Wednesday, September 30, 2009
Dialogue Geared at Restoring Democracy
The Citizens’ Constitutional Forum (CCF) welcomes the call by the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (CMAG) for Fiji’s Interim Government to urgently confirm its readiness to resume a dialogue process. In the statement (26/09/09), CMAG reiterated that the Commonwealth was willing to remain engaged with Fiji in support of any good faith efforts towards the restoration of democracy, including the facilitation of a credible political dialogue process, in accordance with fundamental Commonwealth principles.
“CCF urges the Interim Government to commence a nation wide dialogue process earlier rather than later because political power is liable to become corrupt and abusive without the guiding instruments of parliamentary democracy,” CCF Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Rev Akuila Yabaki said. CCF is aware that a dialogue process had also been envisioned in the People’s Charter for Change, Peace and Progress (PCCPP), where it is stated that, “Our nation is in urgent need of genuine, trust-based dialogue and peace building for which qualities of humility, compassion, honesty and openness to other views and interests are essential.
Engaging in a political dialogue process such as the PPDF, would show a true commitment to restoring constitutional democracy, rule of law and human rights in Fiji,” Rev Yabaki said. CCF is hopeful that once underway, a credible political dialogue process would examine the communal race-based voting system in Fiji, and discuss the possible abolishment of race-based policies and electoral campaigns.
Rev Akuila Yabaki
Chief Executive Officer
For further information, contact CCF on ph: 3308379 or fax: 3308380. www.ccf.org.fj
I agree with Akuila subject to the provisos spelt out in my comments in (o+) Why UN and Commonwealth Demands Not Good for Fiji. Dialogue is urgently needed but, if the SDL, FLP and similar groupings are to be included, they must put their cards on the table first. What are their visions for a happier Fiji?
Fiji's Infrastructure Money Situation
Loan. $40m (Exim Bank,Malaysia) to upgrade roads, especially in outer islands. Approved.
Loan. $70m (Exim Bank, China) for Housing Authority and Public Rental Board housing. Approved.
Loan. $240m - total soft loans being sought from China
Non-loan. $190m, Fiji's share of IMF global economic crisis assistance. Received.
Non-loan. $85m, EU, for development assistance (on hold)
Non-loan. $300m, EU, for restructuring sugar industry (on hold)
Undisclosed further amounts sought from International Monetary Fund and World Bank
The Governor of Fiji’s Reserve Bank Sada Reddy has hit out at critics of his move to devalue Fiji’s currency. The critics were mainly bloggers.-- Fiji Live.
Village Chief Steals from His Villagers
The former turaga ni Koro of Nacereyawa village outside Labasa has pleaded guilty of stealing $4,350 raised by villagers for their rural electrification scheme-- Fiji Village.
Tuesday, September 29, 2009
Diplomats, of course, are diplomatic. They are very careful to say nothing critical of their minister's views until after they retire, when from their many years of experience, typically far exceeding that of their former ministers, they can say what they think. Former NZ senior diplomat Terence O'Brien, who recently chose "hamfisted" to describe NZ's efforts to have Fiji excluded from UN peacekeeping missions, had 40 years with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade. Its present Minister, Murray McCully, has one.
Having lived in Fiji for three years from 1990, with visits since, I have a certain understanding of the country and its unusual politics. Like you I believe our government and Australia's are strangely shortsighted. In fact I am at a loss to discover any good reason for the continuing hard nosed stance. I cannot believe it is so petty as to punish them for disobeying the rules, or pique for reneging on a promise made in Wellington in November 2006 and expelling diplomats since. And we certainly don't worry about dictatorial governments when it comes to trade relations. I can only feel there is an underlying power play we know nothing of.
At the same time, it seems that ordinary Kiwis who know a little about Fiji are also puzzled at the apparent unfairness of the situation. Is there something in the Kiwi 'Fair go' philosophy which could draw together the sort of support which would encourage the government to reconsider?
Monday, September 28, 2009
Sunday, September 27, 2009
There was no doubt who he was referring to when he said, “Our people pose no threat to anyone, least of all to the big powers of the South Pacific who have abrogated to themselves the right to dictate to us our future and the way we govern ourselves. In all of this, they have used their extensive diplomatic and financial resources to deny Fiji to participate in new peacekeeping operations."
Not for the first time he said overseas critics had little understanding of the Fiji situation. They still seem "largely unaware of the extent to which politicians, in league with those who employ terror as a tactic to push a racial supremacy and corrupt agenda, had become a threat to the safety and security of our people." He outlined his roadmap to elections in 2014 and again invited “the international community to engage with us, visit our country to see the situation for themselves and to provide practical support and assistance to enable us to implement the reforms”.
And over the weekend Fiji's opponents within the Commonwealth stated they wanted Fiji excluded from next year's Games in Delhi. Bainimarama had written endorsing Commonwealth principles but this was not enough. They wanted "reactivating dialogue with Fiji’s political party leaders, leading to credible elections in the country no later than October 2010." Here are my reasons why I think their demands would not lead to a fairer and more democratic Fiji:
My Comments on Dialogue
I think Government should immediately agree to revive the dialogue process and progressively ease the Public Emergency Regulations, but I do not think it would be helpful to confine dialogue to "Fiji's political party leaders" --or even include them -- unless these parties first reveal how they stand on electoral and constitutional reform and disclose their vision for Fiji.
I continue to wonder why they have not made public their views on constitutional reform, the presidency, the senate, the Great Council of Chiefs, electoral reform, so-called affirmative action and so-called pro-Fijian legislation, public service reform, corruption, land reform, land leases, multi-cultural and multi-lingualism, and poverty alleviation. Dialogue is not just about elections; it's about the Fiji that Can Be.
The Bainimarama Government has stated and shown where it stands on these critical issues. If its opponents would do the same (and why haven't they?) Fiji citizens and foreign observers alike would be able to compare their philosophies and policies with those of the Government. They would also have "promises" they could insist were kept.
My Comments on Elections
Neither do I think it wise to insist on elections in 2010. This would merely allow the "old" essentially race-based parties to re-form, re-group and return to parliament, with absolutely no gains for Fiji. There would be democracy in name only. Race-based policies would return. To retain support, Fijian (and Indo-Fijian) politicians, acting for themselves and their respective elites, would continue to play the "race card" to win electoral support from ordinary Fijians and Indo-Fijians. The basic cause of coups would not have been removed.
It is far too early for elections. Time is needed for new Fijian and Indo-Fijian leaders to emerge, untainted with the racism of their predecessors. Time is need to absorb the lessons of the last three years. Time is needed to reassure the "reserve army" of less educated Fijians that multi-culturalism is no threat to their economic or cultural interests. Time is needed to show that Government's dream of a better and fairer Fiji can work.
Meanwhile, I would like to see Government increase the size of Cabinet to make it more inclusive and representative so that it may be seen as an unelected "Government of National Unity" until elections are held in 2014.
Photo: Fiji Village.
Saturday, September 26, 2009
The Vale ni Bose Vakaturaga, the Great Council of Chief's complex at Navosa, Suva, was opened on Friday by former President the Turaga na Tui Vuda Ratu Josefa Iloilo. The opening came exactly 134 years after the first meeting of chiefs after Fiji was ceded to Britain in September 1875.
