Thursday, September 30, 2010

Beyond the Gibberish, Possible Crusher Sabotage

Commonwealth Gibberish
Crosbie Walsh

I don't really know why the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group¹ needed to meet in New York to discuss Fiji over the weekend. It said little and achieved nothing. The CMAG expressed its concern about the "lack of progress made toward the restoration of civilian constitutional democracy in Fiji[and hoped Fiji would take]the necessary steps to enable the restoration of its full participation in the Commonwealth as soon as possible."

Photo: See footnote 3, below.

But Fiji has made it abundantly clear -- for over a year now -- that elections would not be held until 2014, and it has given its reasons. The most that can be hoped for is the lifting of the Public Emergency Regulations, increased civilian involvement in government and more dialogue, with political dialogue starting before 2012. Why didn't CMAG push for this approach?

The CMAG "reaffirmed their solidarity with the people of Fiji." They said they were ready "to assist Fiji in appropriate ways on its path back to constitutional democracy, consistent with Commonwealth values and principles.”  And they reaffirmed the Commonwealth's "continued efforts to engage in constructive dialogue with the Fiji government and other stakeholders, particularly through the Secretary-General’s Special Representative [Sir Paul Reeves], and encouraged such engagement in good faith to continue." Sounds reasonable but there was no moderation of positions since the last time they met.

What does this gobbledygook² mean?
The CMAG thinks the situation in Fiji before the 2006 Coup was an unimpaired democracy. They do not recognize any of the worthwhile policies and actions of the Fiji Government. I do not know what they mean by "solidarity with the people of Fiji." It could mean anything, or nothing. They think an early election is the way to resolve Fiji's deep-seated problems. They will only assist when elections loom. They will not relax sanctions or urge others to do so, even though they are hurting ordinary people in Fiji and making economic recovery more difficult. They will continue to follow the lead of Forum countries,led by Australia and New Zealand. There is absolutely nothing new in their statement. But to assume, as some readers have, that this was a statement separate from that of the EU that also continued its sanctions last week, is, I think, a little naive. All such statements are clearly taking their lead from the Pacific Forum that is taking its lead from Australia and New Zealand. Hear one and you have heard them all.  The only country slightly out of step is the US where Hillary Clinton has signalled she wants fresh engagement with Fiji.³

Beyond Gibberish: What could have been said? 
After acknowledging the "positive" legislation passed in recent months and logistical work being done by the Elections Office, CMAG could have defined more precisely what they mean by "progress" with a proposed timetable (and inducements) for each major step. For example, the immediate lifting of PER, a larger and more representative Strategic Framework for Change office, more civilian representation in Government at all levels, the commencement and conclusion of dialogue on the Constitution and electoral reform, more open discussion in the media about these issues, and finally the elections.

And what could Fiji have done? Fiji could have provided the Roadmap timetable and said that with overseas legal, advisory and  financial assistance --and the lifting or progressive easing of sanctions-- Fiji should be able to bring everything forward six months (and electoral dialogue 12 months).  This would result in  major political dialogue starting late next year -- with public informal discussions earlier -- and the elections being held in late 2013 or early 2014. 

The art of diplomacy is compromise but it takes two to tango.

¹The CMAG comprises Australia, Bangladesh, Ghana (chair), Jamaica, Maldives, Namibia, New Zealand, Trinidad and Tobago, Vanuatu.
² Gobbledygook=bureaucratese, a kind of doublespeak. Doublespeak=meaningless speech that consists of nonsense syllables mixed with intelligible words; gibberish.
³ United States Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has told Fiji's Foreign Affairs Minister Ratu Inoke Kubuabola that the US wants dialogue and partnership with Fiji.

CRUSH SABOTAGE? With mill boilers at Rarawai, Labasa and Lautoka sugar mills all breaking down within the span of only a few weeks, Permanent Secretary for Sugar Manasa Vaniqi is wondering whether sabotage is involved. He thinks the breakdowns are too common to be a consequence of old machinery.

“We are not blaming anyone but based on the reports that we have been receiving there seems to be a consistent breakdown on that particular area of the boiler. And people are not fixing it. And we are going down to the bottom of that one, the investigation is ongoing and we are waiting for the report.” The mill engineering upgrade programmes are achieving nothing.

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Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Nation-Building: Language, Flags, Symbols; Fiji Sun Squatter Heading Misleading, Squatter Policies & Solutions

NATION-BUILDING & A NATIONAL LANGUAGE. Yesterday's posting that sought to correct CCF's misunderstanding of government's intentions on a national language generate many comments, many equally confused, and at least one reader still did not understand the difference between an official language and a national language.  I explained it like this:

"Perhaps the best way to explain a national language is to consider it as an honorary title, a symbol of respect and nation-building, but without the utility value of official languages that are used in legal documents, the courts, and so on.

"The decisions to use "Fijian" for all Fiji citizens, the proposal on a national language, and today's announcement that all Govt buildings will fly the Fiji flag, are all symbolic ways intended to unite the nation."

The reader thought Singaporeans were confused by their arrangements.  I replied: "Believe me, Singaporeans are not at all confused. Irrespective of their many ethnicities and languages, they are all proud of the peace and harmony they enjoy today. And it all started with symbols like this."

FLYING THE FLAG AND INDEPENDENCE DAY. Government has approved the flying of the Fiji flag on all government premises, business houses, schools, various institutions and residential houses from the October 1 to 10.

"Flying of the Fiji flag symbolises the national pride in our heritage and is an expression of our patriotism for Fiji, our heaven, our home and our country." Fiji will celebrate the 40th year of Independence on October 7th and 8th. --Based on 2010 No:1552/MOI. [Why limit the flag flying to these dates? Patriotism does not start and finish on October 7-8.]

. A headline that reads "Ministry will tear down homes" plays straight into the hands of government opponents because it falsely shows government as unfeeling towards the poor and otherwise homeless. The article then proceeds to correct its sensationalist misinformation.

The announcement by Ministry of Lands Permanent Secretary Lt.Col. Neumi Leweni refers only to newly built houses on crown or state land.It does not include older homes or any homes on native* or private land. Neither would the homes be torn down. The PS said the houses would be "removed." He then went on to talk about the development of state land, a move that would allow people to buy their own lots and move into the settlements, and that “people living in squatter settlements will be given first chance in occupying the new housing to be constructed for squatters.” He said the first phase of development had already started at Jittu Estate in Suva and rounded up by saying that Government is "serious in its bid to reduce squatters in the country," estimated at 15% of the population in more than 200 squatter settlements.

Far from tearing down homes and leaving people homeless, Government is trying to find a solution to the squatter problem that was virtually ignored by the previous government.  And that is what the Sun's headline should have said.

* Interestingly, ethnic Fijians households with vakavanua arrangements with native landowners are not considered squatters, even though they present similar town planning problems, and their occupance is at best extra-legal.  Fijian urban villages  present urban planning problems that also will need to be addressed further down the road.

SQUATTERS NEGLECTED BY PREVIOUS GOVERNMENTS. A month earlier, speaking at the groundbreaking ceremony at Tacirua East, north of Suva, where the Housing Authority will develop 1,050 lots  and build 900 housing units for low, middle and high income earners, the PM said “Concomitantly previous governments failed to tackle the growth of squatter communities and neglected those who needed housing assistance.

My Government has demanded that Housing Authority and Public Rental Board contribute in a tangible fashion to resolve and solve the housing and squatter challenges. However, subsequently and over the years, Housing Authority and the Public Rental Board relented on its core values and principles.”

Another project assisted by government is the  $4million housing project at Lagilagi settlement at the Jittu squatter Estate in Suva City.-- Based on 2010 No:1436/MOI.

I researched squatters and squatter settlements in Greater Suva in the 1970s for my doctoral degree. While agreeing with much of what Government and the Housing Authority are now doing, I do not think the resources are available to solve the problem. There are just too many squatters and not enough money.

For this reason I think that monitored and assisted site and basic services provision should be a major part of the solution. Government could assist in several ways: in addition to providing the site, basic roading and street lighting, water, sewerage and electricity connections, they could also provide carpentry training, overall supervision, subsidized building materials, and loans. The Military and volunteers could also be involved.

This approach would see groups of squatter families directly involved in solving the problem. They would build houses to the design and size they could afford, extending the house as their circumstances improved. Self help housing is a way of helping people solve their housing problems in an organized manner.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

National Language Misunderstanding, Dual Citizenship, Sugar Debts Detailed

The Government announcement that it is considering a national language for Fiji (most probably Bauan Fijian) has been misunderstood -- and no wonder. It did not clarify what it meant by a national language. 

