now they have been seeing an unusual amount of each other, and we were all left wondering when an engagement notice might be expected. It seems that when Chaudhry's earlier courtship with Voqere Baimarama foundered, the disappointed Mahendra turned his attention to his earlier rival Laisenia. And it's now official. FijiLive reports the couple have sent a "joint letter" (sic!) to the PM asking him to be best man.

At first sight things look promising. Chaudhry and Qarase seem to have accepted the need for electoral reform, or at least that the issue be discussed but with no "prejudice to outcomes." They will participate in a reconvened Dialogue Forum, to meet this month, but only on their terms, one of which is the immediate lifting of the Emergency Regulations that would see "freedom of the press" restored. The Forum must focus on holding elections before October 2010 at the latest, and all issues must be finalised by this October. Meanwhile, a caretaker government must be appointed and the military return to Barracks.

What's new? Very little. Perhaps the mention of "constitutional safeguards to hold elected governments accountable and ensure good governance." But are they asking this of the 1997 Constitution that has already failed to offer these safeguards? There's no mention of a new Constitution that Bainimarama wants. There's not even mention of the People's Charter that's about much more than elections, or the many reforms Bainimarama has set in motion. It's not difficult to guess how Baimarama responded. He'll have seen it for what it is: at the best, a publicity stunt; at the worst, a way of perpetuating unrest and deferring real dialogue.

But it's a good political move by Qarase and Chaudhry. Bainimarama will appear to many to have refused a real "olive branch," and they can pose virtuously before the world's cameramen -- holding hands.

Click here for FijiLive article.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009







Include Fiji in Talks or Else Pacific Split: MSG

John Key had hardly finished punching above his weight by telling China what to do on Fiji and the Pacific (don't give too much aid) when the Melanesian Spearhead Group, never comfortable with Australian and NZ attitudes to Fiji, is giving them back something of the same (don't exclude Fiji from regional trade discussions).

Fiji Live reports:

Members of the Melanesian Spearhead Group have backed Fiji’s participation in regional trade talks after their meeting in Suva yesterday.

The MSG representatives - from Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands, Fiji and Vanuatu - recognized Fiji’s right to participate in regional trade agreements to which it is a party. They also opposed the potential economic fragmentation of the Pacific and the MSG Group through Fiji’s exclusion from regional trade related meetings.

The group revealed in a statement that Vanuatu had proposed a reconciliation process “which would pave the way for open and genuine dialogue amongst leaders at all levels of Fijian society towards promoting the principles and practices of democracy”.

According to the statement, the group welcomed Fiji’s establishment of a new Strategic Framework for Change Co-ordination Office (SFCC) which will facilitate consensus-building through nation-wide reconciliation and dialogue.

Map showing the four MSG members: Google on Forum Secretariat.

"High Noon" QUIZ 2.

[See Quiz 1 for further information.]

1. What was Intelligentsiya's poll about?
2. Click what to receive blog updates by email?
3. Name my only female "Follower."
4. Write Tarte in "Search the Blog" and then "Up-to-date Blogs." What is the date of the last Stuck in Fiji MUD post on Mr Tarte?
5.Click anywhere on Geospace Visitors. Find "Country List." What do the letters MU stand for?

This week's theme: Fiji's Economic Activities.

With what economic activity are the following places most associated?

6. Rakiraki, 7. Vatukoula; 8. Monasavu; 9. Levuka; 10. Mamanuca.

If you wish to go into the draw for a prize, email me your answers by this coming Sunday. Answers will be published on Monday at 9:00am.

(+) Anti-Government Blogs Seem to Write Only for the Similarly Minded

A Walk Around the Blog Sites (No Pun Intended)

I continue to be disappointed by  anti-Government blogs.  I look to them for reasons not to support the present regime, and suggestions on the  "way forward"-- even if they point backwards to the old regime. I expect them to disagree with Government; giving it hell for its restrictions on media freedom, the shutdown of the Methodist conference,  its policies on this and that, and its sometimes all too obvious weaknesses, but I expect also to see argument based on reason, backed where possible by evidence. If this is lacking, they write only for the similarly-minded and they will win no new readers to their cause. Surely they can do better than these typical samples from their postings on Tuesday. 

Speculation is one thing; wilful guessing another.  I see nothing necessarily sinister in the Fiji Development Bank loan to Radio Fiji, but the blog sees this as evidence of Government FBC control, and chicanery involving FBD's chairman John Prasad ("a close friend of the regime's Attorney-General Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum") the AG, and "his younger brother Riyaz Sayed-Khaiyum [who] is Radio Fiji's Chief Executive."  There's nothing secret about these relationships nor are they unusual in Fiji with its small population and relatively small pool of talent. Write again when you have some harder "facts."

Nor do I think Bainimarama's Sunday announcement that the new constitution may make the President's position an elected one "yet another indication that the coup leader has set his eyes on the presidency." An elected president was always a possibility, and if he is interested and is elected, what's your problem? After a promising launch earlier in the year Coupfourpointfive has continued to slip in my esteem,  but it is still the "best" of the bunch.

The Hyperbolic discomboblated bubu
discomboblated bubu, inspired by the Intelligentsiya site, writes of "The Stench from behind the Tapa Curtain"and  asks "But where have all the morons gone that promoted this gutless yellow-bellied coup? The academics, other country’s opportunists, fat-cat businessmen, failed politicians, the resident kaivalagi colonialist writers and social do-gooder commentators - even the odd bishop and excommunicated minister of the cloth who reached out their grubby paws to “help” with the regime’s foul and untruthful deeds. ... OH BUT WAIT .. some have already worked on their exit strategy - VERY convenient. I note that a very unlikely beer-swilling lad of an academic called Ratuva has weasled his way into NZ (bully land). Indeed. And whatshisname the $2 million charter-man ex ADB has also fled back to comfortable old bully land. An ex politician also a $2 million dollar man is now to be seen weasling his way through the ranks and all the others are most likely thinking on their exits too - manipulating, scumbucketing and creeping their way back to bula-bula-happy-clappy land."
[Each of the above references refer to real people in an insulting way. I know some of them and in my opinion they are honest, thoughtful  people who should not be damned for seeing the world differently from "Bubu," whoever he may be.]

Solivakasama  says the presence of the Melanesian Spearhead Group in Fiji "proves they condone Frank’s treason!  How can they meet in Fiji with this illegal junta and not have the decency to meet with deposed PM Qarase and get his view on whether they should include Fiji on the regional trade talks?"  He asks who will benefit from the trade talks:  "Fijians? [meaning ethnic Fijians. Solivakasama does not write for or to non-Fijians] I seriously doubt it!  It is these shadowy figures behind the idiot Bainimarama who are exploiting him for their own selfish gains! Bainimarama, Mara, Ganilau, Nailatikau, etc are all small fish compared to these sharks!" [All four mentioned are traditionally installed chiefs; three of them high ranking. It is unusual for a Fijian to insult chiefs.  Solivakasama misses the point of the visit: to confer with the de facto government about Pacific regional trade.]

