Friday, April 30, 2010

Tui Namosi Supports Government, Fiji's Suspenion Fragmenting Forum, Croz Walsh Beaten, HIV/Aids Praise

And Australia Accuses Fiji! See left column item.

The Turaga na Tui Namosi called on chiefs attending the Namosi Provincial council meeting yesterday to support Prime Minister Commodore Bainimarama's government. Photo: Fiji Village.

My Position in a Nutshell. Maverick former South Australian MP  questions Australian and NZ policy on Fiji. Peter Lewis said the country seemed to be doing well under the leadership of someone who gained absolute power without elections, and the best way forward is to take the current Prime Minister at his word and remind him of it at regular intervals, through objective remarks.

Fiji's Suspension: Forum Secretariat Says Time Not Right, Ratuva Says it Could be Too Late Already. According to RadioNZ International, the PI Forum Secretariat  says it has decided the time is not right for it to discuss publicly questions pertaining to its operation and Fiji's ongoing suspesion from membership, even though at least one member, Vanuatu, has said  it wants Fiji's return to fullmembership ASAP.

Auckland University and former USP academic, Dr Steven Ratuva, thinks the suspension already has far reaching consequences. “It has fragmented the Forum ... the Melanesian Spearhead Group ... is mobilising around Fiji. [There are] various fault lines within the Pacific Islands’ solidarity. For a long time the Pacific Islands Forum has been based on consensus. I think consensus is beginning to see fractures right at the middle.”

Dr Ratuva says the suspension has also altered the region’s geopolitical dynamics with Fiji intensifying its
Look North policy towards China and away from Australia and New Zealand.

Croz Walsh "Beaten" by Pacific Beat? NZ Society of Authors President Tony Simpson was  interviewed by Bruce Hill on Radio Australia's Pacific Beat on Monday 19th April. He said the the NZ government's silence on the draft Media Decree was "disgraceful," concluding "I mean there are awful things going on in Fiji. I mean there are people getting beaten up and locked in prison and bullied and their views are about to be severely suppressed and the people of Fiji themselves have not got any more, much the sources of information about what's going on in their own society and from now on, they are going to have even less available to them."

Bruce invited me to comment and reply to this on Thursday 22nd, assuring me my comments would be published by Monday or Tuesday the next week. Now, nearly two weeks later, my response has still not been aired. Why? It could be that more pressing items overtook mine. It could also be media censorship Aussie-style. As with my earlier "dumping" from Bryan Crump's RadioNZ Nights show, there is no way of knowing. There's only one certainty: Australians and New Zealanders are being presented with only one, very biased, side of the Fiji story.

The joint United Nations Program on HIV/AIDS Pacific office has praised Fiji's draft HIV Prevention and Treatment Decree. UNAIDS Pacific Co-ordinator, Stuart Watson says the draft decree could actually be used as amodel legislation globally. The draft HIV Prevention and Treatment Decree has already been approved by the Fiji Cabinet and it could be in place by June.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

(+) When What's Not Good May Be Not So Bad: Some Thoughts for Minister McCully

When National became Government in NZ many hoped to see a more realistic and helpful policy towards Fiji, and or a while things looked promising. But now, having restored minimal functionality at the Suva High Commission, the relationship looks substantially unchanged.

Speaking recently  to RadioNZ International  Foreign Minister Murray McCully  said there was a lack of "good news out of Fiji" since its suspension from the Pacific Islands Forum a year ago.  He added that "the [Pacific Islands] Forum leaders  unprecedented step of suspending Fiji's membership was more about punishing Fiji for failing to comply with the organization’s democratic ideals." He hadn't expected the suspension "to prompt changes by the interim regime" but it was needed to uphold principles. [It could also have been used to warn other Pacific nations not to support or follow Fiji's example.  What was not said was that, in international politics, stability is often more prized than principle.] 

I have commented elsewhere about how the "punishment" (that had no expected outcome!) has unintentionally heartened government opponents, strengthened the hold of the military in civil government, and adversely affected the livelihood of ordinary Fiji citizens, and I'll say no more on this, or comment on what the choice of a word like "punishment" tells us about NZ's attitude to Fiji. Instead, I'll focus on the word "good" that means different things to different people.

The Word "Good"
For the Minister, it probably means no restrictions on the Fiji Times, no Public Emergency Regulations, no detentions for their breach, engagement with the old political parties, "freedom" for the Methodist Church hierarchy,  and, most of all, "democratic" elections yesterday. I doubt he would extend "good" to include a flash assassination or a quick mutiny but many of those whose company he keeps would think these drastic measures "good."

Unfortunately, the Minister's apparently worthy democratic aims are not quite what they seem in the Fiji context (hence the need to place so many terms in speech marks), and none will be realized anytime soon because what the Minister sees as "good," Bainimarama sees as "bad." For Bainimarama their adoption would mean jettisoning the Roadmap and the People's Charter. He would have allowed the coup to fail, dozens of policies and schemes would be left up in the air, and  nothing "good"  would have been achieved after nearly four years of sacrifice and effort.

Many people sympathetic to what Bainimarama says he seeks to achieve share Minister McCully's concerns about a number of actions by the Fiji Government. Many have been spelt out on this blog, most recently in the ten serious concerns I expressed about the draft Media Decree. We have also frequently noted that the Fiji Government too often reacts excessively to situations, and seems quite unconcerned with its poor PR.

But we have also noted the many good things government is doing, or is trying to do, and noted that none of them (not one) is ever mentioned in the so-called independent mainstream media, or acknowledged by the Minister's government.

Here is a short list of some of the things they could have reported and acknowledged:
  • The Corruption Clean-Up Campaign, a major reason given for the Coup, continues. The Fiji Independent Commission Against Corruption (FICAC)  investigated and laid 161 charges against 47 individuals in 2009.Some 4,365 complaints were received, of which 44 percent were resolved without going to court. Government audits and accountability reports continue to reveal irregularities. Department and Ministry annual auditing is now enforced. The huge backlog of complaints against lawyers is being addressed as are accusations of transfer pricing.
  • Structural Reform and a more efficient Civil Service. The IMF recently complimented Government on  these measures, and many citizens have noted a more polite and helpful civil service.
  • The EconomyIMF also commended Govt on its fiscal and monetary policies that have done much to counteract the severe effects of the global financial crisis and the massive destruction to infrastructure after the January 2009 floods. Low interest loans have been obtained from new sources -- China, India, Malaysia -- to fund development. Micro-credit is being advanced to encourage small local businesses.
  • Development initiatives. An improved and social physical infrastructure is another of Government's Roadmap goals. This includes work on roads and bridges, rural and outer island development (Rotuma now exports food to Tuvalu; nursing stations and small business initiatives in several areas), more emphasis in food security, and agriculture (rice, dairying, vegetables, copra use for biodiesel), and land reform. Some two-thirds of the 6,406 cane farms where leases expired between 1997 and 2010 are back in use. Most leases have been renewed with existing tenants, others with new tenants, a few leases have been subdivided for subsistence and cane farming, 1,670 have reverted to the landowners, and 374 leases were still in the process. Land leases are no longer a political weapon and lease money is being paid to the actual owners, not to chiefs and others in the former gravy train.
  • Race and racism are not longer political weapons. Government has started the long uphill road to create a common "Fijian" indentify for all citizens. All citizens will be treated equally while respecting their ethnic differences. Race-based parties will not be allowed to stand in the 2014 elections. This situation must not be confused with NZ where the Maori ethnic minority has its own party. Some critics have questioned Bainimarama's sincerity because of continuing dominance of ethnic Fijians in the Military. I think this will continue in the short-term for strategic reasons. 
  • Government measures to tackle poverty in a hostile economic environment include retaining VAT (GST) at 12.5% and excluding basic food items; food vouchers for the most needy; introducing minumum wages levels; assistance with school tranport, school fees and textbooks; help for squatters and more low-income housing, and many rural development measures, some of which are noted above.
  • Social justice. Elections that do not bring social justice are not truly democracy. The one-man one-vote elections planned for 2014 will prevent repeats of the legislated racial discrimination practices under the Qarase Government.
  • Meanwhile, Government has taken a number of steps to produce social justice, in addition to those noted concerning the poor and rural dwellers. The New Women's Plan of Action (WPA) 2010-2019 will see women enjoy equal participation at decision-making levels that are especialy important to women. The five areas include: employment; decision-making;violence against women and chldren; reproductive health issues; basic services such as housing, water, sanitation and transport; and women and the Law. 
  • A Decree has been passed to prevent children abuse and child trafficking; the UN has commended another Decree on HIV/Aids; the backlog of legal cases and complaints against lawyers is being cleared; an estimated 1,200 public servants injured  during working hours will be paid all outstandingcompensation claims backdated to 2001. That's right, 2001, five years of the Qarase Government! The latest compensation to be paid is to a widow of a Fijian soldier killed in Fiji's UN engagement in Lebanon 31 years ago. And our Government has complained about cuts to Qarase and Rabuka's parliamentary pensions!
  • The People's Charter. I doubt Minister McCully would disagree with any one of the Charter's stated aims or with Bainimarama's Roadmap other, of course, than with the timing of elections in 2014. Public dialogue is occurring and progress is being made on the Charter, but not as much and as fast as many would like.
  • Meanwhile, grassroots (if not elite) support for Bainimarama is clearly growing,  most especially among ethnic Fijians. He is being judged by deeds that affect ordinary citizens, and he continues to receive matanigasau (traditional apologies) from villages and tikina all over Fiji  that had previously opposed the Charter, on the advice of their chiefs and Methodist church ministers.  This is not the usual route to democracy and things could still go wrong, but success would be more assured with the Mininter's understanding,  if not actual support
  •  Finally, although cut off from its traditional friends, Fiji continues to receive international recognition, soft and low interest loans and technical assistance from non-traditional sources. NZ and Australia's influence in the Pacific could be eroding. The Minister should not underestimate the possible erosion of New Zealand influence.
Disclaimer:  This material is not covered by copyright and may be used without acknowledgement by the media.          -- Crosbie Walsh