Today's press release from the Rev. Akuila Yabaki of the Citizen's Constitutional Forum provides an example. The CCF calls on Government "to respect multiculturalism and diversity [and] not to declare one particular language as the national language for Fiji, as this would be detrimental to Fiji’s image as a multicultural nation with diverse identities."

The cause of the misunderstanding will be immediately seen when considering Singapore which has four official languages -- Malay, Mandarin, English and Tamil-- and one national language -- Malay: the language of the original inhabitants. Fiji at present has three official languages -- Fijian, Hindi and English -- but no national language. To make Fijian the national language, therefore, would in no way detract from the existing official languages, but it would show a special respect for the language of the original inhabitants. New Zealand has three official languages -- English, Maori and NZ Sign.

BAUAN FIJIAN? Readers will note that I have referred to Bauan Fiji. When the first Europeans arrived in Fiji there were over 300 "communalects" or dialects, many unintelligible to other itaukei with whom they commonly shared no more than 60% cognates on a standard word list; roughly the same as Dutch and German or Portuguese and Spanish.  Linguists grouped the communalects into two major and 27 minor groupings, 12 in the west of Viti Levu and 15 in the east of Viti Levu, Vanua Levu, Lomaiviti and Lau.  Bauan became the official itaukei Fijian language thanks to British colonialism and the military prowess of Bauan chief Ratu Seru Epenisa Cakobau (painting). Many dialects are now extinct or close to extinction and spoken only by old people.  A strong case could be made for the revival of the more robust communalects because as language is lost so also are much of the history and culture of its speakers.

The CCF supported the recent move by government to name all Fiji citizens as ‘Fijians.’

-- Based on Paul Geraghty in Walsh, Crosbie: Fiji: an Encyclopaedic Atlas 2006:388-389.

DUAL CITIZENSHIP. Some 1054 people applied for dual citizenship in the year ending July and 857 applications were approved.The dual citizenship status was granted under the Citizenship Decree which came into effect in April 2009. The Decree allows for any child, spouse and former Fiji citizen to apply for citizenship by registration and also allows foreigners who are working, investing or residing in Fiji for the last ten years to apply for Fiji citizenship by naturalization.

The Decree was introduced to allow those that have left Fiji to return and re-invest in the country.Many of those whose applications were granted have invested in property, farming and tourism developments.

SUGAR DEBTS SPELT OUT. The Fiji Sugar Corporation needs to pay one third of its total borrowings over $60million in the next 12 months. This was announced in its audited financials for the year ending May 31, 2010.

According to the report, the FSC has total borrowings of over $180m from the Export Import Bank of India ($84m), the Fiji National Provident Fund ($44m), the Reserve Bank of Fiji ($22.5m), Sugar Cane Growers Fund ($8m), Bank of Baroda ($19m), Bank of South Pacific ($1.4m), Westpac Bank (overdraft $1.4m).

The EXIM Bank loan was signed in November 2007 for the upgrade of mills, repayments to be made twice a year over a 10-year period. A grace period or moratorium for two years was granted but this was extended to three years, which means repayments start after the end of November. The RBF loan, which was through the purchase of FSC bonds, incurs an interest rate of 7 to 8 per cent to be paid bi-annually and to be paid in full by 2014, the report said. “The loan from the FNPF of $29.3m and borrowings by way of promissory notes of $4.73m are subject to interest at the rate of 12% and 10% per annum respectively and are payable by 31 May, 2011, and 9 October 2010, respectively,” the report said. “During the year, default interest was charged by FNPF for seven days due to delay in rollover of the loan. These borrowings are secured by the government guarantee.

Bonds worth $10m were also bought by the FNPF with the interest rate of 7%to be paid twice a year and repaid by November 5, 2014.The BoB loan (through promissory notes) incurs an interest rate of 8.5-9% per cent per annum repayable by November 11 this year while the borrowing from BSP is to be paid by next month.

All the borrowings were secured through government guarantee.

The PM's Address to the UN General Assembly

(TUESDAY 28th SEPTEMBER 2010 No:1545/PMO) Message by the Prime Minister Commodore Voreqe Bainimarama at the general debate of the 65th session of the 
United Nations General Assembly

Methodist Supremacists, MSG Broker Role, Development Journalism, Education & Charter

METHODISTS AND INDIGENOUS SUPREMACY. A recent comment on the blog  by "Wither the Wesleyans" is worth sharing with a wider audience.  He writes:

The current Methodist hierarchy still doesn't understand what it has to do to get the monkey off its back. And that is to cut itself loose from Lasaro and Kanailagi (photo. L - R) the two indigenous supremacists so identified in the public mind with the events of 1987 and 2000. Tugaue and Waqairatu are only caught up in all of this because of the political machinations of these two aging warriors.

The truth is they're impotent to act against them because of their strong political base among the Methodist congregation. But until they do, the Church will be at the margins of national life, kept there by a regime that is determined to crush its influence at all costs.

A sad and sorry situation but pretty much the fault of the Methodists themselves. When they gained their independence from the Australian church in 1964, a huge effort was made to make the Fiji church multiracial, at least in outlook. But it was a process resisted by the likes of Lasaro and Kanailagi, who used their influence to drag the church into the centre of indigenous Fijian politics. Now that the Methodists and indigenous supremacy are synonymous, is it any wonder that the church has lost its moral authority and that the regime is out to destroy its pernicious influence on the country as a whole?

The tragedy in all of this is that commentators and journalists the would over are totally ignorant of the history of the Methodist Church in Fiji. If they did even the barest research, they'd quickly discover the fraudulent nature of the Church's claim that it's being persecuted in Fiji.

It is, in fact, the Church that has been doing the persecuting, successive presidents harassed and removed for not embracing the extremist agenda and non indigenous Methodists marginalised and either silenced or forced to leave. Whichever way you look at it, the hijacking of the Methodist Church for political purposes has been unconscionable by any standards. They love to quote their biblical texts so how about this one: as you sow, so shall you reap. Qori.

. Concerned about what he sees as escalating friction between Fiji and Australia and the resolution  slipping further away, new Solomon Islands Prime Minister, Danny Philip, wants  a small group of like-minded Melanesian nations "to nudge Fiji back to democracy." With Fiji suspended from the Pacific Islands Forum, the PM thinks the smaller Melanesian Spearhead Group, which also includes Papua New Guinea and Vanuatu, is the best forum to engage Fiji.

Prof. David Robie told a recent Pacific Conference of Churches meeting that development journalism is critically important for media in the South Pacific, and said that some western media had "lost the plot". Too much focus was on conflict and crises and not enough on solutions. He said good development journalism - not the misrepresented version criticised by western media - was investigative, process and solution-orientated.

"The goal of development journalism is to reach people and make a change in their lives," he said.He said this was about "empowerment of the people".Church publications - such as the new PCC website launched at the conference - NGO  newsletters and independent publications were important for agenda-setting on the "real issues" facing Pacific communities.

"New media technologies on the net make it possible for every citizen to engage in journalism through tools like blogging, and development journalists continue to play a key role in social change," he said. Based on Pacific Media Centre/Pacific Media Watch): Pacific Media Centre on Twitter -

SCHOOLCHILDREN SHOULD NOT BE SENT HOME. Tuition free grants are paid by government for every registered child from Class 1 to Form 7. In that regard, no child should not be sent home. This is Government's commitment to the People's Charter and the UN Millennium Development Goals. Below is how Tuition Fee grants should be utilized by schools:

10% of the total to be used for purchasing Computers, connection of internet or any improvement of Information Communication Technology in the school; 10% for classroom furniture (desks and chairs), school equipment and materials, Office equipment (office computer, copy printer, photocopier, multimedia projector); 10% for school library books; 5% on PEMAC equipment( musical instruments and sports equipment); 5% of the total to be used for purchasing any vocational equipment or upgrading any of the vocational facilities (for schools that have vocational).  The rest should be spent on operational costs.

Levies charged by schools should only be for a computer fee, building fee, sports fee, library fee, development fee, cadet fee and admission fee, and all these fees must be approved by the Permanent Secretary for Education. It must also be noted too that any increase in levies/fees should be approved by the Permanent Secretary for Education.