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Two Important Announcements: One Blog Closes, Another Opens



The Real Fiji News blogsite is closing down.  Read what its readers have to say by clicking hereReal Fiji News is a pro-Government site -- the only one since IG closed earlier, as far as I know -- and many of its posts have been to correct misinformation published in one or another of the numerous anti-Government blogs.

By coincidence, I chose the same day as Real Fiji News' closure to launch a companion blog to Fiji: As It Was, Is and Can Be.
The new blog, Public Polls on Fiji's Political Situation  (click here) will be devoted entirely to polls on specific political issues, and those voting will have unrestricted access to discuss each issue with each other.

I'm hoping the discussion will be well reasoned (no personal attacks, please), and helpful to those in Fiji and elsewhere whose actions can influence the course of events, while helping to make the rest of us better informed on Fiji's future choices.

The first four polls are on the need for electoral change, the Alternative Vote, race-based communal electorates, and electorates with approximately the same number of voters.

There's been much talk of the need for dialogue. Here is your opportunity to talk with people whose views you share and do not share. I hope you use the site well and get others to join you.

Snippets: NZ, China, Economy, Religion, Melanesian Spearhead Group, Political Change

Notice: See new poll in lefthand column.

w Hear This!
John Key has told China its aid the the Pacific Region may undermine what he called Australian and NZ efforts to "improve governance in the region."

China, Government Loans to Housing Authority
Government has guaranteed $150m over five years to the Housing Authority in case the Authority's soft 2% loan of $70m with China falls through. The money will be used to house approximately 10,000 families, including squatters.

Fiji-China Trade

A China Embassy spokesman said trade last year was good for both countries, and is expected to increase again this year, especially in tourism from China.

Tourism Up
The Hoteliers Association says tourist numbers have increased over the past two months and are expected to remain bouyant until Christmas. Many, however, are visiting for shorter stays.


Momi Bay Auction The failed multi-million dollar Momi Bay resort will be auctioned tomorrow. The auction has attracted over 100 possible buyers from around the world.

At Last
The Fiji Times in its first political coverage for months reported "Some Methodist churches, particularly in greater Suva, yesterday sang songs they had prepared for the banned annual choir competition." Subtle, eh!

Assemblies of God
AOG, with about 40,000 members and 80% ethnic Fijian membership, is holding a week-long conference in Nausori this week. Over 5,000 people are expected to attend. They had no difficulty in obtaining a permit.

Melanesian Spearhead Group
MSG foreign ministers meeting in Suva this week have taken legal opinion into account in stating that "Fiji should be part of the PACER-Plus discussion," according to PNG's Rima Ravusiro. MSG holds that Fiji's suspension from the Forum should not affect its PACER and other trade positions because they are legally different. This view is not shared by Australia, NZ and Samoa, although Mr Ravusiro thinks there has been some improvement in this regard. Fiji says it has every legal right to be part of the negotiations meetings and that its role in such trade agreements is separate to its Forum status.

New District Commissioners
Radio NZI
reports Tupou Vere of the NGO Pacific Concerns Resource Centre as questioning why army officers have been appointed commissioners for Fiji's four administrative divisions, and not civilians from the Ministry of Provincial Development. Is it, as Government claims, part of plan to improve efficiency, or evidence that "Fiji’s military regime has increased its grip on power," as Vere and RNZI obviously believe?

PM on Political Changes
Radio Fiji reports the PM as saying the Presidency and the Parliamentary system will be two issues that Government will consider when drafting the new Fiji Constitution during the the upcoming Constitutional review. He said "it will be put to the public if they want a President to be leading the country or just to have a Prime Minister to lead the country". Other decisions to be made include: whether there's a need for Senate, whether to reduce the number of MPs, and whether to adopt a new electoral system.

Photo credit: Chinese dragon.

Monday, August 24, 2009

(o) What's Really Happening in Fiji? An Insider's Impartial Observations

"If we want freedom of speech, democracy and diversity on the ground [in Fiji], we should apply the same principles in terms of the voices and sectors we draw upon to understand the situation.”
-- Dr Katarinia Teaiwa, Pacific Studies Convenor, ANU.

I asked Fai (not her real name, a non-citizen living in Fiji and with prior PNG and Tongan experience) what was really happening in the country.

"My small circle of informants are divided," I said. "Some say Government is on course and enjoys grassroots support. The majority think Government has lost the "middle ground," among the "middle" classes at least, and some have lost hope in positive outcomes."

After saying some of the opinion differences could be due to the the Pubic Emergency Regulations and the media, in protest, not publishing some Government media briefs, she had this to say about on course, grassroots support, loss of the middle ground, and lost hope. She works closely with a wide range of people in different parts of Fiji and as far as I can judge she has no political axe to grind.

On Course?

My perception is that Government folk actively working on the Government's agendas (fulfilling of the Charter, roadmap, strategic plan, etc.) are generally pleased with the progress they are making given the low dollar resources available.

Grassroots Support?

There does seem to be a fair amount of 'grass roots' support, because the Government continues to support rural and lower socio-economic groups: e.g. large housing project about to commence, roads and bridges in outer areas being upgraded, schools ditto being repaired, and rural services being improved.

Folk in the towns though don't see much difference and Suva retains its potholed roads, leaking water pipes and so on. I suppose because the Government's bucket of money only goes 'so far' and their priority is - rightly - on the rural areas - areas that have lacked infrastructure support for many years.

The Middle Ground?

My perception of the 'middle ground loss' matches yours, and probably is caused by the Government's consistent and concerted attempt to fix the public service. The Government is insisting on better operation, accountability, delivery ... all the things that should happen. And when it doesn't happen, senior heads roll.

There is a noted 'go slow' in the upper and middle level PS in many ministries - a sort of 'sit-down strike'. Generally the public servants aren't used to working better and more efficiently: they have coasted comfortably for years and years, with gracious hand-outs, travel allowances ... the usual Pacific ways.

And there are many non-public servants who have benefitted from the (previous) modus operandi. I'd say quite unequivocally, that the grumpiness comes from this large sector: not willing to change (to be leaner, and more efficient), and resenting the tightening and checking of resource flows. Pay packets remain the same, after all.

My experience of five departments (four ministries) is that some senior staff are committed (to their job descriptions, and work hard to move Fiji forward) but many are not, which leaves some middle and most lower level staff aimless and unsure of their roles. This second group largely is accommodating and has a 'better / more positive feel' about itself than in times past. The Interim Government has an enormous job ahead of itself with the public service; fingers crossed that it doesn't lose the momentum.

