Monday, January 31, 2011

Help for Elderly & Disabled, 40 Years Neglect, Meeting of Donors, An Apology, Govt Appointments

N0092. CLOSE TO 60,000 BENEFIT.  Nearly 60,000 elderly and disabled persons will benefit from the new bus fare concessions that will see a 50% reduction on bus fares for people over 60 and a free service for the disabled. It is hoped the non-transferable ID cards — yellow for the elderly and red for the disabled — will be ready by March.  The Ministry will rely on its existing Social Welfare database of senior citizens 60 years and above along with FNCDP database. New applications will be added onto these two databases.

N0093. FORTY YEARS OF NEGLECT.Asia Development Bank project manager and engineer Roley Hayes says upgrading work on the Tamavua water treatment plant, Suva's main reticulated water source, will cost around $100m mainly because no upgrading work had been carried out for the past 40-50 years.The work is being funded by a Government loan from the ADB.

N0094. ROUNDTABLE DONOR MEETING. Government officials met with executives from 32 donor countries and representatives of the diplomatic community, civil society organisations and financial institutions last week.  The purpose of the meeting was to improve co-ordination of Official Development Aid (ODa). The PM used the opportunity to ask its development partners to respect the country's right to settle its problems in its own ways, and indeed self-determination "and this includes the  area of management of official development assistance” much of which now bypasses government and is managed by NGOs. This has been a general trend in all Pacific countries in recent years because of donor concerns about corruption and mismanagement. The policy has been applied more rigorously in Fiji because donors did not want to be seen to support the coup and the Bainimarama Government.-- Based on 2011, No:0221/MOI.

. The reader who made a comment last week about boots on throat has apologized. He wrote:Croz, when I wrote the "boot on throats" comment last week, little did I realise how much of a stir it would cause. This little turn of phrase has been like pushing a stick into a hornets' nest. Some indigenous Fijians seem to think it was directed at the i'taukei as a whole. Can we all please just step back, stop the "roti boy" insults and hear me out? It wasn't meant to be literal. It was a figure of speech, imaginary to convey the notion of the need to keep something under control. In this case, it was the organisers of Coup 4.5, who were allowing racist comments like "mongoose" on their website. Nothing more, nothing less.. I now realise that it may have been a little too provocative in the Fiji context and for that, I'm sorry. IT WAS NOT MEANT TO BE TAKEN AS INDO-FIJIANS NEEDING TO KEEP THEIR BOOTS ON THE THROATS OF THE I'TAUKEI. I am not an Indo-Fijian and don't like them being vilified for crimson prose I wrote in the heat of the moment that I now regret. Yalo vinaka. Ni vosoti au. Vinaka vakalevu.

. LtCol Ifereimi Vasu is the new Commissioner for Prisons and Correctional Services, replacing Brig Ioane Naivalurua who is now the Police Commissionery, and LtCol Neumi Leweni, previously PermSec of Lands and Minerals, is now the new Commissioner Eastern, replacing LtCol Vasu.-- Based on 2011, No:0232/PSC.
If you've missed it, scroll down to the Weekend Reading 
(♦ Fiji's New Diplomacy ♦ Why the Roadmap Pt II) and 
check out the new Quote for the Week in the right sidebar.

N0086. A LAUGH TO START THE WEEK. It seem that if Francis Kean becomes the new chairman of the FRU, his brother-in-law the Prime Minister may become the president (again.) I don't see why one position depends on the other but Michael Field says this is so, and we should never question Michael Field even though former FRU Board member Charlie Cousins says there is no other likely candidate so Frank may become president with no thanks to his brother-in-law.

Frank certainly wants to be at the World Cup to be held in NZ, whether or not he's the president, but if both he and his brother-in-law are respectively appointed president and chairman, the IRB will pay both their expenses to New Zealand. There's only one hitch.

Sir Lancelot, the NZ Foreign Minister (and shadow Minister for Border Security) Murray McCully, says not over his dead body. New Zealand is a sovereign nation and there are travel bans against the likes of you two.

The Field scoop seems to be just another example of a journalist making the news, but McCully did miss one thing: Fiji is also a sovereign nation.

N0087. FIJI TIMES. Australian Brian O’Flaherty  has replaced Dallas Swinstead as the  General Manager of the Fiji Times. He is a former News Ltd employee and a former publisher of the Fiji Times. His wife Adrienne was also a journalist. The O'Flaherty's  know Fiji well having lived and worked here during the 1990s in the period leading up to 1997 Constitution under former PM Sitiveni Rabuka.

N0088. LABOUR SLAMS COUP 4.5 MISCHIEF. An article in the Fiji Labour Party website  has slammed as "mischievous lies a report in the Coup 4.5 blog that Mahendra Chaudhry and Felix Anthony are organising a protest march for next month."  The report continued:

"This is yet another example of baseless and malicious reporting by Coup 4.5. The integrity and credibility of this blog has already been seriously undermined by false reporting in the past.

“It is pure fabrication. I want to ask Coup 4.5 and their collaborators who are political detractors of the Fiji Labour Party (and whose identities we are clearly aware of), when are they going to desist from such malicious propaganda against the FLP leadership?” asked FLP’s assistant secretary-general Lekh Ram Vayeshnoi.

N0089. NEW TOURISM RECORD. For the very first time ever annual tourist arrival numbers have exceeded the magical 600,000 mark, nearly 78,000 more than last year's record. Tourism Minister Aiyaz Sayed Khaiyum said Tourism Fiji will have its work cut out to maintain and grow these numbers but he thought it could be done with good marketing strategies and alliances.

The industry also now needs to concentrate on on developing quality tourist shopping and other local ancillary services and, with Government help, establish a data base for better synergies and hotel intelligence. More attention also needs to be given to emerging markets such as India and China. One thing the Minister did not mention was the possible effects of the Queensland floods on the Fiji industry.

N0090. NEW REGIONAL HQ IN SUVA. Last year it was all about moving regional headquarters from Fiji though none were moved. This year starts with the Center for the Development of Enterprise (CDE) that will soon set up its  Pacific headquarters in Suva. This was announced on Friday by Foreign Minister Ratu Inoke Kubuabola and visiting CDE Director Mr Jean-Eric Romagne and the Head for the CDE Pacific office to be based in Suva, Mr Jean-Pierre Mathey. -- Based on 2011, No: 0240 /MOI.

The CDE is an ACP (African, Caribbean and Pacific)/EU joint institution created in the framework of the Cotonou Agreement and its finances mainly come from the European Development Fund (EDF). Its objective is to ensure the development of professional ACP enterprises operating in the private sector. CDE provides non-financial services to ACP companies and to joint initiatives of ACP and EU economic operators in various economic sectors, with the main aim to increase competitiveness of ACP enterprises.

N0091.ALLEGED MURDERER BACK IN NZ. Devesh Shama, accused of murdering his wife Ranjeeta, was charged with murder in the Hamilton District Court on Saturday. Extradicton from Fiji was unnecessary as he returned voluntarily to NZ following his arrest by Fji Police. His 4-year old son Akesk is being cared for by NZ welfare authorities as Akesh has no close relatives in New Zealand.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Lockington's Everyday Fiji ... Life Goes On

SCROLL DOWN TO OTHER WEEKEND READING (AND LISTENING)  ♦  Fiji's New Diplomacy has Implications for the Region by Dr Sandra Tarte ♦ Why the Roadmap: the Politics Under the Bridges Part II by Croz Walsh ♦ and the two long postings (and many comments) on Friday, 

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.

 Secret to Life

A wise man once told his followers that he had the answer to a happy life.

His followers sat up in anticipation and wondered what their guru had to say. They all held their breath and waited and the guru picked up his cup of water and took a drink.  He took out his handkerchief and slowly wiped his mouth.

Then he said, "The secret to a happy life is a good physical work out. It is so exhilarating when you have had a good work out. A person feels great satisfaction knowing that he or she has done something good for their body. And you are cooling down while you pour with perspiration." Everybody breathed again as some of them tucked in their tummies.

