Monday, May 31, 2010

Ticks for Key, Sevele, Bainimarama; AI & IMF Reports; Import Substitution; Corruption - Again

(o) A TICK FOR JOHN KEY. NZ has relaxed its ban on Fiji government personnel by allowing Foreign Minister Ratu Inoke Kubuabola to attend a meeting today with the PI Forum Ministerial Contact Group (MCG) comprising the prime ministers of Samoa, Tonga, Tuvalu, Australia, New Zealand and Papua New Guinea. The group will prepare a report on progress towards democracy in Fiji to be put to the 15-nation Pacific Islands Forum meeting in Port Vila, Vanuatu, in August.  Fiji is attending thanks to an invitation, agreed to by other Ministers, from meeting chairman and Tongan PM Feleti Sevele.

(+) ... AND ONE FOR BAINIMARAMA. The PM gave villagers in Lau his mobile phone number and told them to contact him if they are not getting service from any government department. This must be a first for any PM anywhere.

(-)THE AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL REPORT 2010
uses the present continuous verb tense (-ing) to describe Fiji's transgressions when the past tense(-ed) would generally have been more appropriate.  You can't continuously suspend a constitution or dismiss a judiciary?

Fiji, it reported, is  "witnessing ongoing human rights violations and impunity; with the military-led Government suspending the constitution; dismissing the judiciary; imposing emergency regulations to stifle media dissent; and implementing a policing policy that granted impunity to those who perpetrated domestic violence." What policing policy?

The report, however, did broaden its usual definition of justice to include "being able to go to school, to have access to clean water and to obtain decent health care... the rights that we need to live our lives in dignity.” These shortcomings are apparently evident in other Melanesian countries.

New Zealand also came in for some criticism about "discrimination of Maori by the Foreshore and Seabed Act, risks posed to asylum-seekers due to the new Immigration Act, and the privatisation of prisons." I didn't know we had yet privatised our prisons. AI does a lot of good worldwide, but the latest report shows a lack of balance towards Fiji. It under-estimates the task of providing basic services in PNG, Solomon and Vanuatu. All of which suggests that for its Pacific investigations, it is overly reliant on some urban, Western-funded NGOs for  information.

(o-) IMF "SUGGESTIONS" FOR ECONOMIC RECOVERY  include reducing the Government's wage bill; trimming subsidies to vulnerable groups by increasing transparency and accountability and better targetting assistance; eliminating tax holidays, streamlining tax incentives and improving tax administration; and by raising taxes on luxury goods and petroleum. Similar measures have been adopted in many countries since the onset of the Global recession. How they are implemented is as important as the measures themselves.

(o) RESERVE BANK AND IMPORT SUBSTITION. A Reserve Bank five-year and 6% loan facility aimed at encouring domestic agricultural production and reducing the country's imports payments will see $20m lent to commercial growers of produce in which Fiji is not self-sufficient, namely, fruit, vegetables, root crops, dairy produce and beef production. Pork, canned meat and chicken producers,items in which Fiji is self-sufficient, will not be able to access the funds.

(+) LAUTOKA City Council chief executive officer Pusp Raj is on leave pending investigations by the Fiji Independent Commission Against Corruption.

(+) FICAC. The Fiji Independent Commission Against Corruption has been given permission to adjourn the trial of one of its former officers Marica Rokotavaga who is charged with 37 counts of Forgery, Uttering Forged Document and Obtaining Money by False Pretence for allegedly using more than $15,000. The adjournment was granted pending possible charges against other officers.

STATE-CHURCH RELATIONS AND THE GREAT COUNCIL OF CHIEFS. Scroll down to new Na Sala Cava questions on these topics. For earlier topics, click on the link to our companion blog in the side bar.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Typhoid Reports in NZ Media:Croz Complains; Barbara Dreaver Replies


Following the misleading typhoid outbreak reports by the NZ media, I complained to RadioNZ and TVNZ. Below are my letter of complaint,  Barbara Dreaver's reply from TVNZ, and my reply to Barbara.  RadioNZ has not replied.

My Letter of Complaint

TVNZ, RadioNZ and teletext news could lead our tourists to believe they are in danger of catching typhoid if they visit Fiji. Navosa, where the outbreak has occurred, is 50km inland from Sigatoka and the Coral Coast, in an area only visited by tourists on arranged tours of Fijian villages. The main tourist areas are nowhere near Navosa, and the chance of any tourist catching typhoid is extremely remote. To my knowledge no tourist has ever died of typhoid in Fiji, and I doubt many have been infected. The disease can be avoided by taking normal precautions: Do not drink unboiled  water, and wash your hands before eating and after using the toilet.

Further details may be found on my blogsite: crosbiew.blogspot.com

While I am sureTVNZ has not deliberately broadcast this misleading news which must adversely affect the Fiji tourist industry, I am less sure that the journalist Michael Field, well known for his anti-Fiji government views, is not the perpetrator of the information.

I urge you to correct the news before any more damage is done.

Barbara Dreaver's Reply (TVNZ)
Dear Mr Walsh
Thank you for your feedback.
I am not sure where you get your information from but I got mine from the Fiji Ministry of Health and WHO based in Fiji. We got the press conference fed via satellite from Fiji.
In that press conference they specifically said warning letters had gone out to hoteliers on the Coral Coast to watch their staff and guests, that hotel employees should not be around food if they were feeling unwell and the Ministry was discouraging visitors to the area - and as well as cancelling public gatherings an emergency response team is looking at banning all movements to the area. They said they fear the typhoid outbreak is spreading swiftly. Fiji TV also broadcast the above facts.

There was nothing misleading about the TVNZ piece, it was based on the information from Fiji Ministry of Health - in fact kudos has to go to the Ministry for being so upfront about the situation and acting to prevent its spread.

Thank you for your blog details - I admit I have never heard of your blog - but then I tend to avoid blogs except David Robie's from AUT as I find they are generally based in opinion and very little fact. Certainly we would not use details from a blog as fact for a news story. Neither would I get facts for a news item from another journalist's article.

Regards, Barbara Dreaver

My Reply to Barbara
Bula Vinaka Barbara,

In thanking you sincerely for your reply, I think it important to comment further on the matters raised.  

I have not claimed that you (or any other NZ journalist) has not reported the facts.  My complaint only concerns their misrepresentation.  If you read the releases from Michael Field, TVNZ, teletext and RadioNZ , there can be little doubt that the NZ public would think visiting Fiji a health risk. The failure of the media generally to locate the outbreak, Michael's statement that it was affecting the "main tourist area," and TVNZ's statement that "the area of Navosa ... includes the tourist coral coast." was the main cause of my complaint.   

It is not the facts that are in dispute, but the way some facts are reported and others, that should be reported, are not. When journalists consciously do this, it is hard to believe they are merely reporting the "facts." The conscious selection of facts to report a situation out of its context (in this case its location) constitutes an opinion that could well misrepresent the facts.

You refer to the Ministry of Health warnings about visits, public gatherings, and possibly banning movement in the "area". This clearly refers to Navosa, not the Coral Coast, where a separate warning was sent to hoteliers.  You do not make this important distinction in your letter. 

You correctly report that the outbreak could spread, but it should, I think, also have been reported that, for the moment,  the outbreak is confined to an isolated, inland part of Viti Levu, some distance from the Coral Coast and much further away from the main tourist area.  Most NZ reports did not make this at all clear.

I am surprised that as a well informed Pacific journalist, you have never heard of my blog. To date it has had nearly 10,000 unique visits from Australia, 9,000 from Fiji and 8,000 from New Zealand. The blog frequently reports items published on David Robie's sites, and indeed David often used my material. The blog also publishes "facts" and "opinions" seldom reported by our media.  Its political stance and the political leanings of my postings are indicated. I am no newcomer to Fiji, and the blog is informed from a wide range of sources.  Your inference that my sources are somehow less reliable than yours is unfounded. 