Lost Hope?

Concerning 'losing hope', I don't think that is happening.

Again, it's the PER and the local media contest that may have caused that perception. Rather, what happens is that people "keep their heads down": the average Fijians of all political leanings have kept their heads down over the past 22 years: it's safer that way. By speaking out, you don't know which of your work mates or associates thinks the opposite to you - and again in true Pacific style, you don't wish to offend anyone. I usually get a "neutral" if I attempt to engage a taxi driver on the subject though - whereas before he'd usually engage vigorously on one side or another.

I think that people (town people, anyway - as I live in a town) are just waiting and watching (after all, they can't do much else, can they?) but many ordinary folk (not your second group) are pleased - if I ask them directly. Improvements in services from town councils (the IG de-politicised them) have pleased people. Local concerns revolve around increased transport, electricity and grocery costs, and that is reasonable.

I perceive the Government hasn't yet had much success from its attempts to encourage overseas investments (but as that is not my 'field', I shouldn't be expressing an opinion) and the lack of money, plus our recent devaluation, are having a negative, or 'marking time' effect.

People are struggling. Yet they are resilient: what else can they do? They have learnt, over the years. That is one of the remarkable things about Fiji people - and probably Pacific islanders generally (matched in PNG and Tonga, where also I have spent much time): the resilience; itself supported by the family systems. If bad weather stops a planned gathering, or arrival of supplies, island families manage; if rivers flood and gardens are washed out, the people pick themselves up and manage: the alternative is just not considered; doesn't exist. Presence of the 'aid scenario' over the past 50 or so years has dented that attitude, but when the chips are down it comes back again. Compare it to our ways (in Australia and NZ, for example).

Marama and a Taxi Driver
Why just yesterday a marama (Fijian woman) impressed on me that the People's Charter and the Interim Government's determination to implement "the people's wishes" have been great for Fiji, as they have brought the people closer together as 'one people' and one nation; also that the foreign media attitudes and opposition of foreign governments have played a big part in that. 'Fai', she said, 'before we were just like the kooris [Australian aborigines] accepting hand-outs, but now we are united and work as one nation. It is wonderful'.

This morning's taxi driver and I discussed rugby and racism here. I painted the perception of Fiji's people's situation as reported by the marama, to which he concurred most wholeheartedly. He said thatbecause the PM kept reminding people that 'we are all one people; it is our country together' his reminders have had a most positive effect on how Fiji citizens regard each other; and the present government does not preach (act out) the racist ways of earlier governments.

Come to Fiji and See What It's Really Like: PM

This was the recent open invitation from PM Bainimarama, speaking at a tourism convention, to those who continue to doubt Fiji’s development and growth. Click here for the full statement.

Fai had earlier offered a similar "Come and See" invitation to a Radio NZI journalist --even offering to accommodate him free of charge. But he was not interested. His mind was already made up.
Photo: Fiji Times.

High Noon Quiz Answers 1

Answers to Quiz 1.

1. Waisele Serevi; 2. Any one of : Socialists, Australian ~, socialist journalists, Patrick O'Connor and Richard Phillips 3. August 13; 4. 4; 5. Archives.

6. Io , Haan, Sega, No Naa/Nshi; 7. Tilou/Jilou*, Kshama keejeeae; 8. Bula, Namaste; 9. Vinaka/daumaka, Accha; 10. Ca, Boora.

*Au lako mada yani also acceptable.

The next quiz will be posted at "High Noon" on Wednesday.
Answers submitted for the draw must be emailed to me no later than Sunday.
Answers will be posted Monday 9am.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

(-) The Once Most Respected Daily in Fiji

Since the Public Emergency Regulations (PER) came into force in July, Fiji's oldest and once most respected daily newspaper The Fiji Times has published absolutely no local political news. Coverage has gone overboard, from political binge-drinking to total abstinence.

There is, of course, some cause. The editor and staff were subjected to more harassment than other newspapers (because they were the most anti-Government) but I think its present stance has passed its "use by" date. There are better ways to restore responsible media freedom, and publishing some political news is one of them.

Friday's other dailies, Fiji Live and Fiji Village, managed to report John Key's political statements on Fiji to Canberra's National Press Club. "NZ PM Concedes Bainimarama Will Not Change His Stance" (Fiji Village) and"We Can't Pressure Fiji 'Easily'" (Fiji Live).

But all that the online Times published, on its World tab (sic!), was Key's comments (taken from the same speech!) on a possible new ANZAC arrangement "Neighbours Mull Over Defence Idea." Its Home and Fiji News tabs only included items headed: FRU Wants Jones (pictured); A True Heart of Service; A Caring Woman; Asylum Lock-UP; Kayak Subsides, Tourist Dies. You'd be excused for thinking you were reading the NZ Women's Weekly.

The "way forward" is to tiptoe into reasoned, helpful, critical (but non-inflammatory or confrontational) political items by the media and a suitable response from Government. But be warned. Once bitten, Government will not be twice shy. My assessment of what the media called "balance" before PER was 4 items to 1, against Government. If they still call this "balance," their calls for "media freedom" are not very convincing. The absence of "balance" by both the NZ and Fiji media was the main reason for my starting this blog.

NZ Media Freedom?

P.S. I have just received a disturbing allegation of media bias, omissions and cover-ups on Fiji by sections of the NZ media. I will assess the information over the next few days and decide what to do about it. Meanwhile, I'd be pleased to receive information and opinions from NZ readers on what they know and think of the NZ media's role on Fiji.

My informant writes:

My experience ...shows that even prominent journalists ... are not well informed (or choose not to be) about Fiji, and hence they form views based on shallow knowledge that is biased. In turn, those views negatively affect how they report on events in Fiji. These journalists simply follow their governments' lack of understanding ... Fiji has to resolve its problems in its own way and not necessarily how New Zealanders and Australians believe they should be resolved.

(o) NZ's "High" Moral Ground

No to Fiji, Yes to Burma

Gordon Campbell in the NZ independent online paper Scoop writes: "The New Zealand foreign policy stance – a tiger towards Fiji, a pussycat towards the far worse regime in Rangoon- is taking its cues from the US, and from ASEAN. Same as it ever has. Funny how a government that makes such a fetish about the need for consistency in economic policy, should be so happily inconsistent when it comes to its foreign policy.” [Photo credit: Murray Fagg, Fungus on dung.]

Click here for Scoop or for Pacific Media Watch.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

(-+) Cairns of Worms*

Readers wishing to read the Cairns Forum communique may do so by clicking here. The meeting discussed many issues, including Fiji on which nothing new emerged. Of some interest though, are three paragraphs that clearly indicate where the "leaders" (sic!) were "coming from."