Having played sports for most my young life, I know that a good sweat out makes you happy and fit and makes the mind sharp. Today you will see lots of people going for walks with their families and what a sight it is to see young couples with a baby in the stroller and a toddler in toe with his running shoes, little track shoes and cap. They have started out their children on the right track. (Pun intended) I have also seen older couples just taking walks together and enjoying the fresh air in the morning.

Today we see on TV an advertisement where a patient says, "I only wish I had taken my 30 minute walk" as he lay in his hospital bed. That ad brings to us a real life lesson. If we don't take care of our life, we will get sick and who knows what can happen.

There is the story of a rich man who spent his health getting his wealth and later on had to spend his wealth getting back his health.  So, what is the answer to a good and happy life ? A good work out. Stay healthy and you will have a wide awake mind and you will perform better in school and work. You will become better at what you do.  Who knows, you may get a  pay rise — and your life will be even better.  Well, that’s my opinion.

Ed. note.  A reader had this to say to Allen (see comment): "That shot of you sitting next to the biggest yaqona bowl in Fiji pretty much sums up the biggest health problem in the country - too much grog and not enough sweat."  He wondered if Allen had another photo more in keeping with what he preached. Allen sent the photo shown above. Personally, I prefer the one with the yaqona bowl. -- Croz

Why the Roadmap? The Politics under the Bridges Part II

By Crosbie Walsh

Resume. In Part I that was published last Saturday I argued that the Appeal Court ruling that overturned the High Court judgement (that the Bainimarama government was legal) was a critical turning point when Bainimarama was forced to accept that the only way to implement the principles of the People's Charter was by dictatorial rule, and to ensure their sustainability it was necessary to implement infrastructural and institutional reforms that would shift the people's allegiance from their separate ethnicities to allegiance to a Fiji shared fairly by all its citizens. The Roadmap was the result.

Have a bias toward action - let's see something happen now. You can break that big plan into small steps and take the first step right away. – Indira Gandhi.

Much of the Roadmap deals with economic issues — attracting and streamlining investment, tax reforms, the sugar, manufacturing and tourism industries, fiscal stringency and reducing the cost of government, agricultural, fishing, forestry and mining production and increasing exports and import substitution. 

Growing the economy is the platform upon which Government's other reforms depend. So far, due to a variety of local and global factors, government and Fiji's economic performance falls far short of expected and needed growth levels, and the funding of the infrastructural measures that are an essential part of the Roadmap have relied heavily on local and overseas borrowing. The seriousness of Fiji's macro-economic situation is accepted without further comment here. I wish instead to comment on infrastructural and institutional reforms because of their social and political implications.

Infrastructural and Institutional Reform until 2012

There is little doubt that physical infrastructure and institutional reforms were needed for a more integrated economy and more efficient government but their political purpose, in my view, is to produce a more integrated society where all citizens are treated fairly, irrespective of their race or location. Thus, the emphasis on rural development —the new roads, bridges and jetties, the focus on import substitution, the land bank to bring more land into production, the micro-hydros and bio-diesel schemes, the new rural classrooms and health clinics, micro-businesses for rural women, and the equal distribution of land lease rental moneys — most of which have been announced or opened with much fanfare and a visit from the Prime Minister,  are seen as ways to win the i'taueki's unquestioning support away from the traditional chiefs and church talatala so that in 2014 more people will exercise their votes independent of chief and church influence. 
Development projects are underway in all provinces,  but it would seem that those where the extremist CAMV political support was strongest, Upper Naitasiri/Tailevu, Bua, Macuata, Cakaudrove and Taveuni, are receiving special attention. The military leadership of the country's four Divisions and most of its provinces may add to more efficient local government but they are also another way to neutralise the old influences.

The reforms underway in the public service to downsize government, farm off state-owned enterprises and make ministries and departments more efficient and accountable through regular reports to the SFCC,  should minimise opportunities for misuse of office and petty corruption. These reforms, together with decrees making scholarships equally available to all races, the introduction of civics and financial management education in schools, the removal of race-based school names, and the decree that makes all Fiji citizens Fijians, have, I think, wide support among educated urban people of all races whose main complaint against government is not with what government is doing but with the fact that they have no say in the decision-making and limited opportunity, because of the Public Emergency Regulations (PER) and the Media Decree, to discuss what is happening.

Other Government policies are also likely to have won support among ordinary urban people. These include lifting taxable incomes from $9,000 to $15,000, the exclusion of basic foodstuff from VAT, concerted moves to improve access to low cost housing, the upgrading of urban squatter settlements, moves to introduce a minimum wage, and various other anti-poverty measures such as increased and wider benefit payments, and for those eligible, free or subsidized transport, free textbooks and school fees. Work to reduce corruption is ongoing. No major heist has been revealed but the exposure of those caught with their hands in the kitty, better auditing and better police work must be having made some impact. 

Other measures include: 

The Media Decree, much maligned by overseas media, contains a code of ethics and a mechanism for complaints. The old Media Council lacked the teeth to introduce these long overdue changes. For the present, media freedom is limited but I would expect the situation to slowly improve after 2012, and in the longer term the Media Decree will serve the country well. 

The Legal Practitioners Decree is a welcome improvement. Mechanisms are now in place for criticism and complaints that were previously lacking. Many would also approve the prison reforms with their greater emphasis on education, rehabilitation and non-reoffending. Considerably more attention has also been given to women, domestic violence, child labour and sexual offences. The list could go on but I think this is sufficient to indicate government concerns about important social issues that are likely to win it support for its constitutional and electoral reforms. 

A dictatorship Fiji definitely is, but it is quite unlike the dictatorships of Burma and North Korea that its detractors would have us believe, and is more akin to Singapore whose advice has already influenced its policies and may continue to be a model for the future.

Constitutional Reform 2012

We are now [2011] into the last year of economic development. Next year our whole focus 
goes on governance. – Pio Tikoduadua, Permanent Secretary, PM's Office

What these reforms will be and how inclusive dialogue will be leading to their formulation is, of course, unknown but there have been some strong indicators. If we start from what Government might think is wrong with the old constitution, we should not be too far wrong. 

First, the electoral system was enshrined in the constitution making even small amendments a major task. I think only the broad principles of the proposed new electoral system —non-ethnic voting, equal franchise and proportional representation—will be enshrined in the new constitution. Amendments to the electoral law will be made by Parliament or possibly by a popular referendum.  I will discuss these issues more fully next week.
Secondly, the old constitution gave special powers to the Great Council of Chiefs and the Fiji Law Society. The GCC could veto the Prime minister's nomination for President and it could —and did— veto its nomination for Vice-President. The new GCC role is likely to be limited to providing advice to Government on matters concerning i'taukei culture and custom. The Fiji Law Society will have no special role. 

Thirdly, the powers and method of appointment of the President will be revisited. Fiji may decide to move away from the Westminster system that limits the authority of the Head of State and move more towards other models. The least we can expect is an increase of his “emergency” powers. The presidency will be open to all races. 

Fourthly, the above changes will necessitate changes in the authority of Parliament, the governing party and, more specifically, the Prime Minister. It seems unlikely these powers will be increased without new checks and balances. I would expect Government to seek the advice of the local legal fraternity and overseas constitutional lawyers on what they should be. 

Fifthly, the new constitution will almost certainly spell out the role of the military in upholding the principles of the People's Charter. This is a contentious issue with some inherent dangers but it is most unlikely Bainimarama and the Military Council will order a “return to the barracks” unless they are empowered to protect the Constitution, which will embed the principles of the Charter. 

A New Role for Senate?

The old constitution gave Fiji a bicameral parliament. Government has already indicated it may  seek the abolition of Senate, probably because they associate it with the Great Council of Chiefs and the manipulations of the former adversarial parliament system. In my opinion, Senate should not be abolished until its possible complementary roles are fully examined. 