The Ministry hopes that schools will now understand why the Ministry has maintained its stand on this issue -- that all students must not be sent home for non-payment of levies.-- 2010 No:1444/MOE.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Swinstead's Fiji Times, Grassroots Women's Federation, Closer Pacific Ties with Fiji

ANONYMOUS COMMENTS are still not being published.
JOKE OF THE WEEK. A few days ago the anti-government blogs reported that Col. Pita Driti had arrested Bainimarama and Attorney-General Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum. One called it an early Christmas present.  Before heading overseas late last week the unarrested Bainimarama appointed Col. Driti acting commander of the military. The A-G is still out of the country.

NEW FIJI TIMES PUBLISHER EXPLAINS HIS POSITION. ABC interviewer Geraldine Coutts   asked the Times's new publisher Dallas Swinstead (photo)  how he was going to handle free speech. Swinstead:

"Freedom of speech - my original answer was my parents gave me a pretty fair idea of what you can say and get away with, and when you stepped out of line and they ran the show they knocked you over. So, I mean, I don't like that happening. I am tenacious, but I am a good mediator and a facilitator, and I will be trying to talk to people in government to lead them to understand how valuable a free and open press is. But look, it is a developing country with lots of problems and I am sympathetic to them and I am not angry about censorship or anything else. That's life. 

Local Motibhai Group bought the paper from Rupert Murdoch's News Ltd last week. Motibhai Chairman Mahendra Patel said: "The Fiji Times will operate as an independent separate unit. Dallas Swinstead and his staff are the people that will fashion the editorial content of the paper. We will not interfere with that. The staff are empowered to operate and run independently – of course we will be there to guide, but we will not interfere.”   Read also the Cafe Pacific story.

THE FIJI WOMEN'S FEDERATION. Approved by Cabinet last year, the FWF is an important unit in the Department of Women, which advises the Minister for Women on national issues concerning development and works in partnership with women's NGOs to achieve a coordinated approach to programme implementation. Unlike many umbrella women's organizations in the past, the FWF is open to all races.

Most FWF activities are based on centres and involve a great deal of self-help supplemented by government assistance.  Eight centres should be built by the end of this year and 14, one for each province, by 2014.  The women's husbands and male relatives build the centres; government provides the money for materials. The elected president of each centre sits on an advisory committee at the Ministry.

The centres also work closely with divisional planning offices to identify the needs of women specific to their communities, and training is provided in capacity building, alternative livelihoods, and other activities to help generate income for the women

The Advisory Committee is charged with the implementation of government's Women’s Plan of Action (WPA) 2010 to 2019 that spells out five priority areas for the development and advancement of women:

1. Formal sector employment and livelihoods
2. Equal Participation in decision-making 3. Elimination of violence against women
4. Access to services (Health and HIV/AIDS, education and other basic services)
5. Women and the Law.

FWF informs women about the international Convention on the Elimination of All forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW); its centres are places of informal education and shared experiences, and training grounds, perhaps, for women's greater involvement in politics.

When I met the Minister of Women, Dr Jiko Luveni, in June, she told me of government actions to empower women, and said: "For years we've been waiting for this."  This spoke words for a woman who initially was opposed to the Bainimarama government and whose husband was a member of former PM Qarase's SDL party.

For readers and organizations in Fiji that would like to know more about the FWF, email the Secretariat at -- Based, in part, on 2010 No:1415/MOI.

AFTER NATADOLA,  PACIFIC CO-OPERATION. Following on from the Natadola meeting (see report on  communique) that was held in place of the abandoned Melanesian Spearhead Group in June, several Pacific Island countries have expressed interest in closer relations with Fiji. Tuvalu, the first to sign a MOU, is now joined by Kiribati, and expressions of interest have also been received from Vanuatu, Solomon Islands and Timor-Leste.

The memorandum of understanding was signed when the Kiribati President the Fiji PM were in New York for the 65th session of the UN General Assembly. Broad areas of co-operation include education, medicine, and fisheries. The PM will deliver Fiji's national statement during the general debate session of the Assembly.

Scroll down to see Weekend Reading.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Weekend Reading

Fiji bloggers fail to offer ‘credible alternatives’ for country’s future, says academic

Fiji torn flag

Although blogs provide a space for political dissent in Fiji, they are failing to generate a “positive dialogue” about the nation’s future, says a prominent political commentator.
Blogging has long been a way of publishing anti-government material in Fiji and of bypassing the self-censorship of the mainstream media which are often unwilling to rock the boat.
More recently, it has become political weapon in defying Commodore Voreqe Bainimarama’s media decree and his efforts stamp out criticism to his rule.

However, emeritus professor formerly at the University of the South Pacific and political observer Crosbie Walsh says that instead of offering solutions to the nation’s political turmoil, the majority of these blogs are polemical, divisive and offer no credible alternatives to the current regime.

As such, blogs are failing to fulfil their capacity as a forum of free and constructive discussion and a place where a path through Fiji’s current political instability can be found.

For although some online censorship and monitoring exists in Fiji, blogs have largely escaped the grasp of the iron fist controlling the rest of the country’s media. Dr Walsh, who also publishes his own blog on Fiji, says this could be because the government lacks the technology to effectively filter and restrict internet access.

Sporadic blocking
Although there have been instances of the military blocking websites or blogs, he says these have been sporadic and ultimately failed to stop bloggers getting their message out. “People can still go onto Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube and there’s no way the government can close all them down,” he says.

Moreover, Dr Walsh says overseas servers host most blogs and they are out of the regime’s reach.
This relative freedom of the blogosphere does not mean the government did not attempt to control and monitor what Fiji internet users access.

An American IT professional who worked in post-coup Fiji, Chris Hammond-Thrasher, says once they took power, the military contacted Fiji telecommunications company FINTEL to see what their options were.

“I have it on good authority from people who worked for FINTEL that in the months following the coup the military looked into what would be involved in filtering internet content,” Hammond-Thrasher says.
However, according to FINTEL chief executive Sakaraia Tuilakepa, his company played no part in the military’s attempt to control the internet. “FINTEL has never blocked any websites or anyone’s access to the internet,” he says.

Scary tactics
Although the government attempted to block and filter content, Hammond-Thrasher says the main way in which the military attempts to silence bloggers is by scaring them into submission. While there have never been any formal arrests made, he says there is no shortage of bloggers claiming to have experienced military intimidation.

“There are so many similar stories of people brought in [for questioning]  that there has to be some truth to them. You hear of people being stripped down to their underpants and having to run around a field and things like that,” Hammond-Thrasher says.

Dr Walsh had also heard reports of the military attempting to scare bloggers off. “There’s been some intimidation, probably a few detentions. They’re scare tactics, but there have been no long-term arrests. The worst thing that would happen to [detainees] in my estimation is they’d be beaten up by police. Now they’d be very badly beaten up, but that’s nothing new in Fiji,” Walsh says.

Some bloggers, however, do see the need to exercise caution. Members from the blog Fiji Democracy Now refused to go on record from fear of retribution from the military. “We have a blanket policy of protecting our identities.  Sadly, there are a few family members who would be at real risk in Fiji from this regime if any links to us were known,” a spokesperson says.

Volatile mix
However, while Dr Walsh does not support the military’s response to bloggers, he says the military is not going to stand back and watch these blogs stir instability into an already volatile political mix. “Being a military government, what they are very likely to do is be heavy handed. This is what you expect from a military regime,” he says. Moreover, Dr Walsh said it is too simplistic to draw a line in the sand, labelling bloggers as good and the military as bad.

In fact, while many recognise the merits of blogging as vehicle for free expression, a good deal has been written on problems within the Fijian blogosphere. The printing of unverified fact or deliberately false information is one downside to online posts. When evaluating Fijian media freedom in Pacific Journalism Review in 2007, Fiji Times news editor Sophie Foster argued that accuracy is often missing from blogs as there is no fact checking. As well as this, many anonymous posters do not take responsibility for the information they release. Foster says this causes problems when news outlets use material found on blogs. She gives examples of the mainstream media being caught out by reporting false information taken straight from blogs.

Hammond-Thrasher also remembers times when bloggers posted erroneous material. “The fact that blog free and unregulated is precisely what is good about them, but that freedom can be a curse as there is no mechanism for fact checking,” he said.

Blogosphere rumours
This spread of misinformation in the post-coup blogosphere continues to be a problem. Walsh explained that the latest round of rumours to come from blogs claim that the military had arrested Bainimarama and the Fiji Attorney-General, Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum.

“Every day for the last week or so, we’ve been bombarded by these de-stabalising and fallacious rumours. The mainstream media is not reporting this. Why? Because no responsible paper would report a rumour without checking it out.”

