Saturday, June 29, 2013

Lockington's Everyday Fiji ... Life Goes On

                                              Super Fiji

Spine chilling, breathtaking, heart stopping and delightful are just some of the many adjectives that describe how Fiji played just a few years ago.

I have the privilege to go back in time to watch Fijis 7s games on DVD. Amongst my collection is the 2000 Wellington 7s, where Fiji plays New Zealand in the final. Christian Cullen, who had just come onto the field,
was tackled by The Stretcher (Vili Satala) and he had to go off again. Then the camera pans towards Cullen, he is sitting on the sideline and we see
the pained look on his face. Where has this kind of tackle gone?

To see Marika Vunibaka and Vilimoni Delasau run pass the opposition winger
and they leave them standing. Where has this kind of speed gone? And there
was Waisale Serevi who tackles the ball carrier, who managers to get the
ball away, he stands up and tackles that player, and then another. Where
has this kind of energy gone? And what about the double up, Fero
Lasagavibau, played halfback, as soon as he get the ball from the scrum and
passes he doubles up, catches the ball and creates an overlap and then
Vilimoni Delasau gets the ball and mesmerizes the opposition with his
jinking run and sidestep, wrong footing the opposition who fall over.And
they were able to tackle the opposition and put him on the ground. Where
has this kind of strength gone?

And what about the world cup game when Wayne Pivac took the team, to see
high stepping Sireli Bolo at full speed is breathtaking.

While watching the DVD again this morning, I suddenly noticed that I was
holding my breath. Man, Fiji was good.

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.

Friday, June 28, 2013

News and Comments Friday 28 June 2013

SO MUCH IN A WEEK.   Fiji marked the change in name of its national carrier Air Pacific to Fiji Airways with the arrival of a new airbus replete with masi insignia.  Much more is expected of the airline in coming months. The courts, long accused of being subject to political interference, found former PM Laisenia Qarase had "no case to answer" and innocent of charges brought by the corruption commission for his actions in Fiji Holdings Ltd.  And the  judge was a Sri Lankan whose recruitment to the Fiji judiciary has also been criticised by Government opponents!  The PM is presently in Moscow on a trade and investment mission, the first Fijian PM ever to visit Russia. The visit is the latest example of the shift in Fiji's foreign policy that previously focused on Australia, New Zealand, the European community and the USA. And Ro Teimumu, SODELPA's first president, speaking to the party's first meeting, not unsurprisingly  said "For those who knew the old SDL party would know that many of the principles of the old party are embodied in the new Party and other changes which have been brought in..."  
PROVINCIAL COUNCILS will soon be providing assistance to all ethnic groups in the 14 provinces. Ministry of iTaukei Affairs permanent secretary, Savenaca
Kaunisela said previously all provinces that were governed by provincial councils were merely for the iTaukei community. The permanent secretary was speaking at the
launch of the Public Service Day which is part of government’s efforts to improve service delivery. “All provincial councils will soon be servicing all ethnic groups
and assistance would be provided to them through the Roko Tuis ,” Mr Kaunisela said.
“We intend to deal with all ethnic groups from one office within the provincial
council vicinity.” Mr Kaunisela added that all ethnic groups will be able to raise their concerns at the provincial council offices. “The provincial councils will then
redirect their queries to the government ministry responsible to deal with issues that the community may have,” Mr Kaunisela said. He said the Ministry of iTaukei
Affairs, in emphasising service delivery, is working on creating a closer working relationship with all members of the community. “Regardless of whether you are
iTaukei or belong to any other ethnic group, the need to be provided with the correct information is important,” Mr Kaunisela said.

THE PM'S POLITICAL PARTY. How will it share up? Permanent
Secretary to the PM’s Office Pio Tikoduadua has not considered contesting for the 2014 elections. “During this time all I know is that I am the Permanent Secretary to
the PM’’s office and I have not considered anything yet,” Tikoduadua told FijiLive. Also still undecided is Attorney-General and Acting PM Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum.

“There is still more work to be done and at this stage and I am still focused on getting all works done before making any decisions,” Sayed-Khaiyum said. Prime
Minister Commodore Voreqe Bainimarama earlier announced that he will be contesting for elections and will be forming his own political party. Bainimarama also
announced that he will be resigning from his post as the Republic of Military Force Commander when he will contest. Under the Political Parties Registration Decree those wishing to register as a political party will need to have 5000 members from the four divisions around the country and should have $5005 as registration fee. The Registrar of Political Parties will then decide on the registration of each application. The decree has also stated that no political party shall be registered during the period commencing on the day of the issue of the writ for Parliamentary election and ending on the day on which the writ is returned.

SWITCHING ALLEGIANCES.  At least one group of villagers in former SDL-held Tailevu is changing sides because no former government has done as much as the present one for them.

VOTING REGISTRATION. Over 500,000 people were registered to vote before Phase III of the electronic registration progress, aimed to "mop up" still unregistered voters in Fiji, that is expected to be completed by the end of this month. The Elections Office will then turn its attention to registering  Fijian citizens living overseas.

Registration involves the taking of photograph and a thumbprint.  The system is expected to eliminate voter fraud by accurately identifying an individual who tries to vote more than once.

UNITED FRONT SIGNATURE GATHERING. The United Front for a Democratic Fiji, made up of the SODELPA, FLP and NFP,  continues to gather signatures against the  draft constitution which has yet to incorporate proposals made during the recent national consultations. Spokesman Mick Beddoes could not say when the petition would be presented. NFP president Raman Pratap Singh said the party still opposes the draft constitution but hopes necessary changes will be made. He wants  the Ghai draft brought back  for negotiations but the PM has already stressed that the Ghai draft will not come back.

DOCTORS SUSPENDED. Two doctors from Lautoka Hospital  have been suspended following preliminary investigations into suggestions of negligence. Although not directly related to negligence that resulted in the death of a tourist last year, this is taken as a sign that the Ministry of Health is becoming more vigilant.

A UNITING FORCE.  This is the view of one observer on the Melanesian Spearhead Group.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

One Step at a Time

  Can We Create a Utopia?    By Jolene Hansell
Published by the International Peace and Collaborative Network 13 June 2013
Recently, I pulled a childhood book off my shelf – The Giver by Lois Lowry. The book is one of my favorites, and since I hadn’t read it since the seventh grade, I decide to re-read it. In the context of my studies now, the book took on a whole different meaning for me which had me asking: What does post-conflict reconstruction look like? Should democracy always be the goal? Or put more simply, is there such a thing as a utopic society

The aftermath of war, be it civil or international, is almost as bad as the fighting itself. Yes, the violence may have stopped – the result of a victorious party, a peace agreement, or an international intervention – but the battle has not yet been won. The conflict is frozen, balancing on the edge of a knife; a sudden movement in either direction could cause the process to unravel. It is at the moment, when a country is most vulnerable, that post-conflict reconstruction begins. The goal is to rebuild the country from the ground up, putting in place the necessary infrastructure and institutions, with all the checks and balances to hopefully ensure that such violent conflict does not reoccur. The traditional formula has been the institutionalization of democracy, but is this the most viable option? Can this create an enduring peace in and of itself?

There are two characteristics of democracy that are pertinent to this discussion: competition and choice. Democracy is competitive by its very nature. An election is a competition between competing parties for control of the government. Sounds simple, civil; people go to the ballots, cast their vote, one party wins, and there you have it, a new government. And in a developed democratic system this might be the case, but in a newly formed, or rather forming, democracy, the situation is quite different.

Imagine this: the multiple competing fractions in a civil war have managed to come to a peace agreement, by way of an international intervention, have agreed to participate in national elections to determine the next legitimate government. In preparation for these elections, the former conflict fractions each form their own political party. As, resources are scare and corruption is high, the only way to ensure one’s interests is to control the access and distribution of both resources and power. Thus, the elections have become a power struggle between the former competing fractions. In support of this claim, Soth Plai Ngram, an expert on peacebuilding in Cambodia wrote in his M.A. Dissertation, “democracy is a competing terrain for political parties to win their power by controlling military forces, money and resources, rather than by winning the hearts of the people by improving their lives” (p.53). Consequently, rather than foster peace, democracy could actually create another means by which these parties continue to fight, pushing the fragile peace off the edge of the knife and sending it back into the chaos of violence.

Democracy is also characterized by choice; the capacity of each individual to have a voice in the process, to make their choice, and to cast their vote. But choices also create differences. They distinguish us from one another. The creation of differences between people, can be the source of future violence is a fragile state if these differences are not addressed or if there are not mechanisms in place for the reconciliation of such difference without resorting to violence. The construction of an identity based on differences is one of the foremost sources of conflict. Take, for example, the Rwanda genocide (rooted in construction of Hutu/Tutsi identities), the Israeli/Palestinian conflict (rooted in different religious identities), or the conflict between the two Sudans (rooted in a conflict between Arab/African identities). Democracy helps to facilitate the capacity of choice, but could it be possible for this capability to actually be detrimental to post-conflict reconstruction? How do we reconcile this? If not by democracy, then what?

There is a quote from The Giver that fits perfectly here, and attempts to define an alternative to democracy:

We don’t let people make choice of their own…We really have to protect people from wrong choices…It’s safer” – Jonas to the Giver (Lowry p. 99)

The community in the giver is supposed to amply a utopic society; however, it is anything but a democracy and is rather more akin to a dictatorship. There is no suffering or pain, no bloodshed or tear, but there also is not choice or freedom. The society has a prescribed set of rules to which its citizen must adhere and the citizens are constantly monitored by camera to ensure compliance. The society has a predetermined number of births and deaths (referred to as ‘releases’) per year and each family unit has two children (one male and one female). A Committee of Elders matches husbands and wives, children to their parents, and jobs to the children at the age of 12 based on their individual characteristics and personal attributes. There are not differences. There is no colour, only shades of grey, emotions are suppressed with medicine, and there is an emphasis on uniformity and conformity. This system is functional and it seems to works, at least in the short term. The problem here is that it is like a teeter-totter; it can be a stepping-stone to something greater or a system needing just the right straw to entirely collapse.

So where does this leave us in terms of post-conflict reconstruction? What I have just described represents the two chasms between which peace balances: democracy, by nature of choice and competition, resulting in reoccurring conflict at one extreme, and dictatorship resulting in conflict when its authority is shaken or threatened at the other extreme. And in between we have a peace, fragile and fleeting, but nevertheless struggling to exist. The goal of post-conflict reconstruction should be neither democracy nor dictatorship, but rather the expansion of the space in which peace can be created; a widening of the tightrope to a more manageable size. It should begin with dialogue among the parties involved, but should not move too quickly towards any particular goal. A strong foundation needs to be built otherwise the system will collapse once more. If democracy is the answer, then the progress towards it needs to be slow. It needs to be built up brick by brick, not thrown together with fingers crossed hoping that it works. A democracy in a post-conflict situation needs to be continuous supported – one election does not create a democracy. It is a process. It may come with initial elements of dictatorship – highly centralized power, lacking in rights and freedoms – but these elements do not spring up overnight. Yes, the ultimate goal should be an open, democratic society, but this takes time.

So, can we create a utopia? Is a post-conflict situation the opportunity to sculpt a utopia society? Probably not. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t strive towards it. If we are taking utopia to be synonymous with peace, reconciliation, the absence of violence, human rights, sustainable development, and the dignity of human beings, then it is a goal that we must continue to work towards. However, it is a project that never ends. There is no perfect system, no perfect democracy, no perfect society; it can constantly be improved. Although utopia will never be reached, striving towards it is what helps to create a lasting peace, one step at a time.

Lockington's Everyday Fiji ... Life Goes On

Vinaka Higgins

While driving from Nadi this morning I happen to follow a Higgins truck. I had to smile and say thank you Higgins for their motto that was printed on the back of the truck. It read, "Do it Once, Do it Well."

I said, Damn. If only the former road upgrading authorities were this good, we would have saved millions of dollars in the continuous repairs of same roads. For the record some roads were repaired so often the workers could have set up permanent camp sites in the vicinity.

Anway, vinaka Higgins. One big tanoa of yaqona will be waiting for you when you come to Mulomulo. With that kind of motto, I know you will soon repair the Mulomulo road.

 Meanwhile I'm of to Lautoka to get my dust masks from Mr Wise Muavono and to visit the sekoula tree and its inhabitants. I heard they call themselves the classic grog drinkers.

                              Pay Issue

A young friend graduated last year from USP with a teaching degree. He is now teaching in a secondary school in Nadi. He earns approximately  $340 net a fortnight.

While having lunch with his mates who work at various places the issue of pay came up. One of the guys works at a coffee shop and it was revealed that he earns  $450 a fortnight working six days a week. A few more of his mates work at other outlets and earn about the same.  These guys do not have degrees or diplomas and earn the same as the graduate who spent four  years at University.

Its funny how one spends time studying and when one starts work  one only gets the same as those without degrees or diplomas  who started work four years earlier.

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.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Fijian Peacekeepers to Golan Heights


The Fijian Government has agreed to a request by the United Nations to deploy “blue helmet” service personnel to the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) in the Syrian Golan Heights. The deployment comes at a time of heightened importance of UNDOF’s mandate to bring stability to the Middle East region.

In expressing the UN’s gratefulness for Fiji’s agreement to deploy to UNDOF, Lt. Gen. Babacar Gaye, the UN Secretariat’s Military Advisor, said, “On behalf of the Department of Peacekeeping Operations I welcome and appreciate the contribution of the Government of Fiji to UNDOF. In view of the challenging operational environment under which UNDOF is operating, the contribution of Fiji will greatly assist UNDOF as the Force continues to use its best efforts to maintain the ceasefire between Israel and the Syrian Arab Republic.”

General Gaye said that Fiji’s contribution would support the continued efforts of UNDOF to maintain a credible presence on the Golan and to continue implementing its mandate. General Gaye said, “The support of the Government of Fiji is vital in facilitating United Nations’ efforts to maintain stability on the Golan and international peace and security, as parallel efforts continue to find a political solution to the conflict in Syria and end the suffering of the Syrian people.”

General Gaye affirmed that the UN’s Department of Peacekeeping Operations will continue to support the efforts of UNDOF to adopt and update measures to minimise risk to UNDOF personnel. “The safety and security of UN personnel is of high priority for the United Nations,” he said.

The Fijian Government has expressed its confidence to the United Nations that Fiji’s hard-earned experience of peacekeeping in the Middle East region will serve UNDOF well, and that it is determined to continue its contribution to international security through UN peacekeeping service. For thirty-five years, Fijian soldiers have served as UN peacekeepers in the Middle East, notably with UNIFIL in Lebanon, with UNAMI in Iraq, and with the Multinational Force in Sinai.

Fiji’s deployment to UNDOF will initially consist of an infantry company of 140 personnel of the Republic of Fiji Military Forces (RFMF) to replace a Croatian infantry contingent that was until recently embedded within the Austrian infantry contingent. In addition, a RFMF transport platoon of 31 personnel will be deployed to replace the recently withdrawn Japanese transport platoon. The Fijian troops will deploy to UNDOF at the end of June, on a timetable agreed with the UN’s Department of Peacekeeping Operations.

UNDOF is based in the Syrian Golan Heights where it administers the 1974 Agreement on Disengagement between Israeli and Syrian forces. The recent withdrawal of some of the existing UNDOF contingents has given rise to the United Nations request for other UN Member States to step in to ensure that the UN can continue to implement its mandate in the interests of regional peace and security.

-- MOI.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Of Rumours and the Impossibility of Appearing Fair-Minded

Col. Saumatua
This blog has always tried to be fair-minded by generally but not always publishing the argument of both sides on major issues, by checking on stories before publishing them and by acknowledging sources where this is possible.  This does not mean, however, that it is always neutral. From its inception the blog  has given more prominence to the Fiji Government position because up until 2009 the Fiji media published far more opposition opinions, a practice continued by the international media. Since 2009, however, Government has placed restrictions on the local media that were especially heavy under the Public Emergency Regulations. Overt restrictions are fewer today but there can be little doubt that self-censorship by the media has resulted in many items of news and many opinions not being available to the Fiji public. 

Opposing perspectives
Today's situation can be looked at from two perspectives. One perspective is that the lack of access to a free media is an infringement of a basic human right.  It deprives the public of  information, without which they cannot fully participate in the the current political scene.  This is particularly annoying to Fiji's urban, educated public. Another perspective is that those speaking in opposition to Government have almost always been totally negative, often highly personal, and sometimes have said things that are quite untrue. The accusation that Government intends to deprive iTaukei of their land is a case in point. 

My personal view is that Government, from a long time back, should have set up one or more citizen advisory groups to advise Cabinet, or at least informally consulted informed and influential citizens on a regular basis. Had they done this, I think that many who now oppose Government would have continued to support it.    For a while, the Ghai Commission performed something of this role but its 'transition'  proposals for the period leading to elections and the oversight of parliament by an unelected forum  were clearly unacceptable to the Bainimarama Government.   Moderate people must know, from almost weekly examples,  that the barrage of criticism and accusations levelled at Government simply makes it dig its feet in harder, and make it even less willing to listen to the views of others.

Unfortunately, almost all the groups that could once have influenced Government are now unable to do so.  They have been tarred with the same brush as the extreme opposition. It has not helped either, that both Bainimarama and Sayed-Khaiyum take things far too personally, and seem unprepared to compromise. The very sensible suggestion that it should be possible to amend the future constitution in more ways than a national referendum is a case in point,  The impression created is  it's "Their way or no way" which is not the impression any government of the people should project.

However, it's all very well to say that this should not be.  I agree.  But this is how it is.

 If the same people wish to influence Government, they need to rethink their strategies because they are not working. Which brings us to the most important issue: What is Fiji's future and where should the moderate, educated, fair-minded public stand now that the choice seems to be between support for Government or support for the coalition of opposition parties?  

The ultimate choice
Ultimately it boils down to a mix of trust, faith and, hopefully, not too much self interest.

If they support Government,  there is a possibility that the democracy after 2014 may also include a military presence.  If they cannot stand Sayed-Khaiyum, he'll probably be there in some capacity.

If they support the "coalition", they should know that it is a coalition of convenience, not a coalition of principle, and is therefore likely to fragment as soon as the more powerful partner decides it has served its purpose. The most powerful partner is SODELPA, the old SDL in a new guise. And if there is any doubt about what it intends if returned to government, one only needs to look at its submissons to the Ghai Commission and the Government's draft constitution: a return to divisive communal politics; covert racism, enhanced influence by the Great Council of Chiefs with a decisive influence in Senate, and even an outside chance that Fiji may become a Christian State.  No serious attempt will be made to make all citizens feel equally Fijian, and few ordinary iTaukei will benefit from land rents, scholarships, jobs, or even rural development.  The same chiefly-urban elite will be back with the same policies and prejudices.

This is why this blog has moved towards more support for Government. It has, and will, criticize Government from time to time but always in a helpful, positive fashion.

But, given a choice between the risks involved, I think ordinary Fijians will be better off living with the "risks" of a Government-led government than with the "risks" of the old SDL.

I wish there were other choices, but I can't see any.

-- Croz Walsh

An email exchange
I wrote the above  in response to an email from a long-term reader. The emails exchange speaks  for itself:

Hi Croz,    Both of today's papers tell readers that Colonel Saumatua resigned "for personal reasons" from his portfolio of Minister for Housing, Environment, Local Government and Urban Development. But that is not really what happened. What did is that, when the AG dismissed the special administrators of first Rakiraki and then Sigatoka(?) over the past week, the good colonel was never apprised of the matter - all news to him. So he dared to ask the AG what was happening. Result? also dismissed. Another result is that the AG adds another minister's salary to his paypacket - for a while, at least.

To which I replied:

Many thank X. I'll look into it as best I can.   Have decided to make less posts from now on.  Not yet sure of my  timetable, but probably one analytical post a week, and   the more important news items.   Best wishes, Croz

To which X replied:

Croz, Thanks for your note. However, is it possible you are a little disillusioned about the state of affairs in Fiji? If so, then join the club ... The next 12+ months should be interesting in Fiji; I'm thinking that many people would like access to an impartial, objective and insightful 'opposite' read on Fiji during that time - in contrast to what Qorvis serves up in the 'Sun' and where its publishers and none other dares to present insightful, impartial and objective discussion.
Where is the Croz of five or so years ago? X

My enquiries in Fiji produced:

Hi Croz, The Minister gave an interview today saying he was not in great health (he had heart surgery last year) and he needed some time off, he also stated his ongoing support for government, the rest is all speculation and rumours.

My first reader X believes one story; my second reader another. Both cannot be true,  Other readers would do well to note that almost every change in Government has resulted in rumours of the Attorney-General, and not the PM,  running Government and taking largess. These  accusations have always been denied by Government and often, as in Col. Saumatua's case, by the person most affected.    Before you make up your mind, read the press releases below.

“My resignation was for personal reasons”
June 19, 2013 | Filed under: Fiji News | Posted by: newsroom  

The former Minister for Local Government, Urban Development, Housing and Environment, Colonel Samuela Saumatua revealed this to the Fiji Sun at his residence in Lami yesterday.
He said he had tendered his resignation last Friday to the Prime Minister’s Office.
The pressure at work was mounting and he admitted that because of the status of his health he had not been performing well.
“Remember that I don’t do things half way as this to me is not being faithful to my work and especially to the people I serve,” he said.
When asked if the sacking of the Nadi Town Council special administrator had anything to do with his resignation, the former Minister said that the decision was made and for him it was now history.

On his future plans
Asked about Politics, he said: “It’s too early to make any predictions about my political future but at the moment I have no plans to be involved in politics.”
A relaxed Colonel Saumatua said first and foremost he would undertake a de-stress programme to get his health back to 100 per cent.
“I’ll have a good rest for one month to get my health back to normal,” Colonel Saumatua said.
“But there is a military quote that says: ‘Soldiers die with their boots on.’”
Colonel Saumatua said his resignation did not mean he would just stay at home.

Support for Government intact

Colonel Saumatua also reaffirmed his support for the Government.
For him, he said he never ever dreamed he would become a Government Minister but had responded positively to the call by the Prime Minister to join his Cabinet.
He said he had carried out his ministerial responsibilities to the best of his ability and hoped his successor would continue from where he had left.
Colonel Saumatua said on his directive, a team in the Northern Division had worked on the Northern Corridor Master Plan
This master plan, will improve urban development and management growth with the Northern Division especially from Labasa, right up to Nabouwalu, including Savusavu Town.
A similar plan is also being developed by the Department of Town and Country Planning in the Western Division called the Western Corridor Master Plan.

The special administrator for Sigatoka and Nadi, Aisea Tuidraki, and the CEO of the Nadi Town Council, Nemia Tagi, have been terminated.

 In Nadi, Praveen Bala, the Special Administrator of Lautoka, will assume the responsibilities of special administrator until such a time as Mr Tuidraki’s successor is announced.

 And Jay Whyte, prominent businessman and tourism industry figure, will become Sigatoka’s very own special administrator.

Mr Whyte will appoint a committee of local stakeholders to assist him in his duties.

 The changes were announced by the Attorney General and Minister of Anti-Corruption, Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum, who said they’d been made in the interests of transparency and better service delivery for the residents of both towns and would be widely welcomed.

 The Attorney General revealed that Mr Tuidraki and Mr Tagi were being investigated by the Fiji Independent Commission Against Corruption ( FICAC).

 “While charges have yet to be laid, the Government is extremely concerned that both men had declined to cooperate fully with FICAC. Irrespective of the outcome of any investigation, this is clearly not the standard required of our local government officials and we were left with no choice,” the AG said.

 The Attorney-General said there had also been serious complaints made about other aspects of Mr Tuidraki’s and Mr Tagi’s conduct, including allegations of favouritism in the allocation of jobs and contracts. 

It was also being alleged that the office of the Special Administrator had not been keeping proper records.

“Whatever the outcome of the current inquiries, they are secondary to the need to provide the ratepayers of Nadi and Sigatoka with a high degree of transparency, accountability, performance and confidence that their interests are paramount. On that basis alone, the Special Administrator’s and the CEO’s positions were clearly untenable”, he said.

 “The Government is also very grateful that Mr. Whyte has offered to perform the role of Special Administrator in Sigatoka for no remuneration,” the AG added. -- MOI.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Melanesian Spearhead Group: The Helm Changes

Front de Libération Nationale
Kanak et Socialiste

[Ratu Inoke Kubuabola, Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, Fiji]
MSG Foreign Ministers Meeting (FMM)
17-18 June 2013
Loyalty Islands Province, New Caledonia

Head of Delegation of the FLNKS and Chair of the FMM
Representative of the Outgoing Chair and Head of Delegation of Fiji
Honourable Ministers
The President of the Loyalty Islands
Chiefs and Assembly Members
Distinguished Members of the MSG Senior Officials Meeting (SOM);
Staff of the MSG Secretariat;
Ladies and Gentlemen.

May I on behalf of the Government of the Republic of Fiji, congratulate you Chair on your appointment and wish you well in your leadership. Our profound appreciation and gratitude is extended to the FLNKS Political Bureau and the Government of New Caledonia for the courtesies extended to my delegation since our arrival and the excellent meetings arrangements made here in this beautiful island of Lifou in Kanaky-land. Fiji also wishes to pay respects to the Chiefs and traditional owners of this land and acknowledge the kind generosity of the Loyalty Islands Provincial Government for allowing FMM members to gather in this excellent meeting venue.
As outgoing Chair, I wish to thank members for your support to Fiji during our tenure as Chair. Indeed, it has been 2 years of effective collaboration, consensus and dialogue on areas of mutual interest, which has yielded exceptional results.

Ladies and gentlemen, when we assumed the Chairmanship in March 2011, the Prime Minister in his opening Address at the Leaders Summit in March 2011, stated, and I quote,
“I have directed the Fijian Government to provide all the assistance to the MSG Secretariat, to ensure inter-alia regional integration vis a vis a comprehensive trade and economic agreement facilitating free movement of goods, services, capital and labour across our borders; committing regional co-operation and collaboration with our law enforcement agencies to tackle transnational crimes; and, safeguarding our environment and eco-systems and mitigating the devastating effects of climate change.’ End of quote
This mandate has consistently guided Fiji’s contribution towards the MSG over the past 2 years of its chairmanship.

From Fiji’s perspective, I am pleased that enormous achievements have been made in each of these strategic areas. I intend to highlight some of these achievements later.

However, at the outset may I say that this year is unique! We are gathered here not only to meet as Forum Ministers but also to celebrate our 25 years of existence as an organization. We must be proud of our achievements and heritage. Since the six Agreed Principles of Cooperation were signed by our founding fathers on 14th March 1988, we have proven that MSG is an organization that is here to stay. Our organization is now poised to take a quantum leap into the future! We shall be strong and assume our rightful role as a leader in regional geo-political, trade and economic affairs. The MSG has the natural resources, the people and land area to determine its own destiny.
It is only fitting that we celebrate and showcase our achievement in unison to recognize the humble beginnings and aspirations of our founding fathers. After 25 years, we have learnt from our experiences and attained some competencies that make us unique. The launching of the Silver Jubilee Celebrations, Port Vila in January and the holding of the Melanesian Weeks in each of our Capital has lifted our profile and raised the interest of many. My Delegation looks forward to the culmination of Silver Jubilee celebrations in Noumea on 21st July.

On the political and security front, I am pleased to acknowledge that achievement has been made by our Police Commissioners in advancing the work on the Department of Peace Keeping Operations (DPKO). This Department once fully operational, will be responsible for overseeing the Formed Police Unit, Regional Police Academy, Humanitarian and Emergency Response Coordinating Centre and Police Cooperation. It is important that we collectively realize our true potential in peace keeping operations internationally. Our unique customs and traditions make us effective peace keepers. We must also respond effectively in sharing information to prevent our countries against the threats of globalization and liberalization. May I therefore congratulate our Police Commissioners and Sub-committee on Security for a job well done. This is highly commendable!

Another notable achievement is the conclusion by our officials of the review our Constitution. The review essentially attempts to improve the efficacy of our decision making, to address new membership applications and add further clarity to specific provisions. Our Sub-committee on Legal and Institutional Issues have worked tirelessly, and must be congratulated for developing and putting before Foreign Ministers a number of instruments of cooperation that will further elevate our organization’s cooperation. These instruments include the Custody and Maintenance of Children, Legal Enforcement of Foreign Judgments, and the MOA on Police Cooperation.

Over the past two years, significant progress has also been made in fostering our trade and Economic cooperation. In March 2011, our Leaders agreed to a broad vision on the future of MSG’s Economic Integration. This involves a vision of Closer Economic Relations and the possible creation of a common market through the expansion of the MSGTA into services and labour mobility.
I am delighted that we will be considering a revised trade and economic cooperation architecture as part of the Trade Ministers Meeting Report. It signifies the continued evolution and maturity of our trade relations. It also reflects our members’ acceptance and readiness to embark on a deeper level of cooperation and integration. Overtime, this will entail the relaxation of regulations on services, investment and capital and public procurement between our MSG borders. Growth in trade and financial flows brought about by this new architecture will stimulate economic growth. It will improve the livelihoods of our people.

As we attempt to address our development objectives, our Government’s financial resources are often limited by the many sectoral demands. Managing our public finance has been a daunting task for some of our members. Increased fiscal deficits, public debt and contingent liabilities pose a serious threat to our macro-economic stability. If we want a vibrant and deeper level of economic integration, our fiscal and monetary policies must be synchronized to create a stable macro-economic environment for our future sustainable growth. The signing of the Principles of Enhancing Fiscal Management in Melanesia by our Leaders is a genuine effort to adopt a set of minimum requirements on sound public finance management. Undoubtedly, the Euro debt crisis provides useful lessons for living within our means. The public sector must not crowd out but facilitate private sector growth.

Notwithstanding this new architecture, it is also gratifying from Fiji’s perspective to witness the signing of the MOU on Skills Movement Scheme by our Leaders in 2012. The Scheme has been in force since 30th September 2013 and provides the impetus for the movement of skilled personnel between our members to fill skill shortages. I look forward to the SOM Chair’s report on the implementation of the Scheme and plans for achieving its intended objectives.

We have also entered into an MoU on Cultural Cooperation which has paved the way for members to assist each other in hosting regional cultural events including the promotion of our unique cultures through work attachments. Solomon Islands had benefitted from this cooperation and needs to be congratulated for successfully hosting the festival of Pacific Arts last year. To further strengthen ownership of our traditional knowledge and expressions of culture, our Leaders have signed a Framework Treaty on Traditional Knowledge and Expressions of Culture. This is a milestone achievement. This Treaty protects our people from any possible misappropriation and abuse of their Traditional Knowledge and Expressions of Culture. As a Group, we must prevent unscrupulous individuals from violating the rights of owners of Traditional Knowledge and Expressions of Culture under the pretext of scientific research or cultural exchanges. I hope we will be able to implement our TK Laws at the national level in order to further strengthen our commitment to this cause.

During Fiji’s Chairmanship, members have also brought to the forefront our own environment and climate change issues. As the largest geographical areas amongst Pacific Islands, with a rich biodiversity and ecosystem, our climate change issues are unique and deserve special attention. The signing of the Environment and Climate Change Declaration by our Leaders is indicative of our common desire to elevate our climate change concerns to the international fora such as the UNFCCC, and embrace a Framework on Green Growth for our future development.

On the institutional front, it is pleasing to see that the reorganization of our Secretariat has yielded positive results. Our Secretariat is now effectively responding to and serving our interest. We need a Secretariat that is efficient, cost effective and adequately resourced. Whilst I wish to acknowledge your support of this reform process, I must also call upon your indulgence in the timely payment of our contributions to allow our Secretariat to discharge their roles and responsibilities effectively.

As we celebrate 25 years of our existence, our Leaders have seen it timely and appropriate to evaluate our past and determine our future direction. An Eminent Persons Group was appointed by Leaders to review our performance, consult our people, identify our competencies, determine our common objective interests, and use this to chart a new direction for our organization. I am excited of the proposals our Eminent Persons will be submitting for our consideration. I am very confident that the proposed Vision and Plan will set a solid platform on which to catapult our organization into the future. I would like to thank Members for your assistance towards the EPG during their five (5) weeks of in-country consultations. It has been a worthwhile and rewarding exercise. In this regard, I acknowledge the presence of the Chair of the EPG, Ambassador Kaliopate Tavola who will be presenting their report.

Madam Chair, I have attempted to highlight a few notable milestones under Fiji’s chairmanship over the past 2 years. It has been an honour and a privilege to serve as Chair of this esteemed Forum. The unwavering support of members is deeply admired and appreciated. The collegial manner and stewardship in which we have conducted our business is a manifestation of the goodwill and respect within our membership. We have embraced the principles and spirit of dialogue, and consensus through our unique Melanesian culture, tradition and heritage in spearheading our shared interests. We can only build on this further.
On a personal level as I with respect handover the Chair of our meeting to the representative of the FLNKS, I wish to say that I am deeply grateful to all our Ministers for always supporting me in the discharge of my responsibilities as Chair of the FMM. Your personal respect to me is an asset that I will always treasure and as I assume my normal role as a member of the FMM I can do so with knowledge that together we have done our job and together we will continue to serve our organization with the same dedication and commitment.

Finally, as we look to the future, it is useful to remind ourselves that we are equal owners of our organization. We complement our regional organizations and can draw from their competencies and assistance to advance our cause. I firmly believe that we need to carve our own niche in Pacific regionalism and extend our presence internationally. We have the potential to strengthen our relationship with other metropolitan powers to determine our destiny. MSG should not be too concerned about what others think of us. We must determine our common goals and cooperate in activities that enhance our cooperation and integration. Creation of wealth, employment, access to basic services and empowerment of our underprivileged communities is the penultimate outcome of our deeper integration. Let us look at the bigger picture and empower our Secretariat to advance our cause.

I congratulate you Madam Chair for your leadership. Fiji looks forward to contributing effectively under your leadership, and we look forward to fully supporting the common desire of our Kanaky brothers and sisters to achieve full independence and freedom.

Vinaka vakalevu

Saturday, June 15, 2013

NAM links growing for Fiji

SUVA, Fiji --- Fiji is growing closer to the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) compared to its historical links to the Commonwealth.

This was the reply by the Minister for Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation when asked by a Russian journalist whether he considered Fiji closer to the Non-Aligned Movement or the Commonwealth?

Elaborating on his reply to Pavel Vanichkin of ITAR-TASS news agency Ratu Inoke said membership in the NAM had provided Fiji with the opportunity to engage with its new non-traditional partners.  “Fiji’s concomitance with NAM further supports Fiji’s Look North Policy which involves developing relationships with countries outside the Southern Pacific sphere,” Ratu Inoke said.

Ratu Inoke said NAM provided a form of protection some other forums lacked. “It ensure that the national independence, sovereignty, territorial integrity and security of non-aligned countries in their struggle against imperialism, colonialism, neo-colonialism and racism. Therefore I would say that in terms of forging closer relationship with its non-traditional partners, Fiji is closer to NAM in this context.”

The other question posed by the Russian news agency was – What were Fiji’s priorities and interests on a global scale?

In response to this, Ratu Inoke said Fiji’s priorities and main interests on the global scale were aligned to its national goals. Fiji had developed a structured dossier called the Roadmap for Democracy and Sustainable Socio-Economic Development as well as Fiji’s Look North Policy.

He said Fiji aimed to enhance its global integration and international relations with its existing partners as well as developing new alliances with its new countries under its Look North Policy.
Ratu Inoke said Fiji aimed to ensure that its economic development, socio-cultural development and overall social development was improved. As such Fiji’s priorities at the global scale included:
Providing effective and efficient leadership in the United Nation for the G77 plus China Group; Providing effective leadership and support to all UN development initiatives especially the following fields: Peacekeeping; Climate Change and Adaptation; Deep Sea Mining under UNCLOS etc; *Striving to be an independent sovereign state and working hard to uphold the Charter of the UN and seek to establish diplomatic relations with all UN member countries .

Thu 13 Jun 2013

Lockington's Everyday Fiji ... Life Goes On

                                Safe Roads

Driving to and from Nadi and Lautoka I notice the traffic is subdued. The rush that used be a norm with especially mini vans that often overtake dangerously is not many now. However, one thing I noticed that rental cars are the ones that are speeding. I am wondering if a rental car is caught speeding, who pays the fine?  But good on you LTA for the cameras, every one is driving with in the speed limit.

This is a good sign and our roads will be safe. Oh, we get the odd idiot who will drive recklessly, but more people are driving within the speed limits. All cars should have a little notice on the dashboard reminding drivers to drive within the speed limit. becasue we will tend to forget.
Allen Lockington

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.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

News and Comments Sunday 8 June 2013

NEW CATHOLIC  ARCHBISHOP. Fiji’s new Archbishop Peter Loy-Chong has called on the nation for its support and loyalty towards his work. He replaces Archbishop Petero Mataca who co-chaired the People's Charter dialogue in 2007. Emeritus Archbishop Petero urged his successor not to forget the poor. Archbishop Chong will also look after the Archdiocese of Rarotonga and Kiribati.

QUOTE OF THE WEEK. "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." -- Scott MacWilliam.

'TIS SO, 'TISN'T SO.  The Social Democratic Liberal Party (SODELPA, the old SDL party) says that police officers turn up during our meetings is scaring members. The A-G Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum says government is not monitoring political parties activities and that officers were also voters and were free to attend any political party meetings if they wish to.

NFP MEETS. Members of Fiji’s oldest party, the National Federation Party met over the weekend in Lautoka to further discuss the draft Constitution and their upcoming jubilee celebration plans. Most members will get the chance to deliberate and share their views regarding the draft Constitution. “Delegates attending the working committee of the NFP will subject the draft Constitution to intense scrutiny,” NFP President Raman Pratap Singh said.

TO THE FIJI TIMES AND NOT PUBLISHED. Why? It's a very reasonable comment.

 Dear Sir,
Some commentators have drawn attention to the Government’s draft constitution (GDC) and the difficulty of amending any of its clauses and provisions. Amendments require extremely large majorities in parliament together with a large majority in referendums. These requirements make it well neigh impossible to amend the constitution by legal means.

What is disturbing is that even minor typographical and technical errors will require the majorities indicated above. A better way forward is to have a constitution that allows for amendments with different majorities (plus 50% or 75% of parliament) depending on the provisions that may require amendments. Entrenched and protective clauses will require the latter majority for change. There is no need whatsoever to go through the expensive referenda.
Failure to address the difficulty to change provisions of the constitution is a recipe for extra-legal abrogation of the constitution.

Vijay Naidu, Suva

The i-Taukei Land Trust Board, acting on behalf of Nausori land owners, are still awaiting a reply from the Airports Fiji Limited and the Director of Lands regarding the expansion of the Nausori Airport. Their letter sent in March and has not received any response. Landowners are concerned about the lease, employment and other compensation. The acquisition of the 93 acres of land for the redevelopment of Nausori Airport will cost $60 million.

GETTING THE FIGURES RIGHT. Jonathan Bower, cited on Facebook, gives this "more correct set of data" on the Fiji's economic performance since the 2006 Coup (2007-11): inflation 6% average, up from 2.4% in 2006; people living below the basic poverty line, 31%, down from 35% in 2002;  growth rate in real GDP per capita  -0.4% compared with 0.1% 2000- 2006; public debt 54.2% of GDP in 2011 compared to 49.9%5. If true, 20,000 women joining the workforce is not a bad thing. I could find no data on this. Mostly based on Bureau of Statistics, IMF and Reserve Bank figures.

STREET BEGGING. An Inter-Agency Taskforce has been formed  to re look and scrutinize the issue of street begging in Fiji. The Taskforce has declared  "an absolute zero tolerance on child begging."

ALLEGATIONS OF LIES TOLD TO VILLAGERS. A team from the PM’s office is visiting villages to counter the lies they say are being spread by Government critics. Permanent Secretary  Lt.Co,Tikoduadua said the critics are targeting Tailevu-North and Wainibuka, and their main message is that the new constitution will threaten their land ownership and security. “They’re saying that the landownership of the iTaukei people would be under threat when the new constitution comes into effect.” He said critics had been telling the people that under the Land Use Decree, government had the power to take native land on whatever terms it liked, which was quite untrue. “They’re just trying to get support for the upcoming elections”, he said.

INVISABLE MONEY. The  European Union statement that it will have spent $136million by the end of the year on assistance to sugarcane farmers is not visible on the ground, says Sugar permanent secretary LtCol Manasa Vaniqi. He said if the EU had committed such a significant sum of money for growers, there should have been some visible signs of improvement to their lives. "$136 million is a huge amount of money, if it really came to the farmers then they should have been millionaires by now," he said. "We don't know where this money went because we cannot see it directly translated to improvements on the ground." The Permanent Secretary also criticised the  Deloitte Report and the IMF had made recommendations that we sell all our mills and the industry over to private enterprise. "But we knew that we needed the industry and we needed to ensure that the jobs of the 200,000 people who depend on the industry for their livelihood would not be affected."

. the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) application for registration has been approved by the Registrar of Parties. Party Interim General Secretary Poseci Bune said they have worked hard to bring the party to this stage and to comply with the many requirements of the Political Parties Decree.  Bune said the party respects the rights and places of Indigenous Fijians within our wider multicultural society. He said the official launching of the party will be in the next few months and they are confident of being the party of the future. Bune, a former Labour Party Minister, has joined trade unionists who were also dissatisfied with Mahendra Chaudhry's leadership of the FLP, in forming the new party.

Following it restructuring and reorganisation on the recommendations of external expert assessors, FHCL is entering a new phase.While plans are being finalised, operations at the Waivunu Sawmill and Navutu Manufacturing site, have been running at a substantial loss for years, costing massive amounts of taxpayers' money. are suspended. Workers will receive a full three weeks paid leave in the interval. This leave will not be deducted from workers' accumulated leave, and is in addition to any existing leave.

This financial situation and the dilapidated condition of the facilities' equipment are the result of minimal reinvestment in maintenance or modernization since these operations were acquired by FHCL eight years ago.  In addition, FHCL accumulated  over $18 million of Government-guaranteed loans and  received more than $25 million in outright Government grants from 1998 until 2006. Recently, the Navutu and Waivunu locations have been the targets of thefts, with more than $24,000 of cash and equipment being stolen in the past year, in addition to a significant amount of timber. The situation obviously could not be allowed to continue.

FIJI HUB OF THE SOUTH PACIFIC. Fiji is positioning itself to become the communications hub for the South Pacific. Home of the Southern Cross cable network Fiji is now being approached by other Pacific nations to connect to its system. Fiji's broadband policy aims to have 95% of the population with internet speeds of a minimum of 2MBs by 2016.

ROTUMA PLANS COME UNSTUCK.  Government plans to promote agricultural exports to Tuvalu from the northern island of Rotuma are experiencing problems.  The Rotuma Enterprise Marketing Co-operative Limited (REMCOL) has lost about $40,000 since it started trading in 2011, partly as a consequence of "cassava that we harvested and processed but it turned out bad” and partly as a result of  "the frequent breakdown of the freezers where produce is stored."  The company has been unable to meet several orders. Commissioner Eastern Lt. Col. Netani Rika says work is  underway to get the freezers in Rotuma fully operational.

THIS HOW WE DEAL WITH CORRUPTION IN NZ. Wellington's David Ross, at the centre of the collapse of a suspected Ponzi scheme involving about $450 million, has been stripped of his membership of the Institute of  Chartered Accountants  by the ICA disciplinary tribunal. The head of a collapsed bullion trading firm - which owes investors more than $2.5 million - has been charged by the Serious Fraud Office. Fifty-two-year-old  Kairuaiti Tangata Oropai Robert Kairua, the director of Grace Holdings NZ Limited, faces 29 Crimes Act charges of theft by person in special relationship and false  statement by promoter. Grace Holdings, which traded under the name Bullion Buyer, had an office in the Vero building in downtown Auckland. Property developer Glenn William Cooper has been remanded on bail for sentencing  after a Serious Fraud Office investigation into his dealings with a family with whom he built a relationship. Victims of the mortgage fraudster face losing their homes after the conman sold them properties and arranged large mortgages using vastly inflated valuations. Cooper has pleaded guilty to five charges of dishonesty  brought by the Serious Fraud Office.

CORRUPTION: THE FIJI FINANCIAL INTELLIGENCE UNIT has recently exposed six cases of unexplained wealth. Director Razim Buksh told the Fiji Institute of Accountants Congress 2013 that Fiji now has a more modern law for dealing with sophisticated proceeds of crime cases. The Proceeds of Crime (Amendment) Decree now  requires a person to show that wealth was obtained lawfully in order to keep it, rather than the law enforcement agencies to show that the wealth was obtained unlawfully in order to forfeit it.  He said the unexplained wealth provisions for both public officials and private individuals and businesses are the best mechanism that can now be used in Fiji. Buksh said the idea is to take the profit and wealth away and deprive them from enjoying their ill-gotten wealth taken from unlawful activities and tax crimes. He said this process can be undertaken whether or not the DPP and FICAC are able to secure a conviction of the predicate offence.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Lockington's Everyday Fiji ... Life Goes On

                                                                       Good Dad

During my stint with the Fiji National University  Nadi I saw this middle aged chap in my class.

About a month later I took him aside and we sat and chatted. I asked why he had enrolled when he already had a good job. He said that he had a daughter who had enrolled at FNU but had found it hard to keep up with lectures and dropped out. She told him that even he wouldn't be able to hack it.

He sat back and said that all his family had ordinary low paying jobs because of lack of high education and he wasn't going to let his daughter go through the same thing. So he enrolled secretly without tell his family.

His wife became suspicious when he would come home late and they would have little arguments. He assured her there was no other woman. He never took home his books and never let on on what he was doing.

Then three  months down the road a friend of his daughter told her that her dad had enrolled at FNU Nadi. She was shocked.

One evening when they were having their devotion he told the family that he had enrolled to show his daughter that he could hack it.

To cut a long story short, the daughter went back to FNU and the dad and daughter now both have diplomas. He will soon be promoted at his work place and the daughter now has a better chance of getting a better paying job with her diploma.

I was inspired by this man even after he had left school years ago. Nothing is impossible for those who believe.

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.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

BBC News - Patrick Mercer's parliamentary questions on Fiji

BBC News - Patrick Mercer's parliamentary questions on Fiji

Lockington's Everyday Fiji ... Life Goes On

            The Changing Workforce

 A very interesting program was aired on Radio Australia recently.

Apparently, the world is moving from an experienced-base workforce to managers who are highly qualified with no experience.  But they bring with them new ideas, sometimes to a work place that was operating very well with old people and old styles.

When management posts are advertised, it will no longer necessarily be the longest serving employee with loads of experience who will get the job. It could be a young graduate fresh out of university who is highly motivated in the  field suited for the job. How do the experienced people in the work force see this? How do they feel about working under someone much younger than them who will from time to time come to them to ask for assistance?  Will they assist the new kid on the block?

Studies have shown that older managers with loads of experience will not listen to younger dynamic managers because they (the older person) think that the younger manager have nothing new to offer. This was very evident to me when I was a young emerging manager in the civil service. And there is another issue: when the young newly appointed manager is a woman and the workforce is predominantly male. How do the male counterparts cope? While the young woman may have no experience she is highly qualified in her field and will learn, it may take time, but by Jove she will learn.

In Fiji we have lowered the civil service retirement age to 55, something that I wholly heartedly agreed to. If it was up to me I would make the voluntary retirement age at 50. There are many of us who have planned their lives properly, especially those of us who had children very young and who are now working and supporting the family.

Let us support our young graduates and for those who wish to make the voluntary retirement age to 50, call me. All we need to do is make way for the younger generation, take up a hobby, or start a backyard garden that will keep you fit and you will be eating freshly harvested vegetables.

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.