Senate should, in my opinion, have no (or very limited) political powers but wide advisory functions with extensive ad hoc sub-committees. It could, for example, include professional experts and representatives of business, the trade unions, tertiary education institutions, and the different professions. Temporary, rotating or permanent places could be set aside for youth, women's organizations, the disabled, disadvantaged minorities, and small ethnic groups such as Rotumans, Kai Solomoni, Banabans and Tuvaluans. There could be a permanent sub-committee representing the major religious affiliations. 

The possibilities are endless but an advisory body of civilians and civilian organizations would, I think, made for better government than a parliament consisting of only one chamber. Members of Senate and its sub-committees should receive a per diem but only to cover their actual travel, accommodation and incidental expenses.

Overseas governments have insisted on inclusive dialogue involving the 2006 political parties. I think dialogue will be representative and reasonably inclusive but it is unlikely to include leaders of the political parties, least of all Laisenia Qarase and Mahendra Chaudhry, unless in exchange overseas governments offer the Bainimarama government incentives it cannot afford to decline. Qarase is on record saying he opposes the People's Charter and saw no reason to change Fiji's communal electoral system for years come. Given that the Charter and electoral reform are at the centre of Government policies, all he could do would be to play fool's advocate.

The series will conclude next Saturday.

Fiji's New Diplomacy has Implications for the Region

 by Sandra Tarte

Dr Sandra Tarte, Director of the Politics and International Affairs Programme at the University of the South Pacific, discusses Fiji's growing diplomatic and military relationship with China, why Fiji is establishing new embassies in non-aligned nations, the concern by Pacific Islands nations that they have lost ownership of the PI Forum, and the poor state of Fiji-Australia-New Zealand relations that she considers unhelpful to any party. The Tarte family has been in Fiji since 1871.

Click here to listen to the  Radio Australia interview.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Blocked Racist Comment, School Fees, Coordinating Aid, Kiribati-Fiji Relations, Office Rationalisation

N0081. BLOCKED COMMENTS.  Sometimes I block comments that are insulting and distasteful but sometimes it is necessary to publish one to show the sorts of people who do not like my blog (and much else besides). Here is what Boots on their throats boy wanted to leave behind on my "It's Only a (FRU) Game &  Ugly Racism" (N0065) item:
Croz, Has your little mate who is going to stand on our throats run down his hole and peed his pants? As a Fijian said to me today - why doesn't the little roti boy come into the pub here and open his big mouth? If he does I'll tear his leg off and shove it up his arse!!!"  
For those who missed the original comment, it referred to the publishers of an anti-government blog who  had distorted the news. But, despite comments to the contrary, this writer and others chose to believe it was meant for indigenous Fijians.

The Ministry of Education has warned schools that school fees and levies must by approved by the MOE, and that no child may be locked out for unpaid fees.  Minister Filipe Bole said that many school had been charging exorbitant fees and this would not be tolerated. "No child is supposed to owe any money because the government is paying all the fees. However, some managements may argue that such levies are directed towards building grants and few other items.They ought to know that the government has considered all those expenses while allocating grants. Our people have been instructed to obtain each school's audited accounts for verification,” the Minister said. -- Based on 2011, No:0187 /MOE.

N0083. COORDINATING AID. An aid donors round table co-ordination meeting will be held on Friday. The meeting, that will be attended by development partners, regional organisations and financial institutions, civil society organisations and government officials,  will provide government with the opportunity to discuss way in which overseas development assistance and aid resources can be enhanced through partnership with development partners.

The overall objective is to formulate a framework for Overseas Development Assistance in line with the 2005 Paris Declaration commitments to which Fiji and another 91 countries, donor partners and stakeholders are signatories. The meeting will help Fiji prepare for the Fourth High Level Forum on Aid Effectiveness to be held in Busan, Korea in November. -- Based on 2011, No:0203/MOI.

N0084. KIRIBATI RESPECTS FIJI SOVEREIGNTY. A delegation of senior government official was in Kiribati from January 13 to 18 to discuss strengthening bilateral ties as  stipulated under the Memorandum of Understanding signed by HE President Anote Tong and PM Bainimarama last September. Areas of cooperation included trade and investments, education, labour mobility, immigration, commerce, retail and taxation, fisheries cooperation, air and sea transportation, health and pharmaceuticals, climate change, environment, security and energy.

During the visit President Tong further underlined his government's policy to continue engaging constructively in recognition of the sovereignty of Fiji to settle its own internal affairs.  He also acknowledged the crucial role that Fiji played in the enhancement of the wellbeing and socio-economic development of the people of Kiribati and the region.

. The PSC is in the process of arranging for the relocation of various Government Offices to bring about cost savings and "better synergies" in government administration. The "clustering" of related departments is also expected to improve accessibility the public and other stakeholders. -- 2011, No: 0162/PSC.

This was announced on Monday by PSC Permanent Secretary Parmesh Chand who anti-government blogs reported as having resigned a month ago — and they have still not corrected their error!

WEEKEND READING WEEKEND READING (AND LISTENING) Allen Lockington column ♦  Fiji's New Diplomacy has Implications for the Region by Sandra Tarte ♦ Why the Roadmap: the Politics Under the Bridges Part II by Croz Walsh

Patronising Australia Day Statement, Bouncing Football, Joke of the Week, Retaining Fiji's Medical Doctors

N0077. AUSTRALIAN 'HELP' UNHELPFUL.  In one Australia Day address in Melbourne a visitor, Prince William,  spoke respectfully of the traditional owners of the land, and how wonderful Australia is with its unique way of life, its vibrancy, its straightforward ways, and its classic sense of humour.

Some 5,000 kilometres away, another visitor, the Acting Australian High Commissioner Judith Robinson departed from the usual diplomatic courtesies associated with such occasions (and incidentally with traditional ethnic Fijian courtesies) to repeat Australia's position on the political situation in Fiji.  Her "We are ready to assist Fiji make a transition to democracy through a free and fair election at the earliest opportunity" was a clear rebuke of the host government, and her wording on Australia's commitment to the "welfare of the people [note, not the usual government and people] was  more than a little pointed.

Ms Robinson  then counted out the dollars involved: $67.6m on Fiji and regional aid; $2.09 billion consumed by Australians on Fiji's goods and services, and  $888m worth of goods and services imported from Australia.

I think most people would take these figures to show just how much Fiji gains from its relationship with Australia. Few would know that almost one-half of most aid moneys do not arrive in the recipient countries, and even fewer would know what goods and services include.  The goods component favours Australia 3:1, while the service component (which includes tourism, transport, business services, consultancies) appears heavily weighted in Fiji's favour. But if capital and profit transfers were also included, I doubt the picture would be quite so good. Australia has $781 investment stock in Fiji, six times more than Fiji has in Australia. 

Reading this, I thought it rather distasteful, citing costs and figures at a birthday party. It seemed like saying:  "Thank you for coming to my (Australia Day) birthday party so I can tell you what a great gal I am, and all I have been doing for you."

Unsurprisingly,  Ms Robinson did not include in her  accountancy exercise the enormous damage done to the Fiji economy by Australia's political policies since the 2006 Coup. These policies have  done nothing to promote welfare in Fiji and would have cost Fiji far more than it has gained from Australia's aid dollars.

Finally, it seems unlikely that her mention of  "1,300 Fiji citizens [who] were granted permanent residency visas to live and work in Australia" in the year ending June 2010 was included to illustrate solidarity with Fiji. I suspect she intended to imply political anti-Bainimarama reasons for Fijians moving to Australia.  But most of the  60,000 Fiji-born people now living in Australia emigrated long before Bainimarama came on the scene and most were Indo-Fijians fleeing the abuse of human rights  and economic uncertainty caused by the so-called "pro Fijian" coups of Rabuka and Speight in 1987 and 2000.

Overall, emigration has been Fiji's loss and Australia's gain. A brain drain associated with the loss of both human and financial capital (most emigrants have been skilled and did not leave empty-handed) is not to Fiji's advantage.

I have only seen what Fiji Village and Radio Fiji chose to publish of Ms Robinson's statement but I hope somewhere she included a light note and at least made some mention of Fiji's contribution to Australian football.