The GCC approved construction that cost F$23 million in 2001. The ground-breaking ceremony was officiated by the late Tui Ratu Ovini Bokini in 2004, and in 2005 the Marama Roko Tui Dreketi Ro Teimumu Kepa performed the vakasobuduru. Below the loru (the timber supporting the roof) of the chiefs' meeting room is an inscription that reads Me dua vata ga na keda i vau (to unite). Several chiefs pointed to its special importance in the present political situation.
Tui Macuata Ratu Aisea Katonivere said the inscription on the loru spoke volumes for Fiji as a country and the people. "Unity," he said, "is paramount, not only for the indigenous population but for all those who call Fiji home." Kadavu Provincial Council chairman Ratu Varani Rayawa hoped the complex would "brings the people together."
A number of high-ranking chiefs, however, were noticeably absent from the opening. They included the staunch Government opponents the Roko Tui Dreketi, Ro Teimumu Kepa, the Tui Namosi Ratu Suliano Matanitobua, and Tui Cakau Ratu Naiqama Lalabalavu. The chiefly household of Mataiwelagi in Bau representing the Kubuna confederacy was only represented by the acting President Ratu Epeli Nailatikau. Another notable absentee was Nadroga's Turaga na Ka Levu, Ratu Sakiusa Makutu.
Chiefs present included Naitasiri high chief Turaga na Qaranivalu Ratu Inoke Takiveikata, Tui Macuata Ratu Aisea Katonivere, Rewa chief Ro Epeli Mataitini, Bua chief Ratu Filimoni Ralogaivau, and the Turaga na Tui Ba Ratu Sairusi Nagagavoka. -- Based on reports in FijiVillage, Fiji Times and Fiji Live.
Despite the international pressures from Australia and New Zealand, an additional 20 police officers from Fiji will now be deployed in December to serve in the United Nations Mission in Sudan. -- Fiji Live.
Two companies associated with the Fiji Beach Resort & Spa managed by Hilton are in receivership.They are Denarau Investments and Denarau International.The Hilton is continuing to operate the 160-villa resort on Denarau Island but completion of the property's expansion with an extra 90 villas is now in doubt. -- NZ Herald.
Allen Lockington is a self-employed customs agent and business consultant who has regular articles published in www.connectme.com.fj/news/opinion. 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.
It’s so wonderful to walk along the seawall on Marine Drive in Lautoka and see the islands of the Yasawa Group in the distance. The Island of Vio just of Queens Wharf looks so beautiful on a sunny day that I only wish I could live on one of those islands.
If I could, I will buy me a boat and snorkeling gear. I will try and see if the yaqona plant will grow there. Have a desalination plant and a “fiber” (as it's called here) and a home that runs on solar energy. I will have a short wave radio, a satellite dish, a TV. I will take my gramophone and leave all my phones behind. I will tune to overseas radio stations so I don’t have to hear “Text Mai”. I will eat fish every day, it will be bliss. I have about 600 long play records of the Beatles, Bill Haley and the Comets, Jim Reeves, The Ink Spots, Patsy Cline and many more country and western singers. I will listen to them and drink my grog.
I have tonnes of books in my private library. I will read, fish, swim and snorkel and when I am tired I will hang my hammock between two trees and sleep underneath the stars. And I will write a book about Paradise.
And yes I have a vivid mind. I can dream.
Friday, September 25, 2009
Thursday, September 24, 2009
The multi-million dollar meeting house of Fiji’s Great Council of Chiefs is to be opened tomorrow, four years after construction began. PM and Minister for Indigenous Affairs Bainimarama has yet to confirm when the GCC, suspended in early 2007, will be reconvened. Following its dissolution, the interim Government approved new membership criteria limited to only those who have been traditionally installed, are not involved in politics, and do not have a criminal record.
The new-look GCC, with a total of 52 members, 10 less than the previous GCC, is to be chaired by the Indigenous Affairs Minister.This includes three representatives each from the 14 Fijian provinces and Rotuma, while the Minister will appoint six co-opt members who are chiefs who have been traditional installed and recorded as such in the register of Native Landowners administered by the Native Lands Commission.
Each member will take an oath of allegiance before the President and can seek re-appointment at the end of their three year term.
According to the GCC decree, members are disqualified if they are an un-discharged bankrupt, are serving a prison term, contested the general elections, were office bearers of a political party, held public office, including Senate and the House of Representatives over the past seven years preceding their appointment to the council, have a previous conviction in the 10 years leading up to their appointment in the council, particularly if they had served a term of imprisonment of more than six months, have allegiance, obedience or adherence to a power or State outside Fiji including being a citizen or resident of another country, have an unsound mind in respect of the Mental Treatment Act. -- Based on FijiLive. Photo: Connect.
Remember earlier in the year when the media left readers with no alternative but to conclude the military and government were responsible for the fire bomb attacks on the homes of The Fiji Times editor and a security recruitment agent? That was when Fiji Media Council chairperson Daryl Tarte had this to say:
“The media in Fiji, just as in Australia, is entitled to be be partisan if they want to be. It’s probably more dangerous to be partisan in Fiji than it is in Australia but the fact is that I think most media in Fiji are trying to report as objectively and in a balanced way as they can. It is very dangerous for them not to do so. And the examples of the recent attacks on the editor of The Fiji Times is evidence of this.”
Government accused the media of bias, which it denied. But the only "evidence" about who conducted these crimes was that some men were seen running in the general direction of the military barracks (from Namadi Heights to Nabua), and in another attack, against Attar Singh, an army or farmer-type green hat (photo) was left at the front door of the crime scene!
I offered the opinion that the Government had nothing to gain from these attacks. They could, of course, have been conducted by junior soldiers on their own initiative -- or by Government opponents hoping the public, with some help from the media, would hold Government responsible. The green hat looked suspiciously like planted evidence.
In his statement Daryl Tarte seemed to be conceding the media reports were unbalanced (hence the attacks) but there's no doubt about who he thought responsible for the attacks, or whether he thought the media were entitled to be partisan if they chose.
Turn now to a new development in Papua New Guinea where such reporting would not be accepted, or excused.
PNG's new Independent Media Standards Committee, which is independent of the professional Media Council, has members from varied backgrounds: a former assistant police commissioner; a former chief ombudsman; a church representative; an academic, and a former secretary of the National Executive Council. I presume appointments are made by Government. Such wide representation could suit Fiji.
Chairman John Toguata, the former police officer, said the media's responsibilities to communicate and educate should be practised with accuracy and sensitivity with balanced views of all parties to a story at all times. The Committee would protect freedom of expression -- and see that it is exercised with the greatest care, responsibility and accountability. The media's ethics code provided clear parameters which must be enforced by all media houses. The same ethical parameters would guide the IMSC - as the overall media watchdog - in upholding the integrity of reporting and information dissemination by journalists nationwide.
Note that the IMSC will only act when the "media houses" fail in their responsibilities. Then, to be effective, it will also need the power to impose sufficiently heavy penalties on wayward media to dissuade them from erring again. It could be that the absence of such powers allowed Fiji newspapers to be so -- partisan.
--- Based on The National.
Wednesday, September 23, 2009
Former High Court Judge, John Connors is the new Independent Legal Services Commissioner whilst former Secretary to the Fiji Law Society, Afrana Nisha, has been appointed Secretary to the Independent Legal Services Commission.
