Sunday, January 31, 2010

(o) Negativity is Treason: Blog Misunderstands or Deliberately Distorts New Crime Decrees

Cartoon: Goofy Green Monster with Spots, Six Legs and One Eye. Clip Art.

The story  posted by the anti-government blogger Coupfourpointfive under the heading "Any Negativity Against Regime Treated as Treason" is factually incorrect and, one must assume, deliberately misleading. I consider this the most blatantly biased, damaging -- but most easily refutable -- release so far by Coup4.5. Their general credibility is now in serious doubt.

If the mainstream print and radio media report this blog story without first checking the facts against Fiji's old and new laws, they are a party to the blogger's action, whether intended or not. Sloppy journalism becomes a weapon in politically delicate situations.

Coup 4.5 reports that "  one part of the decree limits what the Fiji media can report on a criminal case."   The inference is that this is a new provision, limiting freedom of the press. This is not so.The provision of the Criminal Procedure Decree prohibits reporting on criminal cases "until the conclusion of the trial" (section 201). It applies only to offences to be tried before the High Court such as rape and murder. And the provision  is identical to section 236 of the repealed Criminal Procedure Code that has been Fiji law since about 1948.

The blog then states: "  Under subsection 65 Part 2 individuals and NGO's criticising Frank Bainimarama's regime are deemed to have committed treason and this is punishable by life imprisonment."

In fact, section 65 of the new Decree is section 65 of the old Penal Code, which defined a seditious (sic!)  intention as an intention, inter alia, to promote feelings of ill-will and hostility between different classes of the population of Fiji.  Section 66 of the old Penal Code created the offence inter alia of "printing, publishing, selling, offering for sale, distributing, or reproducing any seditious publication" which offence was punishable with two years imprisonment and/or a fine of $200 on a first offence and three years on a subsequent conviction.

So the offence in the Decree is not new and arguably blogsites which promote feelings of ill-will and hostility between classes of the population have already been guilty of the old section 66! Only the name and the penalty has changed. The offence is now called "inciting communal antagonism" and the maximum penalty is now 10 years imprisonment. The offence is not called treason.

Treason is a separate offence under section 64 and it re-enacts the old common law definition of treason (as used in the trials of Timoci Silatolu and George Speight). It includes acts of killing the President or the Prime Minister or causing them harm and also includes levying war against Fiji. In fact the new definition adds nothing to the common law definition of treason, nor does it dilute it.

Last year's Abrogation of the 1997 Constitution made it necessary to replace laws existing under the Constitution.  For the most part, the decrees that replace them replicate, clarify and update the old laws. No new "draconian" sections have been added.

Readers wishing to read the new Crime Decree and Criminal Procedure Decree may click on these links to Mediafire, and download them from there.

The Media Decree is still being drafted so responsible comment is not yet possible. 

Anonymous comments on all posts must include pseudonyms, either in place of Anonymous or as part of the comment. This helps discussion.

Insider's View from the Outside

New Weekly Feature. 
Insider's View from the Outside will be published every Sunday at 9:00am NZ time for the next several weeks.

Nesian is a pseudonym for a moderate, Fiji-born, part-Fijian, Hindi-speaking, sky-blue passport-carrying, former Fiji-resident.  Insider's View From the Outside is the result of years spent thinking about all that has happened since the 2000 coup.    
Photo: Earth from Space.

The Forces Coalesce

This post is predominantly about post-1999 Fiji. It is my attempt to understand why the 2000 coup took place and how, years later, Fiji is still feeling the effects of that event. Some readers will argue that we will need to go back to May 14, 1987 for the source of the country’s coup culture. I won’t dispute that but I was just a kid when Sitiveni Rabuka overthrew the Bavadra Government. I wasn’t even on the mainland and was thus mostly immune to its effects.

But I was very aware of events in Fiji leading up to and since the introduction of the 1997 Constitution:

  • The contrast in campaign styles of Rabuka’s SVT/NFP/GVP coalition and Mahendra Chaudhry’s for the 1999 general election. Rabuka and Jai Ram Reddy tended to focus on the 1997 Constitution and how it was going to create a multi-cultural nirvana and be a beacon of hope to the rest of the world.
    Chaudhry astutely focused his attention on reducing the cost of living, improving infrastructure, cutting tax – bread-and-butter issues that occupied the thoughts of most people.
    It wasn’t as if Rabuka and co did not also make similar promises. It was just that theirs were overshadowed by the lofty opportunities the new Constitution would present and that is what the media latched on to;
  • The effect the preferential voting system had on the results. Prior to the ‘99 elections, Fiji had utilised a ”first past the post” system, ie: the person with the most votes won.
    Victory under the new system was yours only if you had 50 per cent + 1 votes. It was complicated system that confused most voters. Successful candidates would not know their fate until several rounds of laborious manual counting.
    Again FLP saw an opportunity where its main opponents did not: It swapped preferences with every other party except the SVT, National Federation Party and General Voters.
    The fact that there was also a comparative glut of Fijian parties did the SVT no favours. This effectively rendered the Fijian vote ineffective because it broke it into so many fragments;
  • The behind-the-scenes machinations by ministers in the outgoing Soqosoqo ni Vakavulewa ni Taukei for Chaudhry’s removal. The seeds were sown during their farewell morning tea. One of these ministers (because there were several) allegedly said: “We can’t let this bastard rule for a year. We have to get him out before then. If he stays longer than that, we won’t be able to get rid of him”;
  • Once Chaudhry took power, his arrogance and disrespect for everyone in general and Fijians in particular, came to the fore.
    While Adi Kuini Speed and the rest of the Fijian Association Party were waiting for him on the outskirts of Suva to discuss the make-up of the new Cabinet, Chaudhry was at Government House being sworn in as Prime Minister.
    What riled Fijians most was that a chief of Adi Kuini’s stature had suffered the indignity of finding out what was happening over the radio.
    Yes, Chaudhry did reduce the cost of living but the public was easily distracted by his actions.
    Perhaps he forgot about the power of television. Every condescending smirk in response to even perfectly reasonable questions was duly recorded and broadcast on the 6pm news;
  • Neither were Fijians impressed by the pedestal on which he was being placed as Prime Minister. On a visit to a Fijian village soon after he was appointed PM, Chaudhry had been transported off a boat on the shoulders of Fijian warriors so he wouldn’t wet his feet. This is veneration normally reserved for chiefs, ”not for commoners and certainly not for an Indian”;
  • Failed politicians from the National Federation Party who attempted to sow seeds of racial disharmony by paying former (Fijian) criminals to burn down Indian schools. One of them owned a shop on Grantham Road;
  • How Chaudhry’s tax crackdown risked netting well-known businessmen who owed millions of dollars in business taxes dating back 30 years. The name of one of these businessmen has cropped up a few times, once for allegedly providing funds to bribe senior army officer and 2000 coup opponent Viliame Seruvakula;
  • Jostling for position and prominence between chiefly families. On the one hand, the Cakobaus whose forebear was the self-styled Tui Viti who ceded Fiji to Great Britain. In the other corner, the Maras, who began to dominate Fiji’s affairs post-independence.
    It went even further, rearing its head in the form of rivalry between the old boys’ networks of Ratu Kadavulevu and Queen Victoria schools versus that of Marist Brothers High School that the male descendants of Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara attended.
    The flames were further fanned when Ratu Mara’s daughter Adi Koila Nailatikau joined Chaudhry’s government;
  • The involvement of criminal businessmen like Iliesa Duvuloco who saw financial benefits;
  • Finally, members of the elite Counter Revolutionary Warfare unit who carried out the coup. How could a clique of well-educated and intelligent young men be so brainwashed and turned into puppets for such a illegal, dangerous and devastating episode in Fiji’s history?
Except this play was all too real.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Lockington's Everyday Fiji ... Life Goes On

Allen Lockington is a self-employed customs agent and business consultant who has regular articles published in Connect.  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.