Australia has an important role to play in Fiji's economic recovery, and further down the road in its constitutional and electoral reforms,  but Ms Robinson's account of its record this Australia Day read too much like a teacher telling her children how to behave.

For details on Ausaid, click here. For the DFAT fact sheet on Fiji,  click here. Photo: Fiji Village.

   A reader, Charlie Charters, thinks I'm "wrong, wrong, wrong" in my interpretation of events in the FRU Lottery saga. (N0069 Political Football) and in some important particulars he's probably right, but I'm still to be convinced that a two-priced lottery, money missing and used for non-lottery purposes, is not mismanagement or worse; that the Government and Commerce Commission's actions were any more "political" than had their action been taken, in similar circumstances, by the NZ or Australian government and Commerce Commission; or that the IRB's position, as first reported, did not appear to be supporting mismanagement.   I also said, mismanagement involving the misuse of public or entrusted money is but a short step from full-blown corruption. And, Charlie, if you were in Government's shoes, would you have given $3 million of public money to managers like these?

. "The whole world, if it didn't before, now knows that what appears to be a little rugby tiff was really a politically motivated move by the illegal and treasonous military regime to gain total control of Fiji's rugby world." --  Intelligensiya, an anti-government blog.

N0080. RETAINING MEDICAL DOCTORS IN FIJI. As part of its strategy to retain doctors in Fiji, the Ministry of Health has launched a scheme where graduate doctors will be able to go on attachments overseas in their area of professional interest. Health Minister Dr Neil Sharma said although we cannot stop doctors from leaving our shores, the Ministry can offer them a better incentive where they can be recognised for their work.

Earlier in the week Health Ministry spokesman, Peni Namotu said the aim was to nurture professionals and enhance professional retention within the Fiji health service. “Those who aim to continue will return and work for one year as trainee registrars. Their commitment, standards and professional character will be assessed. In the second year they will be allowed to progress into a post graduate diploma programme while continuing clinical work,” Namotu said. If successful, candidates will proceed into the Masters programme for a further two years. Effectively at the end of the sixth year post internship they will have a Masters degree and within the next three years they will proceed to consultancy within their chosen discipline. -- Based on Islands Business.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Nadi-Rarotonga Flights, More Blog Distortions, Thoughts on Village Visits, Ba Iron Sands, Sugar for Japan

N0072. AIR PACIFIC TO FLY TO RAROTONGA.  Regional tourist arrivals are expected to rise with the opening of a new route between between Nadi and Rarotonga. The service was previously provided  by Air New Zealand.

Air Pacific is in the process of reaching an agreement with the Cook Islands Government for a three-year contract on the weekly flight  that will also offer Cook Islanders direct north-bound connections to the Hong Kong service, and enable the islands to better market tourism from Europe and the UK. The international airport in Rarotonga, the largest of the nation's 15 islands, has daily internal flights to some of the other islands.

Two news items have been published on housing in Fiji late last week.  One was about the Housing Authority easing the lot of its mortgagees if they were poor or unemployed; the other was about the eviction of squatters who were thought to be drug dealers.

The anti-government blog, Fiji Today (I still hopefully call it moderate) ignored the first news item that  reflected favourably on Government and then distorted the report on the other by missing out what a squatter had to say about the police action.

Its heading-cum-comment read: "The disciplined forces are targetting people ALLEGEDLY involved in criminal activities. Kicking people out of squatter settlements simply moves the problem elsewhere it does not solve it." It then went on to report the first half of the Fiji Times report on the eviction of some people from the  Wailea and Viria settlements along Fletcher Road in Vatuwaqa, Suva who were suspected marijuana dealers and black marketeers. 

In the part they missed out (and I quote the Fiji Times), "Jone Vitukawalu, who lives in the area, said the community were grateful of what the police were doing. Some people are starting to have the perception that this settlement is made up of criminals and of people who support criminals. "

I agree that kicking people out of squatter settlements will not solve the squatter problem but why did Fiji Today not cite what Jone Vitukawalu had to say? It puts a totally different perspective on the evictions.

N0074. MORE ON GOVERNMENT VISITS TO VILLAGES.  A reader had this to say on my"Government and the People: Three Examples" posting: "This, of course, will be branded as pro-regime propaganda by the unholy alliance of activists from the SDL and assorted "human right" and media types. But the fact remains that a remarkably constant theme emerges from these village visits; that no senior government representatives have ever bothered to show their faces there before.

It seems incredible that given the grass roots nature of Fijian politics, previous elected governments seem to have treated ordinary constituents with such disdain. If this is "the first time" government ministers have got out and about to listen to ordinary peoples' concerns, what on earth has been going on? Have they just assumed that everyone would fall into line and vote for them? Or have they relied on the chiefs to deliver Fijian votes in a collective bloc? It's really quite extraordinary.

In colonial times, district officers and commissioners were constantly holding pow-wows in villages all over Fiji, explaining the government's policies and seeking local opinion. Even successive governors, who were treated like gods, made a point of going on " treks" to the inland or outer islands to show the flag and gauge local opinion.

If it takes a dictatorship to finally bother to listen to the concerns of ordinary people, it doesn't say much for the quality of democracy Fiji had before. It struck me that Frank Bainimarama was being rather hopeful when he said he was planning to win the battle for the hearts and minds of village people over his opponents. But perhaps listening to them and finally delivering some basic services will change attitudes for the better and pave the way for lasting change. Fascinating stuff."

. Foreign exchange earnings from the mineral resource sector are expected to increase significantly now that Australian-based mining company, Amex Resources, has negotiated a long term (45-year plus) lease agreement over a substantial area of Fiji's major bulk shipping port at Lautoka. The tenure will allow the stockpiling and export of the company's Ba Delta magnetite iron sands concentrates, and with direct access by barge, it now has easy access to the magnetite deposit located 30km away. The length of the lease indicates the expected potential life of the iron sands resource. The company estimates the resource contains  220 million tonnes with further potential both inland and seaward. Initial exports are likely to total an annual 750,000 tonnes.

. Fiji could soon start exporting sugar to Japan. Sojitz Corporation officials from Japan  will visit Fiji soon for direct consultation with FSC officials on proposed quota and shipment arrangements. Fiji's Tokyo Embassy has briefed the visitors on the Fiji sugar industry and the prospects/projection of production from 2011 onwards based on the restructure and streamlining of the various bodies within the Fiji Sugar Corporation, the current crop now under cultivation, and the availability of farm lands for large scale farming as opposed to small scale family unit cultivation.-- Based on 2011, No: 0161/MOI.  Given the FSC record to date, we keep our fingers crossed!

Suspect Arrested, Political Football, Consumers Criticize FEA, Resort Tariffs to Rise

N0068. SUSPECT HUSBAND ARRESTED. Ranjeeta Sharma was found burned to death next to a Huntly road in NZ last week. Soon afterwards, on Friday, her husband Devesh (Daniel) Sharma and their four-year old son flew out to Fiji. A homicide investigation was launched on Saturday in NZ after it was established that Ranjeeta was alive when she was set alight, and that an accelerant was used.

On Monday a special Fiji police team, acting on a tip off from a neighbour, arrested Devesh Sharma in Rakiraki where he had been hiding. Four-year old Akash is being looked after by his mother's relatives. It is understood the Fji Police is working closely with the NZ Police who will seek to extradite Sharma once the summary of facts is heard in a Fiji court. The judge has the authority to order his extradition, under a New Zealand-Fiji agreement. If only the same spirit of co-operation marked the two countries' relationships in other regional organizations and arrangements. Photo: NZ Herald.

N0069. BREAKING RUGBY STORY BROKEN.     This is the story that was syndicated world-wide:  "WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) - The International Rugby Board has threatened to expel Fiji, preventing its participation at this year's World Cup, because the nation's military regime has attempted to depose the entire Fiji Rugby Union."