Attorney-General and Minister for Justice, Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum says “the appointment of a Commissioner to the Independent Legal Services Commission (‘the Commission’) marks a watershed in the legal history of Fiji. Lawyers will now like in Australia be subject to scrutiny by an independent body. Commissioner Connors said, "I think having an Independent Legal Services Commission in Fiji is needed. It will bring Fiji in line with conditions of jurisdictions like New South Wales and Victoria in Australia. Hopefully it will bring a transparent process that makes both the complainants and lawyers feel comfortable,” he said.
Under the Legal Practitioners Decree the Commissioner shall conduct a hearing into the complaints referred to it. The proceedings are open to the public. Lawyers can appear in person or instruct legal counsel. Witnesses may also be called to appear. The Commissioner then makes a ruling and has powers to, inter alia, impose fines of up to $500,000 and to strike a legal practitioner’s name from the roll of lawyers.
According to Acting Chief Registrar, Ana Rokomokoti, there are 348 outstanding complaints against lawyers ranging from minor offences such as failure to take adequate instructions or acting without adequate instructions, delays, incompetence and unprofessional activity to offences involving the abuse of trust funds, payment of legal fees without providing the service, fraud and the theft of client’s money. -- Based on Fiji Daily Post.
Citizens' Constitutional Forum leader, Rev.Akuila Yabaki, says the way forward in yet another Fiji crisis is through dialogue. The CCF is still coming to terms with the abrogation of the 1997 Constitution in April, Yabaki said, but continues with its community education program which it started years ago on the themes of human rights, multiculturalism and good governance.
This is being done “even now under the Public Emergency Regulations. The purpose is to create greater public understanding and awareness on democracy, human rights, citizenship and good governance; and encourage greater and constructive participation and contribution of citizens to their own governance and development”. He said as part of this work, the CCF had taken on board the aims of the government’s People’s Charter for Building a Better Fiji, including the sections encouraging dialogue. These include developing a common national identity; building social cohesion through consultation and dialogue based on principles of mutual respect so that outcomes are broadly accepted as legitimate; achieving higher economic growth which requires enhanced cooperation and partnerships between government, the private sector and civil society; and the way forward that must involve national dialogue on key issues that impact on national development (i.e. consensus on national identity, land reform, indigenous institutions, and a changing role for the military.)
PM to address UN General Assembly
Two weeks after declaring his government’s position on general elections to a Commonwealth delegation, PM Bainimarama will address the United Nations General Assembly in New York this week on the same subject. He will inform the General Assembly
of the progress the country is making and also the timelines that we have set through the Strategic Framework for Change and Roadmap to Democracy,” Bainimarama said in a government statement. --FijiLive
Accept We Are in Power: PM
People should now accept the fact that we are in power,join us in this journey and follow the agenda of the nation.
That is the message from the PM speaking during the 2010 Budget Forum when he spoke to the business community, civil society groups and senior civil servants about the public and private sector partnership.The private sector should stop thinking of their personal interests when they are invited by government to contribute during the forums and meetings. He said the bigger picture of what the government wants should be clearly understood by everyone. There are many people living below the poverty line and everyone should work on ensuring that the poor are assisted. -- FijiLive.
Eid a Time for Unity
This is a time for people of all religions to come together.That is the sentiment of many as they join Muslims around the country who are celebrating the end of their month long fasting or Ramadan. Attorney-General Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum said Eid shows that there is a need to understand each other and share happiness with others. Muslims around the country mark Eid with feasting and the sharing of gifts with neighbours and friends along with the sharing of the traditional drink "Sawaii".
Punja Eyes Business in Lau Group
Business tycoon Harry Punja is planning to set up a factory in the remote Lau Group to generate bio-diesel fuel. Lau Provincial Council chairman Lieutenant Colonel Ratu Tevita Uluilakeba Mara has confirmed Punja’s interest in the project. Punja is also looking at setting up a factory in Suva to take advantage of the government’s push for renewable energy. --FijiLive.
Tuesday, September 22, 2009
I have the feeling, having listened to Bainimarama on Maori TV and from several of his recent remarks, that he is now profoundly distrustful of the media and has a very jaundiced view of the whole democratic process. Almost in the same breath when he talks of the need for reforms and unity, he also talks of the need for authoritarian power to effect change. "People," he says, "should follow or get out." And, having said the media is free, he goes on to say free "when they say the right things and do not print rubbish."
I'm in sympathy with his frustration. Almost everything he wants for Fiji has been doubted, ridiculed and opposed by detractors at home and overseas.
- He knows no government elected under the old political system would ever have effected the wide reforms he seeks.
- He knows that many of those opposing him in Fiji have their own personal agendas that have nothing to do with a "return to democracy."
- He knows that many old politicians, key figures in the Great Council of Chiefs and leading Methodists, with the moral support of overseas groups, use many dirty tricks to undermine his support.
- He long ago gave up hope for an unbiased media.
He knows also that the international community, taking its lead from Australia and New Zealand that are at least as intent on stability and a democratic veneer as justice and democratic change, continue to undermine his plans for Fiji. And, more than once, because he is a military man untrained in diplomacy, he's stumbled into errors that make him appear the ignorant tyrant he is not.
I sympathise and understand. Like many, I am in basic agreement with his roadmap.
But I cannot agree with his ordering of priorities and his apparent assumption that reforms imposed on Fiji will be permanent.
He says infrastructural changes must come before elections. Yes, but the proposed social infrastructual reforms, about which we've heard little lately, are no less important than physical infrastructure, and deferring elections until 2014 should not mean deferring dialogue until 2012.
A better society presumes better shared values, but values cannot be imposed. They may be taught but they will not be accepted unless they spring from people's understanding, experience and agreement. This truly is a battle for hearts and minds because the people must come to see the need for change -- even if they cannot accept it all -- if the reforms are to succeed.
But people will not be able to see the need for change -- not even electoral change -- unless they can talk about it in an open and informed manner.
And it is the educated people, those who read and write to newspapers, the public speakers, the chairpersons of organizations, in short, those who help others to form opinions, who must first be able to talk to each other because they are the ones who will trigger wider informed discussion.
I must commend Richard Pamatatau for venturing into the lion’s den and getting the first hand information and news on Fiji that the mainstream media in New Zealand has failed to do. David Robie's Cafe Pacific and Media 7 have done their share, among others, in bringing these reports to general public.The reports of Wilcox and Pamatatau have removed the myth that Fiji is a militariased zone with soldiers lurking around every corner. They have seen no evidence or feeling of military presence, most people appeared to be happy with the way things were and it appears the misconception is created by some Fijians in New Zealand with an agenda against the Fiji government.
While the Media 7 coverage on Fiji did show a side of picture that was welcome, there however were some misconceptions that need to be clarified by somebody who knows Fiji and that is yours truly.
As far as the expression about poverty and squatter settlements, these were there from Ratu Mara’s, Rabuka’s and Qarase’s days, so it is unjustified for NZ media to imply that poverty and squatter settlements crept in after Bainimarama took the government in 2006. As former Director Administration and Operations of Suva City Council till 2003, I can vouch with first hand knowledge that the squatter settlements we have in and around Suva were there for a long time. It however increased due to displaced farmers from cancelled cane leases, poor state of rural development and failure of agriculture and land utilization through ineffective regimes which resulted in urban drift of especially rural Fijians to Suva City. The failure of policies of past democratic governments has to explain about increasing poverty in Fiji where the poverty of the downtrodden is inversely related to the expanding good fortunes of rich elite Fijians and Indian business community.
I wish to take exception to statements that Pamatatu obtained from some villagers and which Russell Brown has taken as the “other” side of the story.
His interview of rural Fijians quoted as follows:
“Everyday you are getting new people coming to sell you food – these people are just trying to make ends meet” This statement could have been given by people in Otara, Avondale or other markets in Auckland where they eke out a living by selling food even here in New Zealand, so what is new in Fiji? This is happening even here in NZ as well.
“Before the coup in 2000, everything you buy is good price, but now everything … the price is going up.” This statement can be given by any Kiwi, even by me. Some two years ago, I could buy my Rivermill whole meal grain bread for 99 cents. Now it costs 1.90. The rice I was eating has doubled in price, with increase in price of dairy products and virtually everything else. Do I blame John Key’s National government for it? Hence, Bainimarama is as much responsible for price increases in Fiji as John key is in New Zealand.
“Now when the country change… life has become difficult.” So, what is new about that, go, ask Social Development Minister Paula Bennett and she will tell you how difficult things are in New Zealand now. Ask those trying to make ends meet with rising prices and increasing unemployment – so it is not confined to Fiji. Things have changes globally.
“People are coming here every day at our gate, asking for clothes and food. Everyday. That has never happened in Fiji, how many years back. But it is happening now.” Like squatter settlements, this has been prevalent in Fiji long before 2006, people have been begging in Fiji for long, just like in New Zealand. Except, the begging in NZ is more sophisticated, you beg through charitable organisations, I bump into people sleeping in Queen Street every now and then and see long queue of people seeking food and support at City Mission in Auckland. So Fiji is no exception.
Therefore, Russell Brown of Media 7 really needs to explain what he meant when he said Pamatatau interviews told another story. What another story? You interview people in here and what they said in Fiji about difficult life is also applicable here.
Perhaps one biggest disappointment was what escaped these journalists and those who covered the interviews. In explaining about his interview in a Fijian village, Richard Pamatatau said:
"I had to speak to the village chief before anybody would speak to me.” That was the gist of the interview that New Zealand media in general and Radio New Zealand in particular either failed to decipher or conveniently ignored because it shattered their myth on Fiji’s democracy.
In the opening scene of Maori TV’s Native Affairs interview, Frank Bainimarama said: “In Fiji you do not come up with your own vote... Your vote is decided by the chiefs, it is dictated by the Great Council of Chiefs, it is dictated by the Provincial Council, it is dictated by the church- so it is not your vote. So, do not tell me it is democracy…”
Therefore, Radio New Zealand failed to explain to Kiwis, when its reporter failed to exercise democratic right of freedom of expression in a Fijian village without the chief’s approval, how can their people be expected to vote freely? What Bainimarama told Julian Wilcox about lack of democracy in Fiji’s current system was substantiated by the experience of Radio New Zealand’s Richard Pautatau in a Fijian village. It is such a pity they failed to explain this to New Zealand audience!
* Former Publisher of Fiji’s Daily Post, a political commentator and a post graduate student in Communication Studies (journalism) at Auckland University of Technology)
NZ Foreign Minister Murray McCully told the NZ Fiji Business Council on Friday that the travel ban on Fiji government and military personnel and their families (but not trade or economic sanctions) is needed, and is clearly effective as seen in "the level of vitriol he has heard expressed against those sanctions.'
Surely, effectiveness would be better measured by a more conciliatory attitude from the Fiji government, by the lifting of the emergency regulations, and more urgent steps taken towards elections. But none of these indicators of effectiveness has occurred. National's rigid ideological stance, inherited paradoxically from its Labour predecessor, has been demonstratively ineffective. And many respected voices have said so, over and over again. The only tangible outcome has been counter-productive: Fiji has been deprived of the skills, experience and advice of people who may otherwise have been senior civil servants.
The Minister said he is periodically called on to ease the sanctions on Fiji but has not done so because the small, vulnerable Pacific nations would be easier targets for dictators-in-waiting, and because NZ and other small nations need strong international organizations and clear rules of principled behaviour. In other words, Fiji is to be used as an example and a warning to its Pacific neighbours! He then rolled out the legalists' litany (sacked judges, abrogated constitution, personal freedoms, and intimidation of church leaders and the media) that, if ignored, would make the world "a significantly more challenging place to live in." There are other interpretations of these events, Minister. And I really can't imagine Fiji (or NZ for that matter) could make the world do anything.
Minister McCully says "we cannot force Fiji to embrace democracy." But isn't this exactly what our policies aim to do: force a return to the pre-Coup Qarase democracy-in-name-only type of democracy, that can only be brought about by a failed coup, economic collapse, isolation, intervention, rebellion or civil war? Yes, all this is possible, Minister.
But wouldn't it be better for New Zealand to help Bainimarama move towards a more genuine democracy, one that treats all citizens fairly, and places less weight on race? What is done is done, and cannot be undone. Bainimarama has made mistakes, and some mistakes were forced on him. What we now need is a reassessment of our country's policies and goals, and fresh dialogue with the de facto Fiji government. Maybe then we can influence events and outcomes in a positive way.
Meanwhile, would some kind reader draw the Minister's (and his advisers') attention to former Fiji diplomat Peter Thomson's recent address to the Australia Fiji Business Council. Click here for the link, or use the envelope facility noted below.
--Based on Fijian News from Radio New Zealand.
P.S. If you know anyone who could influence NZ's policies, please click the envelope icon at the end of the Thomson address to email the address to them. http://crosbiew.blogspot.com/2009/09/o-folly-of-canberras-stand-against-fiji_15.html
Monday, September 21, 2009
Sunday, September 20, 2009
Police Commissioner Esala Teleni (photo) admits the police force is split over measures he has imposed on the force, with next to no consultation, but he has made no move to heal the split. I really can't make any sense of this. Click here for what he has to say.
Why does he think the police force will be improved if it adopts military-style discipline? The two have different roles and different roles require different disciplines.
Why has he banned yaqona (kava) in police residential premises? How off-duty officers spend their leisure should be none of his concern unless they are breaking the law, which they are not. Yaqona is part of the Fijian (and Fiji) way of life. Its occasional abuse should not result in a wholesale ban.
Why has he imposed his evangelising Christian beliefs on Christians of other persuasions, and non Christians? His claim that his Jesus Crusades lower crime rates is an insufficient reason to force Muslim, Hindu and non-New Methodist Christian officers to toe his line -- or leave the force (An unbelievable demand!). He trespasses against the genuinely held beliefs of others, ridicules religious freedom, and writes big question marks against Bainimarama's "visions."
And -- this is the really big why -- does Bainimarama and Government tolerate the imposition of these measures that run counter to the better Fiji they claim to espouse?
My only explanations are that Bainimarama, in recognition of Teleni's loyalty stretching back to before the coup, is reluctant to move against such a loyal comrade, because of the loyalty, and because it could unravel the unity of the Military Council that underpins government, and is essential for its intended reforms. If I've hit a bull's-eye, Bainimarama must still see to it that the religious beliefs of police officers are respected, and that Teleni's toe-the-line-or-else threats cease. Let him carry on, if he must, with the Jesus Crusades but not with unwilling police officers.
Saturday, September 19, 2009
2. There's a new poll on"Comments" on this blog. See lefthand column. You may select multiple answers.
3. The pro-Government blog realfijinews has been resurrected.
Russell Brown of NZ TV7 interviews Radio NZ's Richard Pamatatau and Maori TV's Julian Wilcox, recently back from Fiji where Julian had an interview with Bainimarama and talked to people in the streets of Suva, and Richard (having just missed out on an interview with Bainimarama) went walkabout to talk to people in an urban squatter settlement, the cane fields and a Fiji village. This link, with commentary by respected Pacific journalist, author and teacher David Robie, is from David's Cafe Pacific.
This is an important interview because it records off-the-cuff reflections by two people of Polynesia descent and sensitivity. They were by no means enthralled with what they saw and heard, but they were sufficiently "in touch" with Fiji's sensitivities to produce programmes that few Europeans seem able to emulate.
My comments on some of the things they covered:
Neither saw any indication of an oppressed people, and people spoke to them freely, but both seems nervous the government would interfere with their work. They were told, not in Fiji but before and after they returned to NZ, the government had plain clothes spies who prevented people from saying what they really thought. From my own experience the coconut wireless is sufficient!
It all depends on where you were and who you talked to. Julian's street interviews in Suva found most people supporting what the government was trying to do. Richard's found squatters did not have enough to eat; the villagers were concerned about higher prices. But this is a poverty issue that predated the coup. That Richard could not talk to Fijian villagers without first obtaining permission from the village chief lends weight to Bainimarama's claim to Julian that many Fijians vote according to the dictates of their chief, the provincial councils and the Methodist Church.
Both thought Bainimarama sincere in trying to bring about a Fiji without institutional racism, but that he had little confidence in democracy, Fijian style, bringing this about. Hence his belief that in this situation changes are best brought about by control, not elections. I was disappointed to hear them repeat the Australian and NZ line that Bainimarama acts like a spoilt child if he doesn't get his own way ("he has his good and bad days"), though Julian did say that being a military man, he didn't like being challenged. I think they also swallowed the media's view that Bainimarama overplays the "Australian and NZ do-not-understand us" angle. It's his "stock standard line," said Julian, whose Maori people for over 150 years have said the same thing.
But I'll settle for their opinion that Bainimarama is sincere; most people don't feel oppressed; the coup did not create poverty; opinions on the regime depend on who you talk to, and Bainimarama has far more support than our politicians and media would have us believe.
Update on Robie link. Click here.
Allen Lockington is a self-employed customs agent and business consultant who has regular articles published in www.connectme.com.fj/news/opinion. 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.
Hello there. To be truthful I have a lot of respect for the former Prime Minister and likewise I also have a lot of respect for the Army Commander. Yet I take no sides. By the way I have a lot of mates in the SDL top brass .... I suppose they will accept a bit of constructive criticism from time to time because it keeps one on track.
But its good that my letter has generated some reaction. As for bitterness ..... this is one word that is most certainly not in my book ..... you may have read many of my letters that were against the Army and likewise this one was against Laisenia Qarase's reaction. Before the Coup I was a constant critic of government/civil servants/public servants etc ...! and I was a civil servant for 28 years!! One time I nearly got into trouble for speaking out against the top brass, even though it was the truth.
And hey, it would be interesting if I were invited to serve on a board. Maybe I will make a difference .. because it will be to lend a helping hand.
And it would have been the same if the Qarase government had invited me. I should have taken the offer when it came to me just before the elections .... but I had been invited by so many parties that I chose to stay with the minorities. So ends my humble reply.
Thursday, September 17, 2009
“I want consistencies in policies and long term goals to provide investor confidence to help you and me plan our government, our businesses, our lives, and our country,” he said while opening a one-day Public and Private Consultative Forum on the 2010 Budget this morning. Those attending included representatives from the private sector, civil society, trade unions, professional organizations, members of the financial services sector, and Government. The Forum theme was “Growing the Economy and Reducing Poverty through Public and Private Sector Partnership."
“I know there has been some disgruntlement over certain policies over the past couple of years. But we are not here to look into the past. We are here to look at our future,” he said. Fiji’s economic growth must be based on a sustainable foundation. “We must not repeat the mistakes of the past when unsustainable fiscal and monetary policies were put in place,” he said. He reiterated that consultations on a new Constitution for Fiji will begin in September 2012 with the view to have one in place by September 2013.“Elections are to be held a year after that,” he added. -- Based on Fijilive report.
The PM said the Forum is in line with Government’s ongoing commitment to genuine dialogue with all stakeholders, both domestically and our development partners in building a Better Fiji for All.
Wednesday, September 16, 2009
Commonwealth may help but Australia and New Zealand seem to have lost the plot
Rajendra Prasad* writing in IndianNewsLink questions the Commonwealth's suspension of Fiji ("when many of its members are fake democracies where the elites throttle the freedom and rights of their people with reckless disregard for upholding the democratic ideals") but he thinks the Commonwealth has the resources and expertise to help Fiji in restructuring its democracy but first it must more fully understand the situation. The process must not be rushed, as it is vital that people clearly understand the intents and motives for the changes.
Second, it must work on the premise that a new Constitution needs to be formulated and, in so doing, it must accept that a new approach is needed because the previous Constitutions had basic flaws that contributed to Fiji's ongoing political instability.
Fiji, Australia, New Zealand and China
While the Commonwealth seems to be playing a vigorous role, Australia and New Zealand are sitting on their hands as the Chinese are beginning to consolidate in the Pacific. The Pacific will soon be the bastion of Chinese interests and by the time the West comes out of its slumber, China will have the Pacific in its fold.
Indeed, historical relations between New Zealand and Australia, going back over a century need to be strengthened. On the present count, Fiji craves for understanding of its dominant neighbours. However, the myopic view taken by leaders of New Zealand and Australia is deeply regretted.
Fiji was an ailing democracy and it was terminal. Revolt against it could not come from its greatest victims – the Indo-Fijians because the odds against them were massive. Even the Army that eventually revolted against its own government were against them.
Surely, New Zealand and Australia could not be so naïve as to be unaware of the vicious campaign of discrimination and marginalisation that had been going on for decades against Indo-Fijians. The fact that it was methodically done under the cover of democracy did not mean that the impiety against Indo-Fijians was justified in anyway.
Neville Gibson, the editor-in-chief of the National Business Review, alluding to Indian Newslink coverage of Fiji (September 1) emphatically said that Fiji would not be the first country to function well without a democratically elected government and called for patience. It seems the tide is gradually turning in Fiji’s favour.
New Zealand and Australia can ignore these signs but at their own peril. -- Based on a story in www.pacmediawatch.aut.ac.nz
* Rajendra Prasad is an Indian Newslink columnist and author of Tears in Paradise. He lives in Auckland. Email: email@example.com
Thanks Coupfourpointfive for this.
For NZ readers, the interview may be heard again on Maori TV at 10pm Friday.
Tuesday, September 15, 2009
Attached is the text of the speech I gave at the Australia-Fiji Business Council in Sydney yesterday. The gathering was well-attended by business and government representatives from Australia and Fiji. My speech was preceded by one from a representative of Canberra's Department of Foreign Affairs who said it was "a myth" that Canberra wasn't involved in dialogue with the government of Fiji. I believe my speech proves the opposite to be the case.
Vinaka vaka levu,
Address to Australia-Fiji Business Council Conference,Intercontinental Hotel, Macquarie St, Sydney14th September, 2009
The Folly of Canberra’s Stand Against Fiji
I’m not sure how many of you here have spent time behind the bars of a prison cell. It’s okay, I’m not asking for a show of hands. I went to prison in Fiji once. Apart from the swarms of mosquitoes in my tiny cell day and night, the uncertainty of it all was the most unpleasant aspect; but then I was only in there for four nights. I tell you that because I’m well aware of the downsides of the arbitrary nature of life under a military government. In my case it was so arbitrary under Rabuka’s military government that I’ve yet to be told why I was imprisoned and I’m left to presume it was something to do with the good progress the Governor-General and I were achieving at the time in returning Fiji to representative democracy.
This awareness of the downside is one of the reasons why, twenty years later, I’m dedicated to constructively assisting Fiji in the way forward to parliamentary democracy. In doing so, I fully recognise there are fundamental changes to be made in Fiji if we’re to see an effective break, once and for all, from the conditions that have fostered Fiji’s ‘coup culture’.
I think it’s also very important for us to recognise there is a major difference between Fiji’s military government of 1987 and that which holds power today. In 1987 the army was taken over by a leadership that was hand-in-glove with the Taukei Movement, an ethno-nationalist grouping of Fijians who employed civil insurrection and terrorism to destabilise the country and get their way. The military government in power today is the avowed enemy of the agenda spawned by the Taukei Movement. Since 1987, that ethno-nationalist agenda has flourished off and on, with such rank high points as the unforgettable 2000 invasion of Fiji’s Parliament, during which government members were held hostage for 56 days, and the subsequent army mutinies in Samabula and Labasa in which the law courts demonstrated some of Fiji’s highest-ranking traditional chiefs were complicit. The last flourish of that agenda was the promotion of the volatile ethno-nationalist legislation that led to the 2006 coup.
I’d be pleased to talk in detail with any of you about the causes of and solutions to Fiji’s current difficulties and will be happy to take questions at the end of my address today on any aspect of them, but the focus of my address today is not on the complexities of Fiji’s domestic politics; it is on Canberra’s policy towards Fiji. I intend to demonstrate that the policy is wrong and is damaging both the business community and Fiji’s economy.
Before I do, I want make it clear where I’m coming from in what I have to say to you this morning. I’m a fifth generation Fiji Islander, who since the events of 1987 has become both a New Zealand and Australian citizen. As a result of the recent decree in Fiji allowing dual citizenship, I’m in the process of applying for the reinstatement of my birthright, that is my citizenship of Fiji. As such, I aspire to being a good citizen of the South Pacific region and speak out today as such. And it is my belief in the integrity of our region that fires much of what I have to say to you today.
Canberra’s Fiji policy is wrong. In the prosecution of this policy we are witness to a transitory generation of politicians, diplomats and bureaucrats rapidly undoing all the good that a century and a half of Australia-Fiji cooperation has previously achieved. I wonder if this generation even knows or cares that it was Australian capital and management that developed Fiji’s industries of sugar, gold, tourism, coconut oil, garments and light manufacturing; that it was Australians who developed much of Fiji’s physical infrastructure, its media, its prevailing church, its banks, and its civil aviation.
Canberra’s Fiji policy is most definitely having a major impact. But before anyone thinks I’m giving Prime Minister Rudd and Canberra’s department of foreign affairs a tick for that, hear me further. It is spiteful policy, conceived in a mood of punishment and sustained by a sense of pique. It is damaging not just to Fiji’s business world, its national economy and the livelihoods of its long-suffering people, it is damaging to the very fabric of the South Pacific region.
One of the most cutting elements of Canberra’s Fiji policy is its ongoing campaign in New York to choke off Fiji’s role as an international peacekeeper. I’m including Wellington in this rebuke, for Canberra has a strong ally in former Prime Minister Helen Clark, now a senior UN official, and in the Wellington inheritors of her Fiji policy.
Last week, The Australian newspaper reported the words of a DFAT spokesman from Canberra proudly letting us know that they’d just made fresh attempts at senior levels of the United Nations to order a progressive replacement of Fijian troops in peace-keeping operations around the world.
What a bitter betrayal that campaign represents for Fijians! When our countries were being invaded from the north less than seventy years ago, Fijians volunteered in their thousands to fight and die in our defence. My father was adjutant of the Fiji battalion doing just that in the jungles of Bougainville in 1942 and was there the day Corporal Sukanaivalu was killed by the Japanese imperial forces in circumstances that earned him the Victoria Cross. After this ongoing betrayal in New York by Canberra and Wellington, you have to ask the question, whose side will the Fijians fight on if we’re attacked from the north again?
Already we see that with defence training denied them in Australia and New Zealand, the next generation of Fiji officers are being trained in Malaysia, India and China. In this Australia is squandering a precious asset – the individual goodwill that exists between military officers who’ve shared intense training experience, and the resulting personal and professional links that exist in the years ahead. By way of example, I’m advised by those involved that such links have served Australia well in its links with Indonesia.
Fiji’s peace-keeping role in the world stands proud. Since President Jimmy Carter’s days when the world needed a multi-national force out in the inhospitable Sinai desert to maintain a peaceful border between Egypt and Israel, a battalion of Fijian peace-keepers has been stationed there. Likewise on Israel’s northern border where a Fijian battalion has served in the UNIFIL force for the last thirty years. Wherever peacekeepers have been required in recent times from Timor to Iraq, from Honiara to Kabul, Fijians have been there putting their lives on the line in the service of international peace.
For their world-wide work as peace-keepers, Fijians should have our undying gratitude. Instead we are witness to this campaign of sanctimonious betrayal by Canberra and Wellington. Why is this important to my address today? Because remittances by Fijians performing these overseas peace-keeping roles are vital to Fiji’s economy; foreign remittances represent the third biggest source of export earnings for Fiji. So this is the first way that Canberra’s policy is damaging the economy of Fiji.
The second way Canberra is grinding the Fiji economy down, is by its so-called ‘smart’ sanctions. In Fiji it is the ‘travel ban” component of these sanctions that is the most widely known element of Australia and New Zealand’s punishment programme. Basically the application of the travel bans is that visas to visit Australia and New Zealand are denied to anyone who accepts a post in the governance of Fiji or is in anyway related to the Fiji military. The bans are applied not just to the individuals concerned, their children and wider members of their family are made to suffer as well.
Everyone in Fiji has a story to tell about the inconsistencies of these travel bans and their application in the most trivial and hurtful ways affecting medical treatment, education, family reunions and business meetings. Yes, they are bad for business and they are without doubt very damaging to Australia’s image as a caring neighbour.
In my preparations for this address, I canvassed opinion from around our South Pacific region by contacting a targeted list of prominent citizens. As a result it was made very clear to me that there are great numbers of good people in Fiji, apolitical people, who would like to be of public service but who cannot because of these travel bans. To say otherwise is a nonsense – there are people in this room who fall into this category and can attest to what I’m saying. To accept roles in public service would be to cut themselves off from friends, family and business ties in Australia and New Zealand. We’re talking here about responsible, well-qualified citizens being constrained from serving on public bodies that work to prevent such things as passenger planes flying into the sides of mountains, or ministries responsible for the health of little children, or developing agriculture and infrastructure, or from keeping convicted criminals in gaol.
I’ve been given evidence of cases where senior management positions of public bodies in Fiji, previously filled by competent locals, have had to be filled by expensive expatriates, for the same set of reasons. Likewise I’ve been presented with figures showing nearly 60% of government ministries have military personnel in senior positions as a result. I’ve been sent many instances of the lowering of the skill base in Fiji as a consequence of these bans. Inevitably, the flow-on effects of these travel bans are withering away public good-will towards Australia and New Zealand in Fiji. And it should be understood, that as with all such sanctions, the real victims are those at the lower end of the economy, where weaker governance inevitably means greater impairment of service delivery.
Since 2006, Canberra seems to have aimed at a short-term coercive outcome from its Fiji policy. It seems to think that by eroding the regime’s ability to govern, it’ll force it to capitulate. But Fiji still has a government and, however imperfectly it may be doing so, it is governing and will do so for the foreseeable future. And when you get down to it, how can Canberra complain about poor governance in Fiji when it’s doing all it can to bring such conditions about.
From a business perspective, we should be very aware that these so-called smart sanctions are schooling Fiji on how to acquire goods and services from alternate sources to Australia and New Zealand. Necessity is the mother of invention and once new habits and new business links are formed, they will become the norm. This is the second way Canberra is damaging Fiji’s economy and is being bad for business. So let us recognise here and now that these sanctions are essentially failed policy and should be dropped before further damage is done to the long-term fundament of Fiji and Australia’s relationship.
The third way is Canberra’s demonising and white-anting of Fiji in the multilateral organisations of the world. Australia and New Zealand orchestrated Fiji’s eviction from the Pacific Forum and The Commonwealth and are working against Fiji’s interests at the UN. Any country that truly cares for its neighbour’s well-being recognises that when hard times have hit your neighbour you do what you can to help them out in the fields of international assistance. But you name it, the Asian Development Bank, the World Bank, you can be sure there are representatives from Canberra and Wellington doing what they can to block Fiji’s access to resources.
Under the framework recently announced by the government of Fiji setting out the national steps to be taken between now and 2014, the next two years are dedicated to infrastructure development, particularly aimed at bringing productivity to long-under-serviced parts of the country. From a business perspective this could provide excellent opportunities for Australian contractors in Fiji, but that is unlikely under Canberra’s blocking policy. To get these infrastructure projects funded, Fiji is already in the act of going north, and that will involve tied contracts for sure.
The fourth way is the decision made by Canberra and Wellington at Cairns to exclude Fiji from the negotiations for PACER Plus, the regional trade agreement that will supposedly shore up the future of the South Pacific’s regional trading probity. From the Pacific Islands perspective, Fiji is pivotal to these negotiations as the dominant island economy outside of PNG, and as the hub of trade, shipping, civil aviation and regional organisations in the South Pacific. The legal document underlying these negotiations is the Pacific Agreement on Closer Economic Relations, and it appears that Australia and the other state parties are in breach of their obligations under the agreement by summarily excluding Fiji.
Legal provisions aside, Fiji’s exclusion is quite obviously undermining the integrity of the negotiations, causing deep-felt resentments within the region and inevitably is going to be bad for regional business. The foreign ministers of the Melanesian countries have recently countermanded the Pacific Forum by calling for Fiji’s inclusion on the PACER Plus negotiations, raising the spectre of regional fragmentation.
In considering regional integrity it is important to note here that though the EU and US have traditionally been guided by Australia and New Zealand in South Pacific policy, that reliance is beginning to show signs of cracks. In the case of Washington, Beijing’s progress and Canberra’s retreat in the Pacific Islands, must be causing deep concern amongst US Pacific policy-makers. In the case of Brussels, while Fiji is excluded from the PACER Plus talks, Fiji is included in the EU/ACP Cotonou Agreement trade talks.
The fifth way is the effect Canberra’s policy is having on Australian private investment in Fiji. As a foreign investor, who would have the gumption to invest in a country that your own government is so intent on choking off and isolating? As someone who has spent the majority of his adult life promoting and facilitating foreign investment in Fiji, I see this aspect of Canberra’s punishment policy as a tragic setback for our bilateral trade and investment ties, and put it to this Council that this failing alone is ample reason for a call to action.
At this juncture in my address I could have added Canberra’s alarmist travel advisories as a further attack on Fiji’s economy, but thankfully Australian tourists know better. They have voted with their feet and have not been advised out of taking their holidays at their favourite Fiji resorts.
In all these ways Canberra’s policy is pushing Fiji away from its traditional South Pacific ties into the orbit of the less judgemental Asian giants. The combination of weakening standards of governance in the Pacific Islands, with the rapacious resource demands of Asian commerce, and the drift towards Chinese dominance of the Pacific theatre, is one that Canberra’s Fiji policy does nothing but foster.
The first obligation of the government of Fiji is to make sure its people have food to eat. The second is to protect the people of Fiji from violence, be it by way of insurrection, rampant crime or foreign intervention. These obligations are fundamental and rate well ahead of political discussion. Fiji is in dire economic straits, and it needs funding to meet these obligations. If Australia and New Zealand are intent on cutting Fiji off from its traditional sources of financial assistance, what choice does the government of Fiji have but to go to less-judgemental sources of finance?
Where is the diplomacy and dialogue needed to create other choices? Initially I was pleased to read Foreign Minister McCully's post-Commonwealth-eviction statement calling for patience on Fiji's position. However he soon undid any good when further in the statement he said that other countries should not attempt to help Fiji in the splendid absence of Australia and New Zealand. Does he not see how incredibly chauvinist and damaging such a statement is, even if it is completely lacking in credibility in terms of realpolitik?
Take a good look at Fiji and you’ll see the contraction of the private sector, declining business conditions, and the steady replacement of Australian and New Zealand interests by Asian initiatives. I am not saying that Wellington and Canberra have brought these bad times on Fiji, far from it. That dubious honour falls to Fiji's domestic politics and of course on the global economic crisis. But I am 100% saying that Canberra and Wellington's Fiji policy is exacerbating the misery, deepening it, and working towards doleful bilateral economic conditions that will be harder and harder to turn around with each month that passes.
If you think the Asian giants are heeding the hands-off warning from Canberra, have a look at where Fiji’s new investments are coming from. See whose ambassadors are in and out of the Fiji prime minister’s office on a regular basis, while the Australian high commissioner sits on his hands in Suva under orders from Canberra since 2006 never once to meet with the Fiji prime minister. Go and see who is taking the place of long-standing Australian, New Zealand and local Fiji businesses in the streets of Suva. Whether they know it or not, by default Canberra and Wellington are shopping Fiji to Asia.
Maybe they think that’s just the way it has to be, maybe they just don’t care that much that they’re losing the neighbourhood, maybe it is indeed floppy fatalism that has allowed their deeply flawed Fiji policy to pass for so long. After all, Australia has bigger fish to fry in Iraq and Afghanistan. Be that as it may, I would say this to you today: don’t let Canberra get away with the sham that this is all no fault of theirs, that they have done no wrong in allowing this neighbourhood fire-sale to take place. I put it to Canberra’s diplomats and politicians: it is on their watch that the neighbourhood is being shopped north.
Under the front-page banner of The Australian newspaper last week was the exhortation “Stand Firm Against Fiji”. I’ll never forget this headline, I’m going to use it in my next book. It sums up so much about the punishment mentality the Australian government and the Australian media have mounted against Fiji. The South Pacific’s David is standing firm against Fiji’s Goliath. Wonderful, I’m sure we can all sleep safer in our beds.
The next day, The Australian ran a story about Amnesty International pressing China on the matter of Fiji. The thrust of the message was about human rights violations in Fiji. In running the story with its focus on repression in Fiji, The Australian quite ignored the intent of the Asian elephant looming over its shoulder. Quoting Amnesty International, the newspaper reported that China has “massively increased its financial assistance to Fiji since the 2006 coup” and that “China has long claimed it doesn’t interfere in another country’s affairs, but in Fiji China has clearly favoured one side of a long political dispute.”
Ever since I was a political prisoner I’ve supported the work of Amnesty International, but I’ve never seen much evidence of Beijing giving human rights precedence over its national interest. I suggest The Australian would do well to turn around and have a look at what that elephant is doing in Fiji and the other South Pacific Islands, for that is the central story of the South Pacific in the twenty-first century, not Canberra’s David and Goliath nonsense.
If you question Canberra and Wellington about the lack of their diplomacy in Fiji and their inability to sustain dialogue with the government of Fiji, they’ll tell you it’s all the fault of Prime Minister Bainimarama. They point to his no-show at the Port Moresby meeting and the way he’s dealt with their emissaries in Fiji. But in making this response they fail to recognise that they too are part of the problem. If you go to Fiji waving a big stick, you can be sure you’ll be met by a Fijian waving an equally big stick. What good is that? If Canberra cries innocence in the face of that accusation, ask them what their punishment policy of sanctions and evicting Fiji is, if it isn’t a big stick?
Talking about diplomacy, or the lack thereof, when I came to Sydney as Fiji consul-general in 1984, it quickly became apparent to me that with all its interest in Asia and America, it was hard to get Australian focus on the Pacific Islands, and in my line of duty, specifically on Fiji.
It was thus that I came up with the idea of forming a focused gathering of Australian business representatives with interests in Fiji who could lift the profile of our bilateral relationship and foster and protect the established ties between us, namely the Australia-Fiji Business Council. I therefore set about forming this council and saw it officially launched in Sydney in 1986 by Prime Minister Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara.
From the outset, the Australia-Fiji Business Council was a body formed to see us through both good times and bad times, and let’s face it, in the long history of our bilateral relationship, these are very bad times. In such circumstances the Council should be fearless in stating to the respective governments and to the media, the concerns and considered collective views of its membership, for the Council and its partner-council in Suva are the voice of the bilateral business, trade and investment relationship between our two countries.
In this role, the Council could well serve as a circuit breaker to persuade Canberra to change the damaging Fiji policy it has had us locked into for the past three years. Why should the Council endeavour to be the circuit-breaker? Well apart from all the other good reasons, Canberra’s policy is very bad for business and I’ve given you today a number of reasons why that is so.
Most of you know there’s a similar organisation to this Council based in Auckland called the New Zealand-Fiji Business Council. In June this year in Auckland, I addressed the joint conference of the New Zealand-Fiji Business Council and its sister organisation from Suva, and at the end of my address put some resolutions to the conference. They were unanimously adopted by the councils’ membership and were then conveyed to Wellington. The resolutions called for the dropping of all New Zealand government sanctions against Fiji and the resumption of constructive dialogue between the two governments. They also called on the leaders of Fiji’s deposed parliament to enter into mediated negotiations with the government of Fiji.
Subsequent to that conference, in light of the diplomatic vacuum existing between Wellington, Canberra and Suva (in my considered view a vacuum largely created by the southern neighbours' big stick policy), I went to Suva in July and spent an hour and a half in one-on-one discussions with Prime Minister Bainimarama. A good part of our meeting was spent in pursuance of the NZFBC resolutions and I was given a fair hearing, I suppose in deference to my having headed up the secretariat in 1987 that lead to the national unity government agreed to by the Deuba Accords.
In the end, I failed in my attempt to persuade him that such negotiations were the best path back to full international cooperation. Prime Minister Bainimarama made it crystal clear his government would do nothing to assist the resurrection of the careers of the politicians who'd misled Fijians with the racist agenda of ethno-nationalism. He also said they would not allow the country to be “bribed” into early elections, by offers of large sums of conditional international aid, before the necessary national changes had been put in place. He did make it very clear that his door was always open to Australia and New Zealand, and he was resolute that some form of national dialogue credible in the eyes of the international community would take place on the road to parliamentary democracy in accordance with the government's announced framework.
I now place before the Australia-Fiji Business Council the same challenge that I put in Auckland. I do so in recognition that this Council is the most important Australian pressure group when it comes to a non-governmental voice on Australia-Fiji relations. My proposal is that the Australia-Fiji Business Council calls upon the Australian government to accept that change is required to its Fiji policy, that it should drop all sanctions against Fiji, desist from working against the Fiji government internationally, and commence immediate dialogue with the Fiji government with the aim of shoring up the Fiji economy and assisting Fiji to true democracy as soon as prudently possible.
Let us agree that the time has come for Canberra to put away the big stick and all the pre-conditions, and just start talking over the back-fence again. We’ve exhausted the stand-off feuding, the time has come for diplomacy and dialogue. I call on the Council to make this approach the core element of its message to the Australian government, and to the Australian media, and to sustain the message until the offending policy is changed.
Some of you sitting here might be thinking to yourselves, this bloke has completely missed the point: the good guys are in Canberra and their policy is only about defending democracy in Fiji. Let me say this very clearly in response. I haven’t met anyone in the three months I’ve been working on changing Canberra’s Fiji policy, who is not a democrat and who does not wish Fiji to be a true and stable democracy in our South Pacific region as soon as prudently possible.
But we must recognise that Fiji has a complex political heritage and that time is needed to carry out a comprehensive national dialogue that will result in a better practice of democracy in Fiji in the years ahead. Well-intentioned as it might be, Canberra’s insistence on an immediate return to democracy is in effect a call for a return to the Fiji of old, where politicians were elected on the basis of racial rolls, ethno-nationalism was rampant, corruption was rife, and “coup culture’ was ingrained.
In the end we’re left wondering what outcomes Canberra’s policy is realistically seeking. Is it to damage the Fiji regime to such an extent that it will coerce change? If this so, how does it envisage change, in other words what will the outcomes be of this punishment policy? Good business outcomes generally equate to good business policy. Currently we are getting bad business outcome and we need to turn that around by getting better policy with longer term perspective on engagement, regional development and security. One of the many outcomes we do not want is for Fiji to become a broken client state along the lines of a few other territories within our region.
The choices are stark. Back the “Democracy or Dust” punishment view of Fiji prevailing in Canberra and Wellington and you’re on the negative side. Take a fresh view of the situation and you will see a way in which doors are opened, sanctions and evictions are put behind us, and rational people of different opinions begin talking with each other to negotiate a true way forward. Take that way and you’ll be on the positive side; you’ll be standing firm with Fiji, rather than against her.
I want to leave you with one lasting thought from my address today. This is that the time has come for Canberra and Wellington to change their “Democracy or Dust” policy on Fiji, to a rightful one of “Diplomacy and Dialogue”. There was a time when we called that the Pacific Way. If they make that change soon enough, maybe then, through the power of our family and friendship bonds, academic links, sporting interaction, church relationships, tourism flows, cross-border investments and business ties, we the people can then do the necessary to revive what’s left of the neighbourhood.