 Laidback Lifestyle

A friend of mine spent some time recently in the Lau group and was amused by the fact that women were always busy preparing meals, cleaning clothes, etc while men were enjoying a much more relaxed lifestyle which doesn’t need to be described. A group of young lasses not even 10 years old sent to the bushes by their parents to collect coconuts told him that “men have lazy bones” which apparently suggest that even the young ones understand very quickly the rules of life.

In a recent article (Fiji Times 20 January) about the rocket stove, we read things “Women can easily do whatever other household chores they may have and men are now assisting the women with their cooking because the stove is very easy to use”. It seems that the traditional culture is the best way to ensure that women will migrate to the city (no wonder there is such an imbalance between young men and women in the countryside) and the failure of the leaders of those communities to adapt to modernity will assure the short and irremediable death of the maritime province in a near future.

Friday, January 29, 2010

(o+) Appeal to My Cousins Across the Ditch

 The Australian government seems to have taken no notice of Prof. Herr's report, repeating the old line: no relaxation of sanctions until there's signs of progress towards a "return to democracy and the rule of law."  But there are many things happening to improve governance long-term, and the lot of the ordinary Fijian short and long-term.

My Appeal to Australia (and NZ)

Leaving aside the "return to" (How could you  possibly believe the Qarase government was democratically elected or acted in ways that democratically-elected governments should, and usually do), there are "signs of progress": witness the Citizens' Assembly in Suva yesterday and the one in the West next month. Dialogue is going on.  Not as much as you may wish, but dialogue nonetheless.

You could argue that the old parliamentary parties should be included in the dialogue.  This seems reasonable until examined more closely. Qarase's SDL (and its links with the Speight Coup perpetrators) are in large part responsible for the situation in Fiji today. Qarase has also said his SDL party opposes the People's Charter. It's difficult for Bainimarama to include people in dialogue when they refuse to even consider the merits of the Charter. Bainimarama will not negotiate with Qarase and the SDL. He thinks them spent forces, irrelevant to Fiji's future.

For Bainimarama, the Charter is the bedrock on which the future Constitution will be built, and  elections in 2014 will be conducted according to the  new Constitution.

Qarase (if you truly love Fiji), and Australia and New Zealand (if you are truly Fiji's friends), examine the Charter. Spell out what you disagree with, and what you can work with. Acknowledge that the Citizens' Assemblies are "progress." Acknowledge also that the Bainimarama government is doing many things for the ordinary Fiji citizen that should have been done years ago.

I know you, Australia,  are not deliberately trying to  cripple Fiji, its governance and economy. But your rigid stance is making things worse. Your  so-called "smart sanctions" are hurting the ordinary Fijians you say you are trying not to hurt.  I'm told there's an influx of ordinary Fiji citizens into Australia. I suspect this is as much, or more, due to economic than political factors.

Things are moving in Fiji, slowly, erratically and not always as you may wish. Often Fiji government spokesmen are their own worse enemy. It's often a case of two steps forward, one step back.  But Bainimarama, at least, is genuine.

Applaud the good things his government is doing.  Offer technical and other support to help him achieve his stated goals. Stop pushing him into a corner. Ease back on the isolation. And hurry. The longer this takes, the greater the dangers.  Help to keep him on track. He's far more likely to heed a friend than an enemy. Offer  all the help you can to promote truly democratic change in Fiji.

Heed the advice of many: Richard Herr, Peter Thomson, Scott MacWilliam, your fellow Australians, and in Fiji that veteran stalwart of "true" democracy, the Rev. Akuila Yabaki. All of them want more flexibility in your policies. None of them like coups but all of them want positive outcomes from a coup that has already happened.

The only clock you can turn back by your inflexible policy is a return to the far-from-democratic and racist government of Qarase -- and none of the deep-rooted problems which caused the 2006 Coup would have been resolved. Back to square one and -- counting -- and over three years lost.  You (and my own government)  cannot want this!

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Pacific unity threatened by impasse over Fiji | The Australian

Pacific unity threatened by impasse over Fiji | The Australian

If you wish to comment anonymously, you MUST sign off with a pseudonym of your choice (within your comment)  before clicking Anonymous. This will help discussion.
WARNING. Personal and rude comments will be deleted.Attack the argument and not the man. Please help me to maintain the high quality of comments.

(o) Special Report by Australian Richard Herr

Time for a fresh approach Australia and Fiji relations post-abrogation
by Richard Herr
This is a link to the full report.

The abrogation of Fiji’s 1997 Constitution on Good Friday 2009 has profoundly altered the views of most observers on the restoration of parliamentary democracy in Fiji. The government of Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama has publicly charted a new course involving constitutional change and no elections before 2014. As much as critics may doubt that the new roadmap announced by Bainimarama in July 2009 will be followed, the government insists its timetable is non-negotiable.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Brigadier Driti, New Zealand and Other Stories

(-)Testing, Testing, Testing ...I doubt Brig. Pita Driti is the Fiji Government but if his latest repeat of earlier comments are any indication,  it appears he does not want New Zealand to accept the nomination of LtCol Neumi Leweni as Fiji's counsellor in Wellington.

His "The Fiji government is testing the NZ government on whether it is genuine in having dialogue and assisting Fiji" can only be seen in Wellington as brinksmanship.

Prime Mininster Bainimarama: Government needs to speak with one voice. Too much is at stake! We already have enough people in NZ working against Leweni's appointment. They don't need Driti's support.

(+) School Leaders Must Perform. The Education Ministry will replace head teachers and heads of departments whose schools have consistently underperformed over the last three years. Education Minister Filipe Bole School says he will be personally lead a team of officials to visit these underperforming schools, saying many school heads have become too comfortable in their current appointment, which has allowed complacency to settle in. He said a jolting exercise was required.

(o) Rice Farmers in Bua Province in Vanua Levu
 say their crops are thriving thanks to a new variety of rice provided by the Ministry of Agriculture that takes only 12 weeks to mature. Villager Peni Matakasi, whose increased yields have enabled him to buy a tractor and harvester, says 18 other villagers are also planting rice, and they hope soon to form a village co-operative. The rice is sold to Rewa Rice Ltd.