"Para. 45. ...They [the Leaders] took careful note of the grave concerns about the situation in Fiji, as expressed directly to Leaders from respected individuals and organisations in Fiji.

Para. 46. Leaders strongly condemned ... the ongoing erosion to the traditional pillars of Fijian civil society, including the churches and chiefs. They deplored the recent detentions of church Leaders by the regime.

Para. 49. Leaders expressed their deep concern for the people of Fiji in the face of Fiji’s deteriorating economy as a consequence of the military regime’s actions, including the undermining of the private sector and the negative effect on business confidence in the absence of the rule of law.

Para. 50. Leaders called again for political dialogue in Fiji between parties on the principles of genuine, inclusive dialogue without preconditions or pre-determined outcomes. "


Well now. Having listened to your "respected" sources (and none other); having competed with George Speight to uphold the supposedly "traditional pillars of [ethnic] Fijian civil society" (with no mention, in this context, of democracy, justice or ethnic discrimination); and having blamed the Fiji Government (and none other) for the "deteriorating economy", you seem to expect the Fiji Government to respond positively to your notions of political dialogue.

That's like one hit to the head, another to the heart, a third to the stomach, and then a request for a handshake. When will you start to ask something from the factions that created the conditions that led to the military coup?

* Can of worms: A complex, troublesome situation arising when a decision or action produces considerable subsequent problems." --Wiktionary.

Lockington's Everyday Fiji ... Life Goes On

Allen Lockington is a self-employed customs agent and business consultant who has regular articles published in I thank Allen and Connect for permission to reprint some of them in this political blog. They remind us that life goes on, whatever the political situation. And it's good to know that.

School shock

A work mate went for his son’s parent’s day meeting and got a chance to look around the school. He asked his son to take him to his classroom and asked where he sat. When he saw the desk he asked the teacher why it was broken. The teacher said because the school couldn’t afford to repair them. And some children sat on the floor.

Being a carpenter he asked if he could repair his son’s desk. When he brought his tools and timber the teacher asked if he could repair the rest. He agreed but only if he was paid.

Then he asked what happens to building and other fees that parents struggle to pay. The teacher said it wasn’t enough even with the subsidy paid by government that is supposed to render education free. Government pays $30 per child per year. That should be enough to keep a school running, eh!

What a shock this parent got. Now he understands that fees go towards paying gardeners while children clean the yard and handymen who have no tools.

He would repair the desks for free – only if he could afford it.

... Life Goes On will be published every Saturday for the next few weeks...

Friday, August 21, 2009

PAC and Squatters Not On the Same Planet

The Public Accounts Committee, commenting on the increase of illegal squatting, "is of the view that there are existing State housing facilities that could be used by people living below the poverty line." Click here.

This is an old and very dangerous opinion. I first heard it in the early 1970s, and there were probably vocal "deniers" well before then, but its resurrection in 2009 displays even more ignorance now than it did then because much more information is now available on squatting. The PAC should familiarize themselves with some of it. They could start by reading a recent short article in the Fiji Times, and then put these four questions to those who know (the city councils, the relevant government departments, the Housing Authority, the Public Rental Board, relevant NGOs, including Rotahomes and ECREA, and the Bureau of Statistics): 1. How many households are presently housed in state housing facilities? 2. What is their estimate of the number of poor squatter households? 3. How many of these households cannot afford the housing planned or available? 4. How many decades do they estimate it will take to close the gap between state-provided housing supply and squatter demand? Thus armed, they may care to publicly correct their false balance sheet. Photo: Fiji Times.

P.S. The gap would close more quickly if government and urban authorities would adopt realistic supervised "site and service"land provision, and help the poor to build and progressively improve their own houses. This is not a new idea. It has been promoted for at least 40 years, most recently by ECREA and a NZAid-funded scoping study in 2007 led by former Victoria University geographer Dr John McKinnon. Apparently further work was been deferred due to the political situation.

(o+) Why So Many Military Appointments? Holding on to Power, or Little Choice?

Much has been made of the appointments of military people to senior government positions, normally the preserve of civil society. Few people will feel comfortable with such appointments but not all will agree with Coupfourpointfive that they are "a clear indication that the military-backed regime will hold on to power for as long as it likes and that the 2014 election timeline is a façade like Bainimarama’s previous commitments and promises."

There are, of course, other, less sinister, reasons for the (apparently numerous) military appointments. I list four, in no particular order of importance.

  • Leaders tend to appointment people they can trust. Most prime ministers appointment their own ministers. Many of Fiji's former senior civil servants appointed under the previous regime have been openly anti-Government.
  • Military-led governments "naturally" appoint military people. They're part of an established team and appointees respond more readily to orders from the top. But a surprisingly large number of Fiji's senior officials have no military background (see below.)
  • There is an acute shortage of suitable civil society alternatives, partly because some people do not wish to work with Government.
  • The probable main reason for the shortage, however, has an external cause. Anyone who accepts a senior appointment (and their families!) will be refused travel permits to enter Australia and NZ. This is a major deterrent to people who otherwise would have access to overseas medical care, education, and visits to their relatives already living abroad.

The relaxation of these bans is probably the single most important step Australia and NZ can take to improve public service governance in Fiji. It would make:

  • More credible civilian appointments possible, passing the baton to Bainimarama.
  • Demonstrate a more realistic and informed response to the Fiji situatio.
  • Most importantly, it would stop depriving Fiji of the important administrative skills so essential to good government -- and good governance.

Finally, it is noted that Government has considerably reduced the excessively large number of government departments under the Qarase regime, mainly by merging responsibilities, and that many of the present appointments are in an "acting" capacity.

The most recent official figures show that 9 of the 31 ministers and permanent secretaries (Fijian 21, Indo-Fijian 7, Other 3) have a military background, although three of them had retired from the RFMF some years ago, and a further three are responsible for defence, prisons and the police, arguably areas in which they may have some expertise. The full list of ministers and permanent secretaries can be seen by clicking here.


Quiz Conditions

1. There will be five quizes, and the score from the best four will count towards each person's final score.

2. If there is no clear winner, the winner will be drawn by lot from the highest scorers.

3. Entries must be received no later than the Sundays before answers are posted.

4. Entries can be sent either my email to me or if you prefer, by adding a "comment" to the quiz post.
(Since all comments come first to me for approval, I will record your score and name, and prevent it being added to the blog as a comment. In this way I protect your answers from others and your identity from me.)

5. Pseudonyms: Please choose one with six digits, consisting of 3 letters and 3 numbers. For example, wai369.

6. The pseudonym of the winner will be posted on Monday 21 September at 9:00am. At this stage, the winner will need to provide me with some identity in order to receive the prize.