    (o+) Tuilaepa is No Fool...

     Opinion: Which puppet is on 
    Whose String?
    Crosbie Walsh

    First, Tuilaepa  said that with Fiji suspended from the PI Forum, its Secretariat should be moved from Suva, hinting only vaguely that Apia was "available." Then Bainimarama replied saying the Samoan PM was trying to whip up a regional outcry so that the Forum Secretariat would be moved to Apia. But no, says Tuilaepa. New Zealand or Australia could be possible locations. Clever!

    If the Secretariat is moved from Suva (which would be a logistical disaster given the physical and human investment in the Suva Forum headquarters, Suva's international diplomatic representations,  and Fij's central location), Tuilaepa is now assured of Australian and NZ support for Apia if the Secretariat is moved. And if not, he's surely earned Samoa enough new development aid brownie points to see him re-elected. 

    It doesn't seem so long ago that Pacific Island nations were questioning whether Australia and NZ should even be full Forum members. It is significant they weren't invited to any sort of membership in the Melanesian Spearhead Group, despite their aid support to MSG countries.

    Readers who think that aid comes without strings  should read  what happened to Peter Ellis, AusAid head in Timor Leste, when he refused to lie about why aid was cut to NGOs which spoke out against Australian ambitions in the country's oilfields in the Timor Sea. They may also care to ponder Australia's more recent role in pushing the "free trade" Pacer Plus   discussions from which Fiji, conveniently, has been excluded.

    But for now, we'll wait to see whether Tuilaepa has tempted Australia or NZ to change roles with an Island nation, and become, for one dizzy moment, a puppet on his string.

    Wednesday, April 28, 2010

    Blog Ostrich, Ro Teimumu, Dorsami Naidu, Policeman Jailed, Tax Officer Defrauds, PM Blames SVT, SDL, Constitution on Track

    Ostriches Bury Their Heads in the Sand. One of the more extreme anti-Government Blogs RealFijiNews has a confession to make.  "We have not[it writes] as a matter of principle read this illegal government’s 'Peoples Charter' since the purported abrogation of our Supreme Law last April which presumably this Charter was founded upon." Actually, the Charter preceded the Abrogation. The blog then goes on to ask where the country is heading. I suggest they read the Charter! Or this blog!

    High Chief Ro Teimumu Kepa, head of the Burebasaga Confederacy that includes most of Viti Levu's south coast from Rewa westwards, parts of Ba and the island of Kadavu, was in court on Monday charged with breaching the public emergency regulations. The charge relates to activities last year when the High Chief allegedly conspired with Methodist Church ministers to host the annual Methodist conference in Lomanikoro in Rewa even though a directive was given by Prime Minister Commodore Voreqe Bainimarama not to hold the conference. The case as deferred until 4 May at the request of the defence.

    The President of the Fiji Law Society, Dorsami Naidu, is  due to appear before the Legal Services Commission again today on charges of professional conduct. Four of the original seven charges are not being actioned at this stage. The three remaining relate to alleged misconduct by a legal practitioner and cover matters such as billing, speed in resolving an estate and a planned land purchase. If found guilty, the maximum penalty is a fine of up $500,000 or suspension from or being struck off the roll of lawyers.

    Policeman Helps Robbers. A former police officer Saimoni Rokotunidau, who used a police vehicle to escort robbers away from the scene of the crime, has been sentenced to 12 years in jail by the Suva High Court today. The former officer had 31 previous convictions prior to his seven year robbery spree, which ended last year.

    Tax Officer Defrauds Tax Office. Former tax general manager Vimal Krishna yesterday withdrew his application for a stay on conspiracy proceedings against him after his lawyer conceeded the Fiji Independent Commission Against Corruption's case against his client had "some merit." Krishna is alleged to have conspired with three others to defraud the Fiji Inland Revenue and Customs Authority of $10,000.

    Government is Laying the Platform for Elections in 2014 and No one can stop that. This is what PM Bainimarama told villagers in Sawaieke, Gau. He also the PM  said he has brought in Army Colonels to hold the top posts in the Divisional Commissioner's Offices  because he he knew they would carry out their jobs efficiently. When elections came in 2014 they would know who to elect into Government from the work that is being carried out.

    The PM told villagers in Lamiti, Gau, that the SVT and SDL parties had set Fiji back for over ten years. They had used racial discrimination to hold on to power, and this was one of the main reasons why indigenous Fijians rushed to Parliament House to support the Speight-led coup in 2000, without fully understanding what they were doing. A problem with indigenous Fijians, he said,  was that did not speak their mind, or be up-front about issues, allowing politicians to manipulate them.

    Constitution On Track. The PM's Office confirms work on the new constitution will start in 2012, to give everyone ample time to hear Government’s views and contribute to discussions on the country’s new supreme law ordered by former President Ratu Josefa Iloilo in April last year. The Constitution will be promulaged in 2013 in time for the General Elections in 2014.

    Tuesday, April 27, 2010

    Short Briefs: Air Pacific, Support for Bainimarama Grows, Reforms, Rural Development

    Air Pacific Expects a Substantial Loss for the 2009-10 year due mainly to the severe flooding in 2009, the devaluation of the Fiji dollar as they had to purchase goods and services from abroad,  and discount air fares because of competition in the market, whichi is now the the biggest challenge. Among positive developments, the airline has doubled the number of passengers carried over the last 9 years, from 415,000 in 2001 to over a million.

    Bainimarama's Increasingly Popularity. A little bird in Suva tells me the "PM is so popular now he would likely win an election were one to be called." There's no way to confirm this, of course, but the list of government actions helping ordinary people continues to grow, as does the spate of traditional apologies and support for the People's Charter. 

    Public Sector & Land Use the Most Important  Structural Reforms. Fiji’s EU Ambassador Peceli Vocea, in a meeting with EU President Herman Van Rompuy in which he updated the President on the Government Roadmap, said public sector and land use reforms were the two most important structural issues facing Government. Other matters discussed were last week's IMF visit, EU-funded assistance with Fiji’s fish exports, the signing of the interim Economic Partnership Agreement that ensured trade with the EU, particularly on sugar, continued without disruption. Rompuy said EU dialogue with Fiji would continue. He was hopeful an earlier resolution of the political problems could be found.