I attach for your interest a link to my article on Fiji blogs published in David's Pacific Journalist Review. The original paper was presented to the PIPSA conference in Auckland last December.  http://www.pjreview.info/issues/docs/16_1/pjr_16%281%29_FijiBlogs_pp154-177.pdf

Several of my readers have suggested the recent misreporting of the typhoid outbreak be taken to the Broadcasting Standards Authority.  I do not think this is necessary on this occasion.

Thank you again for your reply.
 Croz
 P.S. Your statement that "kudos has to go to the Ministry for being so upfront about the situation and acting to prevent its spread" puzzles me.  You seem to suggest it might have done otherwise.

Prof. Crosbie Walsh
Horowhenua

Saturday, May 29, 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 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.

 Operation  Kadi Vuka

I attended a Kadi Vuka presentation by Bio Security officers at Tilak High School on the termite problem in Lautoka. I found out that it is a national issue. At a glance we think that the problem is confined to wood being eaten and plants being destroyed. However, the PowerPoint presentation by Bio Security officer Lautoka Mr. Nilesh Chand was an eye opener for many of us. We got to learn that the problem extends to tourism, business, health safety and the economy.  Mr. Chand was very articulate and thorough in the presentation and we did not have any questions. We even got to see specimen of the insect.

As for the danger it poses, tourists will shy away from Lautoka if they feel they are in danger of buildings infested by termites collapsing on them. Countries that we normally export produce of wood product to may not want to deal with us for fear that produce will have the problem. At the moment there is no chemical that has been identified to properly combat this particular termite but experts are working on things.

The team that is working with the Bio Security officers include military and police officers and civil servants and they work long hours. I marvel at the speed that government has reacted in containing this danger. Agriculture is in danger. We depend on it for sustenance and exports.

Having looked at slides of schools that were infested and damaged, one can see that this insect has a voracious appetite. No bigger than a grain of sand the devastation it can cause is enourmous.

We have been informed by the Kadi Vuka taskforce to report sightings of the insect or if we suspect something. And I salute Mr. Lemeki Rautcicivi and his team for the awareness and empowering programe and  hope we will eradicate this menace.


Allen Lockington

Friday, May 28, 2010

Playing Politics with Typhoid


Map Health centres. Click to enlarge.The area affected is inland of Sigatoka.
The Facts
The Fiji Ministry of Health has declared a state of public emergency in Navosa following two deaths, 20 confirmed cases and reports of over a 100 suspected cases of typhoid, a disease spread by bacteria that is usually transmitted through eating contaminated food or drinks prepared by someone who is sick. People over two years of age are being vaccinated to prevent the spread of the disease and public gatherings have been cancelled.

The Ministry advises visitors to villages and settlements to exercise caution with local water supplies and recommends tourists carry their own drinking water on such excursions. Tourists should avoid taking part in kava drinking ceremonies in rural areas unless tour operators can provide assurances that Fiji Ministry of Health guidelines are being observed. The public is urged to wash their hands with soap before taking food and after visiting the toilet. Australia is providing 60,000 vaccines and syringes. Notices have also been sent to hotel owners in the coastal areas to take precautions as the disease is infectious and could spread to other parts of the country.

No new travel advisory have been posted on DFAT or MFAT websites. Fiji remains "high risk" for Australians and "some risk" for New Zealanders --but for political reasons. The only MFAT health advisory on typhoid was posted last year when tourists were advised not to drink unboiled water when visiting rural villages. This, of course, could mean that the websites have not yet been updated.

Having a Field Day*
The outbreak is serious but the level of risk to tourists is surely overstated by Michael Field under a Stuff heading "Tourists warned of typhoid in Fiji." The warning he referred to came from Fiji health authorities who, as noted above, advised tourists to "exercise caution... on such excursions." The advice was specific to excursions (to villages) up the Sigatoka River. It was not a nation-wide warning.

 Field goes on to write: "A public health emergency has been declared in Fiji after an outbreak of typhoid in the major tourist belt region of the country."

The health emergency is limited to Navosa. The area affected is definitely not part of the Fiji's "major tourist belt." The outbreak is in Navosa, centred on Keiyasi, some 50km  inland from tourist hotels on the Coral Coast. It is accessible by an ungravelled road alongside the Sigatoka River. The relatively few tourists who visit the area do so on organized "village tours." Fiji's major tourist area is not the Coral Coast. The Nadi-Mamanuca area attracts over one-half of Fiji's tourists; the Coral Coast about a quarter. The nearest part of the Coral Coast (where no typhoid cases have been reported!) is a further 50km away from Nadi. Field blurs these localities and distances.
Further, Field writes: "The Fiji Times reported the outbreak was substantial but Health Ministry spokesman Iliesa Tora was refusing to divulge statistics of those infected." What more does Field want? He knows there have been two deaths, 20 confirmed and about a 100 suspected cases. Does he also want to know their ages and sex? No one is trying to hide the statistics, as Field infers. The figures have been reported in the mainstream media and the public is being kept up to date with developments. The latest figure is 263 suspected cases with 28 cases confirmed.

The problem has been caused by upstream villagers using the river as a toilet, and downstream villagers using the same water for drinking and cooking. Health spokesman Iliesa Tora (mentioned by Field for "refusing to divulge statistics") said "health teams had in the past educated villagers on the effects of unhygienic practices but this seemed to have been largely ignored."

Field goes on: "The US Centre for Disease Control (CDC) says typhoid fever is a life-threatening illness caused by the bacterium Salmonella Typhi"? All health authorities in tropical countries know about typhoid. Why does Field cite the US; why highlight that it is life-threatening? Relatively few people die of typhoid; vaccinations are available; infection can be avoided by taking normal sanitary precautions, and no tourist to Fiji has ever been known to die of typhoid, and I doubt more than a handful have ever been infected.

In contrast to Field's report, the US Gant Daily reported Ana Tudrau-Tamani (AHN News) from Suva. "Two people are confirmed dead in Fiji as a result of a typhoid outbreak in Navosa, one of Fiji’s fourteen provinces, forcing the Health ministry to declare a state of Public Health Emergency in the province." She is not quite right. Navosa is not yet an independent province from Nadroga but she did know it is not part of of Fiji's "major tourist belt" and The Sydney Morning Herald, reporting a new
infection figure of 263, called Navosa as "an isolated province on the main island of Viti Levu."

It is hard to believe that a slip of the pen caused our veteran Pacific journalist to get his geography so wrong.
* Definition field day: An opportunity for unrestrained activity.

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Thursday, May 27, 2010

Ono-i-Lau, Cakaudrove Apologize, Matanigasau - What Do They Mean? Aus Aid, Pacific Media Centre

Ono-i-Lau.Volcanic and coral; 7.9km2, max.elevation 113m. Pop.about 300.  Nearest island,Vatoa,90km. Distance to Suva 400km. Strong Tongan influences. Distance to Tongatapu 280km. photo  commons.wikipedia.com

(+) ONO-I-LAU APOLOGIZES. As the PM's tour of the Lau Group continues, Fiji's southernmost island offered a traditional apology for not previously supporting Government. The PM told the islanders that his government is making numerous changes to bring rural people in developments they had not seen before.Government's focus is now on education, health, water, roads and electricity as well as removing race based politics. Once again, the PM condemning previous goverments that had used a chief and church power base to stay in power, he said he wants to hand over power to a Government after the 2014 General Elections "that will stand for a good country and one people."

