Saturday, July 31, 2010

Fiji Live News Editor Richard Naidu Taken in for Questioning

This item from Radio Fiji may explain why FijiLive did not register in time, and could not be accessed yesterday.   My information is that PER is being lightly applied, leaving editors responsible for erroneous postings.  But, whatever, the cause, being taken in for questioning seems excessive.  Surely a phone call asking the editor to correct the error would have been sufficient.  Fiji  Live has been a very responsible online paper to date, and its temporary absence from the internet is already missed.

"Police have questioned and released Fiji Live News Editor Richard Naidu for a story that was published by the online news agency on Thursday. Naidu was taken in yesterday by the Criminal Investigations Department (CID). Director CID Adi Sen says they questioned Naidu overnight and released him at about 11am today.
Naidu was questioned over a story alleging the suspension of the Police Commissioner Commodore Esala Teleni.Police say the story was incorrect. Fiji’s Public Emergency Regulations remain in place."

Lockington's Everyday Fiji ... Life Goes On

This article should have been posted before the response by  Fr Kevin Barr.  For those who have not read the response, read this first, and then scroll down for Fr Barr's response.  Apologies to everyone.

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.

Allen Lockington
You Make Your Own Luck

 Poverty is an interesting subject to talk about, it seems to be the in-thing today – “eradicating extreme poverty”.  A few people who lived in dire circumstances have gotten up and found a way out and did it with just a little assistance from the authorities. A friend of mine is an example. He was kind enough to retell his life story over a basin of yaqona. He had two bowls, out of respect.

Thinking … Not Sleeping: Critical but Helpful Ideas on How to Take Fiji Forward

Parts 1–6. Running a Government with Bad Advice

Continued from yesterday
Sorry Croz, This is a bit long but started last night and kept going. In parts so I can post. Publish if you think it will be of interest.

1. The military completely underestimated how hard it would be to run government.

In the early days after the coup I joined a meeting with the new PM and his military council talking to business. They seemed genuine in wanting ideas on what they could do to fix various things. What became very clear though was they had absolutely no idea about even the most basic principles of business or economics. I am talking absolutely no idea. The complete naivety scared me even more than their guns.

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.

Explore Noni Juice

We are now exploring ways to increase our exports.

Fr Barr on Allen's Poverty Article

Squatters and the Poor
Fr Kevin Barr
The articles of Allen Lockington have become a regular feature in the Fiji Sun.  They are often interesting and have some worthwhile and helpful observations to make.  However his recent article on poverty and a previous one on squatters caused me some concern because they were rather superficial and glib and trotted out the usual prejudices which so many people have come to accept. 

The articles showed little understanding and sympathy for so many people in our country who are poor and struggling and face real hardships. For some reason it seems that people like to fix their attention on some of the exceptions and make them out to be the norm. I was going to ignore Alan's articles but, on second thoughts, I decided they should not pass without comment.  Many people read Alan's column and could easily have their old prejudices reinforced by the comments of a popular columnist. I guess one of the main faults I found was that of blaming the poor for their poverty and failing to acknowledge that poverty is a structural problem - not an individual failure.  Most of the poor in Fiji are victims in a society structured for the benefit of some at the expense of the many.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Thinking … Not Sleeping: Critical but Helpful Ideas on How to Take Fiji Forward

Introduction to Six Postings
The dialogue between an anonymous reader “Wishful thinking” and me started with the initial exchange shown below. It went on to become a series of comments written under the pseudonym “Thinking … Not Sleeping,” a name that in itself tells much. I think the ideas expressed comprise a most helpful string of suggestions and for this reason they deserve to be widely read. They appeared as comments to my postings on Tuesday 27 and Wednesday 28 July.
Many of the comments will be seen as anti-government but this is not necessarily so. Thinking's suggestions are positive and forward looking. It is the diehard anti-government people who never put forward positive ideas. Thinking's political comments link to ways to rebuild the economy and complete the Roadmap, and to this extent his ideas are pro-government. Better to have a sheep in a wolf's clothing than a wolf in a sheep's!
Some readers do not follow the comments at the bottom of postings, which I think is a great pity. They add immeasurably to the value of any blog site. Others, I'm told, cannot find them. Look for the small “Comment” at the bottom left of each posting, click on “Comment” and you're in).
Like me, you may not agree with all that Thinking writes, but doubts and concerns should not be hidden. On balance, he makes the sorts of useful criticisms and comments a wise government, and a wise Prime Minister, should listen to even if – no, especially if – they do not like them. Banimarama's best friends may in fact be critics like Thinking, and not those he sees with smiles on their faces who agree with everything he says and wants to hear.
Thinking's comments will be published daily as follows:
Saturday 31 Parts 1–6. Running a Government with Bad Advice Sunday 1 Parts 7–8. Double Standards Monday 2 Parts 9–10. Travel Bans and Elections Tuesday 3 Parts 11 – 13.The Good and Bad News on Business Wednesday 4 Part 14. What Should Fiji Do? Thursday 5th. Part 15. What Should Australia and New Zealand Do?  
Soon afterwards, I will publish questions based on the series in our companion blog Na Sala Cava (click on orange man and path icon in the right sidebar) so that they may remain as permanent features allowing discussion to continue at that location.
The initial exchange
Wishful thinking to Croz. He wrote that no country that values democracy and the rule of law will give legitimacy to a military junta. To think otherwise is wishful thinking. All countries will help Fiji if they see that Bainimarama genuinely wants Fiji to move forward. He also expressed the view that the longer he remains as a dictator the bigger the hole is he digs for himself, and for Fiji. Reality check Croz - before it is too late!
I replied that my blog had never called for the legitimisation of the government. The focus has always has been on dealing with the reality of the Fiji situation; media imbalance; recognizing the good (and long overdue) things being done; and questioning the poor decisions in a helpful manner. I've also criticized the well meant policies of Australia and NZ because I think their policies are unrealistic and have helped create the present siege situation and siege mentality which, ironically, could produce the opposition of what they wish: an entrenched military after 2014. They should help the coup to succeed, because in this way they would make it doubly difficult for Bainimarama (or God help us, someone else) not to hold elections in 2014.
Continued tomorrow ...
BREAKING NEWS.  The Suva High Court has thrown out all charges against Fijian lawyer and human rights activist Imrana Jalal. The decision speaks highly for the independence of the judiciary.

Aussie Modesty, Pacific Understanding, Ethnic Fijian Generosity, Public Service Outreach


PACIFIC AN AUSTRALIAN LAKE?
  At the height of the Cold War some American referred to the Pacific as an American lake.  Now Australians seem to be doing the same.

In an otherwise informative background article on the Forum meeting to be held in Vila this week, a meeting at which both the Australian PM and Foreign Minister will be absent due to the forthcoming election, The Australian reveals as much or more about how Australia sees itself as it does about how Australia sees the Pacific. The image is certainly not suggestive of an equal relationship. Here are some examples:

Australia's bigger friends and allies, especially the US, take Canberra's lead to manage troublesome issues in the islands and to help guide them to prosperity. [Carving up the world may make for good geopolitics, but "management" and "guidance" is what parents provide to children.  Powerful as Australia may be, they are dealing with sovereign nations, not children.]

Former foreign minister Alexander Downer stressed last week that it is our natural sphere of influence. Or it could be, if we paid it more attention. [The article urged greater involvement, and knowledge of the Pacific.]

...no other industrialised country has the Third World on its doorstep in the way the Pacific is on ours. Europe's former colonies are remote by comparison. [Actually, Paris to Algeria is only a little further than Darwin to Port Moresby and London to Lagos not much further than Sydney to Apia. And that's not to mention US proximity to Mexico, the Caribbean and Latin America.]

For Australia's policy aims to prevail, it will now need to rely on leadership at the forum summit to come from leaders broadly aligned with Canberra's regional perspective, chiefly New Zealand's Prime Minister John Key and Samoan Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi, who is angling for forum institutions to be shifted to Samoa from suspended Fiji. [It is hoped they do not let big brother down.]