    New Nursing Station for Nawaikama, Gau.
    The PM opened the new station during his tour of Lomaiviti-i-Cake last week. The station,  that includes accommodation for nurses, is a  a self-help project supported by AusAid. The village contributed $10,000, AusAid $54,774 and Government will take over running costs. Tourists wanting something special when they visit Fiji are invited to check out http://www.travelpod.com/travel-blog/katetravel/fiji_project/tpod.html this Nawaikama blog.

    Also on Gau, Bainimarama accepted the traditional apology from the people of the Tikina Narocake. He  said a Government priority was to bring about "change" to those that really need it. Life had come to a standstill for most of them, as no one brought about the changes they needed. Only two [of five?] villages in Gau, namely Sawaieke and Vione, accepted the People's Charter. It is hard to change the mindset of elders who have lived through past Governments and do not accept change as they listened to the Church and the Chiefs.He stressed that  Government is willing to work together with the leaders of the Church and the Chiefs, to work out ways to bring about prosperity.

    New Handicraft Centre on Kioa Island
    . The island, off south-eastern Vanua Levu,  and  the home of Polynesians resettled from Vaitupu in Tuvalu at the end of World War II, now has a  centralized location where all villages  can trade their handicrafts to tourists. The initiative was funded by the Ministry of Social Welfare, Women and Poverty Alleviation. Minister Dr Jiko Luveni said the "dream project" will provide a big boost to local people’s economic requirements. Other centres are being constructed at other places such as Tacirua village near Suva, Lomaivuna in Naitasiri, Waikubukubu village in Ba and Nayau in Lau.

    Monday, April 26, 2010

    Short Briefs: Lomaiviti-e-Cake Apologies, Somare, Corruption, Transfer Pricing, Roads

    Lomaiviti Methodist Minister Supports PM. Rev.Mitieli Rokolacadamu, who serves Lomaiviti-e-cake (the islands of Batiki, Nairai and Gau) has  thanked PM Bainimarama for the steps taken to  "put the Church back to it’s right path." He said some actions by church leaders had not been in the best interest of the Church.

    Sir Michael Somare 
    spoke at the University of Auckland last week.  Here's what he said on Fiji:
    (1) His continued dialogue, criticized by some, was because of his concern for “the people of Fiji and their welfare. ”
    (2) He again criticized the imposition of a timeframe on Fiji to hold elections, calling it “counterproductive”, adding that he “commends the efforts New Zealand and Australia are making in dealing with the interim government and the people of Fiji.”
    (3) “We’ve tried in MSG [Melanesian Spearhead Group] to have talks with Bainimarama, chaired by Vanuatu. We’re keeping dialogue open; we want to keep our contacts very close.”
    (4) He thinks that with “constant dialogue,” there could be a change of mind [on earlier elections] by Bainimarama.

    Comment on:
    (2) Note the "Pacific-speak" in  both  criticising and then commending NZ for almost the same thing, and his prudent distinction between the government and the people of Fiji.
    (3) The next MSG Summit, to be chaired by Bainimarama, will be held in Suva in July. It will be interesting to see which non-members will be invited to attend.
    (4) I doubt Bainimarama will change his mind on elections in 2014. He is working on major changes in the administrative and political landscape. And I think Somare knows this, too. He's urging NZ to dialogue.

    More Traditional Apologies.
      As the PM's tour of Lomaiviti continues,  Nairai has joined the growing number of vanua to apologize for not initially accepting the People's Charter. Villagers took the opportunity of the PM's visit to complain about illegal fishing in their tradition fishing grounds (qoliqoli). Commissioner Eastern Colonel Ifiremi Vasu promised naval help when cases were reported. They also asked that fishing wardens be appointed,a move earlier mooted by the Qarase Government.

    Corruption Exposure Continues. A Government audit  shows misappropriation of funds by officers in the Western Divisions’ Accounts section within the Department of National Roads that involves three staff members. In addition, the Department overspent its budget by over $2 million dollars, over 200% over of the allocated budget.

    Government Watches for Transfer Pricing, a mechanism which involves the pricing of goods and services at an inflated price to enable exporters and importers to transfer funds to offshore entities. The Reserve Bank, the Financial Intelligence Unit and the Revenue and Customs Authority are working together to clamp down on this illegal activity that results in lost revenue, lower reserves and the reporting of a worse-off picture of economic growth rates.

    People's Charter
    . For readers who have not read the Charter, here's the  link.

    Save the Children Fiji is mounting a campaign to combat the trafficking and commercial sexual exploitation of children in the country.

    Kings and Queens Road improvements will start in June thanks to a $60 million Malaysian Gvoernment loan.

    What's Happened to the eGovNewsletter?
    Eight issues were  published to 30th September last, and then no more.

    France Fingers Pacific Tax Haven Islands as  Cook Islands, Nauru, Niue and Marshall Islands. Note, Fiji is not the bad guy this time, but two of those mentioned have "special relations" with New Zealand.

    Sunday, April 25, 2010

    Why Did it Take So Long?

    FijiSun Newspaper Daily E News
    The widow of a soldier killed in Lebanon in 1979, leaving her to raise four young children, finally receives some compensation for her loss and sacrifice. Why did it take so long?

    Saturday, April 24, 2010

    (B) Land, The Emotive Issue

    "Jon"   posted these thoughts as a comment on another posting. I 've re-posted it here because I think his thoughts  merit more  prominence.

    So, the government is now going to change the existing land lease law to ensure the NLTB Act doesn’t apply if it is seen to be getting in the way.

    There’s the usual justification for this selective abuse of process, ignoring a law which, despite some faults, has worked pretty well for the past 70 years and which has prevented the undoubted anarchy that would have prevailed if developers had been allowed to do their own negotiations with landowners in the past.

    That justification is ‘Change the law to allow for the landowners to reap the best possible benefit from the land that belongs to them.’ This is laudable in principle but will, I’m sure, be shown to be derisible in practice since it potentially throws open the gate to anyone (or is it only government ones …?) to negotiate direct with landowners.

    Land is the most emotive subject in Fiji and the obvious end result of selectively ignoring the law or rewriting it to suit certain circumstances at certain times is going to be the anarchy that has been staved off by general regard for the sanctity of NLTB leases.

    As an example, in the late 80’s the developers of Denarau Island (EIE and its contractors) tried to ignore the law and, in negotiating terms for land fill with very willing landowners, sidelined the NLTB. Several months later this was rectified but by then the landowners (who had pocketed some of the 25% administration fee that would otherwise have been paid to NLTB) found that they had lost huge amounts of topsoil since no EIA had been carried out. Short term gain for long term pain.

    If the laws which were enacted to safeguard the landowners in the first place are now selectively ignored, landowners run the risk of being done down in future negotiations. Equally, the more militant landowner units, advised by bush lawyers will cause untold grief for developers, resort owners and private householders to the long term benefit of no one.

    By all means streamline the NLTB, investigate and prosecute corrupt practices that its officers might have been guilty of, but don’t throw the baby out with the bath water.

    It’s all very well to try to set the stage for the FMF political party to successfully stand for election in 2014, but the misguided and ultimately ignorant comment about law change made by Tikoduadua is going to resonate far beyond an immediate populist appeal to landowners.

    It could well put further doubt in the minds of potential investors of the security of leasehold land and that will kill any future gold egg-laying geese.

    Lockington's Everyday Fiji ... Life Goes On


    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.
    Employment Centre

    We have encouraged our children to go to school. Government subsidizes some kinds of payment that enables parents to send children to school. (I hope.)

    We have three universities, hundreds of secondary and primary schools run by government, the various religions organisations and private institutions. We also have special schools for the handicapped and the blind. Education is the key to success, it has been said. But that’s debatable.

    Another thousand citizens will have graduated from USP. The Fiji National University just churned out round about 2,000. We put emphasis on education yet a report says that not all will have a job. Can we remedy this?

     One way would be to gauge the market and then advertise for places in tertiary institutions so that we don’t over-populate a certain field. For instance, computer science is popular. I know of many people who have academic qualifications and are unemployed because the market is flooded. We have so many analysts in Fiji who can gauge the market and tell the institutions and schools to prepare students for particular fields. If we have a flood of applications for a certain field, we can tell students to choose another because that particular field is full and jobs will not be guaranteed.

    In fact,  Fiji should set up an employment centre where all companies, private and government, list vacancies. Likewise unemployed or people seeking other jobs can send in their resumes. The employment centre will have all vacancies and a list of all unemployed people in Fiji. 

     How the centre will operate is obvious. Let’s do it.

    Friday, April 23, 2010

    Short Briefs: Govt Appointments, Charter Update, Small Business, Melbourne Storm, Gender Equality, Corruption, What Hassan Khan Actually Said on Poverty

    Musical Chairs. The New Acting Permanent Secretary for Information is  Sharon Smith-Johns, former CEO of the Telecom subsidiary  Connect Ltd. She replaces LtCol Neumi Leweni who has been moved to the Ministry of Lands and Mineral Resources. The PS position will be advertised soon. Sharon is the current chair of the Fiji Audio Visual Commission. The on-off moderate anti-Government blog Coupfourpointfive says she was "dumped" from the Connect position, despite her presumed pro-Coup status, amid claims of poor performance. Others said expatriates were being replaced by locals wherever possible. (Photo: FBL)

    Third Meeting of National Charter Advisory Council: Update. Chairman Josefa Serulagilagi revealed that 23 ministries and departments had submmitted  reports on their progress towards meeting targets of reforms as required in the draft People's Charter, but four government departments have failed to do so.

    The NCAC is currently focusing on three sectors -- Good Governance, Growing the Economy and Social and Cultural issues -- up to 2012. It is tasked to be a watchdog for government to ensure there is real progress on the reforms mapped out in the People's Charter.

    The Council Secretariat will now conduct investigations to verify whether departments have actually carried out the work claimed in their reports, and brief the PM on their findings sometime next month. A Monitoring Centre has been established which will grade ministries and departments on their progress. Those graded in the red or amber zone will have to explain to the PM why targets were not met.

    Small Business Expo. About 100 small businesss enterprises will display their products and services in Suva's Sukuna Park next Wednesday and Thursday. The Expo is organized by the National Centre for Small and Micro Enterperise Development. Government, in several ways, is supporting small enterprises. These include access to microcredit, technical support for food production, general support to buy local products, and of course support for the small enterprise national centre.

    News Limited's Melbourne Storm in Trouble.  Three blog comments: Scandal monger said..."One thing is certain right now about the Fiji Times. The top echelon of its parent, News Limited, will have little time to devote to its problems given the rugby league scandal that has rocked the company this afternoon. The disclosure that the News Limited-owned Melbourne Storm have been deprived of two previous premierships because they paid their players secret amounts above the NRL's salary cap has rocked the whole of Australia. And if you think I'm exaggerating, check out the major Australian news websites. For the sports-mad Aussies to find that the top team in their beloved rugby league got there by cheating is devastating. News Limited is embroiled in a major crisis that will make the prospect of losing the Fiji Times seem like a minor inconvenience."
      
    Proud Fijian said ..."Just saw that - Melbourne Storm's stripped of its title in 2007 and 2009 and cannot accrue points this year. Prize moneys retrieved and fines. Just shows the ethics of these corporations." He was corrected on one important detail by Fair's Fair who pointed out the owners, News Ltd., knew nothing of the deception. He advised Proud Fijian and all readers not to be taken in my biased coverage. "Unfortunately your derogatory, throw away remark will only go to foster the media’s evident belief that we’re all unthinking idiots who will accept whatever they chose to put in front of us."

    Corruption in the Post Office. The case against three senior Post Fiji executives heard in the High Court yesterday has been adjourned to June 21. They are charged with aiding and abetting, abuse of office and conspiracy to defraud. All have plead not guilty.

    FICAC - The Rot Within. Tui Turaga Vunibola, a former officer with the Fiji Independent Commission Against Corruption [sic!], was found  guilty in the Labasa Magistrates Court yesterday of using $8,000 belonging to the Kavugalei Youth Club, earmarking to start a prawn and piggery business, to renovate his house. He was sentenced to 18 months jail.

    Women, Gender Equality and Political Governance
    . UNIFEM Pacific is hosting a ten-day workshop in Nadi on Gender Equality in Political Governance. The workshop, from 19-30 April, has participants from Fiji, Niue, Kiribati, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands and Vanuatu. UNIFEM is the women’s fund at the United Nations. It provides financial and technical assistance to innovative programmes and strategies to foster women’s empowerment and gender equality. Placing the advancement of women’s human rights at the centre of all of its efforts, UNIFEM focuses its activities on reducing feminized poverty; ending violence against women; reversing the spread of HIV/AIDS among women and girls; and achieving gender equality in democratic governance in times of peace as well as war.

    Poverty: What Hassan Khan Actually Said.
      The media has been quick to pick up the FCOSS CEO's comment that poverty could be as high as 60%, more than Government's estimate of 45%  but it failed to include all he said. Speaking on RadioAustralia's PacificBeat, he said the situation was "serious but not desperate" because of "a number of measures put in place by Government" such as food vouchers, the family assistance programme, and by civil and religious organizations.

    He thought there were probably some "pockets of poverty" that help has not reached, but Government and the CSO's were doing "as much as possible to relieve the situation."  The media "omission" would have left many readers thinking the dastardly Government was responsible for the increase in poverty, when in fact it has done more for the poor than any earlier government, and plans (I think, rather unrealistically) to reduce poverty to 15% by 2014. Photo: FijiVillage.

    Thursday, April 22, 2010

    Short Briefs: More Apologies, Charter Progress, Somare, Poverty, IMF Visit


    (+) Nadroga/Navosa Apologizes. Noting that the province was the first to oppose the People's Charter, Chairman of the Provincial Council Ratu Sakiusa Makutu, speaking in Sigatoka  yesterday, asked  forgiveness from the Government. Ratu Makutu said he has changed his stance with his people behind him and he will now support the People's Charter. Meanwhile, the Turaga Na Kalevu said they are now awaiting word from the government on the proposal to separate the two provinces.

    (+) Gau Apologizes. The villagers of Lovu, Gau Island, presented a traditional apology to the Prime Minister as he started his tour to the Lomaiviti Group  yesterday.The villagers said they now support the government’s initiatives and the People’s Charter.

    (+) People’s Charter Meeting Underway. The third National People’s Charter Advisory Council (NPCAC) meeting, delayed because of Hurricane Tomas,  is currently underway in Suva. It will be reviewing reports submitted by various ministries into their operations.

    NPCAC Chairman Josefa Serulagilagi said  “What we will now do is go down and do physical checks based on the reports to ensure that whatever has been given in paper is really happening on the ground.” He said these are all part of Government reforms.

    (o)  Somare and Bainimarama. PNG PM Sir Michael Somare  offered PM Bainimarama some support as he continued his New Zealand tour. Asked about the media “crackdown” in Fiji, he said it could be taken in two different ways. The media must  "try to really interpret what the real thinking in the minds of Island people are and ... look at things in a different way than you in the West look at it ... you’ve got to understand the Pacific people ... and try and translate and report on what they believe.”

    Asked about elections, Sir Michael said: “He's made up his mind, he’s going on 2014 ... I’m hoping that the time will come when he’ll come good and tell us when the elections are going to be held.”

    Speaking of the Melanesian Spearhead Group that refused to follow the Forum initiative to expel Fiji, he said people said the  MSG had failed, but "we kept the dialogue going. I mean I can pick up a phone, talk to Bainimarama tonight if I want to, he can talk to me on the phone."

    (o) How Many Live in Poverty? Hassan Khan, CEO of the FCOSS NGO,  says the notional poverty figure of 45% (360,000 people)  mentioned at a Poverty Eradication Unit-World Bank workshop last week is dated. It was based on a still to be published Household Income and Expenditure Survey (HIES)  held in 2008-2009.  Since then Hurricane Tomas and rising prices have made the situation worse. Khan's guestimate is that 500,000 live below the Poverty Line. 

    Ideally, HIES are held every ten years. The last survey to  be published was held in 2002-03 (urban) and 2003-4 (rural), analyzed by Wadan Narsey  and published in 2006. The survey was based on a geographic and stratified sample of about 5,000 households, and  dollar values were imputed for subsistence produce. The basic needs poverty line (BNPL) differs between rural and urban communities, and in the past was set by an government-NGO advisory committee. I will write more on the new survey when (and if) I can sight a copy. If you can't wait and would like some more wild guesses, and accusations of government complicity, you know where to look.

    (o+) The IMF Mission Team in Suva from 7-21 April discussed Fiji's economic reforms (and possible IMF financial support under a stand-by arrangement) with Government, donors, private sector and public enterprise representatives. The Mission "greatly appreciated the authorities' openness and the frank discussions of the economic challenges faced by Fiji."

    The mission, that included World Bank and the Asian Development Bank representatives, commended Government for the manner in which fiscal and monetary policy was conducted to counteract the severe effects of the global financial crisis and the massive destruction to infrastructure after the January 2009 floods. They noted that despite a 7 percent reduction in revenue, Government maintained its deficit within the targeted level. They also commended the timely action to protect foreign reserves through devaluation.

    The IMF will continue to discuss policy measures required to ensure fiscal sustainability and specific structural reforms to underpin Fiji's medium-term growth while protecting the vulnerable.  It looks for  further progress toward these ends to ensure external stability and help catalyze donor support for Fiji's reform efforts.

    Live Concert in Aid of Hurricane Victims

    Live Concert in aid of  Hurricane Tomas victims,  24 April,  2-9 pm, Vodofone Arena.  Sponsored the National University of Fiji and others.  Click here for full details.

    Short Briefs: Methodists, School Names, Fiji Times, Tuilaepa, Fairer Lease Payments, Sugar


    (o) Methodist Leaders Defied PM: Which Way Will the Dice Fall?  Seven of the 27 churchmen charged with breaking the Public Emergency Regulations face an additional charge of disobeying a directive given during a meeting with the Prime Minister, when he ordered them not to hold the Church conference in 2009. Following the meeting, the Church leaders, who included President Reverend Ame Tugaue and General Secretary Tuikilakila Waqairatu (Photo: Fiji Live), met with the Marama Roko Tui Dreketi Ro Teimumu Kepa in Lomanikoro, Rewa, the hostess and site of the intended Conference, to discuss the Commander’s decision. Prosecutors claim this was a futher breach of the PERs.The Defence lawyer said they needed more time to respond to the additional charge.

    Opinion.
    It would seem  Government intends to maintain pressure on the Church in the hope that the top leaders (who oppose the People's Charter and the Government Roadmap) will resign (which they have refused to do) or be replaced (which can only be done at an Annual Conference.)  Meanwhile, the ongoing publicity given to the Church leaders is just as likely to win them fresh support as to result in their dismissal, one way or another. Many people know the Church has been heavily political for many years, but there's no way of knowing which way this particular  dice will fall. One wonders whether the  "additional charge" was really necessary.

    (+) School Names that Denote Racial Affiliations,  but not schools named after prominent people, are to go.  Education Minister Filipe Bole said the move was part of Government's plan to  “develop a common national identity and build social cohesion” in line with Pillar 2 of the People's Charter. The Minister noted the media is already referring to Fiji citizen as Fijians, irrespective of their ethnicity.

    (-) The Attorney General is Dreaming! The A-G says Government assumes The Fiji Times is "happy" with the proposed Media Decree change that limits foreign ownership to ten percent which would leave the Times having to find new owners or close down. This blog accepts the need to limit foreign ownership but it urges Government to increase the foreign stake to 30-40 percent.

    Samoa’s PM Tuilaepa
    now says Bainimarama has no say or business with either the Forum or its secretariat. He should leave Forum issues to the bonafide elected leaders as small-time unelected thugs are not welcome. He said calling the Commodore a Prime Minister is like calling a scrawny chicken a soaring eagle. [These thoughtful words come to you via  RadioNZ International, ever ready to report consequential news on the Pacific. Older NZ readers will remember the days when  a leading 6 o'clock news item might be that Prince Charles had a cold!]

    (+) Backdated Compensation.
    An estimated 1,200 public servants  injured during working hours will be paid all outstanding claims backdated to 2001. That's right, 2001!  Following a February directive by PM Bainimarama to clear the backlog, some 823 of 2,201 cases were settled within five weeks. The remaining cases should be settled by the end of  May. Institutional reform and an improved public service are part of Government's Roadmap.

    (+) Fairer Lease Payouts. The Land Reforms Committee is looking at ways to ensure fairer payouts to members of landowning units, many of whom have complained their clan heads get the bulk of the lease money. The rest of them have to equally share what is left.

    Large-Scale Sugarcane Farms? FSC CEO Deo Saran says `the farmers must become more commercial and profitable to meet modern day demands. Restoring confidence in the industry and inspiring young people to get into cane farming is the way forward for the industry. He announced the FSC is also looking to develop large scale commercial cane farms that will better handle future challenges. Saran welcomed the Fiji National University initiative to offer a a course in Sugar Productionfor comprising 1 year of theory and 2 years of practical training.

    Psychotherapist Selina Kuruleca said there was evidence that young people are influenced by the lyrics of songs and violence in movies. She said the entertainment media has the potential to influence negative and positive behaviours, but values taught from a young age would help young people choose between the right and wrong.  The particular relevance here is that many of the "values" that have divided Fiji are also taught from a young age.

    Wednesday, April 21, 2010

    Short Briefs: Milk, Poverty, SDL Pensions, Tuilaepa, Methodists, Somare, Unoffical Villages, Asylum Seekers

    Sweetened Milk. Government has made an irresistable proposal to Fiji's 235 registered dairy farmers. They will receive government subsidies for milk production, directly access assistance from the Ministry of Agriculture, manage their own co-operative, and retain their shareholdings in Rewa Dairy. The farmers supply about 11 million litres of milk a year, all which will be purchased by Rewa Dairy.

    The Poverty Eradication Unit of the PM's Office held a workshop, addressed by a World Bank expert, on impact assessment yesterday.  The Qarase and Bainimarama governments have  paid out $1.5 billion from 2000 to 2008 towards poverty alleviation but poverty levels continue to rise.  The Roadmap, I think rather unrealistically,  aims to greatly reduce poverty levels by 2014.  Very major changes are needed to the Fiji economy, wage levels, land tenure, housing, institutional structures and the empowerment of the poor, to significantly reduce poverty.  At best, World Bank tweeking will only help Government keep better tags on how its money is spent.


    SDL Parliamentary Pensions Cut.  The cut now affect 35 former SDL MPs and Cabinet Ministers. Parliamentary pensions should not be confused with the ordinary, contributory,  FNPF pensions which are unaffected.

    PM Bainimarama
    thinks Samoan PM Tuilaepa's constant attacks on the Fiji Government are because he wants the Forum Secretariat to relocate to Samoa.

    Methodist Church top leader
    s have decided not to resign because they don’t want to repeat the mistakes of the past when the church’s constitution was by-passed. [The Constution does not allow resignations?] This follows calls from within the Church for them to resign to help improve relations with Government that accused the leaders of being politicized.

    Methodist Church Members
    have been asked to pay $60,000 towards the court expenses of Church officials who broke the Public Emergency Regulations.  The Ministers are due to appear in Court tomorrow. The charge against seven of them now involves their attempt to hold the 2009 Conference in defiance of PERs.

    Sir Michael Somare may seem to have been batting simultaneously for two opposing teams by making contrary statements on Fiji in Wellington today, but this is often the Pacific Way when offence is to be avoided.

    Unofficial Fijian Villages to be Official. Cabinet has addressed the longstanding anomaly of "unoffical" Fijian villages, that have mostly grown up on peri-urban Native land, and remained unrecognized because of the absence of guidelines to assess their eligibility. To be eligible a village must be on the Native land of its parent Yavusa, the landowners must have agreed to surrender their rights, and the villagers must be from one yavusa and have a recogized leader.

    Asylum Seekers. It seems some former Fiji citizens now in the USA having failed in all else are now seeking to claim political refugee status in order to remain there. In one recent appeal it was ruled: "The critical question is . . . whether circumstances have changed sufficiently that a petitioner who previously did not have a legitimate claim for asylum now has a well-founded fear of future persecution." The appeal was rejected. Apparently things are no worse in Fiji.

    Tuesday, April 20, 2010

    (+) A Counter-NZ Herald Editorial


    Opinion to Counter an Opinion
    Crosbie Walsh
     (Top photo: NZHerald, showing either that Bainimarama has not changed his clothes for the past three and a half years, or that their photographer is on holiday. Bottom photo taken by NZH photographer on holiday in Fiji. He expressed surprised Bainimarama had another set of clothes. The Herald only had photos of him in uniform.

    The latest NZHerald Editorial on Fiji  "Decrees show NZ must stay firm on Fiji" has really put the cards on the table.  If we had any doubt before, we now know how little they know about Fiji and how they see NZ's paternalistic role in the Pacific.

    The Editorial opens by sympathising with the "democracies as they fight to ostracise, shame and sanction dictatorships around to their own way of thinking." This short sentence needs deconstruction. Who are the democracies? Australia and NZ. How do they fight? By ostracism, shame and sanctions. They do not seek to understand or offer assistance to speed up Fiji's Roadmap (if the Editor has heard of the Roadmap). Press on with all the well-worn negatives that in the nearly four years since the Coup have produced no positive results.  And Why? To turn Fiji to our "way of thinking." I can't believe this. The sun sank on the British Empire decades ago along with the White Man's Burden.

    The Editorial continued by condemning the "tiresome subject" for floating a draft Media Decree;  passing legislation giving immunity to "Bainimarama's crew," and decrying the lack of "commitment to a restoration of a proper democracy." Let's take this one at a time.

    First, this is what the Herald wrote on the draft Decree: "It is a remarkable document, one which would make Zimbabwe proud and Singapore blush." There's a lot wrong with the Decree as now worded. If the Editor wants to know what, he could check out the ten points in my analysis posted over a week ago.  But I also provided a background on why the Decree was thought necessary and I stressed it was only a draft. As for Singapore blushing, doesn't the Editor know that Fiji consulted with Singaore advisors and the Fiji Decree was modelled on Singapore. Does he think we should also "stay firm" on Singapore, or it is just a little too important to be bullied?

    Secondly, the immunity legislation. The Editor failed to mention that this also included immunity for the perpetrators of the 2000 Coup,  and neither did he mention that, much earlier, Rabuka, the frontsman for Fiji's 1987 Coup, not only passed immunity legislation but had the immunity written into the Constitution.  Or didn't he think this information relevant?

    Thirdly, we'll forgive the ignorance displayed in the phrase about "restoration" and "proper" democracy.  The Editor clearly has no idea of Fiji electoral history. But there's no excuse for him not knowing about what is happening in Fiji now. Only last week Bainimarama made another statement committing his so-called "crew" to elections in 2014, and, although slightly delayed due of Hurricane Tomas, dialogue consultations may be expected soon (UN observers in Fiji last week consulted NGOs and others on the dialogue progress). Further, the infrastructural aims of the Roadmap are progressing well. Extensive consultations on the new Constitution will be held in 2012.  And  electoral reform consultations soon afterwards, giving at least twelve months for new, non-racist, parties to form and prepare for "proper" elections in 2014. 

    It's all there on the web, if the NZHerald Editor and his colleagues chose to open both eyes. And it's there, also, on my blog, if he would like contextual comments. Given his concern for democracy and media freedom, I wonder why he so rarely never invites contrary comment from informed New Zealanders who think New Zealand has got it wrong.

    My confidence in NZ media freedom has been a little shaken lately. As one of several people he could consult, I cerainly won't be standing by the phone.

    Monday, April 19, 2010

    Military Arrest Bottle Collectors, and Other Stories

    Breaking News. Military Arrest Bottle Collectors.  Check out this breaking news.
    Other news. "Kevin Rudd [is] to learn Fijian dialect after Mandarin. Aims to learn dialects of nations with strict media controls."
    Still more. A new survey that shows a "list of positive contributions to this country by Fiji Times. Being used as lunch wrapper hits it at # 1."

    At long last, a political satire to make us laugh. Namuamua is back. 
    Check out the site. If it continues as good as this, we can expect to see  Dorsami Naidu and Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum laughing at the same article. And perhaps even Qarase and Bainimarama? No. That would be going too far.

    (o) Old Hand Tells of Working for the Fiji Times. Not all as it may seem.

    Check out Blog Comments. People should be careful about what they write about others on a blog.  They can be sued for defamation according to this article in the NZHerald which defined a defamatory statement as "one that tends to lower the person in the estimation of right-thinking members of society, or which tends to cause him or her to be shunned or avoided, or which tends to cause a person to be exposed to hatred, contempt or ridicule, or which is a false statement about a person to his or her discredit."

     (o) Blog on Blog. See what Whaleoil  said about Croz Walsh being "dumped" by RadioNZ, and NZ's hypocritical stance on Fiji.  The blog article finished with "If we want to see elections in 2014 then the best thing New Zealand can do is help the Com­modore not hinder him like we are doing at present."  

    (+) Leases on Native Land. Two-thirds of the 6,406 cane farms where leases expired between 1997 and 2010 are back in use. Most leases have been renewed with existing tenants, others with new tenants, a few leases have been subdivided for subsistence and cane farming, 1,670 have reverted to the landowners, and 374 leases “were still in the process”. The loss of productive land land to industrial and residential use has been a major constraint lon the sugar industry. Other constraints include milling inefficiency, transportation, and skills and labour losses. The FijiLive article reports several proposals to increase sugar production.

    (o) Pacific Conference of Churches calls for "just politics."

    (+) Government will change the Native Land Trust Act or its regulations if the existing laws creates bottlenecks in Government’s efforts to utilize all available land for the economic benefit of landowners and the country. The Permanent Secretary to the Prime Ministers Office Col Pio Tikoduadua  said government is targeting all land lying vacant or idle, that can be put to economic use. To quicken the process government may work outside of the NLTB and negotiate directly with the landowners and investors.

    If necessary government will change the law to allow landowners to reap the best possible benefit from the land that belongs to them. "That," said Tikoduadau, "is our intention".

    (o) Conflict and Disputes hinder Mahogany and Timber Use.
    A Fiji government paper on the forestry sector says conflicts within the industry have been a “huge stumbling block” for the development of the mahogany industry in particular.The paper said disputes over lease conditions, land ownership, stumpage/royalty charges by the Native Land Trust Board and allegations against operators “have been a persistent problem”. This had resulted in a new direction being set for the industry with Cabinet agreeing in June 2008 to transfer ownership of mahogany plantations to indigenous landowners through the Fiji Mahogany Trust and the Fiji Hardwood Corporation Ltd taking on the new role of forest manager.

    (o) Most Villagers in Debt, No Idea of Loans.  A UNDP survey of 14 Naitasiri villages  revealed over 80% of households are in debt and "financial literacy is very low."

    (-) Australia Comments on Fiji Tourism but this photo is definitely not Fiji.

    (+) PM Tour of Lomaiviti
    continues this week with visits to the island of Gau, Nairai, Batiki, Makogai and Moturiki. President  Ratu Epeli Nailatikau is expected to tour the Lau Group in the near future.

    Saturday, April 17, 2010

    (+) No More Handouts: PM



    Prime Minister Bainimarama says  government will no longer offer handouts to fund church buildings and village halls.

    Speaking during a recent two-day tour of Ovalau, Bainimarama said government’s infrastructure development projects are aimed at enhancing the livelihood of local communities.

    “We urge members of the public to work hard. Stop relying on handouts. This government will only see that our roads, water, education and other developments are done to move us forward.”

    “Government will see that infrastructure is maintained to create business and a better economy for the people of Ovalau and for the future generations.”

    The PM visited five villages - Tokou, Bureta, Lovoni, Rukuruku, and Levuka. (Photo: Levuka, Fijiphotos.net)

    He emphasised government's commitment to elections in 2014 and urged the people of Ovalau to rally behind the reforms and the People’s Charter.

    “We are committed towards change and the Charter outlines clearly these changes. We urge you to support these changes and maintain the support to whatever Government that will come into power after elections,” he told the people of Bureta.

    A public consultation was also held at the Levuka Hall with the ratepayers of Levuka Town on a range of issues from education, town development and the issuing of taxi permits. -- Based on  Fiji Live.

    Lockington's Everyday Fiji ... Life Goes On


    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.



    Minibus Service Needed

    Taxi owners and the bus industry will be thankful that illegal vehicles have been taken of the road. 3,000 vehicles were booked. Of that 300 were deregistered. Many people will be without an income, but who cares eh, what they were doing was illegal. About 39 drivers got their licence suspended and four drivers had their driver's licence cancelled. Wow!

    That was some operation that the LTA and Police did. Soon there will not be any illegal vehicles on the road. But like I said before, these activities have been in operation for many years and may have filled in gaps and times where legitimate vehicles dared not go.  Let’s hope we are patching up the hole with backup plans to keep us the travelling public moving. Transport is an essential part of our lives.

    And while I’m on transport, I went down with two ladies to the minibus stand in Lautoka. They are doing a fantastic job. Oh, these guys have LM number plates. But there is a slight problem. A bank manager sometimes has to catch a minibus to get to work early. She works in Nadi. She gets up very early and catches a taxi down to the Namoli Car Park. The few mornings she been down there she has had bad experiences. 

    Twice she was at the stand with only two other people. When the first minibus arrived it stopped right in front of her so she gently moved towards the door. But she got the shock of her live when she was rudely shoved aside by a man. She almost fell on the footpath and cried out, “Hey watch it, man.” The man just hopped right in and sat down without a word. He didn’t even flinch. The next day it was a big lady. She was standing alone when the same van arrived. Once again she was shoved aside but this time it was by a woman, who was much bigger than her.

    Such experiences can put a person off travelling. But she said the minibus association can arrange it so that people buy tickets and you enter the van in numerical order or in a sensible way.   People make an effort to go down early and to be treated like that is terrible.

    I bet the minibus company can consider genteel people who also use the service.

    Thursday, April 15, 2010

    Repentant Rabuka, Graduates, Land Reform, Media Decree, Walsh "Dumped"


    Rabuka: I Was Wrong

    Major-General Sitiveni Rabuka, OBE, MSD, OStJ, architect of Fiji's first coup that overthrew the Fiji Labour Party-led Government of the late Dr Timoci Bavadra in 1987, and who later in the same year carried out another coup to stop the return to civilian rule, visited Viseisei village in Ba yesterday to apologize to the Bavadra family and pay his respects to past President the Tui Vuda Ratu Josefa Iloilo.

    His chief-backed SVT party won the 1992 election and Rabuka became the PM. He lost the 1999 election because extreme Fijian nationalists felt threatened by the SVT "reconciliation" with the Indian National Federation Party.The subsequent fragmentation of the ethnic Fijian vote and near demise of the NFP resulted in the election of Mahendra Chaudhry's mainly Indian Fiji Labour Party-led government that was overthrown a year later by the "Speight" Coup, another attempt to protect the interests of extreme nationalists and the ethnic Fijian elite. Significant, in the context of' the recent Limitation of Liability for Prescribed Political Events Decree 2010, Rabuka passed legislation to prevent prosecution for the 1987 coups, and later, although not a chief, he chaired and was made a life member of the Great Council of Chiefs.

    Those who most criticize Bainimarama now in the name of "democracy" were singularly silent on Rabuka and events from 1987 to 2000. 

    Rabuka now admits he was wrong. He said "justice finally kicked in" when the soldiers came and took his Government 4-wheel drive vehicle and his Prime Minister's pension was scrapped earlier this year.

    Unemployed Graduates. The Chamber of Commerce estimates that only 35% of the 1,000 recent graduates from The University of the South Pacific will find jobs, due to the  difficult economic climate. A USP spokesman said: “It may take a little bit longer for students to find jobs. The job market has not grown at the same rate as we’ve produced graduates. So naturally there’ll be some difficulties in finding jobs, but graduates who’ve got very good results [will] get absorbed in the employment market sooner or later.”

    Land Reform.  The PM's Office is  working on measures to to bring more land into productive use with long, secure leases that will benefit both landowners and tenants.  The measures are essential to encourage commercial farming, crop diversification, and resolve problems pertaining to the ailing sugar industry that has seen production drop sharply this year.

    Fiji's First Food Symposium
    held today was told that milk imports increased from $39.4 million in 2004 to $62.5 million in 2008 while production and the number of registered farmers decreased. Major developments to boost the dairy industry will be discussed when the PM meets Rewa Dairy Cooperative Board members and farmers tomorrow.

    Media Decree. The Ministry of Justice is still working on the draft decree. A-G Sayed Khaiyum said "We are currently transcribing what was said at the consultation and are going to give copies to all participants." Some useful suggestions were madeat the Consultation, participants will be "kept in touch," and the Ministry is open to receive further oral or written comments.

      Walsh "Dumped"
    Media independence and the Fiji Politically-Correct Brigade
    Reprinted from David Robie's Cafe Pacific*

    WHAT ON earth has happened to Radio New Zealand? Or rather, Nights host Bryan Crump? He has apparently dumped professor adjunct Crosbie Walsh, the most informed New Zealand-based blogger and commentator on Fiji affairs (naturally you would expect this calibre as former and founding director of the development studies programme at the University of the South Pacific). Walsh is such a tonic after the plethora of one-eyed and sensationalist anti-Fiji blogs that clutter cyberspace. (Photo: RadioNZ)

    According to Walsh, Crump rang him last night, saying he didn't want the blogger/commentator on any more on Nights programmes. Why? Apparently because Walsh "feels too strongly" on Fiji issues (why not? ... he lived there for more than eight years) and he "borders on the emotional" for this programme.

    Crump added: "It's not what a lot of my colleagues want to hear." Take this as you wish. Three more planned programmes on nights for Walsh for June, September and November have been canned.

    Crump  reckons the Nights spot works best with "commentators" and Crosbie is seen as an "advocate". In fact, Walsh goes to great lengths to get some sort of balance in his blog commentaries, something sorely missing with many media commentators on Fiji. To be fair to Crump, he did invite Walsh to a symposium on Fiji later this year and, according to Walsh, was keen to interview him early next year.

    From all reports, Walsh had an enthusiastic response to previous Nights programmes. This has got Café Pacific wondering, especially when it is considered how unbalanced both Radio New Zealand and Radio Australia frequently are on Fiji commentaries. Opponents of the regime regularly have a field day, but many commentators who try to provide a bit more depth into explaining the Fiji "revolution", as Auckland University's Centre for Pacific Studies political sociologist Dr Steven Ratuva described it last week, or are not sufficiently PC or are too "soft" on the regime, are sidelined.

    A good example of this was a "stacked" Radio Australia feature by Bruce Hill marking the anniversary of the abrogation of the Fiji constitution one year on - four interviewees with a vested interest against the regime: Deported Fiji Sun publisher Russell Hunter - an Australian now living in Apia and is currently development editor of the Samoa Observer; an Australian judge, Ian Lloyd, who ruled against the regime; Australian National University professor Brij Lal - one of the three architects of the abrogated 1997 constitution; and Fiji Law Society president Dorsami Naidu versus Attorney-General Aiyaz Sayed Khaiyum. Where was the independent commentator to balance this line-up?

    Where was the independent commentator to balance this line-up?

    Incidentally, this piece by Thakur Ranjit Singh challenging "media freedom" in Fiji as peddled by the media old guard, is likely to ruffle a few feathers.

    * Professor Robie, currently Head of Journalism at AUT, formerly held similar positions at the University of PNG in Port Moresby and the University of the South Pacific in Suva. He has written extensively on the South Pacific over many years.

    The story is also  covered in Pacific Scoop.

    Wednesday, April 14, 2010

    Women, Economy, If Frank Ruled the Waves, Why Provincial Tours, Corruption Report, Media Freedom

     Short Briefs

    The New Women's Plan of Action (WPA) 2010-2019 will see women enjoy "equal participation at decision-making levels" that are especialy important to women. The five areasinclude: employment; decision-making;violence against women and chldren; reproductive health issues; basic services such as housing, water, sanitation and transport; and women and the Law. Minister for Women Dr Jiko Luveni (Photo FijiVillage)said the WPA will help identify directions for Government action. The initiative is is part of Government’s Roadmap for Democracy and Sustainable Socio-Economic Development (RDSSED) 2009-2014. Read more.

    Valuable Up-to-Date Summary of Fiji's Economic Situation. Concise, balanced and revealing this World Bank report spells out Fiji's vulnerability to internal and external shocks, government reactions to them, and the "very difficult economic challenges" in the year ahead. Foremost among them is the need for
    major structural reforms to improve the performance of the agricultural sector, most especially in the sugar industry.

    If Frank Ruled the Waves
    . There's one obvious error in the World Bank  report.The population is not 834 million. If it were, the South Pacific geopolitical scene would be vastly different. Fiji would be the leading Pacific Forum country, it would dictate Pacer Plus terms; it would win a Sevens rugby gold at the Delhi Commonwealth Games, and Australia and NZ would not be acting the way they have to towards their much smaller neighbour. The World Bank has added three noughts to Fiji's population and Australia and NZ have added three crosses for Fiji to carry.

    Reserve Bank Governor
    Sada Reddy Reserve Bank of Fiji (RBF)  says the country’s road to recovery will be slow and uncertain even though there are positive signs that the worst may be over.

    Why the PM is Touring the Provinces.
    Some say it's to campaign for the 2014 elections. Bainimarama says it's to help build a better Fiji. He told people in Lovoni village on Ovalau that "the 1987 and 2000 upheavals took place because church ministers, chiefs and dirty politicians poisoned peoples’ minds to strengthen racism in the country" and urged the people to support the People's Charter.  He was told he was the first PM to ever visit the chiefly village. Also today, the district of Bureta presented a whales tooth to ask for forgiveness for opposing the Government when they came into power in 2006. The Prime Minister accepted the apology and urged the people to accept all the reforms his government is undertaking.

    The New Biodiesel factory at Lami will soon be an important market for the coconut industry and have many benefits for the country. Some 300 vehicles are already using the product, produced by Hari Punja's Blue Gas Fiji Limited.

    The Critical IMF Loan.
    Government is awaiting a decision by the International Monetary Fund on whether it can borrow about US$459 million to pay for necessary but costly reforms in the Civil Service, Public Enterprises, Fiji National Provident Fund, Land and Agriculture sectors. The reforms will continue using Fiji's own resources but the IMF loan, and IMF technical expertise, would accelerate the reform programmes, and protect foreign reserves and balance of payments.

    What Media "Freedom" Too Often Means
    If any reader remains unconvinced that media coverage on Fiji is deeply biased,  read this report from The Australian in Business with the Wall Street Journal.  Then click on "Related Coverage" and the ten pages of "More Related Coverage" and count the number of balanced reports. Note: The Australian, Wall Street Journal and The Fiji Times are all owned by Rupert Murdoch's News Ltd.

    Former Fiji Daily Post Publisher
    asks when did Fiji last have media freedom.

    The Fiji Independent Commission Against Corruption (FICAC)
    investigated and laid 161 charges against 47 individuals in 2009.Some 4,365 complaints were received, of which 44 percent were resolved without going to Court. FICAC Deputy Commissioner George Langman says a major challenge was maintaining a pool of Senior Prosecutors. IICAC presently employes five Sri Lankan prosecutors.

    Clever Satirical Blog.
    The Namuamua Journal is back again with its first post since 2008. But it's worth waiting for. With so much dreary news about Fiji, "Frank Bainimara Weds Samoan Prime Minister, Tuitaepa Sailele" provides some light relief.

    Scroll down to post with links to Walsh and Robie radio interviews.

    Tuesday, April 13, 2010

    Revolution, Bainimara in Lomaiviti, Media Decree, Economy, Corruption: Short Briefs



    How True!
    Almost Like a Revolution: Ratuva. Saturday was  the first anniversary of the Abrogation of the 1997 Constitution. Reviewing the year on RadioNZI Auckland University's Dr Steven Ratuva,  said major changes had been introduced doing away with almost all the previous governing structures: “In fact the transformation is almost total, it’s almost like a revolution, like a scorched earth policy in the way it’s been carried out. All the old institutions like the Great Council of Chiefs, the Parliament, the Cabinet, the President’s position, the judiciary, the civil service, much of those have been reconfigured.” Ratuva acknowledged the opposition to the regime but said  there is also considerable support. Some areas now have "infrastructure and assistance that was not provided under previous elected governments."

    PM Bainimarama resumed his tour of provinces  yesterday by visiting Ovalau Island in the Lomaviti Group. He will inspect hurricane damage, hold consultations around the island and meet with local chiefs. The PM will visit the rest of the Lomaiviti Group  for a week-long tour next week.

    Auckland Fijian Broadcaster, Community Leader differ on draft Media Decree.

    THE ECONOMY

    PM meets World Bank officials. The PM said the economy has "taken a hit" over the last two years due to natural disasters and the global economic crisis, but the country is working hard to bounce back. He told the visitors Government was "eager to hear what the World Bank views are on Fiji. We will take on board the World Bank's advice and work towards fulfilling clearly defined targets that will strengthen the country’s socio-economic base.” Land reforms and the sugar industry are high on the agenda. The PM said the Bank had given its support for these  initiative and plans are in place for it to assist farmers.

    Bird Farming. A project jointly funded by National Planning and Pacific Feeds Ltd will soon provide employment for men and wowen in Naluuwai village, Naitasiri. The villagers will raise 250 chickens for the next 18 weeks before they are old enough to lay eggs. Managed well, total village revenue should be $23,000.

    Butter Powdered Milk Prices Increase. The retail butter price is up by 52% and powdered milk by 40%. 500g of butter will now cost consumers F$5.40, the same as supermarket prices (NZ3.99) in NZ.  The Fiji increases are due to increased world prices for dairy products. Rapid anti-government bloggers will, of course, blame the increases on the government.

    New Zealand Firm Wins Tender. Tenix Robt Stone, with a local partner, will start work in June on a $4.2 million water supply project that will more effectively utilise and fill the Dokainisuva, Noco and Ovea Reservoirs and see improved water supply volume and pressure in Greater Suva and nearby Nausori.

    Made in China. The 750 sewing machine to be distributed by a visiting All China Women’s Federation delegation this week will assist rural women living  close to urban areas by adding a new source of income to their usual small businesses activities that include needlework and weaving mats. Some 200 sewing machines were previously donated last year.The delegation will meet the women groups in the western and central divisions to share ideas and opportunities aimed at development of women in Fiji.

    The Chinese Ambassador says is making Fiji an paradise for investors. “We have seen reforms within the public service, legislations and decrees introduced to safeguard the economy. We believe that under the leadership of the Fiji government, Fiji will become a paradise for investors.” [Not too much of a paradise, I hope!]

    CORRUPTION, INEFFICIENCIES
    Corruption and Abuse of Office. Former Commissioner Central Inoke Devo has been jailed for nine months  by the High Court in Suva on charges of corruption and abuse of office brought against him by the Fiji Independent Commission Against Corruption (FICAC).

    Pay Stolen. A Government audit has revealed that pay packets were being stolen at the Divisional Engineer Northern’s office.

    Accounts Committee Concerned with Couldn’t Care Less Attitude. Serious breaches of the government rules and regulations have been found within the Department of Mechanical, Works and Engineering at the Ministry of Works by the Public Accounts Committee in its scrutiny of the Auditor Generals 2006 report on the Infrastructure Sector.

    Workers Paid $100,000 to Drink GrogThe Public Accounts Committee revealed the figure in their latest report saying “audit site visits confirmed the men were idle and staff were drinking grog.”  The practice was rampant at the Western Divisional Engineer’s Office. 

    Senior Police Officers Taken into Custody, charged with insubordination.

    Government Clawing Back Former Civil Service Perks. Some 50 Government Quarters are now earning commercial rents, and a further 12 vacant quarters will be renovated soon. PSC Permanent Secretary Parmesh Chand  said that out of the 200 pool quarters in Suva, 100 would be on commercial rent by end of this year and expected revenue collected from the rental for Suva pool quarters only will be over $500,000.00.Chand said civil servants currently occupying pool quarters and not eligible to such quarters will be required to vacate the quarters by 31st December this year and those quarters will be renovated and put on commercial rent to the public as well. Non-entitled civil servants wishing  to occupy government pool quarters in Suva will pay commercial rent. 

    [Rooting out corrupt practices and reforming the Public Service arepart of the Roadmap.]

    *****

    Conversation in a Novel I'm Reading.
     "Three things are certain in this life: death, taxes, and that the press will get it wrong," she said. "Once someone writes it wrong, it stays wrong," he said. 
    [Fiction is sometimes as true as truth!]