It now seems this "breaking story" is well and truly  broken.  The IRB did not threaten to expel Fiji; it advised it do nothing until the situation became clearer.  The "military regime" did not attempt to depose the entire Union (Board).  It said it would withhold $3m unless the Board step down.  Once again political capital has been made at the expense of the Fiji Government.

We know the main story.The FRU Board had botched its lottery, moving the $20 goal posts to $10 half way though the game, and some $155,000 of the $350,000 raised from the lottery could not be found. The Commerce Commission cried foul.  Government, the main sponsor, threatened to withhold a $3m grant and said (or ordered, depending on who you're listening to) the FRU Board should resign.  The IRB world body —that had been led to believe this was political interference—  hinted at expulsion. Journalists, with some prompting from the Board that resigned but only temporarily, said it was more than a hint; it was a threat. The IRB says it's coming to Fiji to see for itself.  The PM and the Council of the FRU, that appoints the FRU Board, think this is a good idea.

But not reported in the international media is Council spokesperson and legal adviser Carl Ngamoki-Cameron who said "the  majority of the Council had lost trust and confidence" [in the Board, and that] at the end of the day, the Board is answerable to the FRU Council, not the IRB."

Ngamoki-Cameron said: "These internal democratic mechanisms within the FRU are completely independent of the Fiji Government and whether or not it decides to financially assist the Board of the FRU that has failed to procure adequate funding for the 2011 Rugby World Cup, despite its best efforts. It is unfortunate that the Board has attempted to use the media to resolve internal issues at Rugby House, further eroding the reputation and credibility of Fiji Rugby locally and abroad."

And FRU interim Board chairman Rafaele Kasibulu said there were a lot of misquoted and unfounded reports regarding Fiji’s possible suspension from the IRB. The IRB merely asked to withhold everything that we have going on at the moment.”

Conclusion? There was no political interference.  Someone in Suva, to exonerate himself, and someone in Auckland, for the sake of another good story,  knew this, but they went ahead regardless. It doesn't take a private eye to work out who spread the inaccurate story. The impartial Pacific Media Centre is well worth reading.

N0070. CONSUMER COUNCIL CRITICIZE FEA. The Consumer Council has criticized the Fiji Electricity Authority for cutting off power to customers, mainly in rural areas, who had no way of knowing their bills were in arrears. Consumer Council CEO  Premila Kumar said it is unacceptable for FEA to charge pre-pay customers for an error they are responsible for.

N0071. RESORT TARIFF TO INCREASE. Fiji's heavily discounted tourist accommodation tariffs may be about the end as the industry continues to attract large tourist numbers. Outrigger on the Lagoon Manager Peter Hopgood believes that all hotels and resorts around the country need to increase their rates and other charges to reflect the unique product Fiji has to offer. His resort that has had 75-100% occupancy, will increase its rates by 10% from April. Sad as they are, the Queensland floods are also likely to benefit Fiji tourism.

Monday, January 24, 2011

It's Only a (FRU) Game & Ugly Racism, Housing Authority Helps Poor, EU Extends Agreements

Reader's opinions on the new posting days and times would be most welcome.

N0065. A NEW BALL GAME. In a new development the FRU Board, on the advice of the International Rugby Board,  has  reversed its decision and will not resign over the lottery saga.

The IRB apparently think changes to management could be a contravention of the FRU constitution which "could result in the IRB having to take a determination on the continued membership of the IRB of the FRU." They have further advised that a decision on the lottery is a matter between the FRU and the Fiji Commerce Commission. 

The IRB made no mention of the inspection of the FRU accounts that suggested mismanagement and misspending (at least $150,000 is missing), and they had nothing to say on charging two different prices for the same ticket, which, surely, is at the crux of the issue. Fiji does not need anyone, at home or overseas, to condone the mismanagement of public money. Mismanagement and misuse of office are but short steps on the way to full-blown corruption.


 And on this issue, the supposedly pro-democracy CoupFourPointFive blog published  this comment from one of their readers.  
"IRB vs Regime - & the winner is?
January 23, 2011 6:12 PM
Anonymous Remove the scumbags said...
Time to totally isolate the scumbags in this military regime. Ban Fiji rugby Union from the world cup and all other international rugby until the human rights abusing Fiji military return to their filthy barracks. As for their few cowardly coup supporters - read the latest in the Cros Walsh pro junta racist blog - he and his mongoose supporters (in their bitterness and desperation) are now attacking the hapless families of the NZ mine disaster and the floods in Australia. Vermin, all of them."
In my opinion, the comment is marginally relevant, contorted, racist and highly personal, and all responsible publishers should block such comments. They would not be allowed in a responsible newspaper, and I would expect similar high standards in a responsible blog.  The comment is also factually incorrect.  There has never been any such reference to the Queensland floods or the 
Pike River disaster in this blog. The person commenting has made this up.

The CoupFourPointFive comment was brought to my attention by a reader who wrote:

Ugly racism at 4.5 has left a new comment on your post "Why the Roadmap? The Politics under the Bridges Pa...":
"Croz, to follow is yet another disgraceful example of the way Coup 4.5 tolerates, and arguably encourages, racist comments about Indo-Fijians.
 Like you, the site's operators have the ability to screen such material and choose not to do so. Yet they routinely reject moderate opinion that in any way portrays the Bainimarama regime in a favourable light. I would strongly urge you to tackle this appalling racism head-on by giving such postings the highest prominence on your site. It's high time to go to war against 4.5, a site that poses as moderate and pro-democratic but is really a front for the racists of the indigenous hard right. More than anything, this shows why the coup of 2006 was vital to protect the rights of other citizens. And we need to keep our boots on their miserable throats."
The Housing Authority Board has approved a new housing loan rehabilitation policy that  will assist customers who are finding it difficult to meet their loan repayments due to retirement, sickness, unemployment and disability. The policy will also assist those defaulting customers who are covered under the Village Housing Scheme. The new policy will target customers who have paid more than twice the principle loan amount, and those who are unemployed or facing financial difficulties.

The PM said the policy is not a handout but a "social desire to assist the marginalized and those who are at risk of losing their homes." It will assist home owners by either writing off part or the whole of their remaining loan or by temporarily assisting the unemployed by freezing the interest and fees on the loan balance for up to 12 months. Hundreds of middle and low income families are expected to be assisted under the policy.

N0067. EU PARLIAMENT EXTENDS AGREEMENTS.The European Union has extended its Interim Economic Partnership Agreement (I-EPA) trade agreements with Fiji and PNG, and stated that it has a strong interest in continuing to maintain close, high-level economic relations with the Pacific states. The EU parliament added that the agreement could also lead to negotiations on a comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement if so desired by the two countries.

The Interim EPA was initiated by Fiji and PNG in 2007 and signed by them in 2009 in order to ensure that preferential exports of sugar and fish into the EU market continue after the expiry of the trade preferences under the Cotonou Agreement on 1st January 2008.

Foreign Affairs Minister Ratu Inoke Ratu Kubuabola said that I-EPA was critical to the survival of the Fiji Sugar Industry because is provided a guaranteed market access into the European Union until 2015, at preferential price, which was equivalent to the price received by the European Union Sugar producers. He hoped that after 2015, the agricultural reforms undertaken by the European Union will ensure that the interest of Fiji and other ACP Sugar producers will be maintained in the European Union market. Ratu Inoke was hopeful the ban on fisheries exports will be lifted now that health and safety issues have been addressed.

A meeting of the Pacific ACP Trade Ministers will be meeting in Apia on 3-4 February to instill momentum in the Comprehensive EPA negotiations with the European Union. --- Based on 2011, No: 0154/MOI.

Government and the People: Three Examples

See the new (Ratu Mara) Quote for the Week in the right sidebar and scan down to the Weekend Reading postings.

GOVERNMENT AND THE PEOPLE. The three items in this morning's posting are about recent Government visits to villages. On the first two it should be noted that the i'taukei sense of politeness and appropriate hospitality sometimes goes a little overboard in thanking people, especially those with power and influence.  This is likely to be a factor here but the message — and the comparison made with previous governments — is so often repeated in so many villages that it cannot all be hyperbole. 