NATADOLA AGAIN.
Fiji Live reports nothing new on what Pacific Island Leaders thought and said at last week's Natadola meeting but it provided a useful summary.  They supported the Strategic Framework for Change and Roadmap to Democracy and elections in 2014. They were apparently impressed with progress on reforms and initiatives, especially on corruption, rural development, poverty alleviation, education and governance) and noted that nation-building is not a simple process but one that requires a concerted amount of commitment and will to obtain the desired changes that will benefit all communities. They also expressed support for continued engagement, noting that they share similar problems.

INCREDIBLE BUT TRUE. Adi Elisapeci Samununu Waqanivalu of the Wellington Council of Fiji Communities  says Fiji's ethnic policy is robbing its indigenous people of their rights. She was not referring to being dispossessed of land, language, beliefs or cultural heritage but to having to share the name 'Fijian' with other citizens from different racial and ethnic backgrounds.  The one-name-for-all is an attempt by Government to give all citizens a sense of belonging and equality before the law. Indigenous Fijians, usually, but not in this case, well known for their generosity of spirit, will henceforth be officially known as i-taukei, an indigenous name (which Fijian is not)  they have often used for themselves.

The Council intends to canvas the views on ethnic identity of all Fiji people living in New Zealand before it takes a human rights action over the issue. “It’s almost like, I now live in New Zealand, can I call myself a Maori?" said Adi Elisapeci,  "And see how much I can insult a Maori by doing that? You know all of a sudden we’ve been sort of shafted and say ’Move over, I’m also called this’, without consultation.”

The Council, formed in April this year, comprises ethnic Fijians, and  is closely linked to two Wellington-based anti-government blogsites.

My guess is that Maori would be quite happy to give up or share their name for the bounties that ethnic Fijians in Fiji still possess. In fact, like Fijians, Maori had no common name before the advent of Europeans. The story goes that when asked who they were, they answered, "Maori,"  ordinary people, implying that it was the strangers who were not ordinary. Sharing a name is surely not too high a price to pay for removing the alienation felt by many Fiji citizens who are not ethnic Fijians. 

MINISTRY OF ITAUKEI. The Ministry of Fijian Affairs is now officially known as the Ministry of Itaukei.The Ministry of Itaukei will continue to ensure that the Government will develop, maintain and promote policies that will provide for the continued good governance and welfare of the iTaukei now and into the future.

The legal framework within which the Ministry operates remains the same in terms of covering the Itaukei Affairs Act and Regulations, the Native Lands & Fisheries Commission Act, and the Native Lands Act. -- based on 2010 No:1137/MOI.

DOING THE ROUNDS
.The routine monthly meetings of permanent secretaries are now being held at different "front line" venues to assist the public service "reach out and learn about work activities and issues of important State Institutions." PS of the PSA Parmesh Chand said “It helps us to understand individually and collectively what the issues are and how best we can work together to effectively address them as a Team.” The PS's heard presentations on Fiji’s Productivity Report and the Impact of the 2010 Revised Budget on operating expenditure of Government.  The July meeting was held at St. Giles Mental Health Hospital and previous ones at the Prison and Correctional Facilities at Naboro and at a Ministry of Fisheries and Forests Tree Planting exercise. -- based on 2010 No:1139/PSC.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Land, Dialogue, PM Never Spoke with Roberts, Tourism

LAND TO THE HIGHEST BIDDER? The Ministry of Lands is currently reviewing applications for transfers and mortgages of crown leases to ensure that Government as state land custodian gets its fair share from these transactions. Permanent Secretary for Land LtCol Neumi Leweni said “One of the greater concerns is the Transfers of Agricultural Leases to higher uses such as Tourism Development and other commercial and industrial uses.“Most lessees are selling their agricultural leases to developers and overseas buyers at quite high prices offered by these buyers” and there have also been incidences where local land speculators have taken advantage of the situation by buying agricultural leases from poor farmers and selling them to overseas buyers at high prices. “The sad part," he said, "is those who really want to farm or develop the land are being forced to pay high prices.”


CCF CALLS FOR DIALOGUE. The Citizens’ Constitutional Forum (CCF) has called upon Government to re-instigate the inclusive national political dialogue for electoral reforms as a first step towards implementing the Roadmap to elections, and acknowledge John Key’s reassurance that they are prepared to help Fiji financially or in other ways, to ensure that elections take place by 2014.

“Electoral reforms and the elimination of race-based voting are a critical first step in this process and the CCF calls for an inclusive political dialogue to be re-instigated at the earliest possible opportunity to facilitate such reform,” said the CCF Rev. Akuila Yabaki. He requested government to seek assistance from the 11 countries whose leaders were present at last week's meeting at Natadola to find a facilitator for the national political dialogue.

PM NEVER SPOKE TO SARAH ROBERTS, the Acting Australian High Commissioner who was expelled for allegedly interfering in Fiji's internal affairs. He said he speaks regularly to the Indian High Commissioner, the Chinese ambassador, the French ambassador and all other diplomatic representatives except those from Australia and NZ.

GETTING LAND INTO PRODUCTION.  Following consultations with all members, the mataqali Sinu of Nadogo Village in Macuata  has agreed to "give" 50 acres of land to the Committee for Better Utilisation of Land. Tui Nadogo Ratu Ilisaniti Malodali said "That is the first piece of land we have identified and there is more to be seen and discussed before we make decisions for development purposes. We believe development will be boosted once we make use of our land and work with the Government in developing the economy of the Northern Division." He said traditional leaders in the area had been advised to talk to members of their clans about making  land available to the CBUL for development purpose.

MANY TOURIST WORKERS BACK
. FTUC President Daniel Urai says that the upturn in tourist arrivals has seen many of those made redundant or put  on rotating hours now back in the tourism industry. He said the Union understands the employers' difficulties and always tried to work in the best interest of members and employers during difficult times.

TWO PERMANENT SECRETARIES CONFIRMED. Previously in acting roles, Pio Tikoduadua has been confirmed as the Permanent Secretary for the Prime Minister’s Office and Tevita Bolavanua as the Auditor-General. Both appointments are for three years.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Etiquette, PSC Showcase, Tuisolia & Jalal, Tourism and Other Bits

CULTURAL ETIQUETTES. Pacific Islanders and Asians sometime comment on how unintentionally rude and abrasive Europeans can be, even in everyday conversations. I wonder whether this is what Kiribati President  Anote Tong had in mind when he praised the atmosphere and tone of last week’s Engaging Pacific Leaders meeting, saying this type of discussion needs to be restored at the Pacific Islands Forum.

PSC TO SHOWCASE ITS SERVICES. Government's "reaching out" efforts to make ministries and departments more accessible to the "man in the street" continue this week when staff from the five Divisions of the Public Service Commission are showcasing their services and programmes at the Government Information and Referral Centre, the former Fiji Visitors Bureau Office, in Downtown Suva. (CIRC photo.

AUSSIE WANTS MURDOCH OUT. Australian millionaire Dick Smith thinks the Australian Government should follow Fiji’s lead and “rack-off” Rupert Murdoch’s News Limited and its national newspaper The Australian  out of the country. He described the Murdoch-owned media as the "evil empire" and claimed The Australian constantly runs biased news.

CONFUSED TOURISM INFORMATION.
A reader writes:"I'm confused. You report that tourism figures are booming? Why then is Air Pacific going broke, resorts are closing and no one is making money? Doesn't sound like a successful business plan to me? My son and his family just came back from a holiday in Fiji. I cannot believe how cheap it was. He almost got paid to go there? He demanded discounts on everything and got it."

Answer: There's good and bad news on tourism but Air Pacific is not going broke. It had a huge loss of $F60 million this year and is facing competition from larger airlines. One or two small resorts have closed because they could not meet debt obligations, and two large unfinished resorts never fully opened. The larger hotels and resorts are open but in competition with popular tourist destinations in Asia. Hence their basement prices. Samoa and Vanuatu have also benefited from Fiji's negative publicity.