As well as spreading false information, blogs in Fiji can be dangerous as they can fuel racial tensions.
Head of journalism at the University of the South Pacific Shailendra Singh says this a problem, and that “inflammatory statements, racial hatred, vindictiveness” can be found readily on Fijian blog sites.
Foster agrees and says the fact that blog content can be “racist, defamatory, provocative and irresponsible” is a strong argument in the need for a responsible press in Fiji.

Because of this unbridled and irresponsible polemicism, Dr Walsh argues that the blogs do little to advance constructive debate around the Fiji political question. “If they could say, ‘look this is the reality we’ve got to deal with it, how can we take it forward?’ then they would be playing a very positive role, but at the moment they’re not.”

Furthermore, he says that if Fijians heed the bloggers’ calls for mutiny and assassinations, the nation would not be any better off.

Positive change?
“Where would have leave Fiji? Here we are in 2010, four years after a coup, are they going to go back and install the old government which caused the coup in the first place? Are they going to leave the corruption which was there before? Are they going to hold democratic elections where the parties are race-based?” he asks.

Given the ability to get around media restrictions, these blogs certainly have the potential to make positive change in Fiji. But for Dr Walsh, most bloggers are not seizing this opportunity. “In terms of trying to bring a satisfactory resolution, trying to avoid bloodshed, trying to avoid open dissent, trying to get greater civilian participation in government, and holding a relatively free democratic election, I don’t think these blogs are playing any role at all.”

Hamish Fletcher is a Postgraduate Diploma in Communication Studies student on the Asia-Pacific Journalism course at AUT University.Click here.

MICRO-FINANCE PITFALLS. These words of warning from a reader:  "Thought you might be interested in some data on so-called micro-finance provided recently by an acquaintance who works in PNG. The Fiji gvt shld be very wary about seeing micro-finance as a solution to anything -- even if the direction is pushed by a Nobel prize winner.

"In a review of suppliers of micro-finance (loan sharks) to staff of the PNG National Department of Health, I documented the following findings: 1.No clear regulation on micro finance or micro finance companies in PNG; 2.23 micro finance lenders were identified as providers of loans to staff of the NDoH; 3. Over PGK500,000 loans were written by these lenders to NDoH staff; 4. Most of the loans were taken out to pay children schools fees; 5. NDoH staff had multiple loans with multiple lenders; 6. Different loan schemes were negotiated by lenders with interest charges in excess of 100% per annum; 7.NDoH staff had little to no knowledge of how the loans worked and what the interest charges meant; 8.     Lenders were managed by local or foreign (Asian) managers with little to no regard for the customer; 9.Lenders put pressure on accounts and payroll sections to make payments to lenders first and deduct money from staff; 10.Many of the staff at payday had negative pays or minimal amounts (50t) per fortnight; and 11. This in turn lead to pressure placed on accounts and payroll through the wantok system to basically steal money from NDoH through the creation of fictitious employees, increase salary threshold or increase benefits."

, a top priority for Fiji.  Click here.

SAVING OR CREMATING THE SUGAR INDUSTRY.  A well argued article written by Jagannath Sami, the deposed SCGC CEO, published by the Fiji Times on 7 March last year. With sugar for ever in the news, and the news getting no better, it may be timely to revisit Jagannath's argument. Click here.  

. From a website. "The Hindustani language has also influenced other Indian descents that are situated in Fiji. Specific areas like Northern Vanua and Western Viti Levu have served as avenues wherein Fijians of Indian heritage and  native Fijians connect together and surpass languages barriers via a common spoken language. With this, Fijians are now regarded as having the only ethnic group across the globe that are Hindi speakers but are not of Indian background." [I am still waiting to hear from the Ministry of Education about the progress of their Citizen Education programme in schools, which I think includes basic language components.]

Scroll down to Friday's posting.

Lockington's Everyday Fiji ... Life Goes On

Allen Lockington is a self-employed customs agent and business consultant who has regular articles published in Fiji. I thank Allen 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.
Don't Waste Foood, Please

$100,000 with of cassava gone bad, that’s terrible. With so many people caught at rubbish dumps scrounging for food and so many beggars on the streets and people going from house to house asking for jobs so they can put food on the table and we have this.

May I suggest that in such incidents the root crop or whatever is channelled to a local area of government to be distribute immediately to the poor free of charge.

It’s better than letting it rot!

Friday, September 24, 2010

Sugary Mess, IMF Money, Itaukei Empowerment, CSO Electricity, More Termites

ANONY-MOUSES, PLEASE!  "Anonymous has left a new comment on your post "Military Spies in Oz; Media and Blogs. "Please re-post with a pseudonym. Anonymous comments will not be published.

JOKE OF THE WEEK. "Commodore Frank is closely guarded by an elite group of armed body guards [and] travels in an armoured vehicle convoy." -- Dr Mark Hayes, Australian journalism tutor. [Seeing this, a reader wrote: "Why don't you ask when he was last in Fiji?]

MOST "BACKFIRING" HEADING. "Recalcitrant Oink is a Truly Ignorant Cretin."-- anti-Government blog Solivakasama. A not untypical heading that says much about its composer.
SUGARY MESS: GOVERNMENT PROPS UP SUGAR INDUSTRY. Government is a major shareholder in the sugar industry but instead of reaping dividends, it's been propping up the industry though direct loans and guarantees that enable the FSC to raise other loans that, hopefully, will result in successful restructuring, mill upgrading, and a return to profitability. During the 2010 financial year, ending in May, total losses amounted to $173.4 million, the industry's highest ever.

The loans include a $US50.4m borrowing contract from the EXIM Bank of India, signed in 2005; $22.5m from the Reserve Bank, $44m from FNPF, $19.1m from the Bank of Baroda, $1.4m from the Bank of South Pacific, and a $1.4m bank overdraft from Westpac.

The Corporation made a $8.4m supplementary cane payment during the year funded by term finance from the Sugar Cane Grower’s Fund,the interest costs to be met by Government. Government has also approved a guarantee up to $120 million, valid until 31st May 2012, to enable the Corporation to raise short term loan finance to meet its working capital requirements. Total funding requirements for the 2010 and 2011 financial years ending  in May 2012 are projected to be around $170 million. In the next 12 months the FSC needs to repay debts of over $60 million. -- Based on The Fiji Sugar Corporation Limited  Annual Report for the year ending in May 2010 as reported in Fiji Village.

. Harvesting in Ba and Tavua intended for Baa's Rawawi Mill has been suspended until further notice.Truck drivers are being urged to take the leftover cane to the Penang Mill in Rakiraki or the Lautoka Mill before the cane deteriorates further.

International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank representatives were in Fiji this week to discuss economic reforms and a possible $1billion IMF loan to boost its economy.

A previous obstacle in accessing the funding was that Fiji was listed as a Tier Three country in human trafficking. Its  rating has now improved to tier two. The IMF has previously noted the improved turnaround in the foreign reserves position and the return of liquidity into the banking system. They also expressed support for the policies put in place and were complimentary on the alignment of monetary and fiscal policy directions. The PM said that "working with IMF and the World Bank would help Fiji tap into a significant pool of global expertise, technical assistance and funding at concessionary rates to undertake the much needed reforms."

ITAUKEI MINISTRY DEVOLUTION AND EMPOWERMENT. The Itaukei Ministry will soon appoint 14 new senior assistant Roko Tui, one for each province, in order to decentralize its work, give Provincial Councils more independence, and improve services. 

Provincial Services Manager, Timoci Namotu, says this will increase staff satisfaction and empowerment, and with more decisions at provincial level, the quicker the response to requests. “HQ will do the corporate plans and the provinces will do their own business and ongoing individual work plans, he said. This will also make Provincial Council offices more responsible and accountable.

He said, “It started in 2007 but it didn’t work out as we expected.  We now get them accustomed to much more empowerment activities and lectures as well so decisions they make are educated ones, not based on emotion but concrete data.” -- Based on 2010 No:1523/MOI.

ELECTRICITY AND CSOs.  The Fiji Electricity Authority will soon increase its charges but FCOSS's (Fiji Council of Social Services) Hassan Khan has recommended to the Commerce Commission that CSO (civil service organization) and school charges should all have a special,lower rate.  Why? Because “Civil society organisations are making huge contribution to the social and economic development of Fiji, particularly in the areas of education and community, welfare through schools and other services [and they generally do so] at a lesser cost in relation to Government and the private sector and often times from voluntary fundraising and from international donor agencies." Less money spent on electricity and telephone bills, he said, and "a lot more poor people could be helped" by the CSOs. He has a point! -- Based on 2010 No:1525/MOI.