(+) GOVERNMENT NOT DISRESPECTFUL OF CHIEFS OR CHURCH. PM Bainimarama  told villagers on Ono-i-Lau that Government had not dissolved the Great Council of Chiefs out of disrespect but to stop politicians from influencing and manipulating the august body. He says the chiefs were getting involved in politics and seeking more for themselves than looking after their people. Actions against the Methodist Church were taken for similar reasons. He knew that the island had supported the SDL government but many did not know the problems and instability they were posing to the country. That is why the Military removed them from power.


(+) CAKAUDROVE PROVINCE SUPPORTS THE GOVERNMENT. The Cakaudrove Provincial Council meeting in Savusavu yesterday and today  will discuss the proposed new village by-laws and the registration of turaga-ni-koro (village heads). A motion put to the meeting to support the Government was supported by all of the province's 15 tikinas (districts). It is significant that the motion was first discussed by Bose va Koro (village meetings) and by the Bose ni Tikina before being brought to the Provincial Council. It may also be significant that the Paramount chief of Cakaudrove, the Tui Cakau, who is not a Government supporter, was not present at the meeting citing personal reasons.

WHAT DO THE TRADITIONAL APOLOGIES MEAN? With most areas of Fiji now having apologized to the PM for not previously supporting his Government, is it important to know what the matanigasau (traditional apologies) actually mean.

Anti-government bloggers say they are merely a means of seeking Government "development" largesse; others say they mean nothing because most are by provincial councils and not by the vanua (people); and others say it is the way of ethnic Fijians to protect their backs by following the wind. A contrary view is that the matanigasau are evidence of a significant shift in popular support towards Government. More ordinary people now know what it wants to do; what the Qarase government was doing, and what is now being done to improve their lives. Seen in this light the matanigasau could be seen as a referendum on Government's Roadmap.

It is, of course, impossible to know the sincerity of the apologies but their importance should not be underestimated. Nor should it be forgotten how the ousted SDL Party came to power. Speaking to Pacific Scoop last September, Bainimarama was asked why he didn't have democratic elections and leave an elected government to make political reforms. He replied: “In Fiji, you don’t come up with your own vote. Your vote is dictated by the chiefs. It is dictated by the Great Council of Chiefs. It is dictated by the provincial councils. And it is dictated by the [Methodist] Church. So it’s not your vote. So don’t tell me that's democracy." 

If this was the case before -- and it was -- the matanigasau would seem to be at least as representative now of ethnic Fijian opinion as the 2006 Fijian communal votes -- and possibly a whole lot more. The only question now is whether they would go back on their apologies and support for Government if the same group of chiefs and churchmen who helped Qarase win the 2006 elections were allowed to resume their former ways.

AUSTRALIAN PACIFIC AID 2010-11
  ($Amillion). PNG 457.8, Solomon Is 225.7, Vanuatu 66.4, Samoa 39, Fiji 37.2, with smaller amounts to other PINs.

PACIFIC MEDIA CENTRE
(www.pmc.aut.ac.nz). Big changes are being made to the Pacific media websites associated with AUT's veteran Pacific journalist Prof. David Robie that may cause some short term inconvenience as the PMC upgrades its websites over the next few months. Pacific Media Watch (www.pacmediawatch.aut.ac.nz) is temporarily suspending its regional Pacific Media Watch e-list monitoring service, but it is maintaining its online D Space database updates.The PMC team will continue to provide contextual and in-depth coverage on media and regional news through its various services, such as PMW Online (www.pacmediawatch.aut.ac.nz), Pacific Media Centre on YouTube (www.youtube.com/pacmedcentre), Twitter(http://twitter.com/pacmedcentre) and on Pacific Scoop (www.pacific.scoop.co.nz). The Centre also produces Pacific Journalism Review (www.pjreview.info).

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

A National Pledge? PM's Lau Tour, IMF & Public Spending, FNPF Owed $8m, Suspect Hardware Pricing

MY PJR PAPER ON FIJI BLOGS.  For those of you unable to access the link supplied, click on the Pacific Journalism Review front page in the left column, and then scroll down to the hyperlink for the article.  While you're there, look at the other articles in this and other issues and consider taking out  a subscription.
(+) PM'S PROVINCIAL TOURS CONTINUE: LAU.  The PM visited Moala on Tuesday and has travelled on to Totoya and Ono islands. His message is familiar. Peace and stability is dependent on the removal of racism in politics. Fiji's land and other resources must be released to grow the economy and speed development. He mentioned the potential for tourism in the island.  His traditional welcome was also familiar. Chiefs and yavusa heads admitted they hadn't support the People’s Charter in the past but pledged their support to the PM's leadership and direction he is now taking the country.

(+) FOLLOW UP ON GAU VISIT. Following the PM's visit to Gau, Government has supplied the islanders with water tanks and chainsaws, as promised.

(o) THE IMF AND PUBLIC SERVICE SPENDING.
  This was found to be high relative to comparator countries due to higher wages and the numbers employed. The central government wage bill exceeds 10% of GDP but the share total of spending on wages and salaries is nearly 40%. But Government's corporatisation plan to reduce these numbers merely shifts the figures into another category. What has changed? The Pacific Islands have always had large public sectors relative to "developed" countries but this is not necessary a "bad" thing.

(+) THE FIJI NATIONAL PROVIDENT FUND IS OWED $7.65million by over one hundred employers for outstanding contributions. If they have not paid up in ten days time, they will be prevented from leaving the country until they have done so.  Defaulting employers have broken the law, as the contribitions have already been deducted from workers' wages and income, but have yet to be handed over.

HARDWARE PRICES ROCKET. A Consumer Council survey has found hardware price increases of up to 57% in the first quarter of this year and has called on consumers to assist the Commerce Commission’s investigation.

(-) FIJI LIVE'S LATEST 'POLITICAL'POLL asks "Can Fiji achieve a 4.2 percent unemployment rate by 2012?" Votes so far: Yes 33%; No 67%.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Qasase Is/Isn't Shamozzle*, PER, Lagoon Resort, Fiji Forests



(o-) QARASE'S PENSION. Yesterday we welcomed a statement from Radio Australia and Michael Field that Qarase's pension was among those to be reinstated. Today the PM's Office says it is not. The incident once again illustrates the importance of Government pre-empting releases from anti-government sources, and not having to counter the reporting of events after they have been reported.

The Lagoon Resort incident reported below provides another example.  A Government News Agency, responsible for all government press statements, is urgently needed. Perhaps this could be a further task for the Acting Permanent Secretary for Information.   
P.S. A note to "Roy" and others commenting on this issue. These are not FNPF pensions!!!!

* Shamozzle = A problem that really isn't necessary, or that could easily be fixed, but usually isn't.

(o) MY PAPER ON FIJI BLOGS AND 'CYBERNET DEMOCRACY
'. Several readers helped with the comments for the paper I presented at the Pacific Islands Political Studies Association conference in December. The paper, Political Blogs on Fiji: A 'Cybernet Democracy' Case Study has now been published in the Pacific Islands Journalism Review.  If you would like to read it now or later, copy this link to Mediafire, and then sscroll down to the pjr file Fiji Blogs. Alternatively click here. http://www.mediafire.com/?j3zgmndzijb  To check out and possibly subscribe to PJR, founded  by David  Robie, click the links in the left hand column.

(o-) WHAT'S HAPPENING WITH PER? Last week we were told the proclamation of the new Media Decree was very close, and then the Public Emergency Regulations would be lifted.  Now Government  has extended PER for another 30 days from 28th May.

PER came into effect on April 10, 2009 following the abrogation of the 2007 Constitution and has been extended on a month-to-month basis ever since. It is important Government gets its relations with the media back on track as soon as possible. Extending PER won't help this. There now also seems no further need to have restrictions on public meetings and other rights of assembly. Abuses of these rights can be handled by the police.

(-) INCREASING THE NEGATIVES FOR TOURISM AND INVESTMENT. It's strange. While Government and the tourist industry are working hard to grow the industry, and while everyone knows the effect of negative reporting, hasty action by the Fiji Development Bank, and insenstive on-site handling of a resort mortgage dispute by Homelink Security (a private firm staffed by former military officers), has generated more negative news for the intrepid Michael Field to release to the world. Ignore his several errors and exaggerations. This is par for Field when reporting on Fiji. The kernel of the story is bad enough. Why on earth has the FDB stopped the Lagoon Resort at Pacific Harbour, west of Suva, from operating while it disputes a mortgage issue?   The mortgage was not foreclosed. The sensible thing is surely to keep the resort open so that it may earn money to repay the mortgage and keep its staff employed. 

The NZ resort's owners, Jim and Heather Sherlock, are well known in National Party circles. They are exactly the sort of people to persuade the NZ government to "ease up" on Fiji. Let's hope they continue to do so. Their application for an injunction will be heard in Suva today, but the resort has been closed for 16 days already and forward bookings have been cancelled.

(+) CORRUPTION COMMISSION AND FJI FORESTS.The FICAC is to  investigate the suspicious sale of Fiji Forests shares.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Qarase's Pension Restored, Cybernet Terrorism, Women's Centres, Govt Borrowing, Govt & Media: PINA Says Keep Door Open


(+) ONE STEP BACK, THREE STEPS FORWARD. The PM's announcement that pension payments will resume for former parliamentary leaders and other outspoken critics is the sort of forward-looking conciliatory acts we need to see more of. Among those affected by the December Pensions Decree were former prime minister, Laisenia Qarase, and the leader of the 1987 coups, former Prime Minister Sitiiveni Rabuka.

The pension stopped was not the  FNPF pension to which all members contribute, but pension 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. This important distinction has never made clear by the international media who left the public thinking that Fiji's "John and Jane Citizen" had been reprived of pensions to which they had contributed for the whole of theire working lives.  So much, once again, for the impartiality of the media!

CYBER TERRORISM WRITES: "Croz, I think it's terrific that you've finally done what other blog owners routinely do and that is to approve every comment before it's posted. I used to admire you for upholding the principle of freedom of speech in giving people direct and unfettered access. But this freedom has been totally abused by a small minority and the recent cyber attacks make it impossible to continue with your previous practice. Sad that it's come to this but that's life on the internet - an information highway dotted with intellectual thugs and technical vandals."

Another reader, Cyber Bores,  said "Maybe we can have cyber floggings in which adolescent minded cyber vandals receive fatal doses of radiation from their screens." [To make the fullest use of this blogsite, read Comments by clicking on "comment" at the the end of each post. They add information, argument and sometimes humour.]

(+) WOMEN'S FEDERATION CENTRES
. Ministry of Women, Social Welfare and Poverty Alleviation head, Dr Jiko Luveni,  says government will set up six centres, two in each Division, to help "pull women out of poverty and enable them to realize their potential in national and economic development." The centres will be run by the Fiji Womens' Federation to ensure all Government resources directed towards women empowerment are well coordinated without any duplication. The first centre at Tacirua outside Suva will open soon.

(o-) WARNINGS ON FSC AND GOVERNMENT BORROWING.
The Fiji Sugar Corporation  has borrowed $86.9m locally in the last nine months, over half from the Fiji National Provident Fund at 9-10%, $22.5m from the Reserve Bank at 7-8%, and $19m from the Bank of Baroda at 8-9%, $1.4m from the Bank of South Pacific at 8.3%.Offshore borrowings was $4.2m million from the EXIM Bank of India. Total borrowings stood at $91.1 million. FSC lost $8.3m in the three months ending in February.

The Asia Development Bank and the IMF are looking for ways to assist but futher loans will depend on the success of Government's structural reforms to improve the economy. Fiji's current total debt is about 53% of GDP, which is above theshold of sustainability that international agencies prefer to loan against. The ADB has adopted a"wait and see" approach while talks continue.

GOVERNMENT AND THE MEDIA.
Newly appointed Acting Secretary for Information Sharon Smith-Johns says her job is to improve communication between the interim regime and the media. She says she wants to open up the channels of communication, by making ministers and civil servants more available to the media.

“It has been difficult. The government is always willing to talk to the media. There has been some irresponsible reporting in the past, and we all know that, we recognise that, both sides. But I think moving forward, we can’t spend too much time looking at the past, what is past is past, it is moving forward, it is forming relationships, it is understanding from both sides.” She says government does not want to gag the media, and the media decree, when it is implemented, will ensure balanced reporting.

(+) MEDIA DECREE AND PINA. Pacific Islands New Association President Moses Stevens  says he has received assurances that changes were being made to the decree in areas such as the proposed penalties for for journalists deemed to have breeched the legislation.

He said it was important dialogue with the government was kept open: “If we had a closed door between us and the government, then we would be left out of the process and I think that door should be open, the government must understand where we are coming from and we will understand them and maybe we will work together at getting the people ready for 2014.” PINA says it would like to help train members of the interim government in Fiji on understanding the role of the media.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

WEEKEND LINKS

THE PROS AND CONS OF CHINESE INVOLVEMENT IN THE NADARIVATU HYDRO DAM CONSTRUCTION. Click here.

AUCKLAND TO DENARAU YACHT RACE has started.  Here is the link  to follow it real time. Scroll down to Map the GPS Tracker. It could take a while if you don't have broadband.

Saturday, May 22, 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 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.

Talk Softly to Your Kids

It was reported on the BBC that a Devon, England, man who hit his baby son must pay him £50.

"A father who hit his baby son because he knocked a photo frame off a television has been ordered to pay him £50 compensation. The man, who cannot be named, lost his temper when the 10-month-old hit the television with his baby bouncer, Exeter magistrates heard. The 24-year-old man, from Okehampton, Devon, admitted assault and was given a 16-week jail term suspended for a year.

"He was also ordered to complete 60 hours of community service. The court heard that the incident happened last December. The child had facial injuries."

Just imagine the man has to do community work for hitting his son. If we were that strict with that law here we would curb domestic violence and child abuse. But we must understand that we have to discipline our children every now and then, because like an uncle of mine said, “They will run amok, and run all over you, the child will lose respect.” Some other things Uncle said can’t be printed.

In Fiji a child is belted even for little things. But my guru said – “To a child, talk softly, but hold a big stick.” Because perhaps our society and culture is different.

Allen Lockington

Friday, May 21, 2010

Village "Floggings," Blog Vandals, IMF/ADB & the "Democracy" Lobby, Land Reform, Pubic Service Exhibition

Scroll down to see new Na Sala Cava questions. Which path forward for Fiji?


Click on "Comments" below to see what at least one person is prepared to do to disrupt dialogue between moderately-minded readers. See also below "Blog Vandals at Work Again."


VILLAGE FLOGGINGS? JUNGLE LAW? The Village By-Laws proposed by Government have produced much media misinformation.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Na Sala Cava New Website, Sun Rises Again, Aus-NZ-Fiji, Beddoes, Sugar Leases, Samoa "Pot"

NA SALA CAVA?  Two new "Way Forward" questions (#4-5)  will be posted tomorrow Friday at noon. Scroll down to see the first three questions and comments.

NEW BLOG SITE. Instead of summarizing the comments as previously intended,  I have opened a new blog site, Na Sala Cavu? Which Path Forward for Fiji? Click here here  to check it out how it looks for #1-3 .  More details tomorrow.

FIJI SUN RISES AGAIN. The Fiji Sun 'article' lauding the PM, criticized so strongly by this blog and readers, was not a hoax but neither was it an article. It was, in fact, a letter to the editor published by the Sun last Saturday and uploaded, more of less automatically, to the Sun's website.

AUSNZ OUT OF TOUCH WITH REALITY, FIJI, PACIFIC. PM Bainimarama has  condemned the PI Forum Secretariat for not including Fiji in trade and development talks being funded by the European Union. Bainimarama says the EU has provided funds through the Forum Secretariat for trade and development talks between Pacific Ministers and officials wanting to trade with the EU. He says Fiji should be part of these talks despite its suspension, but the Forum Secretariat is not including Fiji due to the influence of Australia and New Zealand.  The EU has not cut off relations with Fiji.

MIKE BEDDOES CHALLENGES GOVERNMENT. Speaking to RadioNZI, ousted opposition leader Mike Beddoes challenged Voqere Bainimarama to stand in the 2014 Elections. He said, “I’m assuming I’m one of the people that he (Bainimarama) would rather not see get elected to the House. For me there is a very simple way to sort it out. He can assign someone to stand against me or he might want to stand against me. Or he might want to form a party and go to the polls because it’s not my decision, it’s not the politicians’ decision. It’s the people’s decision.” The PM has said he wants a new generation of politicians to stand in the elections. [Why did RadioNZI ring Fiji to get this response? Mike said nothing he's not said before so it's hardly news.  The station can't even reply to my emails.]

SUGARCANE TALKS
. A second round of consultations, involving the NLTB and landowners, to get leases renewed is expected soon.The first week-long round,  involving the Committee for Better Utilisation of Land (CBUL) and mataqali, the extended family landowning units,  concluded two weeks ago. Tavualevu mataqali in Ba Province  had held a joint meeting and had concluded they needed expert advice to resolve a few issues. The Turaga ni Koro said "There are some landowners who have debts with NLTB because of unpaid leases and there is also the issue of the amount of land owned by each mataqali. Three mataqali's in the village own huge pieces of land whose leases will soon be expired and the others have smaller pieces of land." The PM said that  if it previously took the NLTB two years to perform these tasks, he wanted it done in two months.

POT AND KETTLE. SAMOA MEDIA NOT FREE. With Samoan PM Tuilaepa berating Fiji on its media laws, this is what Savea Sano Malifa, founder and editor-in-chief of the Samoa Observer,  had to say about media freedom in Samoa:  "Tuilaepa should now turn those words of his into action, and remove all the restrictive policies threatening to stifle media freedom and freedom of information in his own country. He can start by repealing the Publishers and Printers Act 1992, declare defunct the policy allowing public funds to be used for the legal fees incurred by government leaders suing newspapers for defamation, and chuck out the ancient British law of criminal libel from Samoa’s law books. That would be a big improvement. And then to really convince (people that) he intends to make Samoa’s media “free, strong and robust” so that they can help him and his government 'tackle institutional corruption,' all he has to do is introduce an Official Information Act in his country."

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

MSG Invitations Significant, Poverty & Social Wage, FNPF Devaluation, Nurses, RKS Apology

NA SALA CAVA?  Readers are urged to scroll down to the three "Way Forward" questions, read what others think, and add their own comments.Today is the last day for comments that I'll summarize this week before postingmore question on Friday.

THE SUN ARTICLE. I think some people are reading too much into the Fiji Sun article I criticized yesterday. Many readers agreed with me that the article did Government no favours. I'm sure the PM was embarrassed by its publication.  It was "way over the top", but the article was not typical. Far from it. Most Sun articles are at least as professional as other media, and their coverage often much better.  Anti-Government readers should spare their criticism for The Fiji Times whose typical lack of coverage favourable to Government is constantly  "way over the top"  -- although it seems to have improved a little lately.

A reader commented: You're right, Croz. Anyone who has any sympathy with the regime at all ought to be horrified by this piece in the Fiji Sun. Because it's precisely the kind of crude, unsophisticated propaganda that is guaranteed to be totally unproductive.

MELANESIAN SPEARHEAD GROUP-PLUS. Fiji is hosting the MSG meeting in July, and after consulting members the PM has invited leaders of the Pacific smaller states to attend "because that is the request they put through to me after we were removed from the PI Forum by Australia and New Zealand ... Island states have said that they would like to talk and that would be the only forum that would be available for them to talk to us - the MSG." [This is a significant geopolitical move by Fiji that marginalises Australia and New Zealand. The reaction and uptake will be interesting.]


POOR NEED 'SOCIAL WAGE.'  Integrating services helping the poor and government assistance to provide them with a social wage (that includes the money needed for transport, health and education) will help lift the poor out of poverty, according to USP Development Studies Professor Vijay Naidu, speaking to a Consultation on the Definition of the Poor and their Needs.

“What is needed for our government to do is to bring all these different types of support together and put it in some kind of framework so that we see an integrated process ... What I am saying is not original; it has been reported in the UNDP Fiji Government poverty report, that if we head towards being a low wage economy, it is government's duty to provide subsidies and I’d like to say that the government is doing that.” At the end of today’s workshop, participants are expected to draft a poverty statement for Fiji.

FNPF DEFENDS NATADOLA DEVALUATION. An internal forensic audit into the Natadola Bay resort project suports the writedown from $301 million to $81 million which reflects the resort's actual value. The FNPF is taking steps to hold those accountable for the writedown and has also identified specific actions to ensure that these funds are recovered over time.The FNPF said this will not happen overnight. The Fund has engaged Deloittes from Australia to conduct a forensic investigation into the Natadola Project.

MORE NURSE TRAINEES
. The nurse training intake for the next three years  will be 170, up from 90, to address the nursing shortage. Health Minister Dr Neil Sharma said the Fiji School of Nursing intake will increase from 90 to 120 and the Fiji National University to 50. Typically, 60 nurses a year left the workforce through retirement or migration. This year 65 nurses have been promoted to create space for new graduates, and 20 nurses who had returned from working overseas had been absorbed into the workforce as senior nurses.

RATU KADAVULEVU SCHOOL
. The PM has apologized to parents, guardians and students for the one week closure of the school due to the kitchen not meeting health standards. The fault lies with the PWD that was given funds a week ago and failed to do anything. The PM, a school old boy, will open the ndew multi-million dollar school Chapel at the end of the month following a request from Old Scholars.

WELL WORTH LOOKING AT. Two items in the left column. Scroll down to see the video of the Queen's 1953 visit to Fiji and Tonga, and further down for the latest political satire in the Namuamua Journal.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Fiji Sun Sinks Low, "Fascist Lord Haw Haw," FNPF, Visits to Lau & Rotuma

NA SALA CAVA? Readers are urged to scroll down to the three "Way Forward" questions, read what others think, and add their own comments. I will summarize these on Wednesday and post a further question for discussion.

A READER ASKS WHY I've deleted and not explained why I've deleted a number of Na Sala Cava comments. Blogspot does not give me the option of saying why I delete a comment. The comments were deleted because they broke "Comment Rules". Click tag at top of this page and above the box in which comments are made. No comment is ever deleted for the political opinion expressed if it abides by the rules.

(-) FIJI SUN SINKS VERY LOW. If I hadn't lifted this sick article directly from the Sun's online website, I'd assume it was a hoax. Some sarcasm in an anti-government blog. But it's the Sun and it almost deifies Bainimarama. Many people know that the PM has achieved a great deal in the past four years. But more than Ratu Mara? We'll also accept that he's genuine in trying to resolve the nation's problems. But the only genuine leader? And this sentence is unbelievable: "Prime Minister Bainimarama has rooted out and dropped corruption by 76 per cent, poverty by 53 per cent, unemployment by 40 per cent crime by 53 per cent and the racial barrier by 68 per cent." To estimate statistical changes like this,one needs to know the starting point, and Fiji has no way of knowing that for corruption and race relations.The figures are meaningless.

But read on. There is more. "With Mr Bainimarama’s open approach in dealing with issues, the people, especially the vanua and the chiefs, have started throwing their support behind his administration now, knowing that he is the only messiah who can bring our beloved Fiji back to pre-1987 existence." The Messiah? No way.

It gets worse: "With the level of so much progress by the current administration, it would be wise for Mr Bainimarama to keep governing indefinitely without fixing any date for the election, unless and until for an absolute sure for a corruption free politician, even it takes the next century! God Bless Fiji!"

God will indeed need to bless Fiji with this sychophant (definition: flatterer, toady, parasitic person) at large. The article is a disgrace. The writer may be a fool but his readers are not, and this I'm sure includes the PM. My cartoon attempt is based on an Obama cartoon. Vinaka www.funnypicturevideo.com.

"FASCIST LORD HAW HAW". I see that a CoupFourPointFive reader has referred to a Mere Samisomi article on the racism of the Government (huh!) as "brilliant stuff" compared with the "cut and paste rhetoric of the fascist lord Haw Haw military glee club blog!!!" [i.e., this blog.]

(+) A READER'S COMMENTS ON THE FNPF FIASCO. "Individually and collectively the board of directors and their chairpersons over many years at Natadola must be held to account. That is what 'accountability' means and no one ought to assume the role of director in a public company or any company which uses public funds 'in trust' if they are not prepared for this. Codes of Conduct ought to have been signed by each and everyone of them.

"Were they? No matter. Hold their feet to the fire, Prime Minister and ensure that nary one escapes. When you have finished with that, move on to Momi Bay, Maui Bay and one or two other places. The names that come up are often the same and their professions are all similar. We are now determined to see justice done and Fiji's tarnished reputation for corporate governance restored. Redraft all Acts which cover the investment and governance of funds held in trust and clean out all the boards. A strong representation of the members who have funds in both the NLTB and the FNPF must sit on the board in future. And....both institutions require decent competition and regulation which is sound."

(o) PM TO VISIT LAU NEXT WEEK
. The PM's tour of Fiji's 14 provinces to "hold consultations with the people" continues next week. He will be accompanied by Commissioner Eastern Colonel Iferemi Vasu and Lau Provincial Council chairman Roko Tevita Uluilakeba Mara.

On Saturday this week a senior officer with the PM's Office Tomasi Tui will lead a government delegation to Rotuma to open the new police station and review progress on development work as the island prepares for trade with Tuvalu.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Rotuma Day, Hurricane Tomas Costs, AusNZ Aid, Flashback: Qarase on Bainimarama

NA SALA CAVA?  Readers are urged to scroll down to the three "Way Forward" questions, read what others think, and add their own comments. I will summarize these on Wednesay and post a further question for your consideration.

ROTUMA DAY, marking the anniversary of the island's cessation to Britain in 1881, is usually  celebrated on May 13 or the following Saturday. Fiji Rotuman Association chairman Roy Fiu used the occasion to highlight awareness about culture and language that many born outside Rotuma know little about.

Speaking on the second day of the celebrations in Suva, PM Bainimarama said one of Government's visions is to make Rotuma a well developed Island. Work has alreadsy been done to make Rotuma a port of entry and the first direct exports to Tuvalu had gone ahead as planned, but the $15 million airport concfrete runway upgrade planned for this year had been delayed. The PM saidCabinet has already approved additional funding and they are on the verge of seeking funds from the Ministry of Finance.  Infrastructure and outer island development are part of the Roadmap.

HURRICANE TOMAS COST ONE BILLION. Speaking at the 18th session of the UN Commission on Sustainable Development, PS PM' office Col. Pio Tikoduadua said:The evidence of negative impacts of climate change on the Pacific region are many and two of Fiji’s close neighbouring countries, Tuvalu and Kiribati, are starkexamples of that.In the case of my own country, Fiji, the effects of changing weather patterns have been felt heavily by our people. The rate at which natural disasters, such as floods and hurricanes, have hit Fiji and their severity have increased markedly in the recent years. For the first time in 35 years, we experienced the devastation of a Category 4 cyclone in February this year, costing our economy more than F$100 million." (extract)

AUSNZ HURRICANE AID will increase by A$1m and NZ$600k to rebuild homes, schools and health centres affected by the hurricane. The money will be given to Habitat for Humanity Fiji which has a track record of successful delivery of house reconstruction and cyclone proofing following the January 2009 floods. The two countries previously gifted A$1m and NZ$1m.

FLASHBACK DEC. 1, 2006. QARASE SAYS BAINIMARAMA "DERANGED, UNSTABLE."In an interview on Radio Tarana as reported by Michael Field, PM Qarase branded Bainimarama "deranged" and "unstable"."We are dealing with somebody who is completely deranged and unstable so that's part of the problem," he said. When asked if he thought Bainimarama was mentally stable, he replied: "I think that should be obvious to anybody."

As the midday deadline for Bainimarama's threatened military coup passed with no obvious signs of a military take-over today. The capital was quiet and Bainimarama was at the Suva sports stadium watching a soccer match between the army and police.  

Meanwhile, PM Qarase said he was counting on divine intervention to prevent the country's fourth coup in 20 years. "There is always such a thing as divine intervention and I'm counting on that this morning," he told ABC radio. "God works in mysterious ways, and he might be working on it now...I rely a lot on how God works in people and it could well be today is the day for him that God may work through him and pull (him) back from his position." PM Qarase also thought Commodore Bainimarama's deadline could be a bluff. The army was divided by a "very big split" – a factor which could work in the Government's favour and prevent a coup.

Saturday, May 15, 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 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.

Pursuing Excellence

Education is important and we now have three universities? What do they teach? Are they different in any way? We have the University of the South Pacific, University of Fiji and the Fiji National University. With three choices, people will want to know what subjects are being offered. With this question in mind I ask, what makes a university?

Friday, May 14, 2010

Kadavu, FNPF, NLTB, Mahogany Mismanagement, Gold, Sugar Recoms Delayed

See the three Na Sala Cava? questions below this post. Offer your suggestions on "The Way Forward."  Read what others say. Ongoing until Wednesday when I'll attempt to summarize the comments, and post new questions.  


RABUKA'S CHOICE OF 14 MAY FOR 1987 COUP NO COINCIDENCE? On May 14 1879 the first Indian indentured labourers arrived on the Leonidas. By 1916, when the last of  87 ships carrying girmitya arrived and the indenture system ended, some 60,537 Indians had been transported.


PM ON FNPF, NTLB, LAND MYTH, YAQONA. PM Bainimarama has told the Kadavu Provincial Council that those responsible for the $327 million FNPF will be charged."Era na beitaki kina mataveilewai ko ira kece era tiki ni gacagaca ni veivakalolomataki oqo (All those who are party to this oppression/abuse will be charged (taken to court)." Members' money had been misused by some people through dubious means and corruption.

(B) Twenty-Three Years On From 10:00 A.M., May 14, 1987

Three items: 
Subhash Appana (immediately below); Citizens' Consitutional Forum Anniversary Release (abridged), and my comments on the CCF release.


Coup Anniversary and Forgiveness
By Subhash Appana



Today marks the 23rd anniversary of Rabuka’s coup, a coup that brought into the tranquil backwaters of the South Pacific the use of might over right as a weapon to change government. Sure, this had been the mode of choice in the good old days, but colonization and refinement by the British was supposed to have changed this more than a century ago. And like all old habits, it was supposed to have receded into the mists of time.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

One Size Fallacy, FNPF, Racism, Rice, Land Theft

ONE SIZE Fits All Fallacy. "My view," said USP Head of Journalism Shailendra Singh,  "is that a one-size fits approach – that the conventional form of journalism is suited for all situations, circumstances and countries - is a fallacy. While conventional journalism has many strengthens in terms of exposing corruption, holding leaders accountable and espousing equality for all,  the focus on conflict and the manner in which conflict is reported is seen to be a problem in democratically fragile, developing nations. Cartoonstock.png
  

(o) When Criticism Should be Heard

BIMAN'S Criticism Useful

The word "criticism" is often used to describe a negative, fault-finding comment, but it more accurately means a judgement or assessment that may be positive or negative, or both. USP Economics Professor Biman Prasad's comments on the need for Government to encourage confidence to grow the economy reported in Islands Business were both. They were, I think, a fair, reasoned and helpful assessment that Government would do well to heed, despite his otherwise well-known opposition to the legality of  Government.  Photo: RadioFiji

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

NZ Trade Com, Kadavu Fiasco, PM's Advice to i-Taukei, China Reaffirms Support,, Exports Fall

NEW ZEALAND Trade Commissioner. As talks on restoring full diplomatic relations continue behind the scenes, a new Trade Commissioner will take up office in Suva by next month. This can only be good news.


GROSS INCOMPETENCY and SDL Abuse of Power. Kadavu House in Suva is owned by the Kadavu Development Company of which the Kadavu Provincial Council (and hence the people of Kadavu) are substantial owners. The multi-storeyed buildng was financed by provincial fundraising and a $14 million "affirmative action" loan from the Fiji National Provident Fund. The loan was supported by the former Qarase SDL-led Government which also guaranteed it would tenant the building, and Government paid $880,000 in advanced rents for a building they would never tenant. Photo: vitia.com

In 2007 the Bainimarama government said the rent was too high; it found the company was not registered; had not held an AGM for 20 years, and that several SDL parliamentarians were Board directors.  Government asked who was benefitting from building ownership, and whether the ordinary people of Kadavu would ever benefit. It is likely these questions will be raised again when the PM opens the Kadavu Provincial Council meeting today.
Note: Kadavu, 88km S. Suva, pop. 10,000, 411km2, volcanic archipelago, Fiji's 4th largest island. Administrative centre Vunisea, airport, high school, hospital, govt.station. Part of "outer islands" Eastern Division. 

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

(o+) Charter Progress, Politicians Spawned Racism, FNPF Board Abused Trust, Naitasiri Apologizes


DESTINY Lies Squarely In Hands of the People. "The destiny of Fiji lies squarely in the hands of her people and nobody else," National People’s Charter Advisory Council (NPCAC) Chairman Josefa Serulagilagi told members at the third NPCAC meeting in Suva.  Photo: RadioFiji.

Monday, May 10, 2010

(+) Tailevu and Powerful Bauan Chiefs Apologize to Bainimarama


  The Tide is Turning

The province of Tailevu led by the powerful Bauan chiefs today presented a tabua to  PM Bainimarama to show their support to Bainimarama's leadership and to the government of the day.

Speaking on behalf of the Cakobau family which included Ratu Epenisa Cakobau, Ratu George Cakobau, Adi Samanunu Cakobau and the other Tailevu chiefs,  Ratu Tu'uakitau Cokanauto assured the PM that his [Bainimarama's] province is totally behind him to support what he has planned for the nation until the next general election in 2014.

Ratu Tu'uakitau (generally known as Ratu Tuki)  told Bainimarama to be strong as he said that Rome was not built in a day and if there are elements within the government who are trying to rush changes in his leadership they should be told to try and be patient.

He said everyone wants a change and a better Fiji and his chiefs have decided to present the tabua today to show their son that they will stand with him in the decisions he will make. Based on Fiji Village; Photo: Fiji Village.

Note: It was from the northern part of this province, where the population is overwhelmingly ethnic Fijian and where most voters would follow the direction of their chiefs, that George Speight drew much support during the 2000 Coup. The apology therefore has even more significance.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Media Censorship and the Roadmap



Opinion -- Crosbie Walsh

“In fact the transformation is almost total,
it’s almost like a revolution. -- Steve Ratuva.

The Fiji Times Deputy Editor, Sophie Foster's recent address at the World Press Freedom Day Conference held at the University of Queensland contained no surprises.  Of course, a 100% of journalists or their colleagues experienced censorship last year. Of course, censorship is a crude, blunt instrument that should not be tolerated under normal conditions.

Sophie's courageous  paper brought no new insights into these matters, but it was illuminating to learn what Fijian journalists thought they could (and could not) report, and it raised the all-important question of how long censorship can be maintained without seriously undermining Fiji's capacity for democracy -- and with it, Government's  Roadmap intended to lead to a better, fairer Fiji for all citizens.  Without media co-operation, it could be a never-ending road.

The need for censorship following the Appeals Court ruling and Abrogation of the Constitution last year is not disputed. Without it, there is little doubt The Fiji Times for one would have published articles that, used by disgruntled politicians, churchmen and extreme nationalist elements, would have stoked the fires of unrest that could so easily have destabilised the county and jeopardised effective Government. It is not censorship as such, but its extent and application that raises concerns for the future.

Thinking people enjoy reading and listening to things they can think about. Unfortunately, as a result of censorship, much of what passes for news in Fiji today is so bland, mundane and repetitive that it can only be "absorbed" -- without thought.

It's great to know that vanua are apologizing for not supporting the People's Charter; that more effort is being made to increase milk, honey and food production; and that more is being done about poverty. These things were previously under-reported by a media that preferred more sensational, adversarial news.

Reporting the "mundane," of course, must continue -- most government actions, by definition, are normally mundane -- but articles are also needed which make people ask why exactly people were opposed to the Charter; why they have now changed their minds; why primary production is so low, and why people are poor and have such difficulty pulling themselves out of poverty.  People who have answers and different views on these, and other such, questions need to be interviewed by journalists or invited to write special features.  But -- and here's the catch -- they will only do so in a freer media environment.

Government assures us that once the Media Decree is in place (see link to assessment of the Decree), the Public Emergency Regulations under which the censors work, will be lifted. The Decree is intended to ensure a balance between media freedom and media responsibility, and it establishes mechanisms to ensure this is so. But, with freedom and responsibility meaning different things to different people, two safeguards are essential: 

First, very wise heads must be appointed to the Media Industry Development Authority and the Media Tribunal. It will not do if  appointees are seen to be mere mouthpieces of this or any other  Government. They must represent a credible, wide cross-section of intelligent, informed and responsible opinion. And mechanisms within the Decree must ensure the appointment of such people.


Secondly,  unsatisfied appeals from the Tribunal must be heard by an independent judiciary.

Without these safeguards, there is a very real danger that the Decree could be abused by a "bad" government.  It is hoped changes to the draft will take these concerns into account.   

Journalists practise self-censorship in whatever country they work. They know what their employers, advertisers and public want and do not want, and, despite protests to the contrary, I have no doubt this often involves political issues. But in most Western countries the media is also a vehicle by which, within limits, journalists and ordinary citizens can comment and criticize government proposals and actions. Governments are alert to this information and it influences their judgements.

Fiji is not a Western country and it is presumptuous of Western critics to assume it needs a "fit-all" journalism.  Fiji needs a media tailored to its needs, one that assumes a more moral and civic role, places more emphasis on nation-building, is not too adversarial, and actively seeks to heal the divisive wounds of the past.  It also needs a media that plays a more educational role than in the West.

Government needs the support of the media so that its citizens can have access to information that will assist them to think about governance and political issues and fully participate in Government plans for the future. Because if they do not, the public will not "internalize" the changes proposed and made, and, post 2014 or a little later, all of Government's good intentions could "come tumbling down."

 For any government, but especially a military-led government with relatively little civilian involvement, the media has a vital role to play. To this end, Government should think very carefully about MIDA and Media Tribunal appointments.

Meanwhile, Sharon Smith-Johns' department-based media liaison officers should help to improve the dissemination of government information. Further down the road, Government needs its own Media Agency whose sole role would be to present Government views to the local and overseas public. Then, with the privately-owned media's near monopoly on how government news should be presented at an end, the  media would be free, within agreed acceptable limits, to decide its own coverage and interpretations. Media freedom of a sort suited to Fiji would be assured.  The West may not like this, but it is a realistic scenario. The West is not Fiji. Photo: ugaprssa.wordpress.com

Related postings
  • Croz Walsh Assessment of the Media Decree: Ten Serious Concerns.
  • Croz Walsh on Sophie and the Roadmap. Yesterday's posting.
  • David Robie calls for stronger voice against censorship.
  • David Robie Fiji Censorhip by 'Legal Camouflage.'  David makes claims  about Jim Anthony's contribution to the Media Decree and unfair action against the Fiji Times which I believe to be incorrect. I take up this important but relatively minor issue in "David, James and Netani", below (and David replies).
  • David Robie with examples from the Speight Coup years and warnings today.
  • Francis Herman warnings on Fiji Media Decree.
  • John Woods on PINA and President Moses Steven criticized again for saying Pacific media should become a partner with national governments, which others took to mean it should forego its watchdog role .
  • Pat Craddock's Open Letter to the PM. Scroll down to download "Pat Craddock Media Decree.pdf"
  • Peter Lomas, Fiji Sun Editor, notes the one-sided selection of speakers at the UNESCO World Press Freedom Day meeting in Brisbane.
  • Savea Sano Malifa. Media not free in Samoa 
  • Shailendra Singh. USP Journalism lecturer's negatives about the Decree.
  • Thakur Ranjit Singh, a personal history of media freedom in Fiji. When did we have it last?

David, James and Netani

David Robie is probably the most honest, independent, experienced and unbiased Pacific journalist around and he has very serious concerns about the draft Media Decree as his article Fiji Censorship by 'Legal Camouflage' (see link above) indicates. I agree with most of what David has written but I think two corrections are needed to this article, if only for historical reasons. 
 
On James Anthony
First, he attributes much of the Media Decree's provisions to the implausible Dr James Anthony, an Indo-Fijian one-time trade unionist in Fiji and now an academic in Hawai'i. I've known of Anthony's work for many years and share David's amazement that he was appointed by the Fiji Human Rights Commission to prepare a report reviewing the Fiji media. Quite frankly, I would not hire him for any work I wished to be considered credible. He is a man of fixed prejudices whose personal anger against “the White Man” too often clouds his everyday judgment. Predictably his 161-page report, Freedom and independence of the media in Fiji, contained provisions to remove White expatriate influence in Fiji media.

But David is incorrect in stating that Anthony's “recommendations were adopted as the basis of a draconian draft decree.” In fact, Antony's imput in the Decree was minimal, and mainly concerned recommendations for the training and pay for journalists. The Decree was drafted by a consultant in Hong Kong and is based on the Singapore and Australian models. It departs substantially from Anthony's report in that he recommended a far more independent structure for media accountability with complaints against the media.

David could also have mentioned that Fiji is not alone in having “radical curb(s) on foreign ownership, wide powers of search and seizure and harsh penalties for media groups and journalists.” Not too dissimilar laws exist, even if they may not be frequently used, in democratic countries such as the US and Australia. 

On The Fiji Times and Netani Rika
Secondly, in discussing what some have called vindictive Decree provisions “aimed at crippling the Fiji Times,” David writes about “trumped up grounds” for the deportation of Fiji Times expatriate staff” before going on to write: “The High Court also imposed a hefty F$100,000 fine against the Fiji Times in early 2009 for publishing an online letter criticising the court for upholding the legality of the 2006 coup.”

The latter accusation refers to contempt proceedings against the Times and editor Netani Rika for publishing a letter that David said merely criticized a court judgment which should not – and would not – have been seen as contempt had that been all that was written. In fact, the letter did far more than this. It alleged that the judges who arrived at the decision were “corrupt and biased.” And this, in most countries, would be considered a clear case of contempt. David also failed to mention that the Fiji Times had for several months been conducting what call only be called a campaign against the judiciary, and that the Times and Netani pleaded guilty to the contempt charge. So, in this particular case, to suggest that the court proceedings were an attack on media freedom is also to suggest that the media should be above the law, which I'm sure was not David's intention.

There are sound reasons to express concern about the draft Decree but Anthony's supposed involvement and the court judgement are not two of them.  I send David an advance copy of this posting ...

... To Which David Replied
Hi Croz,
I find this piece an example of the bias that you hold against media generally and that you accuse me of here. You make no mention of the fact that I have written extensive criticisms of some Fiji news media conduct over the years. For example, there was an extensive analysis of the Fiji media review process in the last edition of PJR "Behind the Fiji censorship", 15(2), pp.85-116, leading up to the decree. I am under no illusions about the FT and never have been.
There is little appreciation shown here of how media work. I was commissioned to write 700 words for this publication targeted for journalists whose primary concern is defence of media freedom. As it was, I wrote a longer article and parts were pruned to fit the space. In such a tight word count, there were major limitations on what I could write (common in media environments). But overall, I am satisfied with what was published.
I never suggested that Anthony was responsible for the actual draft legislation, but rather he was an inspiration for it and he played into the regime's hands. His key elements - the media Development Authority and Media Tribunal - were integral concepts. In fact, earlier forms of such a law were being toyed with by the Qarase government - and other versions have been floated in Papua New Guinea, for example (notably the Ramoi Tribunal Bill). Anthony has had the last laugh.
I believe strongly that self-regulation is the only way for a healthy media in any country resembling a democracy. The fact that some media in Fiji have failed in their responsibilities is no justification for such a draconian decree, nor is the fact that some other jurisdictions use such punitive powers. It concerns me greatly that you appear to believe that a decree such as this is "necessary", albeit with reluctance.
Go ahead with whatever you are publishing, but expect a very strong riposte from me.
Cheers
David 

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.

Enforce the Law Please

I went down to the Lautoka market as usual on Friday to meet friends, have a yarn and get an update on what was going on in and around Fiji. I went to my favourite watering hole and it was empty except for the owner and a friend who didn’t look very happy.  I was told the Lautoka City Council had enforced the law about no smoking and drinking yaqona in the market. “Hooray”, I said. But what I was extremely glad about was the no smoking law. Now this is one law that I wish could be enforced everywhere. If I had the authority I would ban smoking in the streets also.

But we sat and lamented that our friends had moved to the other side of the market or the approved side of the market. They could drink grog over there but had to go outside and smoke. So I left them and went to the grog approved side of the market and my other mates were there. But they too were not happy, because each time one of them had to smoke he had to go outside. I said that it would make them smoke less and their lives would improve. But you know what, we were talking to each other at the top of our voices and fanning the fumes that was coming in from outside. Yes the City Council has banned smoking in the market but the buses can still smoke and drip oil and still pollute the air with noise.


Then it was my turn to talk and I shouted, “I wonder why the bus drivers don’t turn off their engines, can't they read the sign put up by the council?”  One old timer said that he found out the reason some buses don’t turn off the engines was because it had to be pushed to start. Each morning the buses are pushed by another bus to get it started. Then the engine is left on until it returns to the garage. And I was also told that some buses have faulty starters. I told him that I didn’t believe him one bit. I couldn’t believe what I had just heard. Bus owners know the law. They are some of the most upstanding citizens of Fiji. So I went out and checked the buses that had their engine on. The new buses had theirs turned off.  Now that illegal minivans have been taken off the road, surely the bus companies can afford to repair their buses.

If the grog drinkers can adhere to the law and not smoke and drink grog in the market, why can’t bus drivers turn off their engine and not drip oil on the bus stand floor. Now that my new watering hole has been moved next to the bus stand, can I kindly ask the City Council to also enforce the laws that the bus drivers are ignoring? They cause noise, carbon monoxide and oil pollution. The combination of this is one hundred times worse than smoking and drinking grog in the market.