But tourism numbers are up, and if they stay up and the world economy recovers, and if Fiji can fight off the negative publicity, the future should be brighter. That's a lot of 'ifs' but there would be one 'if' less if Australia and NZ really put their shoulders behind Fiji's economic and political recovery. That's another 'if.'

Note: Saras'sista is a a regular anti-government commentator on this blog. Irrespective of  near full flights by three international carriers, and the advent of Jetstar, he or she writes: "i don't accept any figures from this regime' as even they accept that there is no oversight by anyone, is this a bit like famine in north korea claiming to be a bountiful harvest??? No doubt there are tourists and no doubt they will still come, but the idea that we just accept whatever figures are plucked from the sky to reflect the actual position is highly amusing. This regime would not allow the reporting or anything else would it???

 

CARVING UP AUSSIE AID Click here.

UPDATE ON TUISOLIA & JALAL CHARGES. High Court Judge  Priyantha Fernando will make a ruling this Friday on whether the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions can expand on the two charges which remain against former Airports Fiji Ltd CEO Sakiasi Tuisolia and his wife Imrana Jalal. Last week the Court ordered a permanent stay on six of the eight charges while it allowed the DPP to pursue the case only on two charges where it is alleged that Tuisolia was operating a restaurant without a business license and Jalal is alleged to have given false information to a public officer.The trial date is set for August 27th-30th.


VANUATU OPPOSITION LEADER Maxime Carlot Korman says Prime Minister Edward Natapei was influenced by Australia when he made the call to defer the Melanesian Spearhead Group (MSG) meeting, which Fiji had been due to host last week."Australia ... influence Natapei, also it was trying to divide, create a division, between our Melanesian leaders."

BIGGER COMPANIIES TO TAKE UNEMPLOYED. All companies that have more than 50 employees will have to take on a certain number of unemployed people as attachees from the National Employment Centre. Read more.

Saras'sista says the comments on this posting are fantastic, and I agree.  Click on "Comments" below to read them.  

Two Loyal Aussies Think Bainimarama is "Fiji's Best Hope"

This article by Graham Davis was written before last week's meeting in Natadola.

While Australia contends Fijian dictator Frank Bainimarama is increasingly friendless, two Australians are among his most loyal supporters.

Frank  Bainimarama is bewildered and seething with rage and frustration. The military man in him knows he's suffered a humiliating tactical defeat. And worse, he didn't see it coming. He's been rolled by someone he thought he could depend on most, the outgoing chairman of the Melanesian Spearhead Group, who has pulled the plug on a summit meeting in Fiji barely a week out and with no warning.



Expensive suites are booked, the pigs, kava and dancers all primed and waiting. It was meant to be Fiji's hour of triumph, chairman Frank briefly wearing the country's former mantle as Pacific leader.



Instead, with his back turned at an International Monetary Fund meeting in South Korea, Australia has mounted a diplomatic counter-offensive, using a $66 million aid package to Vanuatu to strong-arm Prime Minister Edward Natapei into calling the meeting off. Natapei didn't even call Bainimarama to give him the news. So much for Melanesian solidarity. Now back in Suva, the dictator rails against the perfidious Aussies and their Kiwi cousins and the man he accuses of stabbing him in the back.


Yet the military training kicks in, orders are barked, the telecommunications counter-offensive spreads out across the region. Within days, the MSG Plus summit may be off but the Engaging with Fiji summit is on, attracting a host of Pacific countries, including two crucial face-savers, the leaders of Papua New Guinea and Solomon Islands.


It's been a roller-coaster ride of a week at the office, as Bainimarama's chief censor and media strategist Sharon Smith-Johns cheerfully concedes.

"The mood was one of shock, anger and disappointment. Natapei didn't call. He just put out a press release dated Friday that I didn't get until Monday. Suddenly, bang! What do we do? Obviously, we hit the phones but there were a few prayers too."


With her flame-red hair and assertive persona, Smith-Johns would be a striking presence anywhere. Yet it's still startling to find this former Fairfax marketing executive among the coffee-coloured faces moving quietly in and out of Bainimarama's office, where he sits under a portrait of the Queen deposed by Fiji's first coup maker, Sitiveni Rabuka, 23 years ago.


"I don't think I'm being disloyal to Australia. I feel disappointed with Australia that they can't see what I can see over here, a lot of positive changes. [Foreign Minister] Stephen Smith can take a swipe at us, I can take a swipe at him but my role is giving people a better understanding of what's happening in this country. I don't feel like a traitor, not at all."


Multiple time zones away, by the East River in New York, another Australian citizen, Peter Thomson, is preparing for a diplomatic day of battle for Bainimarama as his permanent representative at the UN. Six months ago, his excellency the ambassador was a Sydney author and magazine writer, a face in the alfresco coffee crowd at trendy Coluzzi in Darlinghurst.


Now, he's busy signing diplomatic relations for Fiji with a slew of countries it had never bothered to engage before as part of a strategy to broaden its global ties and escape the Australian yoke.


"I've just come back from Cuba," Thomson tells me. "We're examining areas of co-operation in the medical field, in which Cuba is a world leader for developing countries. "We've got 160 medical students from the Pacific on medical scholarships in Cuba."


Unlike Smith-Johns, Thomson is Fiji-born and his connection to the country stretches back five generations on his mother's side. His father was a British colonial servant and Thomson himself ploughed through the ranks of Fiji's civil service in the stable immediate post-independence years, at one time consul-general in Sydney. But then came Rabuka's 1987 coup, when Thomson found himself a target as the high-profile white permanent secretary to Fiji's governor-general, embroiled in a constitutional crisis and with indigenous supremacists demanding his head.


Three days in an excreta-smeared cell at Rabuka's pleasure convinced Thomson of the need to put down other roots, first in New Zealand, then Australia.


More than most, he has cause to have deep personal feelings about the rise of Fijian nationalism and the steady marginalisation, before 2006, of the 40 per cent of non-indigenous citizens. "I'm a passionate advocate of a multi-racial, multicultural Fiji so I fully support Prime Minister Bainimarama's program," Thomson says. "Race-based constitutions and political parties have been very divisive for the nation. We're now working towards a future in which citizens will vote without regard for race for the first time."
Fiji's UN ambassador is unusual in having triple citizenship: Australia, NZ and now Fiji, his passport restored when the regime ended a 40-year ban on dual citizenship last year.


"To any notion of disloyalty or treachery to Australia, I'd say nonsense," he says. "I'm working to restore good relations in our region, not destroy them."


Unlike Thomson's deep roots in Fiji, Smith-Johns first visited in 1994, then again in 1997 when cupid's arrow sliced through her holiday.


"I fell in love with my diving instructor, the classic holiday romance," she laughs. "Then I moved here in 2000 right in the middle of George Speight's coup. Everyone thought I was mad."

Marrying her diving instructor, Smith-Johns became chief executive of internet service provider Connect Fiji and met Bainimarama informally at a business forum. She wears her devotion on her sleeve.



"I've become good friends with both him and his wife, Mary, who's a wonderful woman and a very close friend of mine," she says. "But he's my boss first and foremost and I have had occasions when he's bawled me out. But although he's tough, he's very fair."


For all her NSW country girl charm, Smith-Johns is now widely detested in Suva as the official who presides over the government's media censorship, the final arbiter of what Fijians see and hear.
She insists that 90 per cent of stories now get past the military censors but that's a figure hotly disputed by her newsroom critics, who also point to her role in what increasingly appears to be the imminent closure of the country's oldest newspaper, The Fiji Times (owned by News Limited, publisher of The Australian).



Most damaging is the allegation that when Smith-Johns was head of Connect Fiji, she allowed the regime to tap into the emails of her customers, including journalists and human rights activists.
"Absolute rubbish," she insists. "I take great exception to that. As a CEO, I could not and would not do that. We were never approached by anyone in government to tap emails. Never, ever."

Smith-Johns concedes she was once asked to explore the possibility of blocking websites opposed to the regime.


"It was pretty hard-core, nasty stuff but I still said no. I didn't think it was the right thing to do but in any event, it's a losing battle. Block off one website and another will pop up," she says.