I hope you enjoy the quiz.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

(o-) Long and Well Respected NGO Asks Govt for "Leeway" for Methodist Church

This is where a wise government would heed wise counsel. Read it carefully.

Interim Government Must Provide Some
Leeway to the Methodist Church

The Citizens’ Constitutional Forum (CCF) calls on the Interim Government to provide some leeway to the Methodist Church of Fiji, in order for the organisation to effectively carry out its functions as a religious body.

“The crackdown on the Methodist Church by the Interim Government has been justified on the grounds of the support by senior Methodist Church ministers for ethno-nationalism and party-politics,” CCF Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Rev Akuila Yabaki said.

“However, the Methodist Ministers suspected of breaching the peace have been charged and need to respond to these allegations in court,” Rev Yabaki said. “Any further excessive interference in the Church’s activities by the Interim Government would be against fundamental rights of Freedom of Expression and Freedom of Religion and Belief.”

“The Methodist Church has supported calls for dialogue, and the Interim Government must provide them the space to engage with their members so they can better contribute to taking the country forward,” Rev Yabaki said.

“CCF calls on the Methodist Church to provide adequate freedom and space within its own hierarchy to allow discussions internally on how to create a more inclusive leadership. The church needs to allow newer leaders to develop and provide them with opportunities to exercise gifts for the moderate responsible leadership required for dialogue,” Rev Yabaki said.

For further information, contact CCF on ph: 3308379 or fax:

(o) All May Not Be as We Stubbornly Think: a Personal Note Recommending Some Anti-Government Postings

This may sound condescending. It is not.

In most major confrontations, it's so easy for those on both sides to take even more extreme positions than they otherwise might. Veering towards the middle -- seeing the other person's point of view; accepting shortcomings on "our" side -- might be seen as weakness. It is much easier to see everything in sullied black (the other side) and pure white (our side). I confess this has been my position on most anti-government blogsites. Most are so one-eyed they would fall over even in broad daylight. But not all. And not all the time.

I recommend some recent postings on Raw Fiji News. All are anti-government, but writers like Kaviti1978, Isa Lei, Inx2009, Talei2 and Ichymite are also quite open on the shortcomings of previous "pro-Fijian" regimes that "opened the door" to the last coup and its aftermath. Read how Isa Lei expresses remorse for his support of the 1987 coup, and his criticism of former Chief Justice Timoci Tuivaga for his support of the 1987 and 2000 coups; Inx2009's condemnation of all military interventions; Talei2's attack on Qarase's currently inept leadership; Ichymite's finger-pointing at self-serving chiefly, church and business leadership; and Isa Lei on ethnic Fijian "backstabbing."

They may not have you voting for Bainimarama any time soon, but they may give you a better understanding of the complexities and shady forces at work in Fiji, yesterday and today -- and have you thinking that dialogue is possible with bloggers like these.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

(G) New Unit to Oversee "Roadmap" to Elections

A new department will soon be set up at the Parliament complex to facilitate Government’s roadmap to the 2014 elections and framework for change. According to Public Service Commission chairman, Josefa Serulagilagi, the new department has been tasked to ensure a better and well-coordinated approach to the implementation of the Roadmap and Strategic Framework for Change. The department is also expected to facilitate consensus-building through nation-wide reconciliation and dialogue. Click here.

New Feature: High Noon QUIZ

Two weeks ago we launched Allen Lockington's Saturday feature Life Goes On to spread a smile or two between our otherwise sombre, and sometimes depressing, posts. Today Wednesday at 12:00 noon we launch another regular weekly feature, the "High Noon" quiz, that will always be published at noon on Wednesdays, with answers published Mondays at 9:00am.

Older readers will recognize the title as that of a famous 1950's Western film starring Gary Cooper and Grace Kelly in which Cooper, the small town US Marshall, faces a gang of killers. My choice of title does not cast Bainimarama, Qarase or anyone else in the role of marshal, but it does have a moral message. The forces for good in Fiji must ensure that its "high noon" will be resolved by words and not bullets.

The quiz consists of two groups of five questions. The first five can be answered from postings and other features in the blog, and are mainly intended to assist your quick searches. The second five comprise a theme that will change each week. The names of those with correct answers will be entered into a draw for a prize. For the quiz and further details, read on ...


1. Who is this (photo below)?
2. Which journalists were not allowed to attend the Cairns Forum meeting?
3. On what date was the phrase "ship of state" used in a posting?
4. How many times has Daryle Tarte been mentioned in the blog?
5.What box would you click to search for earlier postings?

This week's theme: Languages
What is the Fijian and Hindi for:

6. Yes and no
7. Excuse me
8. Hello
9. Good
10. Bad

Email with your answers, dated and numbered 1-10, no later than the Sunday after each quiz,for five weeks and your name will be entered into a draw to win a prize. More details later.

Update: Alternatively, entries may also be sent by adding them as a "comment" to each quiz posting. See details in my Friday 21 August posting.

(o) Meaningless and Meaningful Opinion Polls

Polls need to be very carefully worded to have any value. A current NZ referendum on whether parents should legally be allowed to smack their children is so double-weighted it is unlikely to be heeded by Government, whatever its outcome.

A poll on the rabidly anti-government blogsite Intelligentsiya, answered by 140 of its readers, provides a further example of poor poll question wording. "Can we have a new government in power by 2010?" attracted a 62% "yes" and 37% "no" response. But what do these responses mean? Those saying "yes" probably indicated a wish with which many saying "no" might have agreed but they voted "no" because they thought it unlikely, and some of the "noes" may not want elections by 2010.

Taking the sentence apart, what does can mean? Technically possible? A realistic possibility? Or merely something we want or would like to see? What does new government mean? Only one --or any-- type of government? Not the old Qarase SDL-led government? A new SDL-led government? Or some other "led" government? And who are We? Those who support Intelligentsiya's perspectives? Ethnic Fijians? Or all Fiji citizens? Take your pick.

Less ambiguous wording would have been: "Government should hold elections no later than 2010." Or "I would like elections under the old electoral system to be held no later than 2010" Or "I would like elections, even under a new electoral system, to be held no later than 2010". Or "I urge all those currently opposing the Interim Government, and the Interim Government, to enter into genuine dialogue with each other so that elections may be held by 2010." And I'm not totally happy with any of my "improvements."

