Friday, May 31, 2013

Fog (Nearly) All Over Canberra

By Scott  MacWilliam


Foggy Bottom is, of course, the suburb of Washington DC where the US State Department is located, along with major international institutions, including the World Bank and the IMF. Sydney has had repeated heavy fogs this winter. Canberra too gets lots of fog, particularly during autumn, winter and early spring. Now, courtesy of an interview with ANU Professor Stephen Howes, it is apparent that Australian foreign policy toward Fiji remains blanketed by a heavy fog under which utter confusion reigns.
In a newspaper story, which was reproduced in Fiji, Professor Howes has told how the Australian government has been vetoing loans to Fiji by the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank. At the same time Australian aid to the country has doubled since the Bainimarama government came to power. Professor Howes, who has agreed with ANZ sanctions on the military regime, is concerned that the vetoing while doubling policy `seems hypocritical’.
But he does not seem concerned with the far greater hypocrisy and futility, identified repeatedly by critics of ANZ policy, of providing aid and loans while imposing sanctions. Instead in his most recent comments, Howes encouraged WB and ADB lending on the grounds that it was: “Better in my view to have these institutions active in Fiji trying to promote economic reform and development, including through sound lending”. 
 
Opposition spokeswoman on Foreign Affairs Julie Bishop demonstrated that confusion was gender neutral by trying to separate funding for health and education from giving money `directly to the government’. While acknowledging the possibility of fungibility, that is the military government being able to utilise internally generated revenues for its own purposes because of the availability of foreign aid for other expenditure, Ms Bishop seems politically na├»ve. Who does she think head the government departments and agencies in Fiji through which international loans and aid is channelled? The very people against whom ANZ have imposed travel and other sanctions, Ms Bishop! 
 
Of course it is possible to argue that hypocrisy is a necessary, even desirable component of politics and that form of it known as foreign policy. Anyone who doesn’t accept the necessity of hypocrisy is being simplistic, overly pure. It is also possible to argue, as many economists do, that economics should and can be separated from politics, ethics and so on: what appears as hypocrisy is simply a clash between distinct spheres of human understanding for which different principles or rules apply.
But Professor Howes, in arguing against the politics of Australian relations with the WB and ADB which influenced these institutions’ behaviour toward Fiji, is not making this separation. He is in fact arguing that they are and should be intertwined: keep lending to affect policy and politics in Fiji. When the dominant feature of Fiji’s politics now and into the foreseeable future is the existence of a military regime, Professor Howes is proposing aid and lending to affect the regime. He does not however ask if the effect will be to weaken or strengthen the Bainimarama regime.
But what if these funds strengthen the regime’s position by lifting living standards and increasing its popular support? So increasing the military government’s popularity and power is good, but sanctions are still necessary to show condemnation of military rule? In short, after nearly seven years, confusion still reigns regarding the most appropriate policies for dealing with the military regime in Fiji.
There is however a little ray of sunshine, certainty in one part of the Lake Burley Griffin establishment. Over the water from Foreign Affairs at the ANU, the State, Society and Governance in Melanesia Program (SSGM) is hosting a two day State of the Pacific Conference. At the end of June, in a major session on the State of Democracy: Fiji, the anti-regime critics still predominate and there is no attempt at even the usual academic pretence at balance.

Seeking clarity, Australian foreign policy-makers could take a lesson from this section of the ANU where consistency reigns. However that clarity is unlikely to lead to any greater influence over the Bainimarama regime than the official confusion. There must be many in official circles who are hoping that the fog will thicken in Canberra so the chaos below remains obscured.


Thursday, May 30, 2013

Qarase Appeal Denied

FijiVillage.com - Fiji's home on the world wide web

News and Comments Thursday 30 May 2013

AUSTRALIA'S BEEN VETOING HUNDREDS OF MILLIONS OF LOAN MONEY TO FIJI. This revelation by a prominent Australian academic, Director of ANU's Development Policy Centre, Prof Stephen Howes, comes at the same time as Australia announced an increase in aid to Fiji (see below). We appear to have a kangaroo that is jumping in opposite directions. Prof Howes called the Australian action "hypocritical."  He added that there was also international cost to having the World Bank and ADB impose sanctions on Australia's behalf because it would reinforce the impression that those organisations were the instruments of rich countries."

The explanation for this apparent "hypocrisy" might be that World Bank and Asia Development Fund money loans go to Government to spend on infrastructural projects that help all in Fiji, while most AusAID goes to approved NGO's and targeted local projects that enhance Aussie generosity.Or am I too unkind?
 
I'TAUKEI SCHOLARSHIPS TO CONTINUE. The government has today confirmed that it will continue to give i'Taukei scholarships to i'Taukei and Rotumans. The People's Charter Council had earlier recommended that all scholarships should be merged and there should be no more race-based scholarships. Awards were to be made on the basis of merit not race. There is, of course, a good argument that positive discrimination should continue in some areas but if it is to be based on race and need, Kai Solomoni and other part-i'Taukei Melanesian people would have a far greater claim than most Rotumans and a large number of i'Taukei. I see no good reason why the children of the i'Taukei and Rotuman elite should not have to compete with others on the basis of merit.

BAREFOOT GRANNIES. Solar energy  equipment for ten villages in  Cakaudrove, Macuata, Bua, Kadavu, Ba and Ra were delivered last week. Ministry of Social Welfare, Women and Poverty Alleviation Minister Dr Jiko Luveni said, "After their return from the six months training from Barefoot College in India, the solar grannies have been eagerly waiting for this equipment. The waiting days are over, the villages that have lived without electricity for years are now ready to solar electrify and overcome the years of darkness. As part of their work plan, the solar grannies will also train the youths and men in the village on acquiring solar electrification skills.”

INTERNET IN TAILEVU SCHOOL. The Internet project launched at Naiyala High School last week will see over 170  students of Naiyala High School and 11 villages in the Wainibuka district with easy and free internet access.  Minister for Education, Filipe Bole said that the internet provision will allow for students to surf  educational resources online and databases to assist with learning. But villagers from around the nine schools will also be able to access to the internet. Meanwhile 11 more primary and secondary schools in Ra and Nausori Education District will have access to the internet services by the end of June. Until recently, the area serviced was one of the more inaccessible areas in Viti Levu, stretching from Korovou to Rakiraki, but major improvements to Kings Road have changed that. Twenty schools will also soon receive two new desktop computers with free internet services for six months. 
   
AUSTRALIAN AID UP 18%.  The Australian government will provide a record $F105.5million ($A58.2m) in official development assistance to Fiji in the 2013-14 financial year. Australia's Counsellor for Development Assistance in Fiji Joanne Choe says this demonstrates the Australian government's unwavering commitment to the people of Fiji.

WORKERS RECOVER $185,000.
The recent Labour Ministry roadshow in the Western Division dealt with 90 cases of allegedly unpaid wages and successfully settled 59 of the  cases. Labour Minister, Jone Usamate said “this was achieved through further investigation and inspection of workplaces carried out by the ministry’s Complaints and Resolution Team (CRT) and the District Offices. The Ministry recovered a total of $185,339.92 arrears of wages for 73 employees who were made redundant from a prominent resort after the effects of cyclone Evans at the end of last year.

OVER A THOUSAND NEW JOBS.
Overseas investment is likely to result in  over 1,400 new jobs in the near future. Investment Fiji CEO,  says that mining and agriculture are the main areas of interest. Investment Fiji has registered 41 foreign investment projects in the last three months. These projects are valued at $351 million which is an increase of over 80% from last year. Manufacturing, wholesale and retail and agriculture sit on the top three sectors that overseas investors are most interested that are expected to create the most employment opportunities.

A MELANESIAN COMMON MARKET? PNG's  Trade Minister says he wants to see a common market established in the Melanesian Spearhead Group of nations before it is extended to the wider Pacific. Richard Maru says he is against PNG being part of the PACER Plus scheme, which is strongly favoured by New Zealand and Australia, because the trade imbalance means there is no benefit for his country. As well as PNG, the MSG group includes Fiji, Solomon Islands, Vanuatu and the FLNKS of New Caledonia and Mr Maru says he wants to see trade among these states bedded down first.

8,000 POTHOLES 
have been repaired in the span of one week, according to  the Fiji Roads Authority.4,726 for the Central Eastern, 1,950 in the West  and 1,351 in the Northern Division..  Many of the potholes had not been properly repaired in the past. Reconstruction and resealing will also be done by FRA to help bring pothole maintenance to something more manageable.

Monday, May 27, 2013

News and Comments Monday 27 May 3013

NOTICE. THE CITIZENS' CONSTITUTIONAL FORUM will be holding workshops for women's NGOs on Good Governance, Citizenship and Human Rights Education, Countering Racism and Promoting Multiculturalism. Tuesday 28th – Wednesday 29th May at Tavualevu Community Hall (Tavua) and Thursday 30th – Friday 31st May at the Nadi Town Council Chambers.

COURT REJECTS GOVERNMENT CHARGE.  Former Post Fiji Managing Director Tevita Peni Mau and former General Manager Dhirendra Pratap  were found not guilty in the Suva high Court. yesterday The three assessors in the trial delivered a not guilty verdict on the charge of abuse of office against Mau and a charge of extortion by public office against Pratap. FICAC alleged that in 2006, Mau approved the payment of $5,000 to Pratap without the authority of the Post Fiji board. Pratap is alleged to have accepted the payment as reward for his performance of his duty as general manager finance. Judge, Justice Prabaharan Kumararatnam will deliver a ruling at 10am tomorrow.  Who says the judiciary is not independent!

 A FIRST FOR FIJI: CANEGROWER PENSIONS. More than 300 cane growers over the age of 70 years who have no other form of pension will now be receiving $100 monthly through the Rarawai Penang Cane Producers Association. This is a first for Fiji.  The money comes from a fund set up under the Fair trade initiative which was allowed by the government and in conjunction with Fiji Sugar Corporation and Tate and Lyle. Meanwhile,  the PM announced that Government and the Fiji Sugar Corporation have agreed to sell 60,000 tonnes of fair trade sugar to Tate and Lyle to ensure that the farmers still receive fair trade premium price of $110 a tonne.

KEY WILL WORK WITH BAINIMARAMA, says NZ PM John Key, if he wins the 2014 election fairly.  Of course he will.  He has no other choice, and this is true even if the elections are not fair.  The prime minister of NZ has no say in the Fiji election outcome, and he already works with foreign governments far less reputable than Fiji.

BAINIMARAMA REMINDS KEY. Bainimarama has reminded his New Zealand counterpart, John Key, that Fiji will indeed have free and fair elections in 2014.  “Fiji will surely have fair and free elections in September 2014 and it is them that have to change their perception of Fiji’s Roadmap to democracy.” He told his NZ counterpart that  Government was currently working on the new constitution that would see Fiji have fair and free elections. The legal team responsible was going through the 1093 submissions and  "there were quite a few ideas to consider"

NO ONE TAKES LAND FROM ITS OWNERS.  In the same interview to Radio Tarana, the PM again denied the constant claims of his political opponents that  Government will take land from iTaukei.  “iTaukei lands and freehold lands owned by Fijians will be safeguarded in the new constitution. No one can take away land from the iTaukei people and this also applies to freehold lands owned by Fijians.” He said they would take their time in completing the new constitution and there was no rush as they wanted to make the constitution the best ever for Fiji. However, he confirmed that elections in 2014 will not be affected.

MONEY LAUNDERING.  The country's Financial Intelligence Unit  has calculated that at least $100 million is laundered annually through financial institutions in Fiji.

Reports from financial institutions last year revealed a total of 579 suspicious transactions that were not consistent with a customer's known or legitimate business, personal activity, profession or occupation did not match the normal business or background for that type of account and was unusual to a customer..

WHAT DOES SODELPA REALLY MEAN? In their submission to the Ghai Commission, the SDL (now SODELPA) wanted to retain the race-based communal electoral seats but now SODELPA Senior official Dr Tupeni Baba says the scrapping of the race-based electoral system is a healthy development for Fiji. I have difficulty reconciling these statements.

FEAR OR JUST LACK OF SUPPORT?  SODELPA's Pio Tabaiwalu wants all restrictions on political parties to be lifted. He said, "We think that people are still scared to come up and speak to us so we need to sense of insecurity to be removed and for people to know that they are free to choose any party they wish to choose.” A-G Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum replied saying that everyone knows that there are no restrictions in place, witness the recent public gatherings that have been held by political parties around the country.

THE NEW TUI MACUATA. Ratu Wiliame Maivalili Katonivere, the younger brother of the late Ratu Aisea Katonivere  was traditionally handed the title last week in the chiefly village of Naduri but his election has been contested by a faction that said the process was too rapid.

FIJI FOCUS.  Click  here for Issue No. 10.

STILL NO INFO ON 'TORTURE' VIDEO. Police Chief of operations, Rusiate Tudravu, has admitted that the police investigating the Torture Video, showing prisoners being beaten in March, have interviewed  no-one and have no suspects. Given that some of the people involved have already been named, a police vehicle has been identified and the victim is well known, I find the Police Chief's comment totally inadequate.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Counting Down: Ratuva on Progress and Parties

Sixteen months to the elections. What does one of our distinguished political sociologists think of developments? Dr Steven Ratuva is now a senior lecturer in Pacific Studies at the University of Auckland. His current research includes military-civil relations and regime change and Governance and electoral systems. Here’s excerpts from his views in an interview with the Fiji Sun:

On Fiji’s progress towards September 2014 and Government’s role in this process:
The government says that the required technical processes seem to be in place except for the constitution. Beyond that, I suppose the critical questions have to do with allaying people’ concerns about whether the elections will be free and fair and the other concern, given Fiji’s election history since 1987, is the guarantee that the results of the elections will accepted by whoever loses. At the end of the day these will determine people’s confidence in the electoral process.

On using the proportional representation system in next year’s election:

There are different types of PR electoral systems and Fiji, like about 80% of other countries using the PR system will be using party listing, a type of PR system. Under the PR system, suggested both by the Ghai and government constitutional drafts, the number of seats a party wins is proportional to the percentage of the votes won by that party. For instance if a party wins 20% of the votes, it will be allocated 20% of the seats in parliament. This system provides for equity in seat distribution and also gives the chance for small parties to win seats. Because of this, there will be no outright winner and thus in the end there would have to be a coalition. The process involves political parties providing either an “open” or “closed” list. While the Ghai draft proposed a closed system where parties determine their own list, the government draft proposes an open list which involves voters determining the list. There are four different ways to determine the open list but the government draft does not specify how their proposed open list will be determined. While the PR party list system (used in many countries around the world such as Brazil, South Africa, Norway, South Korea, Netherlands, etc,) is one of the fairest, it is also criticized for giving too much power to political parties and undermines the voters’ real intent in choosing people they want in parliament. NZ has tried to solve this problem by having both the First Past the Post (FPP) to elect individuals and the PR system to choose parties, so voters have two votes each. The PR system has allowed for minority parties like the NZ Greens to win seats.

On how effective this voting system is compared to the last two that Fiji had used – first past the post and alternative voting system:

The PR system is vastly different from the 1990 constitution’s FPP system and the 1997 constitution’s Alternative Voting (AV) system where there was often wide discrepancy between the number of votes and the number of seats won. The PR system ensures that seat distribution in parliament is directly proportional to the votes won. Both the Ghai and government drafts do not suggest any threshold for parties to win a seat. For instance what is the minimum percentage of the votes a party should win in order to be eligible for a seat? In most countries which use PR, there’s a threshold, for instance in NZ it is 5% and in Israel it is 2%. But the other alternative is to have an informal or “practical” minimum—but again this is not specified in the government draft.

Of these three systems of voting, which is best suited for Fiji?

The PR system is much fairer than the FPP and AV systems and is one of the most popular voting systems in the world. The FPP tended to exacerbate ethnic competition for power in Fiji while the AV system led to a large number of informal votes. The PR not only distributes seats fairly, it also ensures power-sharing between parties. No party will have a total monopoly as in the FPP system and we will end up with three or more parties sharing power. The smaller parties and even independent candidates will make a lot of different in terms of holding the balance of power. Given Fiji’s population distribution and assuming that there will be a general distribution of ethnic votes (although there are no ethnic seats), parties with greater chances of winning are those which would attract the youth voters. Remember that about 50% of Fiji’s population is below 25 years.

On whether Fiji has the structures in place for a free and fair election:
This is the major concern by political parties, voters and international observers of Fiji politics. Fiji’s post-coup political climate had not been easy for political parties opposed to the government to operate in. Government has firm control over the constitutional process and the running of the election. For people to have confidence in the process the government needs to provide not only open guarantee for minimal intervention in the electoral process, they also must be seen to be openly and actively doing it. Also, the constitutional review process and the election are mere “state building” processes to address the issue of state governance. We also need a deeper process of “nation building” through national dialogue and reconciliation between political parties, civil society and diverse representatives of society to address the social fractures, pain, anger, anguish and grievance of people after the 2006 coup. This is important for the long-term stability of the country and failure to do this will continue to haunt us in the future. ON how political parties can contribute towards the election:

This election will be anticipated after a long time because it is a way of getting Fiji out of the political quagmire as well as provide the exit strategy for the coup makers who of course are actively trying to return to power through the electoral process. The role of the political parties would be crucial in ensuring a peaceful transition and stability. The old ethnic-based political parties will need to reinvent themselves and all face massive challenges of reimaging, organisational reconfiguration and developing their mobilisation capacity. For instance, the National Federation Party will need to shed its old ethnic image, look for a strong leader and make explicit a new political position which would make it different from other parties. The SODELPA will need to extend its multi-ethnic appeal under the new team and devise new strategies to appeal to the young and women because that’s where the winning votes are. The Labour Party will need to try and reclaim its support lost after the split, shed its ethnic image and reinvent a new ideology. The proposed People’s Democratic Party needs to have a strong and vibrant leader and work extra hard to keep its urban workers support as well as use its new image to appeal to the young. While the proposed party by the government may be happy with its rural support, it will struggle to win the support of the urban middle class who felt victimised by the coup. At the moment it has the logistical and resource advantage because of its links with the current government. Parties will be horse-trading with each other for the formation of a post-election government and I’m not surprised if those opposed to each other now will eventually make up and go to bed together without any qualms whatsoever. It has happened before and may happen again. After all, in politics, politicians don’t often do what is right but what best serves their interests.

May 23, 2013 | Filed under: Fiji News | Posted by: newsroom
By ROSI DOVIVERATA

Lockington's Everyday Fiji ... Life Goes On

Mystery Hut 
I’ve been driving a for a few years from Lautoka to Nadi and naturally I go pass the little hut and what looks like a bus bay or something right near the turn of to Saweni beach. On Monday I decided to stop and go and have a good look at what it was.
I saw a notice on the little hut that says, “This structure is the property of the Land Transport Authority of Fiji. Loitering and vandalizing of the LTA property is strictly prohibited. Offenders will be prosecuted.” Inside the hut there was a carton or Fiji Bitter bottles, it smells like a public toilet and it's very dirty.
I wonder what the structure built for and how much was spent on it? Is it another of those needless things tax payers pay for? Is the money lost for ever or will it be used again?  It must, surely, have once served a useful function but what it was is anyone's guess.

Perhaps it was supposed to be a weigh bridge? But for the life of me, why there? I'm really curious.

Have you, like me, come across other structures whose purpose remains a tantalising mystery?



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. 
Nadi

Monday, May 20, 2013

News and Comments Monday 20 May 2013

Work Towards the Possible 
by Crosbie Walsh

The saddest feature in the ongoing standoff between the Bainimarama government and its trade union and civil society opponents such as the Citizens' Constitutional Forum  is that both groups almost certainly have far more in common with each other than they do with some elements in the Opposition line up.

I say almost certainly because I find it hard to believe the unions or the CCF support the covert racism of the so-called Social Democratic Liberal Party (SODELPA), the renamed SDL tyrannosaurus or the obvious self-interest of chameleons like Dr Tupeni Baba, and Mahendra Chaudhry of  the partly crippled FLP. These players had their opportunity to point Fiji towards a fairer, more racially equal and more democratic society, and they failed miserably. Witness the events from 2000 onwards. 

It seems more probable that the unions and the CCF have joined the other opponents on the basis that their enemy's enemy is their friend. They are not "for" these old political remnants, struggling to remain relevant as events continue to lie outside their control.  They are against some rulings by the Bainimarama government.  In particular, legislation that restricts trade union activity, restrictions on free speech, the right to participate fully in the evolving political situation, and the political influence of the military.

But I  think they largely agree with  many of government's social and economic policies:  its work to improve physical infrastructure, long neglected by previous governments;  its efforts to improve government services; its development work in rural areas; its efforts to make Fiji less dependent on food imports; its legislation on women and children; its assistance to the poor and poorly housed; and its insistence that every citizen is Fijian with equal citizenship rights.

To say the unions and the CCF have "joined" the other opponents is, however, not quite correct.  A better word might be "pushed". Government started well with the  People's Charter, a genuinely inclusive forum and think tank,  but from the Appeals Court ruling in 2009 that found the military takeover in December 2006  illegal, the relationship between government and the vocal elements of civil society have mainly gone downhill.  In 2009 Government had either to abdicate, which would almost certainly have returned power to the Qarase government it had overthrown in 2000, or it had to abrogate the 1997 Constitution to continue as government.

Since then,  government has had a "go it alone" policy.  The insistence on legal process, even if this came at the price of social justice,  by vocal civil society and the authoritarian actions of Government made government-CCF relations increasingly difficult. And I need not go into the destructive influence of policies by foreign governments and international organizations.

It is so easy to say that  had the Bainimarama Government been less paranoiac about attempts to remove or undermine it (some with good cause), and had it made more moves to include more people from civil society, including the unions, attitudes would not have hardened to the point where any reconciliation now seems next to impossible. Yet this is precisely what the Bainimarama Government and Fiji need. 

The more truly democratic elements within the Opposition need to detach themselves from the Opposition in order to make Government feel less threatened and more heedful of requests for more democracy in the lead up to the 2014 elections.

CCF media release
The CCF media release earlier this month called for Government to move towards a "sustainable constitutional democracy."

As always, it makes some reasonable points: the recent submission papers to be made public, and the appointment of an  "Independent Reference Group ... to look into the submissions ... and provide assistance in finalizing the document to ensure transparency in the process and that the legal drafters are held accountable to the people of Fiji".  It also "believes that both the State and civil society must engage more constructively in dialogue and through the open forums and debates that will likely emerge over the next 14 months addressing issues of serious contentions."   Government may not agree with the details of these recommendations although it would probably accept the broad principles. But...

As always, the CCF asks for the impossible: "CCF also calls on the Bainimarama government to adhere to universal best practices and set up an interim administration by April 2014, six months before the planned elections in September to provide the final phases of the ever changing democratization process some legitimacy." There is no way Government will accept this request.  A major reason for its not accepting the Ghai Draft Constitution was its provision for an interim administration leading up to the 2014 elections.   Does the CCF really think the Ro Teimumus, Qarares, Babas and Chaudhrys would be acting transparently in the interests of the people of Fiji during during this period? 

And as always, the CCF request will not be heeded. Government may overlook its many inferences that Government is not to be trusted; it may also overlook the fact that the CCF makes no call on the Ro Teimumus,  Qarares, Babas and Chaudhrys to act transparently and abandon their insistence on race-bound legislation and elections; but it will not hand over power before the elections.  And no realist can reasonably insist that it should.  If CCF wishes to be listened to by Government, it needs to rethink its intentions and tactics.

The trade union 'Discover Fji' campaign
The trade union release in the same week was far more demanding than the CCF's and played totally into government hands. Their promotion of a new campaign and website explicitly designed to turn prospective tourists away from Fiji will probably do little to dissuade tourists but it puts them on a direct collision course with Government.

And their cause is not helped by their statistics. Sixty percent of Fijian wage earners do not live below the poverty line; the cost of living is not "skyrocketing"; groups of three or more can meet without a permit; there is protection of minimum wages and conditions in the public sector; and the Courts did not rule in Government's favour  with the so-called "trumped up charges in the courts"? 

The unionists have a legitimate gripe with government on some issues but if they really want to be heeded in Fiji they need to speak to government, not overseas unions and prospective overseas tourists. Specifically, they should repeat their call for the repeal of Essential Industries Decree and other such legislation that adversely affects organized labour. They should give some credit for the minimum wages recently announced and other government actions aimed to help the Fiji economy and livelihoods. They should not align themselves with the old, tarnished  political parties. And they should offer to work with government in areas of mutual interest, and support government moves towards the 2014 election.

Meanwhile, they will not be thanked by workers in the tourism industry whose livelihoods could be threatened by their campaign.
                                                              
SUGAR PAYOUT WELCOME BUT ... Sugarcane farmers have received F$80 a tonne this year compared with F$50 little more than two years ago. Radio Australia reports that local farmers see this as a sign their industry has a bright future.  Fiji Sugar Cane Growers Council CEO  Sundesh Chetty calls it a "milestone achievement [and evidence of ] the tremendous support of the government and the stakeholders working together," Government has helped by pouring millions of dollars into the the mills and access roads, and in subsidising fertilisers.  And the growers have responded by delivering "fresh and quality" cane to the mills.

This is good news, of course, but major reforms are still needed in the industry.  Questions on the viability of small, largely unmechanised farms, transport, fair and secure  leases to both parties, better use of byproducts, and the suitability of some land under cane and alternative or complementary crops cannot forever be left in the "too hard" bin.

BIG ENOUGH FOR BOTH.  ABC's Campbell Cooney and Jenny  Hayward-Jones of the Lowy Institute discuss Australian and China's aid and business in the Pacific and agree both have something to learn from the other.

MELANESIAN SPEARHEAD GROUP GETTING STRONGER
. Thanks largely to the initiative of Fiji and the poorly played hands of Australian and NZ in suspending Fiji from the Pacific Forum, the MSG, unencumbered by the two countries that some see as neo-colonialists,  is emerging as a serious player in Pacific trade and diplomacy.  Listen to  USP's Prof Biman Prasad  talking to Radio Australia's Richard Ewan

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Tourism and Medical Care 24/7

Readers will remember the unnecessary death of Tom Seeto nearly a year ago. I publish this heart-breaking letter from his daughter Clarissa, out of respect for her and her family but also because of the very important message it contains for the Fiji Government, the Ministry of Heatlth and the Fiji tourism industry. Public health regulations should ensure that all airports and all hotels  provide at least basic services, and a qualified doctor should  always be on call at major hospitals. My question to Government and the Ministries of Health and Tourism is: What has been done since Tom Seeto's death to improve the situation that led to his untimely death while under your care?  Democracy is far less about votes and elections than it is about caring for people. See my earlier report on 27 September last year.    

Clarissa and Tom Seeto
Dear Crosbie,

It's been ten months since my father died. Its 3.36 am Sydney time and yet another sleepless night as I’m plagued by the pictures, moments of that day, never knowing or understanding how I came to lose my father in such tragic circumstances. Every day is ‘groundhog day’.  

I was rummaging through papers that I couldn’t bear to look at since that day and stumbled upon the contact details, scribbled on a vomit bag from the doctor aboard the flight that day. I contacted her, and my husband, my daughter and I went to meet her. 

She had asked Air Pacific for my details but they did not provide her with my information. Our meeting was extremely emotional as she has also suffered immensely from the events that occurred. The doctor informed me that she wrote a lengthy letter to Air Pacific and the airport about her disgust at the way the emergency was handled. 

Both the doctor and the paramedic were appalled by the lack of skills shown by the so called ‘nurses’ who boarded the plane. Like me, she has also been reliving every moment.

Suddenly, I felt human again. Fortunately, she had recorded timed medical accounts. As a result, I learned that we had not been waiting for 20 minutes for Dad to be evacuated as I had previously thought. WE HAD WAITED 45 MINUTES FOR DAD TO BE EVACUATED FROM AIR PACIFIC. 

She was informed that the reason ATS did not take Dad from the plane was because THERE WAS NO STRETCHER AVAILABLE TO REMOVE HIM. A gentleman in the seat in front of where Dad lay offered to carry him off and the nurses had said, “NO”.

I read the posts on your site and others and I have been most disturbed by comments people have made, in particular, “This is the first such incident, why are we making a big deal of it? It's not like, with all due respects, the dearly departed was not "of departing age". What is the big deal about” 
I am making ‘A BIG DEAL’ about my father’s death because it should never have happened. 
Raffles Gateway Hotel advertise 24 hour medical assistance as their service. Note what appears on Google. 

Fiji Hotel - Raffles website - Fiji www.rafflesfiji.com/‎Fiji Hotel - Raffles, Fiji, Fiji ... Hotel, Fiji. Stay at the ideally located Raffles Gateway Hotel and enjoy the privacy and comfort of your fully ... 24hr Medical Service ...

The morning my father fell ill, my daughter pointed to this statement in their hotel handbook. I showed it to the front desk manager and was told there was no doctor available. The hotel manager, Hari Singh, and the front desk manager, were fully aware of the circumstance but made no effort to visit the room and investigate the situation. 

Raffles Gateway hotel had a duty of care to us as their hotel guests. I have received a letter from Hari Singh that began with a condescending opening sentence which continued with a demeaning, belittling tone throughout the letter. There was no sincere offering of empathy or apologies. This was absolutely appalling behaviour from a person in a managerial position, considering the circumstances. Why has the Fiji Hotels Association not reprimanded Raffles? 
Nadi International Airport had 1.5 hours notice from the pilot that there was an emergency landing taking place with a sick passenger on board. How is it possible that NADI INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT DOES NOT HAVE ANY EMERGENCY PROCEDURES IN PLACE? 

When we landed in Sydney on our return, there was a sick passenger on board. Medics boarded the plane within minutes of landing and the person was evacuated. Why was my Father's body dumped on a gurney and taken off on a food catering truck with no medical facilities? Why were we not allowed to go with my father? Why we were not escorted to the hospital? Nadi airport has offered no answers and no apologies. 
 
The Fijian Police involved lacked any type of professionalism. I am still in disbelief that an officer could not spell, “Tom”. That they thought not once but twice it was my husband who had died.  And why did my daughter have to fill out the police report, whilst the officer sat there texting on his mobile? 
I had just finished renovating my entire home for my father to move in with us on our return from Fiji. Now, I have to look at a room built for him that he will never use. He will never get to live in comfort surrounded by his only daughter and only grandchildren. He will never have the right to have died peacefully, gracefully and with dignity.

Instead, he died surrounded by strangers in the most tragic of circumstances and had his body treated in the most disrespectful, inhumane manner. People are dismissing this ‘incident’ because  my father was elderly. If this had happened to a child, then there would be a public out roar,  I’m sure. NOT GOOD ENOUGH. My father was a healthy 73 year old, looking forward to a new life in his new home. 
I have every right to know what my father died from. I have spent sleepless nights researching frantically, going through his symptoms on that flight trying to find answers, trying to understand how someone was warm, living, breathing, talking to me and then dead. 

 I have to live with the image of my father’s soft brown aged eyes streaming with tears as I’m promising I will take care of him and take him home. I ache with the knowledge that my daughter watched her grandfather dying in front of her very eyes, watching the CPR and hearing his ribs crack. I see the blood seeping from the autopsy wound on his head, the white lining of the coffin stained with blood, every time I close my eyes. 
AND THEY SAY,”WHAT’S THE BIG DEAL?”
As for the comment regarding the Australian High Commission, they were actually referring to the fact that they were aware of Fiji having poor emergency procedures in general not about my father’s case. They were not the only ones. Every government body I came into contact with was not surprised. 

I also learned that a 40 year old yachting couple were in Vuda when his wife collapsed on the deck. He called an ambulance for over an hour and was told they were coming and they never came. His wife died and he had to transport her deceased body to a hospital in a taxi. 

Another person was on holiday on one of the outer Islands when he cut himself swimming. He must have hit an artery and there was no medical help available and nobody knew how to apply pressure so he bled to death. 

A woman had an accident and was pulled from a wreckage of a car. On her return to Australia she had to have several more surgeries to rectify the surgery that she had in Fiji. Had emergency services cut her out of the car properly she would not have needed the surgery in the first place. 

I had been told this information as I had been explaining my story whilst in Fiji and this is what I was told by local people, and the Australian High Commission confirmed the stories they knew. 
My son cut his foot on coral whilst we were staying at a major resort on the Coral Coast the week before my Dad died. My son was bleeding profusely so I asked the resort if they could locate their first aid box. This took about 20 minutes to locate. When the person brought it to me, there wasn't even a band aid in it. The contents were minimal; most items were out of date. I told the manager that they really should keep a fully stocked first aid kit in a hotel of that size. 

At this time I thought, “Typical Fiji, the whole laid back attitude”. I thought it was kind of funny, once my sons bleeding had stopped. I realized later that even the simplest of emergency procedures were not practiced or seen as necessary. 
While I was still in Fiji, I went to the Fiji Times and met with a reporter, telling her my story. She refused to print the story because no one else would comment. Now, I would think that a plane making an emergency landing is pretty big news.
I’m angry at both the Fijian government and the Australian government. In Australia, Smart Traveller needs to be accurate in the information they have on their site. Actual information about medical and health facilities available in Fiji should be made clear so that people can make informed choices, after all many families travel there with small children each year. I noted that American Smart Traveller lists the hospitals available, distances etc.

Fiji is a huge tourist destination and yet medical facilities are poor. Why can’t the Fijian government introduce a levy for hotels/resorts of which there are many to give a percentage of their profits to invest in the hospitals and most definitely improving Nadi Hospital and Nadi/Suva morgue? Nadi morgue was like walking into a horror movie. Why allow a casino to be built when you don’t have appropriate health services?  Would this not also serve to help the local people, especially in remote areas.

Furthermore, Crosbie I appreciate your blog. It’s now 5.22 am and I’m tired.  So many things went wrong that day and all I want is answers. 


Kind regards


Clarissa Seeto

Lockington's Everyday Fiji ... Life Goes On

'Hope Springs Eternal in the Human Breast'
First published in the Fiji Sun December 2010
By Allen Lockington
When I was growing up I remembered that Christmas was a joyous time for me. On Christmas Eve I was told to hang my pillow case at the top of the bed before I went to sleep. I did this from a very early age and when I woke up the pillow case would have toys, sweets and new clothes. When my parents, God rest heir souls, saw the delight in my squeals they would say Father Christmas came last night because you were a good boy. I would get up and hug them both.

Then we would attend a morning mass and like normal little children, I couldn’t wait to return home to play with my new toys and wear my new clothes. Sitting at the Sacred Heart Cathedral church in Suva, I would egg on the priest to end the mass quickly.

But after mass my parents would stand around to greet other people and talk about everything.
For me, my mind was at home. When we did get home my parents would cook and we would exchange dishes of food with our neighbour and I would go and play with the children. Some would have no toys so they  were given one and we would just play until it was lunch time.

There would be a huge fight when one of the neighbour’s children would not part with a toy. Things would soon be solved and we would go home to eat a hasty meal, but come back to play again. For me Christmas was always the same. The pillow case would be hung up and Santa Claus would sneak into my room at night and bring me good things. As I grew older, I grew up hearing that there was no such thing as Father Christmas. Or like my neighbour Subhash would say, Christmas Father. I was stunned. 

As I matured, the pillow case was no longer hung up and we moved in with extended family and had a Christmas tree. In the morning we would wake up and rush out to see what was under the tree. 

Later in life I read that some organisation had published an article saying that we should not lie to children about Father Christmas because he doesn’t exist. It's bad to lie but for  many children like me hope and fantasy almost died. For some children, hope died! 

In Christianity, we live life by faith, good works and many other beliefs.Why did we listen to people who said that Father Christmas and the Easter Bunny existed? Were these the very same people who believed in the tooth fairy?

In this day and age we still need hope in our lives. As for parents who still treat their children like how my parents treated me, please carry on the tradition.Children need a little mystery and hope and believing in the unknown. This will make them grow up and look back to see how delightful their younger days were. 
Hope happens when someone knows something, decides that it is pleasing, realises that they may not get it, but believes that there is still a chance of getting it. For me, I hoped for many good things when I hung up the pillow case.

Today I still have hope that things will get better. Let’s bring back the hope and wonderment this coming Christmas. Life can be an adventure howsoever you perceive it to be. A story that my dad told me when I was a child comes to mind. 

Harry Griffin Lockington was a staff sergeant in the Royal Fiji Military Forces. We lived at the Queen Elizabeth barracks in Nabua, Suva, for some time and he probably heard the story from a visiting army officer from overseas. It goes like this:
  
‘An RAF airman was in his plane fighting the Japanese somewhere in the Pacific and his plane was shot down. As he drifted, he watched the fight taking place in the air. He saw many planes shot down and many pilots went down with their planes – Japanese and English alike.

In war nobody really wins. Then a Japanese pilot bailed out and floated down towards his life raft and he was taken prisoner. As they floated in the raft the Englishman asked his prisoner what he had. The chap said he had a box his father had given him to open when there was no more hope left. The hours grew into days and the Englishman said: “Open that bloody box and rescue ourselves.” The Japanese man said: “No, my father said only open when there is absolutely no hope left.”

They became delirious and the will to open the box came from the two men and then one would say: “No.” But soon they lost all hope and were just about to open the box when an American destroyer spotted their little dinghy and they were rescued.

The Japanese airman was taken prisoner and later on repatriated to his country when the war ended. Some 50 years later the Englishman received a letter from the Japanese man, inviting him to New York.
Prior to this they kept in contact throughout the war and had became pen friends. They both married and had children and were getting on with their individual lives.

The Japanese was much older and he knew he didn’t have many years left on his calendar so he wrote to his ‘mate-in-peace-time’. He said to meet him in Times Square, New York,  and that he would pay for the air fare. He had ventured into business and became a millionaire. 

They were delighted to see each other and without the publicity of the paparazzi the older man pulled out a well-kept box.

“Remember this box I had with me when we were in the South Pacific, whom my honorable father had given me to open only when there was no more hope,” the Japanese man said.

“Well today I want you to be beside me to open and see what would have rescued us if we gave up hope.”

Their wives, sitting at a respectable distance from them, peered curiously while sipping on wine. They too knew about the box. The Japanese man looked at his mate and said, “Here goes.”

He broke the seal and opened it. It was empty.’

Tears welled up in both the men’s eyes. They sat in silence each to their own thoughts.
In their 80s both men had seen many things, bad and good. The empty box and the realisation hit them hard.

They stood, hugged and shook hands and went their separate ways never to meet again, knowing that when they were in the life raft thousands of miles from land, there was still hope.

Both men will have died by now as I write this story again. You see, life is such that like those two brave men fighting for their countries, they hoped things would turn out good for them and their country.
Merry Christmas and may you bring back hope into your lives.

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.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Need to Tweak Government Draft Constituton

Some helpful suggestions by Dr Shameem on eradicating institutional racism (the CERD recommendations), corruption and the Ombudsman's Office, and the State's limitation of rights. --Ed.   

Comments on the Government’s draft Fiji Constitution 2013 
in response to Government’s request for feedback

By Dr Shaista Shameem

My few short comments on the Government’s draft 2013 Constitution are as follows:

  1. General

The main principles of constitutional governance promoted by the Government in its public statements are:

  1. elimination of institutionalised racial discrimination;
  2. elimination of corruption and bad governance; and
  3. protection of all constitutional rights, including economic, environmental and social rights.

  1. Whether the draft Constitution 2013 is consistent with the Government’s expressed principles of constitutional governance and with international law.

(i) Elimination of institutionalized racial discrimination
The draft Constitution 2013 provides equal rights for all irrespective of race or ethnicity.

Problem:

The draft does not accord with important 2012 recommendations of the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination1 which Fiji is obliged to follow as a State Party to the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination.

The CERD Committee recommended to the Fiji Government as follows:

(a) Disaggregated data to be made available on the socio-economic situation of Fiji’s different ethnic groups to show which groups suffer socio-economic disadvantage

(b) Fiji to impose special measures (affirmative action) to improve the participation of minority groups in public administration and politics since, currently, minority groups are disadvantaged in these areas. Any special measures to be based on disaggregated data which should be publicly available.

(c) Fiji to enact specific legislation against racial discrimination- especially law which criminalises racial motives as an aggravating factor in criminal activity.

(d) Fiji to secure the free, prior and informed consent and consultation of the indigenous peoples regarding their permanent rights as a group.

(e) In 2013 Fiji to report back to the Committee on (i) minority participation in public and political life and its affirmative action plans to restore balance in these areas; (ii) disaggregated data on protection of economic, social and cultural rights of minority groups; and (iii) rights of indigenous peoples.

My Recommendations on (i):

  1. that the Fiji Government ensure that the draft 2013 Constitution is consistent with the 2012 recommendations of the CERD Committee so as to eradicate institutionalized racial discrimination in Fiji..

  1. that the Fiji Government declare, in good faith and in adherence to its own theory of constitutional governance, that individuals and groups in Fiji can petition the CERD Committee through the Article 14 procedure of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination:

Art. 14 CERD: A State Party may at any time declare that it recognises the competence of the Committee to receive and consider communications from individuals or groups of individuals within its jurisdiction claiming to be victims of a violation by that State party of any of the rights set forth in this Convention.

  1. Elimination of Corruption and Bad Governance

The draft 2013 Constitution contains the section 141 provision on accountability and transparency of all public officers in the declaration of their assets, liabilities and financial interests.

Whistleblowers will be protected by law.

Problems:

  1. There is a clash between section 141 wide-ranging right of the public to personal information of public officers and the right to personal privacy protected by section 24, as well as the right to security (especially security of family members including children) provided by section 130 (2) of the Constitution.
  1. The removal of the Office of Ombudsman from the draft 2013 Constitution means that the free service previously available for people alleging mal-administration or misconduct by public officers has been eliminated.

My Recommendations on (ii):

  1. Section 141 should contain limitations on the type and extent of public access to personal information

  1. The Ombudsman’s Office as a free (constitutional) public service for investigation of maladministration should be retained in the Constitution (as per the People’s Charter) despite the new section 16 Executive and Administrative Justice which can only be enforced by the courts, thus making it expensive and cumbersome for the ordinary people to access.

(iii) Constitutional protection of all human rights, including economic, environmental and social rights

Additional rights have been formally included in the Government’s draft Constitution, incorporating elements from the Social Justice (Compact) provisions of the 1997 Constitution.

Problems:

(i) The Bill of Rights provisions do not include an important clause to curb absolute state authority – missing is the phrase ..’as long as it (State limitation of rights) is reasonable and justifiable in a free and democratic society’. This phrase was included in all the relevant provisions of the 1997 Constitution and is a feature of international human rights law.

The phrase means that it is permitted for a State to limit some (not all) fundamental rights as long as those limitations would be reasonable and justifiable in a free and democratic society’.

This is the most serious flaw in the Government’s draft Constitution and affects the whole Constitution because it allows any government to impose limits on people’s rights even if those limits would not be allowed in a free and democratic society. The lack of justification of state limitations of rights to the courts is not cured by Sections 3 and 7 interpretation sections of the 2013 draft Constitution.

(ii) The definition of human rights is not included in the interpretation section of the Constitution

My Recommendation on (iii)

  1. The phrase ‘…as long as the limitation is reasonable and justifiable in a free and democratic society’ should be included in each relevant rights limitation in the Constitution. Without that inclusion, the Government’s draft Constitution 2013 is not fully human rights compliant, contrary to the Government’s statements to the people that their rights are protected by its draft.

  1. In view of the double-entrenchment of the Constitution - because any amendment can only be made by both Parliament and a public referendum with two thirds majority of the registered voters voting for it- it is very important that this phrase is included in the Constitution.

  1. The definition of human rights should be included in the interpretation section of the Constitution.


3. Conclusion

Despite its good points, the Government’s draft constitution 2013 does not represent a ‘social contract’, based on equality between the people of Fiji and the State, which is the fundamental principle of constitutional law.

In important respects it does not follow even its own expressed principles of constitutional governance.

It is an authoritarian constitution where the State’s authority is favoured above people’s rights, as evidenced by the Bill of Rights chapter, despite additional rights being provided.

It also ignores the CERD Committee’s 2012 recommendations on minority group protection.

A proper and informed discussion, rather than the rushed roadshow currently being performed by government, would have allowed the people of Fiji to have a meaningful input into what would be the supreme law directing all their actions in future in their own country.

With its draft 2013 Constitution, the Government seems to have lost a wonderful opportunity to write law in the public interest.

TWO IMPORTANT RECOMMENDATIONS: (i) The Government should comply with the recommendations of the CERD Committee; and (ii) the people of Fiji can insist that the phrase ‘…as long as any limitation (of rights) is reasonable and justifiable in a free and democratic society’ be added to each relevant provision of the Bill of Rights chapter. The inclusion of this phrase will cure many of the shortcomings of the Government’s draft Constitution 2013.

April 2013

1 CERD/C/FJI/CO/18-20

Saturday, May 11, 2013

PINA Adddress on World Press Freedom Day 2013

By Moses Stevens Pacific Islands News Association
Media development in the Pacific is progressing well in terms of infrastructure and human resources indicating or portraying the fact that there needs to be some good attention paid to the sector as a significant player or component in the whole concept of "good governance" in the region.

PINA has always maintained that media being the 'traditional' fourth estate in any democracy, has a significantly important role in nation building in any country; And that as such media needs to be rightfully given its place as one of the components in an open, transparent and accountable governance system.

This year we celebrate the theme "Safe to Speak" to mark World Press Freedom Day on 3 May.

For this, PINA would like to call on the members of the Pacific media family to think beyond their line of duties and the work they do in gathering, compiling and disseminating information as the normal process of informing, educating and entertaining our societies, and think of the part of the people and how this year's theme is relevant to them.

Do our people understand the role of the media? Do they know how to use the media? Do our leaders in our democratic island countries understand the role of the media and are they ready to accept it as a component of good governance?

"Safe to Speak" would be better understood or appreciated only when the above questions are addressed at all levels of our Pacific societies.

At this point PINA would like to call on all governments of the region to help establish, strengthen and empower their national media associations, through their appropriate ministries.

We need strong national media associations in the countries of the Pacific, with their own local and regional journalism code of ethics and self regulatory mechanisms to ensure professionalism among practitioners (mindful of our respective countries' cultural, spiritual and moral values) and to avoid the industry being taken over by investors (who may not be media professionals) who would be more interested in the money making side of the industry.

This is crucial because the quest to make more money often leads to misreporting and or misrepresentation of issues that then leads to governments stepping in, and in some instances causing unwarranted "unsafe" working environment for genuine and professional media practitioners and operators.

The Pacific needs a media free environment through and with which the people, at all levels and status within the society, are guaranteed their safety to speak and to express their views and opinions freely and without fear.

We have and continue to proclaim in our societies that Media Freedom is the people's freedom. But we in the Pacific media and especially the local associations, have a lot yet to do in helping our people understand our work and responsibilities in being their eyes, their ears and their mouthpiece.

To our governments, we are their mirror in which they look to check on their leadership, and the successes and failures/weaknesses in their leadership. From a proactive view, this is important for the governments to be more transparent, accountable and honest to their electorates and the nation as a whole.

Therefore, PINA would like to call on all media companies and organizations to join their national media associations in making this year's celebrations of WPFD the beginning of revisiting their national media bodies, and the need to re-unite in re-building their associations.

PINA also calls on all Pacific governments to take a more proactive approach toward their respective media industries in providing support toward establishing or strengthening their national media associations, through enhanced closer working relationship in exploiting and developing, and protecting their respective media sectors.


Moses Stevens- PINA President (mo.stevens@yahoo.com)