Twelve thousand kilometres away from the political blast furnace of Suva, Thomson finds many more friendly faces of all hues as he strides the corridors of the UN.


"While Australia and NZ have obviously caused a lot of damage to Fiji's interests, the vast majority of diplomats I meet are very understanding of our efforts to carry out our reforms and bring long-term stability to the country," he says.


Thomson is spearheading vital elements of Fiji's Look North policy, pursuing closer ties with China, India and the Arab world -- among others -- as a means of breaking free of its dependence on Australia and NZ.
"We've applied for membership of the Non-Aligned Movement to forge a truly independent foreign policy, something we should have done a long time ago," he says.


"Over the last five months, I've officiated at ceremonies formalising diplomatic relations with 17 countries, and there'll be many more before the year is out."


Thomson and his wife Marijcke, a Sydney magazine publisher, were on holiday in NZ in January when the phone rang with Bainimarama's office on the line. "When your homeland has most need for your services, that is the most important time to serve and I had no doubt that I was equipped to do the job," he says.

Thomson had been on Bainimarama's radar for 50 years, since his own father had served as a prison warden to Thomson's father in British colonial times. But it was Thomson's strong advocacy of Fiji's position in the past couple of years that persuaded the dictator to entice him back into Fiji government service.



"I gave speeches in Australia to the Lowy Institute and the Centre for Independent Studies, as well as speeches in New Zealand, highly critical of their policy towards Fiji. It was pretty strong stuff about punishing Fiji without achieving anything and destabilising the whole region," he says.



Thomson's views were shared by a number of Australian, NZ and Fiji business figures, who secretly commissioned him last year to launch what they called the Fiji Dialogue Project in an attempt to heal the breach. Thomson is speaking about the initiative for the first time. "These were prominent people with long records of service in the three countries, no personal agendas and a shared commitment to the wellbeing of the South Pacific region. They were as distressed as I was about the breakdown of the relationship," he says.




And so Thomson embarked on a mission of personal diplomacy involving talks in Suva with Bainimarama and his foreign minister and subsequent trips to PNG and NZ. "I went under the radar to Port Moresby to meet Prime Minister Michael Somare and get his support for our efforts. Good progress was being made when the welcome news came that the foreign ministers of Australia, NZ and Fiji had agreed to a tripartite meeting. We thought, prematurely as it turns out, that our work was done," Thomson says.

There was also a meeting in Tony Abbott's electoral office in Sydney before he became Opposition leader. Thomson says he got a polite hearing but no commitments when he told Abbott the other side to the Fiji story wasn't getting through. Through these efforts, Bainimarama and Thomson developed their high mutual personal regard.



"The PM comes from a background of public service, as did his father before him. Remember, this is a man who only just survived an assassination attempt after he suppressed the ethno-nationalist forces trying to overrun Fiji.


"This is the man who defused the time bomb of the 2000 coup, when George Speight's gunmen held the government hostage for 56 days. That was Fiji's greatest trauma and the country never wants to see it happen again," Thomson says.




Thomson and Smith-Johns say Bainimarama's promise to hold elections in 2014 are central to their support for him and they believe he'll keep his word. "There will be an election in 2014," says Smith Johns. "No doubt about it." Bainimarama's many critics aren't so sure and neither is the Australian government, which in any event, wants an election now.



But for these Australian true believers, Bainimarama remains Fiji's best hope and they make no apology for being in the front line defending it against their own government's bete noir.


"I've never had any approaches from the Australian side warning me off," says Smith-Johns. "No spooks have come to see me. The only warning I received was from my mother, who told me to get back home and stop it!  She said, 'For God's sake, Sharon, come back home!' I said, 'It's all going to be OK, Mum. Have a Bex and a good lie down.' And I'm sure it will be."

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Mahendra Chaudhry in the Spotlight

Opinion
Crosbie Walsh

I have been asked by a reader why I have not published anything on the current charges laid against Mahendra Chaudhry, his supposed detention, and the Attorney-General's clarification of the charges.

The Attorney-General is, of course, correct in saying "no one should comment on the matter as it was now before the Courts." But this should not prevent general  comments on the Chaudhry situation. He is too public and too controversial a figure for no comment, and rumour and speculation is inevitable when questions remain unanswered.  This is one of the drawbacks with the ongoing enforcement of the Public Emergency Regulations.

First, it should be noted that the foreign media once again misreported what had happened. There can be little doubt that that was deliberate, either by them or more likely by whoever supplied them with information from Fiji.

The former PM was not arrested or even detained and then released, as they reported. FLP spokesman Lekh Ram Vayeshnoi said the foreign media reports were not true. Chaudhry's son, Suva lawyer Rajendra Chaudhry, said his father had been asked by police to come to the police station so he could be questioned. He returned home after questioning, and was asked to return the following day when charges were formally made.  He has to report daily to the Suva Point police station close to his home, bail has been set at $1,000, and he has surrendered his passport. The case against him is scheduled for 30th July in the Suva High Court.

Secondly, the charges he faces were brought by the Reserve Bank and involve twelve different counts of alleged money laundering and tax infringements. They do not involve the charges for which he was investigated and controversially cleared when he was Minister of Finance in the early Bainimarama government. The Attorney-General said that on that occasion government had asked a team of lawyers and accountants to look at  general allegations against Chaudhry made through anonymous letters.

Many people have long questioned the impartiality of those who found him innocent of wrongdoing  when undeclared money donated in India finished up in his Australian bank account. At that time he was Minister of  Finance in the Bainimarama government.  People, perhaps unfairly but inevitably, wondered whether this was why charges were not pressed. It certainly did not look good.  Justice was not seen to be done.

The current charges also do not look good. People are again wondering whether the charges against him are politically motivated. There is no way of knowing. Any charges against any political opponent will be seen by some as suspect.  My "gut feeling" is that whether or not the charges are proven, they are based on evidence that the Reserve Bank's lawyers think will hold up in court, and  I am confident the final ruling of the High Court will not be politically influenced.

But this leaves the question of why the Reserve Bank drew Chaudhry's name out of the hat when so many other cases could be more pressing. This decision could have been politically influenced, or if could be that all high profile cases were being investigated. Again, we have no way to know, any more than we would have known had the charges been made in 1997, 2001 or 2007 when he was also a high profile figure.

His previous absolution and present charges obviously raise doubts that are certainly not good for government or the perception of the judiciary.  While I was in Fiji recently, I spoke at some length with several members of the judiciary, and I am as confident as one can be that the judiciary is independent of executive interference and would make every effort not to succumb were government to try to exert influence.**

But this leaves the Director of Public Prosecutions and, in this case, the Reserve Bank, who could be indirectly influenced by government. The case against another prominent figure, Imrana Jalal, certainly looked suspect.  We will have to await the Court judgment.  But if it goes against her, she has a right of appeal. As indeed does Chaudhry.

In the last analysis, people will believe what they want to believe, whatever the actual or circumstantial evidence. With government efforts to rout out corruption and other criminal activities, several prominent figures can expect to be in court in the next few years. Some people will see them all as victims of political persecution, and their successful prosecution as evidence of government interference in the judiciary.

I think all, or to be more cautious, almost all, cases will be judged fairly, and where this is, or is thought not to be the case, the cause will be the preconceptions and prejudices of the judges -- the perennial human failing that happen in all judiciaries -- and not  political interference.

In this particular case, though, one thing definitely points to no government interference or influence: the timing.

Why would government want even a whisper of Chaudhry to steal the limelight in the wake of their Natadola  successes!

------
**  The Citizen's Constitutional Forum and the NZ Law Society have questioned the independence of the judiciary.  I expect to comment on the CCF Report soon.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Natadola Waves Roll On

PHILIPPA MACDONALD REPORTS ON NATADOLA.  Listen to the ABC interview on what she said.

HEAR JOHN KEY ON TV1
.  The PM says NZ will do "whatever it takes" to help Fiji towards elections in 2014 but doesn't expect the Forum to readmit Fiji until there's signs of movement towards elections. With an oblique reference to Australia, he said our Embassy staff did nothing to undermine the MSG Plus meeting that should have taken place in Fiji last week, and for which the Engage with Fij meeting was a replacement.  I'm all with you, Prime Minister.  Your first step could be to relax the Travel Ban so that it only applies to the upper levels of the executive and military. This would be one up against the Wallabies before we meet them at the weekend.

FIJI OUTMANOEUVRES AUSTRALIA IN THE PACIFIC
. This is how Australian seasoned media commentator Keith Jackson, whose website seeks to stengthen Aust-PNG relations,  views the scene following Natadola.

Australia's benign neglect of its own backyard – the island states of the south-west Pacific – has come back to bite it. That neglect is all the more noticeable given the initial enthusiasm with which the Rudd government approached the job of rebuilding bridges with the region after its election in 2007.

Why the commitment waned is debatable. Perhaps there were bigger items on the diplomatic agenda. Perhaps it was a way of Australia expressing distaste for various developments in the region – like corruption and misgovernance. Perhaps it was a sign of Australia rethinking a failing approach. Perhaps it was sheer incompetence.

Whatever, this cooling of enthusiasm was seen tangibly in the government’s failure to appoint a new Parliamentary Secretary for Pacific Island Affairs. In 2007 this had been an innovative and creative move. By 2009 it was dead.

Duncan Kerr had been a committed and energetic appointee. When he announced his retirement from the job, for reasons that are now unclear, no replacement was announced.

At the weekend, Fiji’s illegal military regime for the first time won international support for its coup. Late Friday, at the conclusion of Frank Bainimarama's summit in Suva, the heads of the governments of PNG, the Solomons, Kiribati, Tuvalu, East Timor and five other Pacific states signed a communique which endorsed Bainimarama's eight-year ‘road map’ for a return to democracy. The communique, issued late on Friday, agreed that the road map was a credible home-grown process for positioning Fiji as a modern nation and to hold "true democratic elections".

Rowan Callick reports in today’s The Australian that this raises the prospect that next week’s Pacific Islands Forum leaders' summit will be asked to lift the suspension of Fiji from the Forum. Along with Samoa, Australia and New Zealand have been the most consistent supporters of the suspension.Australia has not yet decided whether it will attend the Forum meeting. Foreign Minister Stephen Smith – who’s making a real mess of his regional diplomacy - said he would decide whether to attend "in the context of the [Australian election] campaign". Meanwhile, Fiji is making hay of its diplomatic outmanoeuvring of Australia and New Zealand.[abbreviated]

MAY VISITOR ARRIVALS SET NEW RECORD.  The latest figures released show the country hosted
more than 45,000 visitors in May, and international visitors for the five months to May totalled over 216,000, a 22% increase on the same period last year. The results were bouyed by an especially  strong performance from the Australian market.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

After Natadola

Scroll down for weekend postings. Look right to see Quote for the Week.

Opinion 
Crosbie Walsh

It's far too early to even guess at the medium to long-term influence of  last week's Engaging with Fiji meeting at Natadola, but with very contrary statements coming from participants and non-participants, some assessment it necessary.

The three statements about Fiji in the Natadola Communique (see below) which had the unanimous endorsement of participants were certainly supportive of the Bainimarama Government's Strategic Framework for Change,  elections in 2014, and continuing dialogue with Fiji, but as John Key pointed out, this does not necessarily mean that the Pacific leaders will call for Fiji's readmittance at the Forum when it meets in Vila next month.

It could, however, mean that Australia and New Zealand will be urged to relax their sanctions and re-engage with Fiji in a more meaningful manner.  They will have certainly lost some traction after Natadola, and they could lose more if they do not heed the Pacific undercurrents. So, some fine-tuning of their position may be expected, if only they can find ways to make changes without losing face.  An imminent major policy change seems unlikely.

Those seeking to detract from the importance of Natadola went to some lengths to downplay attendance.   Samoan PM Tailaepa said it was an "awkward invitation" which Pacific cultural protocol made it difficult to refuse. This sort of explained the attendance of other leaders -- but not  his own refusal.  Another commentator said Sir Michael Somare only went for the golf and Dr Derek Sikua for the opening of the Solomon Islands Chancery in Suva. And Australian broadcaster Philippa Macdonald said there were only three prime ministers among the 15 countries represented.  She did not say that this was an unexpected large  attendance considering the strenuous Australian efforts to discourage any attendance at all.  Australia wanted the meeting boycotted.

In fact, few Pacific countries were absent.  Of the larger Melanesian nations, only Vanuatu's PM (who, without due consultation, had cancelled the Melanesian Spearhead Group meeting that was replaced by the Natadola meeting) was missing, and even he sent his Foreign Minister.  From the  smaller nations originally invited to the MSG Plus meeting, Tuvalu's PM was present as was the Kiribati President. Representation from the northern Pacific did not include presidents or heads of government  because of a prior sub-regional commitment, but Marshall Islands, FSM and Nauru were represented, as were Timor Leste, Tonga, Niue, and the small territories of Tokelau and French Wallis and Futuna.  Cook Islands apologized saying it was preoccupied with its budget. Only Australia, New Zealand and Samoa were absent without explanation or apology.   It is difficult to palm off a meeting where 15 countries were officially represented as a gathering of nobodies, nincompoops  or toadies.

Australia's and New Zealand's absence did not unduly concern Sir Michael who said they did not really think of themselves as Pacific nations.

Recently, Australia's Foreign Affairs Minister Stephen Smith said that it is "difficult to have a dialogue with a military dictator who doesn't want to engage."  One consequence of Natadola is that Pacific Island leaders will now be even more aware that this is demonstrably untrue. In fact, the boot is on the other foot. It is Smith who does not want to talk with Bainimarama.  He has been twice invited to Fiji in recent months. The first time he and Murray McCully fouled up the invitation, and he turned down the invitation to come to Natadola. This was a deliberate  snub to Bainimarama, which  many  Pacific Islanders would see as discourteous and  not the Pacific Way.  The snub  also left the field totally open to Bainimarama, as his predecessor, Alex Downer, who thinks Smith should have gone to Natadola, rightly pointed out.

Australia's absence at Natadola and the probable absence of Julia Gillard and even Stephen Smith at the Pacific Forum meeting in Vila in two week's time, has led another commentator to say, "We are losing ground to a dictator  ...  That sends a regrettably clear message to the region as to our government's priorities."

This messsage would  have been read loud and clear at Natadola where leaders heard presentations urging a break from aid dependency, widening intra-regional trade and co-operation, and trade with Asia.

Addressing the meeting ,  UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (UNESCAP) representative in the Pacific, Samoan Iosefa Maiava,  told leaders there were many opportunities in the Asia-Pacific region, which the Pacific Islands can tap into, and that the Pacific needs to grow partnerships with Asian countries.  He said import percentage ratings show the Pacific was now importing more from the Asian region than that combined together of both Australia and New Zealand."

So with Australia otherwise preoccupied, what has Fiji gained?

Fiji broadcaster Stanley Simpson thinks Natadola shows "recognition for Fiji's continuous engagement in the region and full participation in regional development, institutions and aspirations."   This view gains support from Kiribati President Anote Tong , "Fiji will always be an important partner for all Pacific Island states;" from Solomon Islands PM Dr Derek Sikua who said his main aim in attending was to "show support for Fiji," and in Sir Michael's  comment that "Fiji should determine its own destiny  ...Fiji is out of the Forum but as Pacific nations we need to look out for each other, that is why I'm here."

Somare  said Bainimarama "is the leader of his people. It is his responsibility. If we have to report back to the main Forum, we will tell them  'this is what's going on in Fiji' ... He has given a timeline for democratic elections. He's the leader and has been recognised now for almost four years and we have to allow him to determine the future of his own people ... this is what Fiji wants, we have to allow them to do what they want."

Three paragraphs of the Communique clearly show an understanding and, I think, an acceptance of the Fiji situation that is not shared with Australia and New Zealand.  They read:
5.    Agreed that Fiji’s Strategic Framework for Change (SFC) is a credible home-grown process for positioning Fiji as a modern nation and to hold true democratic elections;
6.    Agreed that important lessons could be learnt and shared within the region, from Fiji’s experience and Fiji’s implementation of the Strategic Framework for Change;
7.    Recognised the need for Fiji’s continuous engagement with the region and its full participation in regional development, initiatives and aspirations.

Discussion at Natadola was not limited to the Fiji situation. Hold your breath -- Joint ventures in fish processing, coral and marine resource protection, bilateral arrangements on mining exploration, education, investment opportunities, economic opportunities in Asia, climate change and sea level rise, the high cost of consultancy fees, the integration of tourism and knowledge-based economies, a possible regional police academy, modernising laws, co-operation  in trade, regional tourism, education, shipping, aviation, labour mobility, private sector co-operation, the efforts of he Pacific Conference of Churches on a sustainable Pacific development model, and the possibility of Fiji acting as a regional hub for a range of activities -- were also discussed.  A mini trade fair was also held during the meeting.

The two messages  I took from the meeting were, first, the willingness to foster Pacific Islands regional co-operation and solidarity, and the special attention given to the concerns of the Small Islands Development States; and, secondly,  the obvious support for the Fiji predicament.

In many ways, of course, Pacific leaders are between the proverbial rock and a hard place. Their solidarity will come under pressure when they return home and as Australian and New Zealand pressures resume.  But they have sounded a warning.  They are not happy with the way Fiji is being treated. They detect a whiff of bullying and neo-colonialism. They clearly want Australia and New Zealand to recognize Fiji's Roadmap and accept that elections will not be held until 2014.  Not all are heavily aid dependent.  They are receptive to suggestions of a closer Asian connection.  And, although they may not move for Fiji's readmittance to the Forum in Vila next month, they will be calling for more dialogue and less rigid exclusion of Fiji from regional fora.

How permanent their position is cannot be known. Somare and Sikua (and Vanuatu's Natapei) may no longer be prime ministers in a few month's time and their successors may march to a different tune.  But there will be another meeting at Natadola in a year's time.  Fiji's geographic position and regional importance will be unchanged .  And -- unless they play it right over the next few months --  Australia and New Zealand may well have drifted  just that much further away.

Indeed, there's evidence, even more telling than our present sub-antarctic weather, that New Zealand may have already drifted away.  There's  been little to no mention of the Natadola meeting and its important communique by our media, that is usually so quick to pick up even the smallest morsels of negative news from Fiji.  But I may been reading too much into this omission: Michael Field could just have taken the weekend off.


Postscript Monday.   I spoke too quickly.  He was pounding away on his personal blog. For readers who do not already know Michael Field's ideas on what constitutes informed, reasoned and balanced comment, and a journalist's code of professional ethics, access this link to his account of Natadola. His "sanatised" version could well be published by the mainstream media today. 

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Why the Negative Publicity on Fiji Tourism?


Rip off? Fiji no, New Zealand yes: NZ media balance under question
Thakur Ranjit Singh
Just on the heels of bad publicity about Fiji and misrepresentation in other mainstream media, TVNZ has been accused of being the New Zealand’s tool in hurting Fiji further with its unbalanced news and doing a ‘hit’ on Fiji’s tourism.

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.

Sports Disparity

As I read the news about sports in Fiji I see a huge disparity.  Once again we read that Netball Fiji is asking for help. Right next to that we have the soccer debate. Soccer is so rich that clubs can import players from Australia, New Zealand, the United States of America, Solomon Islands and Vanuatu. There may be other countries that I haven’t named. But we see the two sides of things in Fiji’s sporting arena. While one sport struggles to make ends meet, the other is soaring, and good on them. Soccer is the biggest sport in the world. Bigger than rugby, and the passion that supporters have is overwhelming.

An Open Letter from Moses Stevens and PINA

AN OPEN LETTER FROM PINA PRESIDENT IN RESPONSE TO VANUATU DAILY POST.

Pacific Islands News Associaton president Moses Stevens accuses Marc Neil-Jones, publisher of the Vanuatu Daily Post of bias and ignorance of Fiji. He draws parallels between the current Fiji situation and that of Vanuatu when it was struggling to establish itself after independence, and defends PINA against the new journalism breakaway orgnization recently formed.Links to  Stevens and  Neil-Jones.

Friday, July 23, 2010

The Natadola Communique & Concluding Press Statement

The Natadola Communique
 

Natadola: What Might it Mean?

Pacific Scoop's Acting Editor Selwyn Manning presents an interesting interpretation  of this week's Forum-MSG-"Engaging With The Pacific" Natadola goings-on.   The rabid anti-government bloggers have already condemned it, so it's well worth a read.  Click here.

Fiji Economy Update 2010: Prasad's Presentation, Whitehead's Response

A now annual event hosted by USP and ANU is the Fiji Economy Update.  This year's meeting was held last Tuesday with presentations on the economy, the prospects for tourism, agriculture and land policies, manufacturing and commence, poverty, social welfare and housing, national planning and public policy, and monetary and stabilisation policies. I'm hoping we'll learn something of these presentations in the next week or two.

Meanwhile, the only presentations to which I have access are those by USP's Prof Biman Prasad, who details how Fiji had fallen behind its neighbours since the 2006 coup, and how each coup since 1987 has had a heavy financial cost, and by Mr Barry Whiteside, Deputy Governor of the Reserve Bank, who addresses some of Biman's comments.

Both presentations were in a pdf format that I cannot easily transcribe (tables and double columns collapse) but these links ( click here for Prasad  and  Whitehead ) only take moments to download. For readers who may wish to know more about the Reserve Bank, here is their  website address.  Biman  also has a Powerpoint presentaton that can be seen by clicking here and scrolling down.

Given that the Government's Roadmap agenda will be difficult to achieve until the economy performs better, I commend these two presentations to serious readers as essential reading.

The Media, Key & Downer on Natadola; Chaudhry & Field

FIJI TIMES REPORTS ON NATADOLA. The Fiji Times came out from under the table today and surprised its readers with news that a meeting involving "one president, three PMs, three ministers and four diplomatic representatives" took place at Natadola yesterday. It was called an "Engaging With The Pacific" meeting hosted by Fiji.  That's it, folks.  Hot off the press. From our very own free, fair and balanced Fiji Times. Could be more tomorrow if they report that the meeting continued yesterday.

OTHER ON-LINE REPORTING.  In contrast, Fiji Live had five items on the Natadola meeting, including one on John Key's reactions (see below) and Fiji Village had three, including a statement by former Australian Foreign Minister, Alex Downer (see below.) Both  on-line sites informed their readers about what was actually happening at Natadola, an 'oversight' in the Fiji Times report.

RIGHT ON KEY. "In the end, unless we’re going to see a group of those leaders come to Vanuatu in a few weeks’ time and argue the case that the Pacific Forum should reverse it’s decision in terms of the exclusion of Fiji from the Forum then ( Bainimarama) really hasn’t gained much and I can’t see that happening.”

He's right, of course, but the significance of Natadola should not be limited to the single issue of Forum membership.  If Bainimarama had no support among Island nations, no one would have turned up at Natadola, and certainly not the Forum's largest members,  PNG and Solomon Islands, whose PMs  had critical domestic issues to face at home.


DOWNER NOT QUITE OUT. With elections looming, former Aussie Foreign Minister has accused the incumbent Labor Government of "doing nothing" about Fiji.It seems to "have run out of policies." Downer said Fiji is important to Australia ...the Pacific is Australia's sphere of influence and they need to make sure it runs as best they can. "Leaving Bainimarama the room we have, is more than embarrassing, it's pretty shameful really."

Downer said if Australia's Prime Minister Julia Gillard was unable to attend the "Engaging With the Pacific"  Summit, that's understandable but it is really offensive for the region if they don't even send a Foreign Minister.

Meanwhile Fiji's Prime Minister Commodore Voreqe Bainimarama said Australia has been embarrassed in the eyes of other Pacific nations over its failure to derail the Pacific meeting being hosted by Fiji from today.Commodore Bainimarama said his "Engagement with the Pacific" summit is a meeting of the Melanesian Spearhead Group plus other nations, the summit he originally sought.

He said Australia's diplomatic effort to prevent it had backfired and more Pacific nations are gathering under his Chairmanship to express solidarity with Fiji.

With Papua New Guinea Prime Minister Sir Michael Somare arriving later today and Solomon Islands Prime Minister Doctor Derek Sikua already in the country, Permanent Secretary for Information, Sharon Smith-Johns said Canberra now has "egg on its face" because so many Pacific nations had chosen to defy its appeals not to attend the Fiji summit.Solomon Islands Prime Minister Dr Derek Sikua, Kiribati President Anote Tong, Prime Minister for Tuvalu Apisai Ilemia are already in Natadola.

Other country representatives are from Tonga, Vanuatu, New Caledonia, Marshall Islands, the Federated States of Micronesia, Nauru, Niue, Tokelau, East Timor and Wallis and Futuna.

CHAUDHRY IN-OUT; FIELD BEHIND THE PLAY. Former PM and Fiji Labour Party Leader, Mahendra Chaudhry has been interviewed and released by the Police Criminal Investigations Department. This is based on a tax investigation and more details are expected to be released later. Chaudhry was taken in for questioning yesterday morning.

Meanwhile some overseas media outlets including stuff.co.nz's Michael Field are reporting that Chaudhry has been seized by the military.

MEDIA CENSORSHIP.  Media censoship seems to have eased recently, witness the local reporting of remarks by Key, Downer and Field, and Chaudhry's detainment.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Solomon Islands Academic Speaks about Forum Tensions


Solomon Islands academic, Dr Tarcisius Kabutaulaka, who holds bachelor and masters  degrees from the University of the South Pacific and  a PhD from The Australian National University, is a professor at the University of Hawaii with a major research interest in Pacific governance.  He answers ABC questions on the Natadola meeting, the MSG, next month's Forum meeting in Vanuatu, relations with Australia, and tensions within the Forum. Click to listen. Scroll down to Windows Media.

Bainimarama Interviews, Whaleoil on NZ Policies, Aussie Boomerang, Bainimarama's Welcoming Speech at Natadola

STOP PRESS.  NZ REACTION TO NATADOLA MEETING.  PM John Key says that today's  unanimous support by Pacific leaders for Fiji's  Roadmap to Democracy changes nothing. A change in NZ policy could only come after the meeting of the PI Forum in Vanuatu next month. It is to be hoped there will be a change then to more realistic and helpful policies, even if it does mean losing face. But I'm not putting any money on it. Key could have attended the Natadola meeting. He has been invited to visit Fiji to see for himself but fouled the first offer and rejected the second.   "There are none so blind who will not see."

Meanwhile, ten Pacific nations (one President, three Prime Ministers, two Ministers, and four Ambassadors) will continue their deliberations at Natadola tomorrow Friday. The only PI Forum members absent were Australia, New Zealand, Niue, Samoa, and Cook Islands that sent an apology. What had NZ to lose by sending its Acting Head of Mission?


BUT AT LEAST ONE KIWI IN THE KNOW DISAGREES WITH THE PM.  See Whaleoil's comments on how NZ is missing out in the Pacific because of its inflexible policyt towards Fiji. Click here.


WATCH GRAHAM DAVIS's VIDEO  INTERVIEW WITH BAINIMARAMA.  Click here to listen to Fiji-born Australian Graham Davis's  interview with Bainimarama, released today.  There are six separate clippings from the interview covering topics such as Fiji's international relations, democracy, the media decree and the economy.

BAINIMARAMA SAYS AUSTRALIAN  EFFORTS BACKFIRED.  Fijian  military ruler Frank Bainimarama says Australia has been embarrassed in the eyes of other Pacific nations over its failure to derail a rival meeting to the Pacific Islands Forum, which gets under way in Fiji today.


In an exclusive interview with The Australian, Commodore Bainimarama said his "Engagement with the Pacific" summit was a meeting of the Melanesian Spearhead Group plus other island nations -- the summit he originally sought, on which "we'd spent a lot of money" ($170,000) -- in all but name.

Australia's diplomatic effort to prevent it had backfired, he said, and more Pacific nations were gathering under his chairmanship to express solidarity with Fiji. "We're not going to have an MSG leaders meeting per se, but we're still going to have the meeting as planned from the beginning," he said.
While acknowledging a "warm inner glow", Commodore Bainimarama said he didn't want to crow -- and Australia was still welcome to join the gathering.  -- The Australian.

Bainimarama's Welcoming Speach at Natadola
 “Engaging with the Pacific" 

Bula Vinaka and a Good Morning

It gives me much pleasure to welcome you all, in particular our leaders and guests from overseas, to the official opening of this historic meeting themed ‘Engaging with the Pacific’.

Fiji claims egg on Aussie faces as dictator pulls off PR coup with summit | The Australian

Click below to read this story in The Australian.
Fiji claims egg on Aussie faces as dictator pulls off PR coup with summit | The Australian

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Fiji's Kiwi Solicitor-General Replies to NZ Law Society

PRESS RELEASE

Invitation Extended to New Zealand Law Society

The New Zealand Law Society’s (“NZLS”) concern about the independence of the Fiji judiciary being undermined is misplaced and recent comments made by the NZLS are ill-informed and just plain wrong.

These comments were made by Fiji Solicitor-General and Permanent Secretary for Justice, Mr Christopher Pryde yesterday in reaction to reports that the NZLS had been advised that five Magistrates had recently been dismissed without notice.

Mr Pryde said that this was an old issue which happened last year and he questioned why this is being brought up again now.

Mr Pryde said that Judges and Magistrates in Fiji continue to have the freedom to decide cases on their own without interference from the executive branch of government.

In responding to the allegation by the NZLS that a Magistrate was dismissed for questioning the propriety of a prosecution against a human rights lawyer and her husband by the Fiji Independent Commission Against Corruption (“FICAC”), Mr Pryde said this was “just plain wrong”.

Mr Pryde said that it would appear that the NZLS is allowing itself to be used by certain people for their own ends and to further their own agendas. He said it was also disappointing that the NZLS was prepared to accept and quote NGO sources and questionable reports without attempting to check the facts or get a response from the Fiji authorities.

“No Magistrate or Judge has been dismissed for rejecting prosecution cases and it is disappointing that the NZLS should make such unsubstantiated allegations without first checking the facts. FICAC is an independent organisation and makes its own decisions with regards to prosecutions. The case brought against Imrana Jalal and her husband in relation to their restaurant has been transferred to the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions and is proceeding through the High Court in the normal manner. The more serious charges of corruption brought by FICAC against Mr Tuisolia in relation to his time as the CEO of Airports Fiji are also proceeding in the High Court.

It is also highly inappropriate for anyone to be making comments on matters that are before the courts. These matters will be decided by the courts and people have the right to appeal any decision if they so choose” he said.

Mr Pryde also said that it was ironic that the NZLS has concerns about the rule of law in Fiji but denies its members the opportunity to take up legal positions in Fiji by banning advertisements for legal positions in the NZLS publication Law Talk.

“If the NZLS was truly concerned about the rule of law in Fiji they should be actively supporting the rule of law in Fiji and reforms such as the establishment of the Independent Legal Services Commission to investigate lawyers.

To this end, I would like to extend an invitation to the NZLS to visit Fiji and to see first hand the progress that is being made in Fiji with regard to the rule of law” he said.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Kubuabola on Natapei, US Tourism, Consultations on Elderly, Manhunt Questions

URGENT NOTICE. The Citizens’ Constitutional Forum (CCF) has produced  its first film ‘Enduring Hope’ to promote racial harmony and tolerance in Fiji.  The 30-minute film, which is in  Fijian, Hindi and English with sub-titles in English where necessary, will be launched tomorrow  Wednesday, 21st, 6.30pm–8pm, at the Marine Studies Lecture Theatre, University of the South Pacific (USP), Laucala Campus, Suva. 

TACTFULLY NOT CALLING HIM A LIAR. Responding to a 19th July press statement by Vanuatu PM Edward Natapei on his reasons for deferring the MSG Summit that was to have taken place in Suva later this week, Foreign Minister Ratu Inoke Kubuabola  (photo) said the statement "contained what could be deemed as inaccuracies and misrepresentation of facts."

Specifically --
  • The claim that he had consulted and had the support of PNG and Solomon Islands when both had given their support in writing for Fiji to Chair the 2010 MSG meetings as hosts, in line with the traditions and practices of the MSG.
  • A letter dated 13tth July from Sir Michael Somare to Natapei copied to Fiji in which Sir Michael disagreed with and disputing the decision, terming Natapei's  actions as “un-Melanesian”.
  • The Solomon Islands High Commission in Suva categorically stated that Solomon Islands was not a party to the decision. Ratu Inoke said Mr. Natapei’s claims were especially baffling given  PNG and Solomon Islands support for the "Engaging with the Pacific" meeting this week.
  • The claim that by Natapei that he had send a Personal Emissary to Fiji to explain his decision. No emissary arrived.
  • The claim that he acted "without the influence or interference by the Australian Government is moot," given the extensive Australian lobbying.
Ratu Inoke said Natapei's action could have long term implications, leading to possible fragmentation of the MSG Bloc. He called on him to set aside personal agendas and come together for the collective good of the Region. It was with this objective that Fiji was convening the “Engaging with the Pacific” Meeting where the Pacific Leaders would have an opportunity to dialogue, resolve differences and identify solutions for the good of the Region through the “Pacific Way ”. -- Abbreviated MOI release 1060.

FIJI TOURISM TARGETS 900 US TRAVEL AGENTS
. With US visitor arrivals for the first four months of the year showing a marked increase – up 10% over the corresponding period in 2009 – Tourism Fiji has embarked on what is seen as an extremely timely ten-day road show designed to further boost numbers from this key market.

The national tourist office is targeting more than 900 travel agents in 12 cities in Pacific and mid-western regions of the US from 12-23 July with the support of Air Pacific, Continental Airlines and 16 of its Fiji industry colleagues.

CONSULTATIONS ON ELDERLY.Social Welfare Minister Dr Jiko Luweni  says Government is currenlty working on a National Policy Framework to protect the elderly that will include health care, transportation, long term institution care, support arrangements for family caregivers and support for the disabled. The first round of consultations that will involve other government ministries, town councils, academic institutions, corporate agencies and NGOs will start next week on Wednesday.

A MANHUNT IS ON  for five men who escaped from Lautoka's Natabua prison over a 24-hour period. During the same period another prisoner escaped from Korovou Prison. Police suspect they are being hidden by members of the public.

Another explanation is that the escapees were assisted from the inside by one or more crooked prison official. The possibility of organized crime involvement should also not be overlooked. The incidents also explain why Government relies so heavily of the military for tasks that, in "normal" circumstances, would only involve prison and police authorities.

NZ-Fiji Need Drug Co-operation, Travel Bans, the Media, Natapei Decision Unpopular

See new Quote for the Week in the right side bar.

DRUG CONTROL REQUIRES UNIMPEDED NZ-FIJI CO-OPERATION. The seizure  in Suva last week of a huge supply of the precursor drug needed to make methamphetamine (also known as 'ice' and 'p') had an estimated processed street value of F$28m. The consignment of powder arrived from China, via Hong Kong, Australia and New Zealand, and was finally intercepted at Suva Wharf. 

In an earlier seizure in 2000 drugs were thought to have originated in Myanmar, for stockpiling in Fiji before shipment to the US, Canada, Australia and NZ.

In 2004, overseas and local police arrested half a dozen Asian nationals and found the biggest methamphetamine manufacturing plant in the Southern Hemisphere. Over one billion dollars worth of methamphetamine was seized.

Last year Asian drug smugglers were caught using kava from Fiji to smuggle methamphetamine ingredients into New Zealand. These operations were uncovered by a 14-month joint operation by the New Zealand and Fiji police and a specialised team from New Zealand was called in clean up the factory as volatile chemicals littered the site.

A US diplomat, Richard Pruett, thinks the series of drug busts and immigration arrests in Fiji over the past decade indicate that a network of people from organised crime syndicates are operating in the country.

A NZ reader wrote: "Croz – this is a worry. Fiji needs expert help now about how to deal with this crystal methamphetamine/P drug problem, before it is too late. Politics shouldn’t come into the methamphetamine equation. Look what has happened here in NZ because a few years ago the powers that be and the government of the day ignored the problem – until it was too late. Now the streets here in NZ are awash with methamphetamine.  Check out this link to find out about the facts about crystal methamphetamine and how dangerous and addictive this drug is."

THE TRAVEL BANS. A reader 'Alter Ego' commenting on an earlier post wrote : "The only people to whom Australia and New Zealand are not open for general travel are a select group of junta members and appointees ... and both Australia and NZ say they will consider humanitarian cases. For everyone else, travel to AU and NZ is as normal, including medical evacuations."

I am afraid this is not true. The ban applies to anyone, including career public servants in senior positions, and their families.  See my interview with Pramesh Chand #6). To my knowledge, at least three civilians who would have applied for senior governnment positions, did not do so because of the travel ban that would have prevented visits to their transnational family.

The ban is depriving Fiji of capable civil administrators who have adopted no political position. Many people seeking visas are interrogated and kept in suspense for several days, even those seeking medical care. I reported the case of Judge Anjala Wati who was eventually allowed to accompany her child who needed an urgent operation, but was not allowed to "go shopping," for G-d's sake. I have not reported the case of someone known to me whose only "crime" was being part of the People's Charter process. After one such interrogation she was eventually allowed to visit her seriously ill father. Humanitarian cases need to be treated humanely, and this has not always been the case.

And this comment from 'Cornileus': "Alter Ego, Have you seen the 5 (7?) page supplement to the NZ visa application that only Fiji-born citizens are expected to fill? It's an insult and and as a Kiwi, I'm disgusted by it, and disgusted that the uninformed and misinformed ordinary Kiwi bloke has allowed it to continue.

If the ordinary Kiwi bloke had access to a few facts, and acted on them, there would be a radical change in NZ's policy towards Fiji. However, while you have a lying, manipulative media ruling the roost, it will never happen and the same old tired response to Fiji's woes will doddle on."

AUSTRALIA'S MEDIA DUOPOLY. Media ownership in Australia is distributed between commercial, national public broadcasters and not-for-profit community broadcasters. Australian media ownership has been described as one of the most concentrated in the world.  For example, 11 of the 12 capital city daily papers are owned by either Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation or by John Fairfax Holdings. -- Wikipedia.

FIJI TIMES ORDERED TO PAY $50,000. The Fiji Court of Appeal has ordered the Fiji Times newspaper to pay $50,000 in damages to former Fiji Labour Party Minister Lekh Ram Vayeshnoi for defaming him in 2001.The Appeals Court ruled that the Fiji Times defamed Vayeshnoi by publishing a letter to the editor titled "The mouth returns" where he was described as a coward and other insensitive comments were made about his personality.

NATAPEI'S DECISION ON MSG UNPOPULAR. Vanuatu freelance journalist Godwin Ligo
 has told Radio New Zealand that Prime Minister Edward Natapei’s decision to defer the MSG meeting has not gone down well with the public there. Ligo says Natapei’s move caused an outcry among opposition politicians and the public, with the Opposition saying Natapei has tarnished Vanuatu’s previously solid relationship with Fiji. FBC News also understands that Papua New Guinea Prime Minister Sir Michael Somare has written to Natapei informing him that Fiji’s chairmanship is not an issue to him. [a similar Letter from Moses Stevens which draws parallels between Vanuatu and Fiji will be published at the wekend.]

SUGAR EXPORT ASSURED. The new owner of Tate & Lyle's European Union Sugars division, American Sugar Refining, will not just honour existing T&L contracts to buy 300,000 tonnes annually from Fiji until 2015, but wants to buy more.

 The NZ Law Society made very serious allegations against the Fiji judiciary over the weekend. With enquiries now complete, I expect to be able to report my findings later today or tomorrow.