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

(o) Solevu On Again, Off Again

It's not at all clear who's playing who -- or exactly what is and what is not allowed, or why -- but Government has revoked the Methodist church permit to hold an open air solevu (fundraising) gathering in Suva this Saturday citing further information that matters other than those for which the permit had been granted, would be discussed at the gathering. [See also the very different reasons reported by the Fiji Broadcasting Corporation, below]

The decision is a blow to church fundraising and will do nothing to enhance Government popularity among many Methodists, most of whom are ethnic Fijians. Many others will see the move as an infringement of religious freedom unless they agree with Government that elements within the church would use the gathering for destablizing political activity.

Earlier, Government had approved meetings of the Church Standing Committee on condition that they were attended only by ordained ministers. Ministers previously identified, and lay preachers, many of whom have political agendas, could not attend. It would seem either that the Church cannot, or will not, constrain its political elements, or that Government is acting unnecessarily and/or on false information.

Either way, the latest development increases tension between church and state, that had earlier appeared to be lessening as a result of compromises made by both parties. For more detail, click here.

To compound matters, a permit has been given to the New Methodist Church for a crusade in Suva next week that could attract over 20,000 members. Police Minister Esala Teleni is a member of this breakaway church, and the controversial police Christian Crusade against crime was of his making. Many will see Government's different stance on these two religious bodies as inconsistent. Photo: ABC.

Government directive

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

The Methodist Church of Fiji and Rotuma will just have to follow what the Government has decided about their annual conference.

Church president Reverend Ame Tugaue told FBC News that they will abide by Government’s decision to cancel the divisional conference that the church was planning to hold this week.

Reverend Tugaue however, says they will just ask their various divisions not to hold choir competitions or soli at division level but at church level.

He says this will be done informally, and not in an organized manner and whatever is collected will be enough – just as long as their spiritual lives are being improved.

The Government had announced yesterday that they have cancelled the Methodist Church’s planned annual divisional conference because of the monetary burdens it places on church members even at the planned divisional level and also because of the pending installment of the church president and general secretary whose case for breaching the P.E.R. are still before the courts. -- Fiji Broadcasting Corporation

(o+) Bloggers Make Bad Economic News Good Political News

Click "comments" at the end of this post to see what others think.

To read the anti-Government blogs you'd believe the Fiji economy is in a state of total collapse. Every economic setback in Fiji is applauded in Sydney and Auckland. This is a none-too-subtle way of turning economic news into political news, with Bainimarama "responsible" for the world recession, the decline in tourist numbers, years of neglect and machinery failures at the sugar mills, increased unemployment, rabid inflation, and increases in the cost of living and poverty.

There's no denying Fiji is struggling (what country is not?) or that overseas (and anti-government blogger) reactions to the "political situation" have made things worse, but ...

Come on, bloggers. Let's have some more balanced comments. It's your relatives and friends whose lives you play with, and your country whose future is at stake. Focus positively on the wrongs and shortcomings of the Bainimarama Government by all means, but forget about a return to pre-coup Fiji. Make some realistic suggestions on the "way forward." And drop the occasional compliment about what Bainimarama is trying to achieve -- with no help from Fiji's so-called friends.

Here are some recent economic news items:

We Will Pull Out of Trade Talks: PM

Responding to NZ Foreign Minister McCully's statement that the NZ Government was waiting tosee what Fiji would decide in relation to the talks on PACER-Plus and PICTA (and Australia's statement that PACER Plus negotiations would go ahead without Fiji that would be "briefed later") PM Bainimarama's response was “We will pull out from the talks.”

Fiji maintains its role in PACER-Plus and PICTA - the Pacific Island Countries Trade Agreement - is separate to its Forum status. Bainimarama has said its exclusion from the Forum -- and PACER -- talks "have made it impossible for Fiji to effectively defend the interests of its people under the trade agreements Fiji is a party to."Click here.

EU Regional Trade Package ‘Intact for Fiji’

Fiji’s Foreign Affairs Minister Ratu Inoke Kubuabola says the European Union (EU) has reaffirmed Fiji’s right to benefit from the Regional European Development Fund despite the Pacific Island Forum (PIF) suspending Fiji from all regional trade negotiations. He said the EU in consultations with all parties had facilitated a satisfactory solution to address this “illegal situation” and in doing so had reaffirmed Fiji’s rights as a signatory to the Cotonou Agreement, which entitles Fiji to fully participate in the negotiations between the Pacific states and the European Union. Fiji supports the call by the European Union to resolve differences and problems through dialogue and direct contact between parties involved.” Click here.

IMF May Boost Fiji Reserves by $160m

Reserve Bank of Fiji Governor Sada Reddy announced Fiji may get a special boost of $160 million to its foreign reserves from the International Monetary Fund (IMF). This would push Fiji's reserves (currently $760m and $440m before devaluation) close to $900m by the end of September. Banking system liquidity has risen from $15m in March to $262m. Click here.

Annual Tourism Forum Realities

With tourism receipts down by 20% Government has more than doubled its budget allocation to tourism, and called on the industry to work together to speed recovery. Click here for overall situation; and here for Bainimarama and Reserve Bank comments.

Prices, Inflation High, Exports Down, but Improving

Inflation as a result of the April 2009 devaluation is expected to peak at around 12% next April, with June registering the highest monthly growth in consumer prices in the past 11 years, and expected to moderate to around 2% by the end of 2010.

Cumulative to May 2009, domestic export earnings fell by 16.4 percent led by declines in sugar, mineral water, garments and timber, which the central bank said more than offset increases in earnings for gold, fish, molasses, sweet biscuits and other domestic exports. Click here.

Kerosene, Diesel Prices Drop

Consumers can at least breathe a sigh of relief after the Prices and Incomes Board announced a drop in the price of kerosene to $1.35 per litre (down 8c), motor spirit $2 (down 8c), diesel $1.67 (down 6c) and premix outboard fuel $1.91 (down10c). Click here.

Monday, August 17, 2009

(o) Fiji and China

Fiji Sun reports that a powerful 25-member Chinese delegation met with Prime Minister Commodore Voreqe Bainimarama last Wednesday night at the Shangri-La Fijian Resort in Sigatoka. Australian and NZ investors, exporters, trade officials and experts, read on ...

Chinese Here to Invest: PM

Speaking to the FijiSun last night, Cmdr Bainimarama said he was confident that the country is going to form a long time partnership with China’s Sinohydro Corporation Limited. “They want to come and invest in Fiji,” Cmdr Bainimarama said. He said the meeting is to strengthen Fiji’s relations with China as Government continues to venture out as part of its ‘Look North’ policy.

Cmdr Bainimarama said such visit attracts the interest of the international community and highlights the huge potential and wide range of opportunities that Fiji has in terms of investment, trade and forging stronger bilateral relations with China. “As Government looks North for improved economic relations, I believe that this will also serve as an opportunity to share technical knowledge to our private sector members which would assist them in improving on their products, operation of their businesses, and in securing a fair size of exports to China and other countries,” Cmdr Bainimarama explained.