TERMITES NOW IN LABASA. The Asian Subterranean termite that has caused tremendous damage in Lautoka have now also been found in Labasa. So far the infestation seems confined to only eight houses in one settlement. A team from the Kadivuka Operation is to being sent to the North to carry out the eradication and awareness programme.

WEEKEND READING. Allen Lockington's column, Micro-Finance Pitfalls, Resolving Resource-Based Conflicts, Saving or Cremating the Sugar Industry, Bloggers Unhelpful, and more. Why not also read the many comments to this week's postings? One post had 27 comments, a record.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Military Spies in Oz; Media and Blogs: From Sublime to Ridiculous and Venomous;

Anonymous has left a new comment on your post "Grassroots & Democracy, Fiji Times & PER, Villag...": Please re-post with a pseudonym. Anonymous comments are not published.

DISGUISED MILITARY SPY ON OZ FIJIANS. A rumour spread by anti-Government Fijians in Australia is that the Fiji government is sending disguised military people to spy on them.  Even ABC's Bruce Hill found this difficult to digest. Read the full story.

Fiji Village also reports on the story,  discounted by Permanent Secretary at the Prime Ministers Office Colonel Pio Tikoduadua. " Some Fiji residents," it said, "who are on tourist visas in Australia and are seeking political asylum, are now starting to allege to the Australian media that there are some Fiji soldiers in Australia who are spying on the Fiji community there."

"On a panel discussion on Radio Australia, some Fijian overstayers assisted by a Pastor Livai Leone and the Fiji Freedom Movement based in Australia, in an act of desperation are now starting to make these claims with no clear and sufficient evidence." With Australian Immigration having rejected "thousands of applications from Fijians on tourist visas who want political asylum over the past year or so. [there is] other option available these individuals [but to claim ] Fiji soldiers have somehow gone to Australia to spy on the Fijian community and report back to Fiji  ... The Permanent Secretary said there is no point in doing that and it would just be a waste of time. The claims are just out of this world and ridiculous."

Editor's Preamble. This post is devoted to  items that show how ridiculous much media and blog "information" is on Fiji.  We need to remind ourselves from time to time to ignore such publications.They divert us from fully covering  events in and about Fiji, and the more sensible comments they attact.

But -- having said that -- we also need to recognize that while  some are based on sloppy reporting, sensationalism and idle gossip, others are targeted gossip and deliberate manufactures  intended to destablish the present political process in Fiji.  The continuance of PER, the Media Decree and Government's slow progress  towards more inclusive dialogue are in all probability influenced by this potentially dangerous garbage.  And in this, it achieves its purpose.

 ANOTHER MEDIA STORY STRIPPED BARE?  The supposed major difference between the mainstream media and blogs is that the former's stories are usually verified and verifiable, while blogs, unimpeded by such professional ethical requirements, can, and often do, publish anything if thit suits their purpose. Thus, while most mainstream media will generally not publish rumour, there are exceptions. This is when a paper becomes a blog. Witness this story by The Australian defence writer, Mark Dodd. 

Dodd has no firsthand knowledge of Fiji. Most of his stories are on Australia's role in Afghanistan, its defence capacity and visits from overseas warships. This in itself is no problem – lack of knowledge has not prevented others from writing on Fiji – but most make some attempt to verify their stories. So what is the story and who are the sources in Dodd's 270-word spiel on Fiji?

The Story. Growing unrest among ordinary Fijians with Fiji's economic isolation and the failed promises of the coup leaders. Take each word one at a time. Unrest? Rumours by overseas-based blogs, each disproved within a week. Growing? The latest rumours. Economic isolation? Caused by which nations? Failed promises? What? When? Still no specifics. Ordinary Fijians? 

Source number 1.  “One Fijian insider who asked not to be named: 'I have a feeling something is happening … maybe a move (by Bainimarama) to be more politically inclusive'.” Great! But how does this support the “growing unrest?” The insider talks about possible inclusiveness, not strikes, riots and street protests.

Source number 2.“Australian National University's Fiji expert, Brij Lal says: "deepening dissatisfaction" was taking hold across Fiji … "gossip and rumour" were flourishing … splits were emerging in the military … LtCol Tevita Mara, the commander of the country's biggest army formation -- has been ordered on leave pending a corruption investigation.… 40 per cent of the population now lives below the  poverty line.”  Rambling thoughts, possibilities and hopes perhaps, but still nothing tangible, no evidence, no facts.

And finally, the coup de gras*, the final "evidential" stroke: “The (Australian) Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade is playing down rumours of another coup. Officials confirm "background noise" that Dodd says is “linked to rising public unease over the past two months” [but] “its travel advice to Fiji remains unchanged at the second lowest safety setting -- to "exercise caution" due to the unresolved political situation.”  So? The Australian Government discounts the rumours.

Summary of my deconstruct: one (sic!) unnamed insider who does not mention unrest; Brij saying rumours have been around for two months, and the Australian government's unchanged travel advisory.

The “evidence” is all based on rumour, mostly published in overseas-based anti-government blogs, all of which, to date, has been shown to be unfounded. The latest one had the Attorney-General and PM arrested when the AG was already overseas and the PM was seen carrying out business as usual long after his supposed arrest. And some of the blogs have still not corrected their errors.

This is not the usual verified and verifiable story we might expect from a reputable media outlet.

* Usually merciful  death blow intended to end the suffering. of a wounded creature.

NOW BELIEVE THIS! Sideswipe: Sign of the Times by Ana Samways"Bad Weather Ban. After months of no news in the newspapers, Fiji residents are now banned from getting reports of bad weather. "Drought reports and updates will only be issued by the National Disaster Management Office, reports the Fiji Times Online, a directive to the Fiji Meteorology Service to stop issuing media statements on the current dry spell. Ministry of Works and Public Utilities head Colonel Timoci Natuva said the directive was intended to prevent any negative comments that would impact on the country's economy, particularly the tourism industry."
No news, Ana? The Fiji media is full of it. How else could you have got the rest of your story that, incidentally, I couldn't find in the Fiji Times?  And what's so sinister in the NDMO's instruction to the Met Office?  I suggest you check out the media: even the online versions have the forecasts.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

PER Again, Fiji Times News, International Peace Day, Takiveikata & Chaudhry Cases, Tele Stats

The Public Emergency Regulation, in place since April last year, has again been extended for another 30 days with effect from today. Many observers were hoping that with the Fiji Times sale, and progress on other fronts, some wise person in Government would have said 'Enough is enough.'

  If there are good reasons to continue these never-ending renewals (and the Media and Public Order Decrees are insufficient to contain them), and well there may be, Government needs to spell them out, and tell  us why they are needed now when they were not needed before April last year?

How on earth can intelligent people be expected to trust and support a government when they are kept in the dark about the reasons for its actions?

. Australian Dallas Swinstead, the publisher of the Fiji Times from 1976 to 1980, has been appointed the new publisher as the Motibhai Group officially took over ownership of the newspaper today.

Motibhai chairman and new Fiji Times Board chairperson Mahendra Patel  said: that the “Fiji Times will operate as an independent separate unit. Dallas Swinstead and his staff are the people that will fashion the editorial content of the paper. We will not interfere with that. The staff are empowered to operate and run independently – of course we will be there to guide, but we will not interfere. “

Swinstead has an extensive and distinguished record in the publishing field and has been a journalist, editor and managing director of many major Australian newspapers including the Herald Weekly, The Age, the Sunday Press and Qantas In-flight magazine.

On whether the Fiji Times would now recognize the the new government and refer to Bainimarama as the Prime Minister, Patel said: “You will find out in due course. Let any changes that happen, happen slowly. We will embrace and change in the fullness of time.”

PEACE INTERNATIONAL PEACE DAY. The Citizens Constitutional Forum celebrated International Peace Day in style yesterday with music, songs, a fashion show and the screening of a short film titled “Enduring Hope.” CEO Reverend Akuila Yabaki says peace issues never go out of fashion because even when there is no war the world is not at peace. However he says Fiji has a way forward.

Reverend Yabaki says despite coups, conflicts and instability, the way forward is through dialogue and the rebuilding of relationships in the search for resolution through peaceful means. This year’s theme is “One Nation Diverse People.”

TAKIVEIKATA'S CASE ADJOURNED until October 5.The Naitasiri High Chief is being retried on a charge of inciting the 2000 mutiny which aimed to kill the military commander, Cde Bainimarama. Both  defence and prosecution lawyers asked for the adjournment. Takiveikata had been given a life sentence for the mutiny but in early 2007 the appeal court quashed the ruling and he was released from prison after serving 31 months. Last March, Takiveikata was jailed again when he was given a seven year prison for plotting to kill Bainimarama in late 2007.

seems a popular defence lawyer with the anti-government establishment. Ballu Khan George Speight was an early client.*   He wants a non-resident judge to try the Chaudhry case because of his client’s high political profile. He could have a point, though the insinuation is a slap in the face to the Fiji judiciary. But his argument is intriguing: Due to the publicity surrounding a case such as Chaudhry’s, he says, there would be a lot of discussion among the media and communities which could therefore influence the judge’s decisions in the trial. Really! I thought the media were restricted in what they can report until cases are concluded. And if we believe what we hear about PERS and media censorship, they probably won't be able to publish anything anyway. I wonder if the QC has an overseas judge in mind, someone who's been able to close his eyes and ears to the publicity Fiji and the Chaudhry saga has received in the overseas media?  [* A reader writes that Williams did not defend Speight.  I think it was Ballu Khan he defended, but I'll stand correction if wrong again.]

TELECOMMUNICATIONS STATISTICS 2009. Telephones, 14% of the population; mobile phone connections 81%, internet use 10.9%. Internet bandwidth capacity 620Mbps. Internet Providers=3, Mobile Network Operators=2, Mobile Virtual Network Operator=1, Fixed Line Operators=1, International Operators=1, IP Licenced Providers=5.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Grassroots & Democracy, Fiji Times & PER, Village Bylaws Dialogue

KEEPING THE PEOPLE IN THE DARK. CCF's* Mosmi Bhim is at ANU (Aust. National University) in Canberra for a month on a human rights and governance scholarship awarded by either ANU or the Australian Government, I am not sure which. She is spending most of the month examining the Fiji Government Decrees. 

Mosmi's general position has always been opposition to the 2006 coup while recognizing shortcomings in the former government. She is, in my opinion,  part of Fiji's "middle ground" that Government needs to win if its plans for the future are to be sustainable.  

In a recent Radio Australia interview she said that both the current military regime and past Fijian leaders had successfully prevented the grassroots population from protesting the lack of democracy in the country. She thought this could be because of the problems of infrastructure and development that we have, which prevents people ...receiving enough critical information to make up their own minds whether what the leaders are saying is right or wrong." * CCF Citizens' Constitutional Forum, a prominent NGO.
. Seona Smiles, communications consultant for the Fiji National University but also a popular contributing columnist for the Fiji Times,  is concerned for the future of the paper.“The government is wrong to think that by some magic it can change the Fiji Times into a non-critical publication by forcing its sale,” she said. “I am very concerned at the future of a very small newspaper that has a 141-year history in Fiji."

Fair enough, Seona, there are sound grounds for concern about the future of responsible but independent journalism but I fail to see how the Fiji Times's  transparent political agenda over the past few years (starting sporadically from the lead up to the Chaudhry-led government in 1998-99) gives it any claim to honest criticism, independence or responsible journalism. It is better it starts with good intentions and a clean slate.

Seona said something similar in another interview: “Now that the sale has been forced by the government perhaps these extremes will be lifted. Perhaps we’ll have a second chance to establish ourselves as a newspaper of record.” She said there was general relief that the paper had found a local buyer to keep its valuable archives and 140 years of institutional memory going.

AUT Journalism head and veteran Pacific commentator, David Robie, fresh back from Fiji, wondered why the paper had published so little about it own takeover: "Apart from a banner headline in The Fiji Times, “Motibhai buys Times,” on a story bylined by a local reporter but based on a News Ltd handout, the forced sale of the country’s oldest newspaper has been remarkably under reported.Fiji Times's future. No serious analysis, no editorials and certainly no backgrounder. Another sign of the times post-censorship. "

It is natural to be concerned and to suspect the worst  about the future in troubled times, but I'll wait until  Motibhai announced the new publisher and, presumably, the fate of editor Netani Rika. We will then have a better sense of where things might be heading. 

PER AND THE FIJI TIMES. Changing Times has left a new comment on your post "Rumours, PER, Commonwealth Games, Chinese & Thai ...":

Re any lifting of the PER: The regime has always said it's conditional on a change of behavior at the Fiji Times so let's see precisely what Mac Patel is planning to do with the paper. We'll have a better idea on Wednesday, when he names the new publisher. If it's someone with close ties to News Limited, you can expect the same problems to continue. Because central to a better relationship with government is the removal of the FT's current senior editorial team and especially Netani Rika. If Patel can demonstrate to the regime that the bomb throwers at the FT are gone, it's far more likely that the PER will be lifted, or at least the media restrictions component of the decree.

I can understand many people taking Rika's side in this long-festering stand-off and it's a shame he has to go. But you just can't begrudge the country's leader the title of prime minister in your editorial pages and expect anything else but trouble. When that's coupled with an explicit threat by Rika to eventually publish 2000 stories that the censors have banned, then it's clear his position has been untenable for a long time.

Let's face it. From a reader's point of view, the Fiji Times has been way off the mark all through the turbulent years of Rika's stewardship. The wonder of it all is that successive Fiji Times publishers sent from Sydney allowed things to deteriorate so badly. Not only did they fail to properly manage the relationship with government, they allowed editorial standards to slip. Yes, media freedom is important but the first rule is that newspapers exist primarily for their readers. For Netani Rika, it seems to have been all about him and what he wanted for the country, not about us. Please give us a good read first and foremost, Mr Patel, and make the FT worthy of its rich history and a paper Fiji can be proud of again.

. The Itaukei Affairs Board has  prepared an amended draft on the proposed village bylaws which include submissions from the 14 provinces. A workshop will be held  next month involving all government departments and NGOs that work closely with Itaukei Affairs. The outcome of the workshop will then be sent back to the 14 provinces for further deliberations and consultation with district representatives. A further draft will then be prepared. The Board has ruled out a recommendation that village leaders be allowed to cane children.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Police & All Senior Appointments, Rudd Again, Mill.Dev.Goals, Suva's Electric Cars

TO COMMENTATORS. In addition to using your real name or a pseudonym, you also need to say something.  Sarcastic, snarky and other comments along the lines of 'I love Bainimarama' or 'I hate Bainimarama' merely convey a position; nothing new is said and the comment is not worth publishing.  They are like an argument between eight year olds: 'Tis', says one; 'Tisn't,' says the other.

NAIVALURUA's GOOD BUT ... A reader writes on the recent Police Commissioner appointment: "Iowane Naivalurua is certainly a very competent chap who has done admirable work at the prisons. However, from past experience with Savua and more recently with Teleni, the one significant way to demoralise and undermine police morale and to politicize the police is to bring in non-professionally qualified and experienced individuals from outside the police force. The sooner the police are able to attract better quality officers and the sooner a couple of them are identified as potential commissioners and trained for leadership at the highest level the better. There are experienced men and women in the police force who are not tainted by politicization, nepotism, racism and bigotry who are worthy of the senior-most positions in this critical agency.

"It might be that Iowane was being nice to Teleni but I can’t see any ‘good foundation’ set by his predecessor [with his] Christian crusades ... declaring towns and cities ‘crime free’[when] crime was alive and well in all such localities. In the agricultural hinterlands, thefts of crops, poultry and livestock have been a major disincentive for farmers.

"It is vital that Naivalarua attends to police morale and professionalism immediately. These have been severely eroded under Teleni. Attention needs to be primarily focused on police work, knowing the law and rights of citizens,law enforcement, investigation and evidence gathering (including forensic work), report writing, and effective prosecution. Training in these areas is vital. Police work generally and community policing requires good people skills and PR. It should also be noted that the police can now recruit much better educated personnel than ever before. Such recruitment has to be merit-based with some awareness of proportionality in terms of representing Fiji’s multi-ethnic citizenry."

Ed.Note. These comments follow the general line advocated in this blog: Government -- from Cabinet to departmental heads, personal secretaries and other comparable positions --  needs to include a much higher proportion of trained, experienced civilians from different ethnic backgrounds. The military, for the moment, still has an important role to play in civic affairs but the mix in advisory and decision-making positions is not yet right.

FIJI IN FOR A RUDDY TIME. In a review of Australia's likely Pacific policies since the election and Kevin Rudd's appointment as Foreign Minister, Jenny Hayward-Jones* writes:  "The bad news for those hoping for a fresh approach is that there is unlikely to be any shift in policy towards Fiji.

"As Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd was responsible for driving Australia's highly principled stand against the unelected government of Frank Bainimarama. As Foreign Minister, he is unlikely to want to oversee any softening of that policy, lest it cause him to appear weak. Perhaps the best approach at the outset would be for Rudd to establish a short review of Australian policy towards Fiji, which would enable him to re-assess and give him some space to move. Just a thought." 
* Director of The Myer Foundation Melanesia Program at the Lowy Institute.

THE MILLENNIUM DEVELOPMENT GOALS. Ten years ago officials from 189 countries took part in a meeting at the United Nations in New York and made a promise to achieve eight goals to make the world a better place by 2015.

The MDGs include freedom from extreme poverty and hunger, quality education, decent employment, good health and shelter, the right of women to give birth without risking their lives, environmental sustainability and gender equality.

This month's Review Summit shows Fiji to have made considerable progress on MDG 2, universal education. Actions taken by Government include providing free bus fares to low income families, free tuition and free textbooks. Children in 490 of the country's 600 primary schools have already received this
assistance, and its $7.4m family assistance allowance, and $30 food voucher programme for poor families, will benefit around 200,000 people.

Work is also progressing on the MDG 5 of improving maternal health by 2015. Actions take so far by Government and the White Ribbon Safe Motherhood Initiative, that aim to cut maternal deaths by 75%, includes family planning and safe sex, and pregnancy advice.

Government actions in other MDG areas - poverty reduction, employment, shelter, gender equality and environmental sustainability - have been widely covered by this blog. Readers will have observed the similarity between the UN's MDG's and those of the People's Charter and the Government's Roadmap goals.

GOOD FOR A LAUGH. I had to read it twice to believe it.  A keynote speaker at USP last week, a Kiwi with "Hawai'ian blood ties" presumably in Fiji for the first time, chose to give advice on fast food, electric cars, and the export potential of villagers' produce at the Suva market. Europe, apparently, is a potential export market for such produce, said organic food advocate Dr Cathie Koa Dunsford, before going to say that Fiji could be a food basket of the world through the production of sustainable organic food.

Dr Dunsford said she'd travelled the world extensively but had never met polluted air as bad as what she had inhaled in Fiji’s capital city of Suva. “I couldn’t breathe. I have never been to a place where the air is so polluted like Suva  ... A long-term solution would be the use of electric cars in Fiji."

Scroll down to today's earlier post.

Rumours, PER, Commonwealth Games, Chinese & Thai Help, Afforable Housing, Wages


Commentators on NZ Sanctions and Wesleyans please resend, using a name.

See new QUOTE FOR THE WEEK in right sidebar.  Also new link to Fijianatimes.  

DON'T LISTEN TO RUMOURS. "  Don't listen to rumours. They are dangerous."   This was the slogan heard on Singapore radio and TV in the early 1960s when this small country was not yet free of racial tensions, civic unrest, and unfriendly neighbours --  a country then not too different from Fiji now.

In a weekend posting ABC journalist Bruce Hill wrote a humourous but telling article on his recent visit to Fiji where rumour abounds. He was correct in inferring that PER (The Public Emergency Regulations) leaves the field wide open for rumour.

But what he did not say, which is equally true, is that some rumour is deliberately manufactured to create political instability, just as it was in Singapore. I would advocate lifting PER to lessen the influence of such rumours, and leave other public order laws to deal with the "manufacturers."

. The weekend post generated much comment. Some readers agreed with Hill. Others thought rumour was  nothing new in  Fiji. I argued that PER should be lifted despite the risks because it would show good faith and win government much needed support from the uncommitted. I thought other laws would contain crime -- and attempts to destabilise government.  Still other readers wanted the PER retained. Here is what one of them wrote:

"Will Bruce Hill take responsibility should the PER be lifted for those who decide overnight to invade my compound or my neighbours' next door - eight-at-a-time wielding knives and masked by balaclavas wholly intent upon havoc? Does he or anyone like him fully realise the reality of the situation that is being confronted? Rumours distort the climate of prevailing uncertainty but a premature lifting of the PER would most likely be a return to opportunistic crime and rent-a-mob.

"So easy to advocate for the easy way out when you are not here and not prey to 'what happens next'. Not unlike democratic elections now underway in Afghanistan. More than premature, one might think? Who has the right to exhort people to vote if doing so will expose them to marauding Taliban? Afghanistan is a war zone, for heaven's sake. Fiji is a 'rumour-mongering zone'.

"The smart people work out a way to disentangle fact from fiction. The rest just sail along with the tide of the latest fantastic fallacy robed in the garb of veracity. How else is one to pass the time until 2014? "

. Isoa Damudamu will be part of the English Rugby Sevens team in Delhi next month; other Fijians are likely to be members of other competing teams and -- with the exclusion of the Fiji team--  medals for England, Australia, Samoa and New Zealand seem more assured. It is likely a Fijian (or two) will help them to victory.

CHINESE TO HELP DEVELOP VANUA LEVU. A Chinese government Chinese government initiative, sparked in part by the PM's recent visit to China, resulted in a visit by a team from the Chinese Embassy to Fiji's second largest island Vanua Levu (5½ thousand square kilometers, and half the size of Viti Levu) last week. The visit is expected to result in more Chinese investment in the island. Speaking of the visit, the PM said: "We need infrastructure. We need water. We need electricity. Australia and New Zealand and  America, none of those nations are going to provide that. We know that now because of their policies towards us, so let's forget about these nations." [It need not be an either/or choice, if only the PM  played his cards  closer to his chest.]

Fiji and Thailand  are to sign a memorandum of agreement on housing assistance. The new initiatives will involve NGOs,including the People's Community Network (PCN) and new homes at Lagilagi ('squatter') settlement in the Jittu Estate, Suva. [The original article has been corrected.]

MINIMAL OR MINIMUM WAGES? Wages Council chairman Fr Kevin Barr, reacting to concerns by some business leaders who queried the link between wages and poverty, thinking unemployment a more likely cause, said that while there are other factors that contribute to poverty, the level of wages is the key factor. Many full-time workers, he said,  are poor because their wages are below the poverty line, and close to 40% of Fiji's population live below this line. Over a half of full time workers can't afford to send their children to school, they can't afford proper health care and good nutritious food.

He said a fair wage was not whatever wage the worker was persuaded to accept. A just wage was one that  a worker to enable him or her to support the family in their basic requirements of food, clothing, housing, education and health care.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Rumours Fill Fiji’s Information Void

Scroll down to two other postings for the weekend.

by ABC Correspondent Bruce Hill

Bruce Hill recently spent a week in two entirely separate countries. Granted, both of them were called Fiji, but there the similarities ended.

Lockington's Everyday Fiji ... Life Goes On

After reading Allen's column, scroll down to read yesterday's long posting.  Many comments on last week's postings are also well worth reading. Sorry there's no special Weekend Readings this week.
Allen Lockington is a self-employed customs agent and business consultant who has regular articles published in I thank Allen and Connect for permission to reprint some of them in this political blog. They remind us that life goes on, whatever the political situation. And it's good to know that.

A Tree of Knowledge

A few friends usually meet at the Lautoka Market to have a basin of kava and a yarn. Most of them are retired and the others are almost there. They have been doing this for some 20 years, off and on.

Half of them look like they are in the late forties. They started meeting there way back when they were still working. They are Lautoka originals, meaning born, bred, schooled and worked all their lives in Lautoka. They played hockey, cricket, soccer, rugby and basketball. One or two were six-rounders in the square circle under the Queensberry rules. I joined them a few years ago whenever I wanted to catch up on the news.

We became familiar faces at the market and as time went by, I realised that these were brilliant people, with due respect to them. Talk usually revolved around everything and anything. We decided to name the spot the Tree of Knowledge.

And as time went by,  the curious wanted to know what went on under the Tree of Knowledge. To put it short, the Tree of Knowledge allows us to stop and smell the roses.

Many people don't  pause for a while.  Tt's work, work, work. Stress levels are on the rise. With companies doing their best to stay afloat, management puts pressure on employees to produce things with the bare minimum cost and this can take its toll on the human being.

As we sit at our spot, we see people scurrying around and we call out, "Have a bowl." The answer is usually, "Boy, very busy today, have to get these orders out." And away they speed to whatever stress level they were going to.

Some people do stop by and have a yarn and talk usually ends up on how tough life has been. But I tell the guys that everybody has problems; it's how one manages it that matters. If you let it get to you, then it becomes a real problem. There is always somebody somewhere who is worse than you.

Many people have Friday nightclubs. They meet at alternating homes and put in money that is banked to be shared at the end of the year. In the meantime, they just meet and have a basin of kava or the better-off, have a whiskey or wine. Yeah, some will whine because of hard times but the Tree of Knowledge is about people getting together to share ideas and have fun.

We have some very prominent people who come and sit with us and just relax. We now have former Fiji residents residing overseas who check us out each time they come in for a visit or on business.

The Tree of Knowledge is more than gossip, if someone thinks that's what goes on there. Gossip is all around us. But we are not perfect and there will be times when we will gossip. One of the old timers will say, "OK change the subject, sa kua mada na kakase." We will all have a good laugh and try and find out who started the topic.

The Tree of Knowledge is about networking. A wise man said that human nature isn't designed for isolation. There are times when someone will come in and share his problem and sometimes he finds the solution amongst his friends.

One thing good about this group is there is a lot of love and much more to give. We have a few homeless people who share our spot and were fascinated when told they were a part of the Tree of Knowledge. Homeless people are often looked down upon. They are seen as useless. But give them a chance and they will be of use. So I've learnt.

Some of the mates are still planning; oh, no, retirement hasn't brought them to a stop, no way. Some talk about extending their home or adding a few more vegetables to their backyard garden. Some intend to travel abroad to visit family. I've come to learn a lot from these mates, and like one of the visitors from Australia said, "Allen, what we need is a lot of is love."

Well, there is a lot of that among the mates. And yes, some of them still have a twinkle in their eyes, the sprightly old sods. But we take care of each other and we usually notice when one is quiet and we ask, "Hey, what's wrong? Want to share?" If he shakes his head, we understand but he usually comes around.

One of the best things I see is when children and grandchildren of my mates stop by and sit for a while.

Friday, September 17, 2010

New Police Head, Old and New Times, Takiveikata, Tuvalu, Sugar Disasters, Some Methodist Changes Dropped

NEW POLICE COMMISSIONER. Prisons Commissioner Brigadier General Iowane Naivalurua (photo)  has been appointed as the new Commissioner of Police upon the recommendation of the PM. Current acting Police Commissioner Joeli Baleilevuka will revert to his former position of Deputy Commissioner.

The opinions I've received so far see Naivalua as an excellent choice. He is generally liked and well respected, and he did a great job as Prisons Commissioner.  The expectation is that he and Deputy Police Commissioner Joeli Baleilevuka will make a great team. Naivalurua said, " Expect changes to the police force but not everything will be changed as I'll  tend to just continue from the good foundation set by my predecessor Commodore Teleni and hope to build a strong force that will work strongly in partnership with the community.” 

THE TIMES IS DEAD, LONG LIVE THE TIMES*. An anonymous commentator, 'Imprimatur', had this comment for 'Unbiased News' and other readers on a recent posting. The comment is slightly edited.

"It is of course correct that no Media outlet these days can be deemed to be 'unbiased'. For one reason or another -- mostly to do with interests of owners and shareholders -- the political and ideological views of the aforementioned hold sway through editorial policy.

"What is incomprehensible about the ... Fiji Times ... is that it allowed itself to be 'dumbed down' and professionally compromised in terms of standards of journalism. It bore no resemblance at all to the Fiji Times under Sir Leonard Usher, for example.  Poor basic English and spelling, poor standards of editing, garbled headlines and almost nil by-lines (for a long time). No one appeared to have the courage of their convictions: or at least insufficient courage to show who wrote what. This is not a newspaper of worth: this is propaganda sheet and poor propaganda at that.

There should be no weeping nor wailing [about the change of ownership]  which once was "the First Newspaper published daily in the world". Even that no longer appears and with good reason: it has become a rag and little more than that. The fact that it may be profitable as a rag, is neither here nor there.

The Fiji Times Editor, board and staff failed to concern themselves with corruption in high places and they turned a blind eye to endemic racism. On these two counts alone they deserve their fate. They might have
their maintained their standing had they taken more interest in the welfare of Fiji's women and children earlier. They did not until challenged head on. Indeed, they sat by while the fate of  women and children through ever increasing and more deadly domestic violence... No headlines about this unless they were sensational enough to sell copies.

No substantial investigative reporting was undertaken nor Court and Judicial Process reporting as a matter of daily necessity. For years there seemed to be no trained court reporters of any calibre to ensure the public best interest was served. Indeed, the editor himself was found guilty of contempt of court and fined by Justice Thomas Hickey's ruling. The most egregious contempt of the Fiji Courts in Fiji's history since 1874. One must suppose that is fame of a kind? A sort of contemptible celebrity?"

Something good must rise out of the ashes. If Fiji has aspirations to rebirth, then the Phoenix must rise and with it a whole plethora of higher and more elevated journalism which becomes an end in itself. The paper needs to adopt the police motto, Salus Populi  or The Welfare of the People. Not unlike the Fiji Police, the the new Fiji Times must put the service and best interest of the people  ahead of personal and narrow self-interest. What is needs is writers of the calibre of the late Robert Keith Reid. I wonder what is he making of all this from his perch on high?

Ed. Note: The Comment was made just prior to the Fiji Times sales announcement.  * The original, for those not in the know, is "The King is Dead. Long Live the King" which announces the death of an English monarch. 

TAKIVEIKATA PLEADS NOT GUILTY. Naitasiri High Chief Ratu Inoke Takiveikata, has pleaded not guilty to a charge of inciting the 2000 mutiny which aimed to kill the military commander, Commodore Frank Bainimarama. At the original trial in early 2007, Takiveikata was given a life sentence for the mutiny but the Appeal Court quashed the ruling and he was released from prison after serving 31 months. Last March, Takiveikata was jailed again when he was given a seven year prison sentence for the alleged plot. At this retrial, Takiveikata is being accused of approaching two army officers, Shane Stevens and Manoa Benafasio, in August and September of 2000 to get them to try to take over the Queen Elizabeth Barracks. According to the Fiji Village website, the prosecution says 23 state witnesses are expected to be called during the trial, ranging from police officers to army officers and technicians.

UPDATE. The High Court today declared a mistrial in the  case  against Ratu Inoke Takiveikata. His lawyer submitted that one of the three assessors was a former soldier.  As a result, the judge declared a mistrial and ordered a fresh trial to start on Monday.

TUVALU ELECTIONS. Tuvalu's incumbent Prime Minister Apisai Ielemia being returned to power along with 10 the 15 incumbent MPs. Tuvalu has no political parties and the 6,000 registered voters cast their ballots along personal and family ties, as well as reputation. No political parties. Lucky Tuvalu!

CAWAKI CRITICIZES INDIAN CONTRACTORS. Commissioner Western Commander Joeli Cawaki  said he would undertake an investigation to determine whether a bond was signed when the FSC awarded the $86million contract to the Sugar Technology Mission of India in 2006.

"This is the reason [for the] the sugar industry problems ... the mill upgrades were not done properly.These people (contractors) just came here, they didn't do a good job and went away and left us with broken mills and spare parts rusting in mill yards."

Since the beginning of the crushing season, all mills have been plagued by boiler and steam generation problems, throwing the sugar industry into a downward spiral. Combined with an unusually dry spell, the farmers were left with cane drying in the fields and the knowledge that 2010 may well be the worst in the history of the sugar industry in the country.

FSC'S $24.5M RECORD LOSS.  Total revenue for the year has declined to $194.7m compared to $245.8m in the previous year. FSC CEO Deo Saran  puts the loss down to decreased sugar production (down by 19%), lower sugar prices (down (8%), lower sugar content in the cane milled, and continued problems in mill  performance.  This is the biggest loss FSC has incurred since its inception.

SOME METHODIST P.E.R.  CHARGES DROPPED. Twenty-three Methodist Church ministers who were charged under the Public Emergency Regulations (PER) with trying to organise the banned Methodist Church Conference in Rewa last year have had the charges against them withdrawn, but the charges against four top church executives, the Reverends Ame Tugaue,Tuikilakila Waqairatu, Tomasi Kanailagi and Manasa Lasaro, remain. Tugaue and Waqairatu faced charges of organizing a meeting in contravention of the PER, while the extreme ethno-nationalists Kanailagi and Lasaro, who actively supported the Speight Coup in 2000, face charges of taking part in the meeting.