(o) PM's Kadavu Tour Continues. PM Bainimarama called on the people of Kadavu and Fiji to support his government’s reform process, and accepted a tabua (whale's tooth), as a traditional apology from the Sainima tikina who had earlier opposed his leadership. The PM told villagers to send away those who visit their villages and make complaints against the work of government. He asked the people to try to help themselves and government will do its part.

Snippets: Customs, Land, Lawyer, Judiciary, Rabuka, Kadavu, Media and Crime Decrees, Commonwealth Games, Rugby Coach, Blood

 (+) Customs Co-operation. One area where Australia and New Zealand should co-operate with Fiji is with customs control. But Fiji's Acting Revenue and Customs Board Chairman  LtCol Pio Tikoduadua  says this is not the case.
     Tikoduadua said the Oceania Customs Organization has 23 members and as part of this Organisation, Australia and New Zealand should be more open as Fiji's stringent border control measures will also be beneficial to them.

(o) Idle Land. The Native Land Trust Board has revealed that over 3,000 land leases, given to grow sugar are now lying idle. According to the blog FijiToday this represents about 180,000 hectares.

NLTB General Manager the Alipate Qetaki says the sugar industry's failure to obtain the 4 million tons of cane required by the sugar mills is not due to lack of acess to land. Many leasees are old people unable to look after the land which now serves as their residence only. Qetaki says that to resolve the problem, all stakeholders such as Fiji Sugar Corporation, NLTB and Government must work together.
     [One might add that many leasees, who migh otherwise work the land,  feel their leases and their future in Fiji are insecure. Many have already left the country. Government is working on ways to increase leasee security and get more lease money to the mataqali owners ofland, and less to the chiefs and the NLTB. This is part of the Roadmap.]

(+) Lawyer Struck from Roll  Suva lawyer Abhay Singh has been disbarred from the legal profession and ordered to pay $1,000 fine. He was charged with breaching the Legal Practitioners Decree – through professional misconduct, following complaints from the public. One of the charges was that he pressured a client to transfer a parcel of land to him in payment of the balance of fees. Another was that he acted for multiple parties in a sale and purchase agreement for a land - in return for the transfer of a taxi permit to the land vendor. Ending such practices by some members of the legal profession is part of the Roadmap.

(o-) The Cancellation of Sitiveni Rabuka’s Pension Some years ago this may have been justifiable. Rabuka started the "coup culture" in his 1987 Coup, and although his record has left some questions about his sincerity (there were rumours of his involvement in and immediately after the Speight Coup in 2000), his overall record as PM up to 1999 and his offers to assist the Bainimarama Government have been reconciliatory and, at least on the surface, helpful.
     I presume Government has heard rumours that Rabuka has made anti-Government statements in public and this could be the reason his persion was cancelled. Whether true or false, and whatever the rights or wrongs of this particular case, I think the pension cancellation sends the wrong message. Government needs to be seen as conciliatory and moving towards dialogue across the political divide. If the public think the action unfair, it will be seen as petty and vindictive. 

(+) Chiefs on the island of Kadavu have expressed support for Government and asked Bainimarama to carry on beyond 2014 if necessary.The chiefs told the PM the whole of Kadavu supports his leadership as they have witnessed first hand developments they have never seen in the past 40 to 50 years.

(-) Media organization Pacific Freedom Forum has said the Media Decree discussions will be "meaningless" if the Fiji Times and Fiji Television are not represented. I found their argument unpersuasive and and unneceesily provocative, but I agree the mainstream media should be represented. The more Government moves are seen as inclusive, the more support it will win, in Fiji and overseas -- and inclusiveness means inclusion of all all major viewpoints. If only those who totally agree with Government are included, it is talking to itself!
     See also RNZI news in which Bainimarama says irresponsible journalism over many years "promoting certain political ideologies and philosophies [has] contributed to the nation’s social and political unrest [causing] disunity and upheaval."

(o) High hopes of Fiji Competing in Commonwealth Games
This is one area where Australia and New Zealand could ask the Commonwealth to think again. Fiji's exclusion only adds to all the other exclusions, and this one only hurts sports men and women.

(+) New Crime Decree Will Assist Fight against Sexual Abuse

(o-) The Truly Pro-Democracy NGO Citizen's Constitutional Forum has released a statement calling on Government to ensure a truly independent judiciary amid concerns this has not alway been so. This blog supports them not just because a judiciary should be independent but because Government must, increasingly, be seen to "do the right thing." It has more to lose than gain by not doing so.

(o) Rugby Coach Sale Sorovaki, well known in Manawatu rugby circles, would like to return to NZ to finish his coaching certificate. but there are problems ...

Fiji Appeals for Blood. Local readers please help. Click heading to view details.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

The Link to Croz's Radio Interview
 It was a bit rushed and I missed out on completing my last point but, thanks to Bryan Crump, the interviewer, we covered a lot of ground.

There are two errors.  I should have said Parmesh  Chand, not Paresh Singh. And Bryan spoke of the appointment of High Commissioners. The posts are for Counsellors (a much lower position), and later, hopefully, Deputy Heads of Mission, then Heads.

(-+)The Leweni Nomination, Fiji after 2014, and Fiji's Poor PR.

Having spend 20 minutes on RadioNZ last night arguing a case that the Leweni (Photo FBC) nomination is not provocative, I read that Brig.Gen.Pita Driti says Fiji is "testing" New Zealand's sincerity. This is provocative. If NZ also decides to "test" Fiji's sincerity, the good work of the countries' Foreign Ministers will have come to nothing.

Meanwhile, PM Bainimarama has again said the proposed regional trade agreement PACER Plus, advocated by Australia and New Zealand, will not benefit Fiji. He may be right but this is not the time to say it.

His speech in Kadavu (see previous post) was also not helpful, leaving the impression of the military leaning on any future government not toeing the line. He presumably meant if it departed from the principles of the People's Charter (that few can disagree with, and which will will provide the framework for the new Constitution) but this was not made clear.

Diplomacy is about building bridges, not threatening them when construction has hardly begun. It is also about tact, timing, keeping your eye on the long term goals, and good PR, and being misunderstood only when intended.

I can't see how Fiji can possibly benefit if NZ does not accept LtCol Leweni as Fiji's senior representative in Wellington, good man that he might be.

Driti was right in one thing, though. He said Jone Baledrokadroka's claim on Radio NZ that Leweni was to go to Wellington to "spy childish."

(G) A new Fiji in 2014: Bainimarama

In his clearest statement so far, PM Bainimarama has spelt out what he intends for Fiji's future: Elections will be held in 2014; the country will be run by Government (and not the Great Council of Chiefs or the Methodist Church) and "the Military will always be there to see the path taken by the new government is on the same track."  Sinister as this may seem to some, it is similar to other former colonial countries, such as Indonesia, Philippines and even Singapore, where the path to democracy followed a different route from Western democracies.  Radio Fiji reports:

Fiji’s Prime Minister Commodore Voreqe Bainimarama has told civil servants on the island of Kadavu that only government and no other institution will run the country.

Bainimarama says the Fiji military that took over the country in 2006, was different from the military that took over in 1987 and 2000.

He added that there would be no delay to elections being held in 2014, but the military would ensure the new government keeps to the path they have set.  FBC Reporter Apisalome Coka is in Kadavu with the Prime Minister’s delegation and filed this report:

"Speaking to
civil servants at the Vunisea government station Prime Minister Commodore Bainimarama declared that Government will run the country and no other institution, such as the Methodist Church or the Great Council of Chiefs.

Bainimarama says this is where past governments have failed. The PM urged civil servants to work together. He said the country has a new military in place that is much different from the military that took over in 1987 and 2000.

Bainimarama told civil servants the military council has suggested he bring in four of his colonels as Commissioners* as he wants quick responses to what the people need."

"The Commander has also called on government officials in the province to urge the people to stand by the People’s Charter. He says the People’s Charter is the backbone to the reforms being carried out in the country.

"He also revealed that officials from the World Bank who visited the country last November supported government plans and told him it was the best for Fiji.

"Bainimarama also confirmed there will be no delay in elections scheduled for 2014. He said by 2014 Politicians, church leaders, chiefs, and all those in leadership roles should be ready to continue where his government has brought the country to. But he warned the Military will always be there to see the path taken by the new government is on the same track." For FBC News, I'm Apisalome Coka."

* Regional administration is overseen by commissioners of four "Divisions," Western, Northern, Eastern and Central. The large (478 km2) island of Kadavu, a little smaller than NZ's Lake Taupo, is 80 km2 south of the main island Viti Levu (10,429km2)

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Listen to RadioNZ National this Monday Evening

If you can, tune in to Nights with Bryan Crump on Radio New Zealand National at 9:40pm this Monday. Bryan has asked me for my  opinion on recent Fiji developments. And invite your friends to join you.

Lockington's Everyday Fiji ... Life Goes On

Allen Lockington is a self-employed customs agent and business consultant who has regular articles published in Connect. 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.

Do it for Fiji*
Many times in our lives things do not go right. We lose family members, get sick or our children move away.The price of fuel affects the price of goods and we get angry. But do we stay angry? No, we adjust and our lives carry on.

All the coups affected me and my family. But I have learned to move on, tighten my belt a little more and take the challenges head on. I’m not going to stay angry or brood forever.Those who have wronged me have to live with their sins and the devils that haunt them.

I got a bad deal while I was in government. I was angry for a while but I’ve moved on. I’m a better person now, a little gray but better. The hurt I experienced from that bad deal will be with me for ever, but I try not to let it bother me.

To my friend Mr Zinck, let us move on together, brother. Stretch out your hand and say, “OK what the heck, let’s rebuild our nation.” And Mr Zinck, do it even if it is your enemy who you have to work with. The spilt milk has gone sour. Let’s clean it up.

You know, the biggest achievement a man can do is to make his enemy become his best friend. That will be a heck of an achievement. Do it for Fiji, brother. We need your talent.
                       * Written in January 2008 and no less relevant today.

Friday, January 22, 2010

(o+) Leweni's Nomination: Why NZ Should Accept

Read also the many informative comments on this post. Click on "Comment" at the end of the post. 
To those making comments, another PLEASE. If yo wish to remain anonymous, sign off with a pseudonym and then click on Anonmous.
 There's a background to this story. NZ website Guide2 thought (and many others agreed) Leweni's nomination was "provocative." I replied saying travel bans result in heavy reliance on military in Government. FijiToday, one of the very few reasoned anti-Government blogsites, said there were plenty of competent civilians who could have been nominated. I replied, then Scott MacWilliam sent this very perceptive comment.  If anyone in a position to influence our Government reads this, please pass it on.

Scott: "There are political reasons for NZ accepting the Fiji government's nomination of Lieutenant Colonel Neumi Leweni which also deserve consideration.

The first is that as one of the regime's most senior people, what he conveys to NZ and commits the Bainimarama government to, is most likely to represent the latter's actual position. There is little point in negotiating with a minor official who carries no weight and constantly has to refer back to Fiji for instructions.

The importance of this point was demonstrated recently at Copenhagen when the Chinese government sent a person/people of little substance to deal with US President Obama and other countries' leaders. These Presidents, Prime Ministers and others were continually frustrated when the Chinese official kept leaving negotiations to get instructions from Beijing. If Commodore Bainimarama sends one of the regime's senior people to NZ, it probably means he is serious about negotiating.

Secondly, any opportunity to influence one of the regime's most senior people should be taken. Let Lt Colonel Luweni live in NZ, see directly how much better things could be in Fiji if the process of democratisation is advanced more rapidly. Isolating one of the regime's top people will only feed paranoia and insularity. Show the Lt Col what the NZ government, administration and people have to offer and let the process of osmosis work on his attitudes to NZ. This applies particularly to letting him see first-hand the economic and political virtues of robust democratic processes.

Thirdly, South Pacific people regularly, and quite often justifiably, complain about the behaviour of ANZ governments when it infringes national sovereignty. 'Bullies of the South Pacific' is a commonly used expression. Why start serious negotiations by behaving in a manner which can only encourage this perception."

See also Scott's views on the travel bans on Pacific Scoop.

Meanwhile veteran NZ diplomat Terence O'Brien  thought NZ should "keep its powder dry, no overreaction and quietly if necessary inform the Fijians the appointee is not acceptable to us." For the reasons spelt out, I hope we won't consider it "necessary".

And over the Tasman, former Landforce Commander, Bainimarama critic and ANU scholarship holder Jone Baledrokadroka, was once again sought for his independent opinion on events.

Fiji-Australian Graham Davis emailed me saying: "It's extremely annoying how the NZ and Australian media keep using Jone Baledrokadroka as some kind of independent commentator on Fiji affairs. JB took on Frank at the camp on behalf of the Qarase government and lost. By Frank's account ( in my interview for Sky) he had to intervene to stop his supporters from shooting Baledrokdroka.

He's also closely aligned with one of the key figures of the 2000 coup, the Qaranivalu of Naitasiri, Ratu Inoke Takiveikata. In fact, JB's sister is Ratu Inoke's common law wife. So he's definitely a protagonist  and how he can be regarded as an impartial observer of the Fiji scene within the comfortable confines of the ANU is quite beyond me."

So, for the collective reasons given, I hope my country rises above what some take as provocation, and accepts Leweni's nomination. Similarly, I hope Fiji will accept NZ's nomination, whoever than should be.

Postscript: Congratulations to Fiji-Australian-New Zealander Peter  Thomson on his (yet to be officially announced) appointment as Fiji's representative to the United Nations.  The commendable absence of racism in this kaivalagi appointment just would not have happened under the Qarase regime.

"Troubled Fiji Still a Tourist Paradise"

AAP/Fairfax senior journalist Miles Godfrey recently spent a few days in Fiji courtesy of the airline V Australia and the international luxury hotel chain Sofitel. He reported a huge upturn in tourism and urged his readers to “definitely go to Fiji - it is one of the most interesting, friendly places in the world. But [he wrote] if you do one thing, take a second (sic!) to understand what has happened to this nation over the last three years.” Here, mostly in his words, is his list:

Overthrown of democratically elected Fijian government; scrapped Fiji's constitution in favour of rule by military junta, delayed elections, sacked elected ministers, introduced heavy media censorship and ousted Australian and New Zealand diplomats.

Poverty still blights ordinary Fijians. Tin shacks, third-world living conditions and low wages remain common; an orphanage full of children … one of dozens of orphanages across the islands. Nearby Sofitel help out but it's a sign of the political difficulties that they don't donate cash because it would simply "disappear." And a Sigatoka Valley village where “is quite confronting to see the sheer basic level of living standards.”

A further problem, the CIA accuses Fiji of being a source of child sex trafficking, saying the government has taken no action to remedy the situation. [In fact, the new Crime Decree 2009 specifically addresses this issue.]

Local farmers have struggled to use the land properly for years, often failing to rotate crops or use modern growing techniques, they [“senior tourism workers”] say. There are moves to remedy this, with the introduction of farming schools and within the larger resorts, the employment of quality overseas chefs.

Having pondered these problems [that existed long before the 2006 Coup, and about which the Bainimarama Government is taking steps to address] Godfrey advises readers: “And then get on with having the time of your life.”

Surprising what you can learn in a few seconds. Who said Europeans can sometimes, without even thinking, be so patronising.                         Photo: Fiji Times.

Postscript. For some positive results of tourism, click  here.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

(+) Moves in Fiji-NZ Relations

Government has nominated Permanent Secretary for Information and Military Spokesperson Lt. Col. Neumi Leweni to take up a counsellor's post at the Fiji High Commission in Wellington. The nomination of a military person is seen by one  NZ website as "provocative" but as I commented on their website, Government has had to rely on military people to occupy many top positions precisely because the NZ (and Australian) travel bans have prevented many suitably-qualified civilians from applying. Seen in this light, the "provocation" is of NZ's making. Lift the bans (or at least apply them more flexibly), and Fiji may be in a position to nominate a civilian for the Wellington post.

Amnesty International Aotearoa New Zealand, followed on from Apolosi Bose's AI earlier report, renewed its call for the NZ Government to ensure human rights are included in any dialogue with Fiji. Improved dilomatic relations, they wrote, provide a new "opportunity to raise concerns about the recent intensified crackdown on opponents of the Fijian regime."

We all know that human rights will be restricted in Fiji until the Public Emergency Regulations are lifted (a move Bainimarama says will take place once the new Media Decree is in place) but AI's portrayal of minor events like Imrana Lal's summons as major assaults on civil liberty and the use of phrases like "intensified crackdown" do the organization no credit -- and neither does the employment by Amnesty International of Apolosi, a Fiji national and son of a former politician, who clearly finds it difficult, and most times impossible, to keep his personal views out of his Fiji reports.

Extending Engagement

Extending Engagement*
by Scott MacWilliam

Now that New Zealand has started to recognise the need to change its previous hard-line against the military regime in Fiji, a range of suggestions are being made about the most appropriate policy changes. One move, proposed by Croz Walsh in a recent issue of this blog, is for the removal of travel sanctions which have discouraged some of Fiji’s most talented people from applying for government positions. The reasoning behind this proposal is impeccable, and needs to be taken further with the removal of blanket sanctions on all personnel serving in the current government and administration.

The sanctions only apply to travel to Australia and New Zealand. PM Bainimarama and other senior officers have had no difficulty visiting other countries, including the USA. Sri Lankan legal officers have been able to travel to Fiji via East Asia. In terms of effectiveness as a means of isolating the regime these bans are little more than an inconvenience, but one which marks Australia and New Zealand out as particularly mean-spirited and petty.

There is also a lack of political logic in the travel bans. As has been frequently pointed out, the RFMF is distinct by comparison to other South Pacific countries’ military forces because of its professionalism. Many members of the RFMF have had international training as well as extensive overseas experience, including in peace-keeping duties. The role of this professionalism in maintaining discipline and preventing major splits within the military has so far been important, if easily underestimated.

The RFMF’s senior officers are well aware of international norms regarding the most appropriate role for soldiers in democratic countries. This awareness is evidenced each time PM Bainimarama speaks of the RFMF’s current objective as one of bringing ‘real democracy’ to Fiji. Advocating ‘one vote one value’ as the basis of an electoral system is promoting one such norm, and the regime’s attachment to it is an indicator of their internationalism.

Despite acknowledging the importance of international education and military experience, regime critics have taken the perverse step of urging that travel sanctions be imposed as a punitive measure. Blocking Fijian soldiers from serving in UN peace-keeping forces is also supposedly desirable, even while acknowledging that it is this experience which has contributed to the RFMF’s professionalism. The RFMF should be wise in the ways of the democratic world – but its members should not have the experience of visiting the nearest liberal democratic countries!

With travel bans removed, or at least only applied in a selective manner where particular soldiers and others have engaged in offensive and vicious behaviour, Australian and New Zealand officials could engage more broadly with the regime’s senior personnel. The next generation of officers could be given the benefits of an international education in countries with stronger democratic traditions. PM Bainimarama and his closest advisers could be encouraged to visit Australia and New Zealand to engage personally with critics and empathizers alike. Australian Foreign Minister and former Labor Party operative Stephen Smith could even explain in detail the lengthy and difficult process by which gross malapportionment has been removed from the Australian electoral system!

The ever-present danger is that members of the RFMF will get used to being in power and become entrenched in attitudes that are undemocratic. Typically, the longer militaries are in office, even those which commence with the goal of returning to civilian rule, the more prone these are to considering themselves as a preferable substitute to the seemingly chaotic inefficiencies of elected governments.

Actions which isolate the military regime, even ineffective ones, will only encourage anti-democratic behaviour. Further elevating paranoia and increasing the possibility of internal fragmentation with the potential for civil war is in no one’s best interests.

While it is admirable that governments in Australia and New Zealand have continued some of their aid and development activities in Fiji, it is time to take additional steps which encourage further international experience for the Bainimarama government’s most important personnel. Removing travel sanctions against all government officials would be one such step.

* Lectures on development policy and poverty reduction in the Crawford School at the ANU. Previously taught public administration, governance and comparative politics at the University of the South Pacific, and the University of Papua New Guinea.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

(o) Snippets: Soccer, NZ Sanctions Poll Results, Fiji National University, Parachute Journalism, Civil Servants, Qoliqoli, Crime and FNPF Reforms, Court Cases (Qarase, Dorsami Naidu), NLTB, School Bus Fares, Ethanol

 The starred (*) items are all part of the "Roadmap"

How Fiji Beat NZ at Soccer, and Lost Before the Game
In 2007, FIFA (Fédération Internationale de Football Association) was forced to cancel the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa qualifying match between New Zealand and Fiji, following the New Zealand government’s refusal to grant a visa to Fiji goalkeeper Simione Tamanisau (Photo In order to maintain the integrity of the competition in the Oceania zone, FIFA made the decision to call off the encounter, which would finally take place a year later in November 2008. In the meantime, the Kiwis had secured their qualification for the next round, which may have rendered the result meaningless, but not the decision to postpone the original fixture, as Fiji earned a 2-0 victory on the day.

Fiji Live Poll. "Should the New Zealand government continue sanctions against Fiji while trying to normalise diplomatic relations?" Yes 32%; No 68%. This non-representative poll seems to indicate a "core" 32% opposition to Government which would be consistent with earlier polls.

Fiji National University This Fiji Times article provides details on the new university.

Sanjay Ramesh in Suva on Parachute Journalism. Link.

Some 2230 Civil Servants have retired since the implementation of the retirement policy last April, of which 250  were re-engaged to ensure continuity or because of scarce skills.

*The Public Service Disciplinary Tribunal is meeting on a regular basis to deal with disciplinary cases of civil servants. Commission chairman Josefa Seruilagilagi said there had been an increase in the number of disciplinary cases being submitted. The Tribunal comprises former teacher and retired magistrate Aminiasi Katonivualiku (Chair); former chair of the Publi Service Appeals Board Kangwai, and Jack Valentine a retired government accountantand a public trustee for a number of years.

* Background on Proposed Qoliqoli Foreshore Reforms. Link.

* New Crimes Decrees. The Crimes Decree, the Criminal Procedure Decree and the Sentencing and Penalties Decree represent Fiji’s first substantive reform of the criminal justice system for one hundred years.Crimes against humanity and of people smuggling will be punishable; rape will be gender neutral. Special provisions will be made for vulnerable witnesses. The decrees will ensure that sentences areconsistent and proportionate to the offence.

* Reform of Fiji National Provident Fund (FNPF) Underway. Fiji will study the highly successful Singapore fund, and adapt to local conditions.

* The FICAC Corruption and Misuse of Office Court Case against former PM Laisenia Qarase and former Fijian Holdings CEO Sitiveni Weleilakeba has been adjourned until 23 February.The prosecution "wants more time to consolidate
conspiracy charges" and the defence wants more time to consider the implications of consolidation.

* Fiji Law Society President Dorsami Naidu today (18 January) appeared before the Independent Legal Services Commission facing 9 separate counts of unsatisfactory professional conduct. The hearing date is set for 19 April. The case against Suva lawyer Haroon Ali Shah, who is facing 20 separate charges of unsatisfactory professional conduct was also called this morning. Shah failed to appear before Commissioner John Connors despite being given reasonable notice that the matterwill be called today.

* The Native Land Trust Board has announced new appointments in its managerial positions as a result of an internal review conducted last year. General Manager Alipate Qetaki said Solo Nata had been appointed as Acting Deputy General Manager Operations,a post previously held by Meli Benuci who was sacked last year. Nata is an expert in Land Management.Qetaki the NLTB needed better trained staff, especially in land management valuation and land survey. Boundary disputes, mainly due to lack of land surveying expertise, had been a problem for many years. Qetaki said technical training will be a high priority this year. Savenaca Ralagi has been appointed Acting Manager Central/Eastern Division and Rota Lenati Acting Senior Estates Officer Central/Eastern Region. It is noted that all three are acting appointments, presumably to allow the Board to make changes later.

School Bus Fares. Only those parents whose joint income is below $15,000 and who apply for and are granted exemption will have free bus fares for their children when school opens in February.

Ethanol. A minimum of 30,000 tons of tavioka (cassava) and 8,000 hectares of land,will be required monthly to establish a Fiji ethanol presence. Sir James Ah Koy says the proposed project should result in immense benefits to ethnic Fijians who own most of the land.

Monday, January 18, 2010

(o) NZ Foreign Minister McCully "Step by Step": How NZ Can Really Help Democracy in Fiji

Murray McCully's recent  statements on Fiji suggest a much more realistic appraisal of the situation than was evident under the former Labour-led government, and an improvement on his own earlier statements. McCully's meeting with Fiji Foreign Minister Kubuabola last week will bolster diplomatic representation. It did not change NZ's basic position --  elections with which it is prepared to assist in whatever ways it can -- but it was a crucial first step. 

The second step is his reaction to kerfuffle about pensions and the Methodist Church, both quite misrepresented by the media (see earlier post on pensions). McCully dismissed them as moves to quell dissent but "not a reason for us not to try and improve diplomatic relations. We expect progress to take place in terms of the relationship step by step with allowances for some setbacks from time to time."

He could, however, underestimate Fiji's threat to withdraw from PACER (Pacific Closer Economic Relations Agreement) unless it is represented at Forum discussions on PACER Plus, the Australian-initiated add-on to PACER that has been received with suspicion in many quarters. I doubt Fiji will be satisfied with being "briefed on progress."

What was particularly pleasing to hear was that Fiji's exclusion from the PI Forum, and PACER Plus discussions, is not fixed in concrete. McCully "would regard this as just one of the pieces of the jigsaw that is on the table over the coming months." 

Step 3 would see NZ supporting Fiji's readmission to the PI Forum, or some accommodation not too short of admission, which in turn could lead to similar rapprochments with the Commonwealth, the EU and the UN, and a resumption of aid and other economic assistance. 

Step 4, though stated last, should be high on the diplomatic agenda, and needs to be implemented ASAP. It is composed of several elements, all concerned with good governance.

  • The travel sanctions have to be relaxed to allow Fiji's most talented administrators to apply for government positions. 
  • NZ (and Australia) should second suitable qualified lawyers to draft legislation, especially constitutional legislation, and to prosecute corruption cases. 
  • Fiji also needs forensic accountants to unravel the corruption, and experienced senior judges.
Fiji is lacking in these specialised skills. Later, in 2011- 2012, assistance would also be welcome with elections and electoral reform. Assistance in these areas will do much to restore our relationship with Fiji.
We have the expertise to assist Fiji to establish a much fairer society than in has been in the past. It is a pity a military-led and non-elected government seeks these reforms. Earlier "democratically-elected" government had the opportunity but none put its hand up.

Postscript. New Zealand lawyer Robert Miller has been appointed Chief Legal Draftsperson in the Attorney-General’s Chambers. This is a Fiji Government appointment, unrelated to McCully's "steps," but it is the sort of assistance that is sorely needed.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

(B) Public Service Code of Conduct: Fiji and NZ

CORRECTION: Fiji does have a public service code of conduct. It is to be found (see comments) in the Public Service Act 1999, Section 6. I have not been able to access the Act but I presume its requirements are close the to the NZ public service code of conduct.
Bainimarama government's reaction to civil servants and council workers participating in anti-government blogging; its demand of loyalty from its employees, and its threats of dismissal for those working against Government may have been seen as an over-reaction, and a further attack on human rights. This misconception is due, in part, to the media failing to provide  essential background information on the conditions of public service employment.

Public servants worldwide are required to comply with codes of conduct. I have been unable to sight the Fiji Code but I doubt it is greatly different from the  NZ Code of Conduct, extracts of which follow:

The New Zealand Public Service Code of Conduct
The three principles that spell out the NZ Code's core values mention 1) fulfilling their lawful obligations to Government with professionalism and integrity; 2) performing their duties.honestly, faithfully and efficiently, and 3) they "should not bring the Public Service into disrepute though their private activities.

While, generally, public servants "have the same rights of free speech and independence in the conduct of their private affairs as other members of the public ...they also have a duty not to compromise their employer or their Minister by public criticism of, or comment on, Government policy ...their contribution to any public debate or discussion on such matters is appropriate to the position they hold, and is compatible with the need to maintain a politically neutral Public Service..."

Unacceptable Behaviour
Comment made by public servants "on matters of public policy would be regarded as unacceptable if it:
  • revealed advice given to the Minister;
  • used or revealed any information gained in the course of official duties where this was not already known by, or readily available to, the general public;
  • criticised, or offered alternatives to, a proposed or actual Ministerial policy or departmental programme, or that of any other Minister or department with which the individual was professionally involved; 
  • purported to express or imply a departmental view, rather than clearly expressing a personal view only;
  • gave openly partisan support to, or criticism of, a political party;
  • constituted a personal attack on a Minister, departmental colleagues or other public servants or
  • amounted to a criticism sufficiently strong and/or persistent so as to call into question the public servant’s ability to impartially implement, administer, or advise upon a Government policy."
Using the New Zealand Code as a measure of best practice, the Fiji Government's threat to dismiss public servants who breach the code of conduct must be considered "normal". And this is how it should be presented to the public by the media.                                     Photo:

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.

Three in One
I. Rugby  Memories
Bill Gavoka's comments on rugby critics made me laugh and brought back some memories.

One time I was watching club rugby in Nadi and pressure was building in one of the games. Of course some players will get the jitters when the tackles are hard and bordering on the dangerous. Each time the ball would fall, this spectator would yell out, “Setiseti, sa lamu o ka ya.” (That fellow is frightened).

This happened a few times with him calling out different remarks.Then the halfback got hammered and the man yelled out again.“Va cava ya?” (How about that?).

An old lady, sitting in the front stood up and said, “How about you take his place.” That was the end of the man’s comments. Yes, for us who have been critical - “lai tovolea mada.”

II. Lautoka to the Airport and Back
A taxi charge from Waiyavi, Lautoka, to Nadi Airport costs $25. However, a trip from the Airport to Waiyavi costs $35. Same distance. What’s the difference?

My sister arrived from New Zealand and came on an airport taxi. On the way to Lautoka the driver moaned so much about how life was hard and the cost of living was rising every day, that she gave him an extra $5 so that he would stop his whining. In her best Kiwi twang she lamented with the driver. The trip cost $40. When she got off at Waiyavi, she said thank you and added a few more words in Fiji Hindi.The driver looked a little stunned.

But isn’t it interesting that the fare to and from are different. Either Nadi is a privileged town or we look like tourists.

But, I must say that the driver’s skill of conversational persuasion were just like it was learnt. We also have a few sales people in Nadi who have been accused of touting. I wonder if they, together with the driver, have read the book “The Good Con Guide,”  by J H Brennan, or "Laugh Your Way to the Bank" by Bill East.

III.Overstayers Love Fiji
I found it rather quaint that we have some people who have decided to overstay in Fiji.People are leaving in droves, yet these people have found a home. Fiji must have something good for them to want to stay.I can just see a headline in an overseas paper screaming, “Overstayers love Fiji.”     Fiji is safe - overstayers. Wow.

(o) Fools Rush In Where Angels Fear to Tread: Not FNPF Pensions

The pensions the PM was talking about were entitlements under the Parliamentary Retirement Allowances Decree 1989, the Prime Minister's Pensions Act 1994, the Judges Remuneration and Emoluments Act and the Pensions Act.  They were not the universal contributory pensions administered by the Fiji National Provident Fund.
Fiji Village.

An alert contributor to my earlier post on this topic pointed this out in "Comments" and I amended the post immediately.   It will probably take those who rushed in to condemn the decree a while longer to correct their error -- and some, quite deliberately, will never correct it. Damage done is damage won.

The PM, however, cannot escape responsibility for allowing his vague off-the-cuff remark on pensions to be misinterpreted. He should have anticipated the misunderstanding and been more precise. He should also not have allowed the error to fester and spread for two days before correction and clarification. The inaction has played into the hands of his opponents.

Readers commenting on my initial post identified statements by Leweni, Khaiyum and the PM, all made in the last few days, as publicity disasters, and all said Government is in desperate need of a good public relations officer. I agree.                  Cartoon: Sportszone.gif

Footnote: a reader (see Comments) said it was the journalists who reported the interview and not Bainimarama who was "vague." If so, my apologies to the PM but the main point still stands: Government must improve its public relations or risk continuing misunderstandings and loss of support, nationally and overseas. Croz

Friday, January 15, 2010

(+) Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum*

Remarkably similar editorials have appeared in at least three "independent" NZ newspapers, the Southland  Times, the Nelson Mail and the NZ  Herald, in the past few days.  This is how blog reader Marybelle responded to the Herald's editorial on line. They published her letter, without the opening paragraph.

"I have already read this Editorial yesterday in the Fairfax South Island newspapers - Southland Times and the Nelson Mail. I wonder who wrote this Editorial. I doubt if our government takes advice from Editorial opinion.

Mainstream media here in NZ really haven't a clue about what is happening in Fiji. If mainstream media started to read the truth then maybe we would be seeing different Editorial opinion. To find out more in-depth information I suggest you go to Prof. Croz Walsh's blog "Fiji: The Way it Was, Is and Can Be" This blog, unlike a lot of the other Fiji blogs, posts both the positive and negative about what is happening in Fiji. It is balanced.

McCully has done the right thing going to Fiji to talk. Sanctions should be lifted. No matter what side of the fence you are on - we all want to see Fiji become a proper democratically run country instead of the gerrymandered democracy of the past - we all want to see Fiji prosper. Editorials like this one do not help - they only breed negativity about Fiji. How about a positive Editorial next time?
North Shore City."

**Two English fictional characters popularised by Lewis Carroll, author of Alice in  Wonderland and other stories. The Tweedle brothers always complement and never contradict each other.  Photo:

The Otago Daily Times, however, reported differently. As another reader observed: "There must be something wrong - this NZ editorial actually seems to be reporting information rather than peddling bias regarding NZ/Fiji affairs."

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

(o+) Making Sense of Recent Government Actions

Something's going on. After months of easing tensions-- no fresh reports of possible human rights abuse, supportive statements from many in Fiji, from this blog and many overseas commentators culminating in the McCully-Kubuabola statements this week, slighter better relations between Government and the Fiji Times, and better than expected economic news despite the recent cyclone -- we have a rash of "aggressive" actions by Government, all within the span of a few days.

First, international juror and  government opponent Imrana Lala was charged by FIAC, the anti-corruption commission, with not having a licence to operate her part-owned restaurant (sic!) and the dismissal of some magistrates. Then Dr Padma Narsey Lal, wife of ANU's Prof. Brij Lal and brother of USP's Prof. Wadan Narsey, both staunch government opponents, was refused re-entry into the country.  Then 15 senior Suva City Council employees were sent home pending charges they were using SCC computers and time to write for anti-Government blogs.

Then Bainimarama announces that retired public servants  -- and that includes former PMs Qarase and Chaudhry -- who speak out against the Government will not receive their pensions (see comment below on this). The very same day he says the Methodist Church will not be allowed to hold their annual conference until after the elections in 2014. He said Government spies within the Church report ongoing anti-government activity.

Why this sudden hostility and blustering when things seemed to be going so well for Government? Is it pure coincidence, or do at least some of these events, all of which threaten freedom of speech, have a common cause or explanation?

The Wider Context
The wider context within which these events can perhaps be better understood is one in which Government sees the "normal" workings of civil society, where opinions are freely expressed and exchanged, as distractions and impediments to what it says it is trying to do.

Hence their delayed attention to political change, and their immediate focus on economic and infrastructural changes -- roads, electricity, the use of idle land, and agricultural initiatives in rural areas; getting rid of corruption and poor work ethics in the civil service; reforming national and local institutions such as the NLTB (Native Land Trust Board) and urban councils; opening up jobs and scholarships to all races; support for garment and tourist industry marketing; and a number of actions to reduce poverty, including housing assistance, the introduction of a minimum wage,access to micro-credit, a fairer distribution of land rent money to ordinary Fijian villagers, food coupons and free or subsidized school meals and transport.

Government wants to see major improvements in all these areas before it fully addresses political, constitutional and electoral issues in 2012-13. But just as foreign investors seek political stability to protect their investment, the Bainimarama Government seeks to impose stability (where it is not freely given) so it can get on with the job. Hence its constant references to the need for "unity" to "take the country forward."

This is not the normal way democratic governments operate, but it is not unknown. It is the way Allied governments operated during the two World Wars; how the US military, with and without government connivance, operates from time to time, and, perhaps even more relevantly, how Singapore dragged itself up from a poor, racially and politically fractured Third World country to become the country it is today.  In the early days, Lee Yuan Yew was far more oppressive than Bainimarama, and no less of a dictator. This, I think, is the wider context.

The Immediate Context
The more immediate context involves high celebrity court cases with Qarase, and possibly Weleilakemba and others, charged with corruption and abuse of office. My understanding is that these hearings will commence next week. The other big event is the first meeting of the Citizen's Assembly on the 27-28th.

Whenever Government anticipates its opponents will use events to trigger discontent, it is likely to send out strong warnings about "consequences", take measures to break or disrupt opposition networks, and forestall all overt expressions of opposition. This is how it operated in the lead up to last year's Methodist Conference, and this is how it could be operating now.

What we think of as unconnected, vindictive, arbitrary acts could in fact be part of a pre-conceived plan for civil society until 2014 -- modelled on a first-strike military manoeuvre. –- Crosbie Walsh.

Readers are urged to read comments to all posts, and particularly to this post. Just click "Comments" below.

(-) Padma Lal Refused Re-Entry, Deported

 Coupfourpointfive reports that Dr Padma Lal was refused re-entry into Fiji after spending Christmas-New Year with her husband Prof. Brij Lal. The Lals, who have a home in Canberra and Suva, are now Australian citizens.  Dr Lal is the sister of Prof. Wadan Narsey, another prominent government opponent. Dr Lal works for the Fiji Office of International Union for Conservation of Nature and, as far as I  know, has not been engaged in any political activity whilst in Fiji. Many who may otherwise wish the Bainimarama government well will question the good sense of this action by the Immigraton officers.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

(o) McCully and Kubuabola Agree to "Climb Everest"

NZ and Fiji's Foreign Ministers, Murray McCully and Ratu Inoke Kubuabola, meeting in Nadi on Friday and Saturday discussed "a number of issues of bilateral interest to both countries ... in a positive and constructive atmosphere, and have agreed to keep working at improving relations between the two countries."

One immediate outcome will be the appointment of new counsellors in Suva and Wellington (and later deputy heads of mission, and perhaps later still Heads of Mission.) Currently Fiji has only one official in Wellington while NZ has a policy adviser, two administration officials and immigration staff in Suva.

McCully said, "I think it got to the point in both cases where the viability of our operations were under threat. . .this is going to get us into a better space. It's only by maintaining the ability to communicate that you are able to move forward. Even if we strongly disagree, some good will come from ongoing communications."  The face-to-face (Maori: kanohi ki kanohi) meeting followed  ongoing communications between the two Ministers over recent months.

This good news prompted one reader to ask "do you reckon we are almost on the top of Everest?" to which I replied, "No, but they have agreed to establish a base camp." She followed this up with, "What’s the saying – “slowly slowly catch a monkey”- we will get up Everest yet, or is it the Sleeping Giant** and we are in the valley?

I'm afraid we are still in the valley. McCully went on to say "None of this signals a change to New Zealand's substantive policy with regard to the regime in Fiji, nor does it signal any change in the sanctions regime currently in place. But it does signal a determination to improve the relationship, and in particular to be able to agree to disagree about some things." McCully, not "wanting to get ahead of Australia [Why not!] said "the Australian government was fully aware of the decisions announced today, and supported them."

Labour Party Response Pathetic
I can see why Australia had to be informed if NZ-Australia relationship is truly one of equals, but I found Labour Foreign Affairs spokesman Chris Carter's reaction rather pathetic. He welcomed the move,reminded us how Labour had "tried to commit Commodore Bainimarama to an election date" and said "the Labour Party will do all it can to assist the Government, including using its extensive contacts amongst the Indo-Fijian community in New Zealand."  He's still in a time-warp. Our insistence on elections (and no dialogue) and the assumption that this is all about race is what caused us to make the situation worse in the first place.

I'm sure there are many Indo-Fijians in NZ who are unhappy or undecided about the Fiji situation, and not a few ethnic Fijians who were unhappy about the Qarase administration and are prepared to give Bainimarama the benefit of the doubt. And all other former Fiji citizens (Part-Europeans, Europeans, Chinese, Rotumans, Kai Solomoni, and so on) will be similarly divided. Chris, this is about taking steps towards a Fiji with less corruption and better and fairer governance for all, not race and early elections. Would someone knowing Chris please suggest he  -- and other parliamentarians -- visit this blogsite?

The meeting was reported in the Fiji media but Ratu Kuboubola had not yet commented when this post was published.
** Sleeping Giant, a mountain ten kilometres north of Nadi.
Sources: NZHerald, Scoop.

Email from White Frangipani: "It was pretty good that Murray actually went to Fiji- that is a gesture of good will. That is progress. Definition of progress – two steps forward – one step back (or more!).I had a laugh though – Murray wasn’t banned from Fiji like others are [hoping to come] from Fiji to NZ!"