He said in these difficult times compounded by the global financial crisis, it is encouraging to see China’s continuous investment engagement in the country.

Cmdr Bainimarama revealed that Fiji has been in good business with the Sinohydro Corporation Limited as well as the fishing company, Yong Xing (Fiji) Limited. “These are major projects and just a few of China’s substantial investment portfolio that extends throughout the country,” Cmdr Bainimarama continued on. “My government works closely with both the public and the private sector to mould a mechanism that is pro-growth and serves to improve the lives of the people of Fiji.”

The Chinese delegation representative Mr Lou acknowledged Cmdr Bainimarama’s words of welcome indicating that his delegation specialises in varieties of businesses. “Members of our group come from different parts of China and some even from Italy. “They engage in different businesses and in enterprises in real estate development in tourism, hotel building and so on.”

He said the delegation is thankful to the Fiji Trade and Investment Bureau and Cmdr Bainimarama. “My special thanks to Mr Prime Minister for taking time from his very busy schedule to be present at this function. This shows the friendship between Fiji and China really exist,” Mr Lou added.

(0) ANZ-US: Who's Kidding Whom?

See Comments on this post by clicking "comment" at the end.

Outgoing Acting US Ambassador to NZ Dr Dave Keegan was interviewed by NZTV1's Mark Sainsbury on Sunday. He had this to say about Australian, NZ, the US and the Fiji "situation."

Keegan: The role of the US in the Pacific I think is longstanding, you know out of Hawaii which is our Pacific state, out of American territories, Guam, American Samoa, and others, but we're also not going to step in and try to recreate the kind of expertise that Australia and New Zealand bring to the table. You have a degree of knowledge and a degree of understanding of how to make things work there that we want to take advantage of and be the beneficiary of, and figure out how we can add value.

Sainsbury: But the US congressman for American Samoa Faleomavaega, now he says that - he has criticized New Zealand and Australia's attitude to the Pacific, and said America should be looking at - in terms of Fiji - that we're too tough on Fiji, America needs to take a sort of softer stance there.

Keegan: I know that Mr Faleomavaega has made that argument, Secretary of State Clinton, Assistant Secretary Kurt Campbell have made it absolutely clear that in the government's assessment, New Zealand and Australia are taking a strong line with Fiji that is appropriate, and that we want to figure out how to work with your governments as we have been to continue the pressure on Fiji to move back to a real democracy.

To read the whole interview, click here. Our thanks to Pacific Media Centre for this.

Meanwhile, contemplate how our knowledge and understanding of the Pacific have really made things work since the military takeover .

Think of --

  1. How the Fiji situation has got progressively worse since December 2006.
  2. How we have not modified our approaches as the situation changed.
  3. How we have not accepted Bainimarama has far more support than we first realized.
  4. How we have failed to understand Qarase and the extreme opposition will not modify their stance unless we stop backing them.
  5. How we do not understand it is only Fiji's "middle ground" (not the racist extremists) that can bring about reconciliation.
  6. How our policies have further divided Fiji's people, and delayed reconciliation.
  7. How we have not acknowledged democracy cannot be achieved by an undemocratic electoral system and injust government.
  8. How we have failed to grasp that our stance on Fiji has accelerated Chinese influence to the detriment of our diplomatic influence and trade interests in the Region.
  9. How we continue to accept the Pacific Island "yes" at the Forum, and on PACER plus and PICTA, as unreserved approval of our benign leadership.
  10. And, most importantly, how our lack of humility -- and deep-down belief in human equality and justice -- has failed to boost our knowledge and enhance our understanding of people and nations whose cultures and histories are different than our own?

This is not to excuse the human rights and other abuses that have occurred since 2006 but, given that our Fiji policies have demonstrably failed, we must ask Dr Keegan: "Who's kidding Whom?" One must hope the incoming ambassador will have more nous.

(o+) Would the Real Mahendra Chaudhry Please Stand Up

It's difficult to gauge Mahendra Chaudhry.

Ousted Labour-led Government Prime Minister. Brave and defiant prisoner of the Speight coup.
Opponent then colleague in the Qarase's SDL-led government. Fierce advocate for cane farmers or obstructionist in the sugar industry. Banker for displaced Indo-Fijian refuges, or tax evader and shady banker for himself. Supporter of Bainimarama's People's Charter, briefly minister in the Bainimarama Government, and now -- apparently-- compatriot of Qarase (two people who once were barely civil to each other). Once denied entry to Australia and now mysteriously admitted, with no explanation.

Martyr and people's advocate? Self-serving and two-faced opportunist? Pragmatist, realist, survivor? Who knows? But there's no questioning he's an important wild card in Fiji's deck of cards.

With these thoughts in mind, I read the FLP website release, initiated no doubt by the great enigma himself. The proposals are sound, except possibly for their timing and the insistence that all initiatives should come from Government; it's just that you're left unsure about their motivation. The old saying "I cannot believe a word you say, for what you are is speaking louder still" comes to mind -- but what is he? The word "restoration" in the "restoration of democracy" line also raises suspicions. Restoration to the race-based communal electorates that ensured him earlier election successes, or "restoration" used loosely to encompass elections but only after electoral reforms?

To read the Fiji Labour Party release, entitled Lift Emergency Rule and Talk, click here.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Australian Socialists Accuse Australia of "Tightening Grip" Over Pacific Islands and the Forum

"Last week’s Pacific Islands Forum (PIF) leaders’ summit, held in the northern Australian city of Cairns, saw the Labor government of Prime Minister Kevin Rudd move to extend its control over the regional body. Despite earlier statements from a number of Pacific governments expressing disquiet over Canberra’s stance on issues including Fiji, climate change, and regional trade, every PIF member state toed the line and signed the final summit communiqué drafted by the Australian government." I have added subheadings to make for easier reading.

Commentary:Australian Government Tightens Grip over Pacific Islands Forum

By Frank Gaglioti

CAIRNS (WSWS/Pacific Media Watch): Last week’s Pacific Islands Forum (PIF) leaders’ summit, held in the northern Australian city of Cairns, saw the Labor government of Prime Minister Kevin Rudd move to extend its control over the regional body. Despite earlier statements from a number of Pacific governments expressing disquiet over Canberra’s stance on issues including Fiji, climate change, and regional trade, every PIF member state toed the line and signed the final summit communiqué drafted by the Australian government.

Held on August 5-6, the PIF was attended by the leaders of Australia, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands, Cook Islands, Federated States of Micronesia, Marshal Islands, Nauru, Niue, Samoa, Tonga, Tuvalu, and Vanuatu, as well as representatives from several other Pacific states. The Fijian military government was excluded as part of diplomatic sanctions imposed following its suspension from the Forum last January.