Government really is doing things at rural grassroots level and its work seems to be winning support. I attempted to show the relationship between such happenings and the Roadmap in my Weekend Reading article on the Roadmap.

Yet another group of villagers has urged the PM not to hold elections in 2014. When this happened before the PM used it to illustrate people's satisfaction with his Government. Predictably, this was then taken by his opponents to show he was not serious about elections. This time there can be no misinterpretation.

At the breaking ceremony for the construction of two bridges and the Wailotua-Nayavu Roadin Wainibuka tikina last week  the local spokesman said his vanua were happy with the development work undertaken by government and they wanted the current government to continue to lead the country after 2014. In reply Bainimarama thanked the vanua for their confidence but said that nothing would stop his government from holding "good and fair" elections in 2014.

. Something similar happened when Minister for Social Welfare, Women and Poverty Alleviation Dr Jiko Luveni visited Naganivatu village in Naitasiri province to donate sewing machines to the village women just before Christmas.

Ulaiciri Tuvotu, the Turaga ni koro (village head), said they were touched by her visit.  “This is the first time for any Minister to visit us and we are very happy with the sewing machines for the development of women in this village. The machines will provide income for the women and especially we thank the Minister for taking out time to come and visit us to see the problems we are facing in this area.”

“We are thankful to the Government and the Government officials who visit us. Not like the government in the past, they never visited us but with this Government it is not only helping the people with road, bridge, hospitals and good housing, but also assist in everything to improve the lives of the people in the rural areas, especially in the Naitasiri province.  The Government has really shown what it says it does. We are thankful for the People’s Charter through which people are assisted in farming, education, health and transport. The poor people are now being heard and recognized.”

Women’s coordinator Mrs Taraivina Tamani said: “We are so happy with the Minister’s presence here today. This is history for the village as this is the first time for any minister to visit us. Most of the time women are fishing and now these sewing machines will provide an alternative source of income. School uniforms are our first priority and with these machines we will save money to make our own clothes. -- Based on 2011, No: 0155/MSWPA.

. Last year government officials visited each of Cakaudrove's 15 tikina (districts)  and all major villages to inform people of government's plans and listen to their ideas and concerns.  This year visits, starting next month, will target the chiefs and village stakeholders in each of the tikina to help familiarise them with the policies of the Government and the Taukei Affairs Board. Topics for discussion will include good governance, improvement in the standard of living, utilisation of natural resources and the general wellbeing of the people. The Roko Tui Cakaudrove, Ro Aca Mataitini,said "We all sit and discuss how we can tackle the problems of the people in villages and what the Government wants."

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Why the Roadmap? The Politics under the Bridges Part I

By Crosbie Walsh

The Roadmap for Democracy and Sustainable Socio-Economic Development 2009-2014 was approved by Cabinet not long after the Abrogation of the 1997 Constitition in April 2009 and I think the two events were related. 

The 2009 Roadmap, however, was not Fiji's first. A Roadmap for the Return to Parliamentary Democracy was announced by Bainimarama in February 2007, barely two months after the December 2006 Coup. This earlier Roadmap focused on economic recovery, stabilising government finances, keeping national debt within 2% of GDP, restructuring the the sugar industry, reviving tourism and proper land use planning, resolving the land lease issue, creating more jobs, better incomes and less poverty. Some progress was made on the land and leases issue but few if any of the other goals were achieved. Government had underestimated the difficulties, made no allowance for the negative effects of the Coup (which saw aid and loan moneys dry up and key civilians unwilling to take up senior positions); disastrous floods and a hurricane, and the Global Recession, and overestimated their ability to “go it alone.”

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.

Narayana Hrudayalaya

A good friend (Sumanth, not his real name) has just returned from India after undergoing open heart surgery. He had gone to Brisbane and never really thought of which hospital he would go to. While he was there at his mother’s home Indian nationals visitors suggested to him the Narayana Hrudayalaya Group of Hospitals in Bangalore India. He went on to the Internet and checked the name and asked for a quotation. He got an immediate response. He had asked for quotations from many hospitals around the world including Australia and New Zealand but he got a reasonable quote and precise explanation on the procedure that would be done. He was impressed and took the offer.

The Kaunitoni Migration

Recent discussion on the need for I'taukei to revisit their myths and traditions written by outsiders makes this 1966 article by Peter France of special interest. My apologies for the crude reformatting from the pdf format.

This note from a reader : "France explains politely but devastatingly that the myth began not in Fijian prehistory but with the missionaries Carey and Fison, and was brought to full flower... as a result of a competition in Na Mata. Fijians, as we know, are great story-tellers, and the challenge of a competition would have certainly brought forth the highest flights of fancy they could muster. Lutunasobasoba (another myth) and the Kaunitoni story was the result. I don't think it is mentioned in the France paper, but somewhere not long ago I read that the person who won the competition was none other that Basil Thomson's own clerk - mission educated and also used to his boss's ruminations about voyages."

Friday, January 21, 2011

Air Pacific Be Wary, China 'No Good' for Pacific, Aziz & FHL, Bus Fare Help Criticised, Japanese Aid

N0055. QANTAS QUERY. Qantas, which owns 47% of Fiji's national carrier Air Pacific,  has invited Government, that owns 51%, to buy it out so that it may concentrate on it budget airline Jetstar. Government is still considering the offer.

While not privy to the intricacies of the issue (Qantas apparently has veto powers on some matters) my gut feeling would be to leave well alone. Government has the controlling share in Air Pacific and seems to have little to gain from taking on more debt. Further, retaining Qantas's financial interest in the airline —at no cost to Government and considerable cost to Qantas— is a handy card to have and hold. Present arrangements should not prevent the intended rationalisation processes and restructuring to ensure Air Pacific's continuing competitiveness.

N0056. CHINA 'NO GOOD' FOR PACIFIC. The Director of the Melanesia Program at the Lowy Institute in Sydney, Jenny Hayward-Jones believes China is no longer a force for good in the Pacific due to its activities in PNG and Fiji.  Listen to the ABC interview.

N0057. CHINA AWARDED CONSTRUCTION JOBS. China Railway First Group has been awarded the contract to build bridges at Naqia and Balekinaga  and a nine kilometre road from the Wailotua to Nayavu stretch at Wainibuka in Tailevu. The existing bridges on King's Road (that together with Queen's Road to west circles Viti Levu) have been labelled death traps. The project is funded by the Asian Development Bank at a cost of over F$22 million should be complete by the end of the year.

N0058. AZIZ AND FHL. BrigGen Aziz Mohammed, a government nominee and deputy Chairman of Fijian Holdings Limited since June 2008  has resigned from the FHL for personal reasons. The Ministry of I-Taukei Affairs is expected to name a replacement soon. [Whatever the reason, the fewer changes the better.  Each one gives extreme anti-govt people more grist for their imagination.]

N0059. FREE BUS FARES CONTINUE BUT BLOG CRITICISES. Nearly 95,000 children whose parents combined incomes was under $15,000 benefited from Government's $12m free transport assistance last year, and another $12m is budgeted this year. School children in all nine education districts are eligible, including those who travel to school by boat. -- 2011, No: 0133/MOI. In another announcement the Education Ministry said that e-tickets that contain the student’s name, his/her identification number, the issue and expiry dates of tickets, the bus stages where tickets are to be used and the subsidy given should be ready by Term II. --2011, No: 0136 /MOE.

Bus fare coupons for Term I have been supplied to District Education Offices for distribution to schools but since this will take some time to accomplish  parents have been asked to pay their children's fares for the first week of school.

This announcement led the anti-blog FijiToday to criticise Government under the heading Twelve Months after "Free Bus Fares" are announced parents are stung with having to pay bus fares at short notice. I would agree with their suggestion that a better choice would have been for Government to pay a bulk fee to the bus companies for this period if the coupons were for all children which they are not.  Only those whose parents earn under $15,000 are eligible.

Once again, we see an ungracious nitpicking.  The blog did not applaud  the Government's free fares in the first place; they never mentioned that the previous government never had free bus fares;  but now, with a distribution glitch in the system, they seek to lampoon a genuine attempt by the present government  to help the poor.

N0060. FREE TEXTBOOK DELAYS. Schools resume next week but free secondary school textbooks will probably not be ready for distribution until Term II because some of the books are still being written.  Last year $1.5m was allocated to provide textbooks for the primary schools but the allocation of $600,000 for secondary schools was insufficient. With some $12m needed, it was decided the only affordable option was for  Curriculum Development Unit officers to write the textbooks. Books for technical and vocational subject are now written and the Ministry is waiting to receive printing tenders, but books for academic subjects will take longer.
-- 2011, No:0117 /MOI.

N0061. JAPANESE DEVELOPMENT AID. The recently opened new water supply system at Lawaki village in Tailevu is one of 13 projects funded by the Japanese Government in its 2010-2011 commitments. The project, which includes a dam, two 5000 litres water tanks and water pipes that carry the water 7km to the village, replaces a 1962 installation that could no longer meet the demands of an increasing village population.

Ambassador Yoshizawa said his Government was committed to the Official Development Assistance policy promoting development to grassroots people and with the modern facilities in place, Lawaki people can now enjoy drinking water from a hygienic safe system. --Based on 011, No:0132/MOI.

WEEKEND READING ♦ Allen Lockington column ♦ The Kaunitoni Story by Peter France ♦ Why the Roadmap by Croz Walsh

Blog Fortune Tellers, Government Housing, the DPP, Chaudhry & Takiveikata, FSC Reforms

N0051. THE ANTI-BLOGS ARE AT IT AGAIN. Don't get your fortune read at the CoupFourPointFive blog — or the FijiDemocracyNow blog that regugitates and adds to their predictions. Almost all their previous predictions have proven wrong.  Now they foresee that the days of the President are numbered.

Why?  Because  "speculation resurfaces" and, I quote,  they "have heard reports that the so-called attorney-general, Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum has written to the Naulukau [sic!] to advise him that his term as president ends at the end of February."  And because "it would make sense."

And the "sense"?  FDN says that because  the A-G "has the legal power to sack Bainimarama, then it would make sense for Sayed-Khaiyum to act sooner rather than later."

Why? Because "Sayed-Khaiyum knows only too well that his position in the regime is completely dependent on Bainimarama’s support. Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum also knows he would be totally vulnerable to a most unpleasant fate [my italics] the moment Bainimarama ceased to have power."

So  -- and here we have it -- the prediction is not really about the President at all. It is another attack on Sayed Khaiyum. And that does make sense -- for racists.

They need to tread carefully on Nailatikau. He is a very high ranking chief to whom even Fijian racists need show some respect, but it's always open season on Sayed Khaiyum. He is, after all,  a manipulating Indian, a "mongoose" who threatens native land and customs, a vulagi with no place in Fiji, the epitome of evil they're been warning uneducated i'taukei about  — in order to advance their own manipulating and pecuniary interests. 

I asked someone with their nose to the ground in Fiji if there was any truth in the story. Their reply was "Rubbish." As indeed were the blog's earlier predictions that Sayed Khaiyum had been dismissed, Bainimarama was grievously ill,  Christopher Pryde had been dismissed,  Parmesh Chand had resigned, and ... 

The anti-blogs thrive on rumours that they feed to readers waiting in vain for Bainimarama to disappear in thick smoke.

It's understandable that they make errors. It is in the nature of rumours that they are often wrong.  But the blogs never correct their errors, and that — while understandable given that their purpose is to destabilise government and keep barren hopes alive  — in most people's books is inexcusable because  an uncorrected vindictive rumour is a lie.

N0052. GETTING RID OF THE PERKS.  Government quarters surplus to requirement for eligible officers are now rented out to the public at commercial rates. Rents from 50 properties, mainly in Suva's  centrally located Muanikau, Domain and Veiuto areas, brought in  over $475,000 last year — 670% more than the $71,000 received from previous subsidized rentals.--Based on 2011, No:0139/PSC.

.The work of the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) is not being helped by the lack of senior and experienced legal counsels, a situation made worse by the departure of two senior counsel, David Toganivalu and Ana Tuiketei, late last year.

The Directorate confirms, however, that a  Queens Counsel from overseas will represent the State in the case against former PM Mahendra Chaudhry while a local senior counsel Pita Bulamainivalu will take over the mutiny re-trial for the Qaranivalu Ratu Inoke Takiveikata later this year.

. The Fiji Sugar Corporation board met yesterday to discuss ways to speed up reforms of the sugar industry. Permanent secretary LtCol Manasa Vaniqi said that the reforms are well underway but with the mills now closed for the season, there is an opportunity to look at organisational structure and the possible divestment of FSC properties overseas.

Meanwhile,  Government and Price Waterhouse have advertised widely searching for a new CEO  "who has a vast knowledge of managing the sugar industry with a proven track experience to match." Permanent secretary for Sugar Col. Manasa Vaniqi said "all local applications were thoroughly examined but we could not find the person we were looking for to drive the industry.” -- Based on 2011 No.0102/MOI.


Thursday, January 20, 2011

Re-emergence of Sacrilege is a Serious Concern

CCF Media Release

Re-emergence of sacrilege is a serious concern

The Citizens’ Constitutional Forum (CCF) is calling on people of Fiji to respect the values and practices of people from different religious groups.

Fiji is a country where people from many different racial and religious groups have been living together for the past century. This has been possible because there has been respect, tolerance and non-interference with the cultural and religious values of others,” CCF Chief Executive Officer Rev Akuila Yabaki said.

We deplore the actions of thieves who stole Hindu religious deity statues from a family residence in Valelevu. This is a violation of the human rights the Right to Freedom of Thought, Conscience and Religion, and also the Right to Own Property,” Rev Yabaki said.

Rev Yabaki is further calling on religious organizations, as well as parents and community leaders, to create understanding of human rights to children and community members.

An increased knowledge of human rights can create better understanding and respect for the religious and cultural practices that are different from yours,” Rev Yabaki said. “Government should step-up the activities to create racial and religious tolerance if it is indeed committed to multiculturalism.”

CCF is concerned that the Police Crime Statistics do not register sacrilege as a category of crime anymore, even though it is classified as a separate serious offence under the Crimes Decree. “Failure to monitor sacrilege or categories of specific hate crimes allows them to go unnoticed,” Rev Yabaki said.

For further information, contact CCF on ph: 3308379, fax: 3308380 or email: .

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Army Engineers, MSG Meeting, Ageing Population, Student Loans in Arrears

N0047. ARMY TO UNDERTAKE MAJOR CIVIC PROJECTS. Army engineers  will use the heavy  machinary recently arrived from China to speed up rural development projects already in the pipeline. The shipment of equipment, valued at $4.1m, includes four excavators, five dump trucks, three bulldozers, two vibratory rollers, a pneumatic roller, two motor graders, two wheel loaders, two loader/diggers, a water truck, a pick-up and a truck with a crane. This is the first time the RFMF has had the equipment to undertake major construction work.

N0048. MSG TO BE TREATED WITH RESPECT. Fiji will host the Melanesian Spearhead Group meeting this year, and PM Bainimarama says Fiji will take the chairmanship role very seriously to ensure that Melanesian countries are acknowledged and treated with respect in the region and beyond. The meeting is expected to be held in Suva in late March.

. Although a young population by development country standards, Fiji’s population is ageing with relatively fewer births, and more people moving into the older 60 years plus age group.  In anticipation of this continuing trend Ministry of Social Welfare, Women & Poverty Alleviation and the Inter-Agency Working Committee (IAWC) are working on a National Policy Framework for the Elderly that will reflect the changing needs of the elderly.

The Policy will be based on the Madrid International Plan of Action on Ageing and related implementation strategies such as the Shanghai Implementation Strategy, Macao Programme of Action, and adapted to Fiji’s circumstances and conditions, following consultations with all stakeholders and service providers.  The Plan will be incorporated into all major development of the socioeconomic sectors.

N0050. STUDENTS OWE $18 MILLION.  Some $18m loans to students from 2001 to 2010 have not yet been repaid to the PSC. Permanent Secretary Parmesh Chand has urged students who have completed their students to keep in constant contact with the PSC so that arrangements for repayment can be facilitated. The sustainability of the Student Loan Scheme is dependent on the rate of recovery of arrears.

The PSC has, however, recovered $3.079m  which exceeded their target of $2.5m (2011, No:0115/PSC. The different focus of the Fiji Live heading $18 Million Yet to Recover:PSC  contrasts with the PSC release heading PSC Surpasses Loan Recovery Target.

Swinstead Resigns, Hopeless Provincial Management, Blog Misrepresentation, MicroHydro

N0043.SWINSTEAD RESIGNS.  The resignation of Fiji Times publisher Dallas Swinstead after only five months in the hot seat will inevitably result in many people asking why. My guess is that there is nothing sinister in the decision. His appointment was always a stop gap measure to reposition the paper following the disastrous leadership appointed by its previous owners News Ltd and give the new owners Motibhai Group and chairman Mahendra Patel time to scout for a new publisher.

Swinstead said he would return to Australia “with a great feeling of satisfaction and pride at the quality we have achieved, despite sometimes difficult circumstances”. The appointment of a new publisher will be announced shortly.

N0044. HOPELESS PROVINCIAL MANAGEMENT. The Public Accounts Committee Report on the Auditor General’s audits of the 14 Provincial Councils for 2007 show a number of anomalies. The report shows that a number of councils had exceeded the amount they collected through provincial funds and Government grants.

The greatest discrepancies were for Ba, Bua, Cakaudrove and Naitasiri. It would appear the councils had advanced loans to their staff and other people without proper safeguards for recovery. Some councils could not not even provide important documents like cheque books to substantiate authorised payments, while others did not have supporting documents with a PAID stamped on them. The Roko Tui responsible for the money seemed to have no knowledge of accounting principles and processes.

Lau province received money from investments and Fijian Affairs Board Savings and Lomaiviti from FAB Savings but there were no records of receipt. The Ba loan from the FNPF was not disclosed and there were large discrepancies between the Council records and investment with Unit Trust.

The Cakaudrove Provincial Council was  unable to explain why it granted salary and wage increase in 2001 when it was continuing to increase its deficit of income over expenditure, and the Naitasiri Council showed variances between the draft financial statements and trial balance in accumulated funds, fixed asset deferred income and asset revaluation reserve.

And some readers have asked why it was necessary to have  military officers seconded to provincial councils and the four District offices.

. A person commenting on Fiji Today, the usually reasonable anti-government blog, has used dirty tactics to discredit this blog publisher.

He has published a comment that I did not write and do not agree with over my name which, of course, would lead many to believe I had written it. Not content with this, he wrote another comment signed Croz Walsh intended for my blog.

I blocked it on my blog and wrote to Peter Firkin (does anyone know him?), the publisher of Fiji Today at  I asked that he delete the comment, inform his readers he disapproves of the tactic, and asked if he knew of any way we could prevent future misrepresentations.  He had not yet replied.

For a comment to be published on Peter's blog readers have to submit their name and email address.   Peter must therefore have both the name and email address of the offender. I will be interested to know what action he takes.
The PM commissioned the Buca Hydro Scheme at Buca Village in Cakaudrove last week.The $1million 30kw Micro Hydro Scheme is a joint venture between the Fiji and Turkish Governments that took five months to complete. The project involved the construction of a micro hydro dam above the Koronikaivesi waterfall along with a powerhouse at the base of the waterfall.It was built by Turkish engineers with the help of villagers. Also constructed was a 4.5km powerline which links the village to the dam.

PM Bainimarama said the project was of special significance because Turkey is geographically so far removed from Fiji. He thanked the Turkish Government for its help and hoped the project would serve as a springboard for future interactions between the two countries, not only in energy but in other important areas or sectors of both our economies.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Government Directs NLTB to Implement New Land Rent Distribution Formula

The Government has directed the Native Lands Trust Board to immediately address matters that may impede a decision on the equal distribution of all money’s received by the board on all native land.
In a letter to NLTB senior management, the Prime Minister Commodore Voreqe Bainimarama stressed the importance of the board complying with the Government decision.

“Please ensure that all matters are immediately addressed and that Government’s decision on equal distribution of all moneys received by NLTB is implemented with due dispatch,” Commodore Bainimarama said.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Potato Import Substitution, Grassroots Governance and Rural Shops, I'taukei Defined, Thai-Poosam

N0039. POTATOES IN FIJI'S LITTLE ISRAEL. When Jews set up kibbutz (agricultural villages) in British Palestine from  the early 20th century until the 1950s, they turned land only fit for grazing into highly profitable farms.  In a smaller way this is what is happening at Tadravula near Seaqaqa in Vanua Levu.

There 1,600 acres of land, previously owned by the then Native Lands District Commission that had been idle for 20 years, is being turned into a large integrated vegetable and fruit farm that will produce potatoes as its major crop. The farm is being operated by an Australian company Farm 2 UFresh Fiji Limited that so far has sunk $2 million into the project.

Managing director Aaron Sharma said they are planting 25 acres of potatoes every week and will soon harvest the same amount in a sustainable system to ensure continuous supply. Sharma hopes to harvest more than one million kilograms in a year.

The farm is seen as a major player for import substitution, and part of government's intention to ensure that all available idle land is brought into production.

  many little more than stores serving only one village, require a licence to open, and the price of licences has gone from $30 a few years back to $200 today. 

During a talanoa session with the PM last week villagers in Veinuqa, Namosi, complained this was too much but all their complaints had fallen on deaf ears.  They'd merely been told the $200 now covered all essential services such as the National Fire Authority. It didn't seem to matter that a fire engine could not get to the village and even if it could the whole village would be in flames before it arrived.

The PM has asked the Commissioner Central and the Provincial Development permanent secretary to look into the matter with the authorities concerned. The villagers hope to open a shop in the near future. -- Based on 2011, No:0071 /MOI.

  Institute of Indigenous Studies CEO Emitai Boladuadua has called on itaukei to be educated in their history, culture and language or run the risk that "others will define who we are and what we are ...  We have continually seen ourselves as others did. We have yielded and ceded to them the authority as well as the legitimacy to define us. We need to act now [to change this], he said, drawing particular attention to the need to reinforce the i'taukei worldwide view about the centrality of relationship and reciprocal obligations. Head of the Institute's Academic Unit, former USP university lecturer and deputy PM in the short-lived Chaudhry government, Dr Tupeni Baba said: “We need to repair and rediscover our place in our land. We cannot change the past. however, we can correct and repair the damage that has been done to our culture and identity.”

N0042.VAARSHIKA THAIPOOSAM THIRUNAAL. Thousands of Hindu devotees  gathered at the Sri Siva Subramanya Swamy Temple in Nadi to celebrate the 85th annual Vaarshika Thaipoosam Thirunaal yesterday. The ten-day celebration is expected to attract devotees from around the country and from abroad. People of all races and religions are welcome to take part.

Vaarshik Thai-Poosam Thirunaal is a time of fasting and meditation when devotees show their respect for the Hindu god of war, Subramaniam, who symbolises the victory of good over evil. The festival takes place during the 10th month of the Tamil calendar, which is called Thai and on the day the full moon passes in front of the star, Poosam.

Devotees carry the karvadi (a burden in which a load is tied to the ends of a pole and carried over the shoulders) but many have gone beyond the simple burden and in return for a blessing, they pin themselves with silver needles, long metal spikes and fish hooks. A Thai-Poosam devotee purifies himself by months of a vegetarian diet, and abstinence from alcohol, cigarettes, sexual activities and other forms of contamination. Only after the prayers, does he return to a normal life.