Australian Policy
The PIF is billed as a regional meeting of independent and equal member states—but in reality the Australian government and its junior partner in New Zealand call the shots. Under the former Howard government, the Forum became entwined with Canberra’s drive to assert its regional hegemony amid intensifying great power rivalry fuelled by China’s growing economic and diplomatic muscle. In 2003 an Australian official, Greg Urwin, was installed as PIF secretary-general for the first time.

Prime Minister Rudd is now seeking to further consolidate Australian imperialism’s control over the regional body. This year’s meeting in Cairns marks the first time since 1994 that it has been held in Australia and the Australian government has now assumed the chair of the PIF for the next twelve months. It will be formally responsible for ensuring that the decisions made during the Cairns summit are implemented.

The final communiqué backed the further implementation of the “Pacific Plan”, which outlines an open-ended agenda for regional political and economic reform under Canberra’s aegis. PIF member states formally noted the “new challenges presented by the global economic crisis” and acknowledged their “continuing vulnerability to external shocks”.

Pacer Plus

The communiqué also instructed negotiations on the PACER Plus regional free trade deal to commence immediately. The proposed agreement—which aims at opening up the South Pacific to Australian and New Zealand investors—has raised concerns among the impoverished PIF countries.
Their economies have little to gain, as Pacific exporters already enjoy preferential access to the Australian market, and they stand to lose what little industry exists in the face of competition from more efficient transnational firms. Vital government revenue collected from tariffs would also be lost, creating pressure to slash public spending programs.

Many Pacific governments have called for PACER Plus negotiations to be delayed until funding is secured for an international trade expert to advise them on the various legal and economic issues. Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands, and Vanuatu have also challenged the legality of proceeding with the proposed free trade agreement without including Fiji.
In the end, however, the Australian government got its way at the Forum—any delay in negotiations was ruled out, and Fiji’s exclusion was explicitly endorsed.

Melanesian Spearhead Group member states had previously issued a statement calling for the lifting of Fiji’s suspension from the PIF. But during the Forum, the governments of Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands, and Vanuatu backed down, no doubt in the face of intense pressure exerted behind closed doors by Australian officials. The final communiqué reiterated the Rudd government’s demand for “political dialogue between parties on the principles of genuine, inclusive dialogue without preconditions or pre-determined outcomes”, aimed at facilitating a return to civilian and constitutional rule in Fiji.

This position has nothing to do with any concern for the democratic rights of the Fijian people. On the contrary, it reflects Canberra’s concerns about regional political stability and about the potential implications of Beijing’s close ties with the Fijian junta. Military leader Frank Bainimarama has proven able to defy the Australian government’s dictates in part because of increased Chinese aid and investment. Fiji’s intransigence has underscored the role of the rising Asian power in providing to ruling elites throughout the South Pacific a potential counter-weight to Australian influence.

In a revealing episode, both Rudd and New Zealand Prime Minister John Key rejected a public call issued by Niue Premier Toke Talagi for the people of Fiji to rise up and overthrow the military government. Opposing this demand, Rudd insisted that he wanted a “peaceful solution”. Key declared: “We have encouraged Frank Bainimarama to engage with former leaders in Fiji, and we think that’s the right course of action, not some sort of uprising against the military coup.”

Climate Change:
Emissions down 45% by 2020 or 50% by 2050?
In the course of the summit, the Rudd government promoted climate change as a major issue for deliberation. Rising sea levels threaten some of the Pacific nations such as Tuvalu and Kiribati with inundation. The PIF communiqué called on world leaders to sign a post-Kyoto agreement limiting the increase in global average temperatures to two degrees Celsius or less and reducing global carbon emissions by at least 50 percent below 1990 levels by 2050.

Rudd trumpeted this statement as proof of his government’s environmental credentials and humanitarian concern for the potential Pacific victims of climate change. But again the reality was markedly different from the media spin.

The Smaller Island States (SIS) grouping within the PIF—including Cook Islands, Nauru, Niue, the Marshall Islands, Tuvalu, Palau and Kiribati—issued a statement before the Cairns meeting calling on the Forum to push for a 45 percent reduction of greenhouse gases by 2020 to keep global temperature rises below 1.5 degrees. The final communiqué ignored SIS concerns and simply reiterated the Australian government’s climate targets.

Also suppressed was any discussion of Australia accepting any climate change refugees made homeless by rising seas flooding their home countries. The Australian government’s indifference to the plight of the people of the South Pacific was highlighted by Rudd’s pledge to produce a DVD for the benefit of participants in upcoming international climate negotiations. “One of the things that we’re working through is how do we actually produce, although it might sound trite, a DVD which actually puts together documentary evidence and presents it to leaders of the world,” he told the ABC.

Gagging Pacific Islanders? noted that the Rudd government had “gagged efforts to discuss the issue [of more stringent emission targets] publicly”.

Islands Business reported that the leaders of Marshall Islands, Kiribati and Tuvalu were hurried through a side door by Australian officials at the end of the Forum’s press conference on August 6 to avoid journalists’ questions. The tightly controlled and stage managed nature of the proceedings was commented upon by some of the journalists in attendance. In an outright act of censorship, which pointed to the political concerns underlying the organisation of the PIF, Australian officials barred World Socialist Web Site reporters from covering the event. [See earlier post Australian officials exclude WSWS from reporting on Pacific Islands Forum]

Rudd Continues Howard's Agenda
The Cairns Forum underscored the continuity between the Rudd Labor government’s agenda in the Pacific and the former conservative government’s aggressive assertion of Canberra’s economic and geo-political interests.

The Howard government created an Australian Federal Police paramilitary wing, the International Deployment Group, and a series of military-police interventions including in East Timor (1999 and 2006), Solomon Islands (2003 and 2006), and Tonga (2006). The 2006 interventions were accompanied by provocative and unlawful regime change operations against governments perceived to be obstacles to the interests of Australian imperialism—East Timor’s Fretilin administration of Mari Alkatiri and the Solomons’ Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare.

In opposition, Labor fully backed Howard’s initiatives. After coming to office, however, Rudd engaged in a tactical shift after recognising the extent of hostility generated by the Howard government among both ordinary Pacific Islanders and regional elites. The new prime minister announced the “Port Moresby Declaration”, supposedly outlining a “new era” of mutual respect and cooperation. Underlying the rhetoric, however, lay the same strategic imperative—securing and advancing Australia’s neo-colonial interests within what it regards as its sphere of influence.

The suppression of discussion and any critical scrutiny at the Cairns leaders’ summit points to the ruthlessness with which the Rudd government is prepared to prosecute this agenda. Post a comment on this story at PMW Right of Reply: