Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Australian Opposition Leader Promises "Normalising" Relations with Fiji

Change at last: Tony Abbott and Julie Bishop (Photo:News Limited)
Tony Abbott and Julie Bishop

For the first time in nearly seven years – since the Bainimarama takeover of 2006 – there’s been a change in the official Australian attitude to Fiji. It’s outlined in a remarkable speech by Julie Bishop, the Deputy Leader of the Opposition and Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, to this week’s Australia Fiji Business Forum in Brisbane. In extraordinarily warm terms, she signals a sea change in Australia’s current hardline attitude to Fiji should the Coalition, under Tony Abbott, win the forthcoming federal election. It includes full re-engagement and the restoration of diplomatic ties and Australia “taking guidance” from Fiji on how it can best assist in the introduction of a genuine democracy next year. Read on…

Foreign Minister Kubuabola, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen.
My claim to fame, in so far as this audience is concerned, should be the fact that I am a board member of the West Coast Eagles Australian Rules Football Club in Perth, Western Australia and our champion ruckman is a six foot eight Fijian by the name of Nic Naitanui,
Nic Nat not only thrills his supporters in Western Australia, but he has become a household name in AFL households across Australia. He is such an exciting player, I think he will be one of the best players of this generation of Australian Rules Football. But he is also an utter gentleman, so much so that the AFL have made him multi-cultural ambassador for the sport and he travels not only across Australia but throughout the region. I understand that not only does he have a significant fan base across Australia, in what is a highly competitive sporting code, he also has a fan base amongst the Naitanui family in Fiji.
What that says is that there are so many Fijian Australians who are sports stars in our various football codes. I’d like to suggest that AFL is the most popular sporting code but I’m afraid there will be a few too many rugby league, rugby union people here to suggest this, but we have so many people of Fijian heritage who play in our sports, who are so admired and loved by the Australian people.
I believe that reflects the broader affection and warmth the Australian people feel for the people of Fiji and I hope that that warmth and that affection and that love is reciprocated. Australians and Fijians have been friends for a very long time.
I read a blog recently by a Papua New Guinean and he was commenting, with more than a touch of envy, that notwithstanding the political differences between Australia and Fiji, notwithstanding the events of 2006 and the subsequent response from Australia, nevertheless Fiji managed to attract record numbers of Australian tourists. He was trying to work out how can that be? How can Fiji attract so many more Australian tourists than PNG? He thought well perhaps it’s because the Australian people have a healthy disregard for whatever their government tells them! But he decided that the reason people flocked to Fiji is because of the warm welcome that the Fijian people give to Australian tourists – the wide smile, the ubiquitous greeting ‘bula’.
I’m not sure if he was suggesting that Papua New Guineans were less pleased to see Australian tourists – that certainly hasn’t been my experience – but nevertheless I think there is a valid point to be made, that Australians have been experiencing generous and gracious hospitality of the Fijian people for such a very long time.
This morning Foreign Minister Kubuabola made a very powerful speech. He was very candid and said perhaps what a number of people from Fiji have wanted to say for some time. We all know the detail of the events of 2006 and we know the Australian Government’s stance in relation to it but it was refreshing to hear the frustration that the Fijian Government feels about Australia’s approach.
There’s no need for me to go into the details again but Foreign Minister Kubuabola speech was a timely reminder that there are very valuable lessons to be learned if we stand in each other’s shoes and we try to see issues from each other’s perspective.
It is now time to rebuild the bridges.
Should a Coalition Government be elected at some stage this year I commit to ensuring that normalising relations between Australia and Fiji is a priority of an incoming government. I know that there will be challenges. I know that there will be a number of issues for us to address, but with the will and commitment on both sides I believe that we can achieve whatever we set out to achieve.
Of course we encourage Fiji to hold elections as Commodore Bainimarama has promised in 2014. We welcome and encourage that commitment. I would like to see, should the Coalition be elected the restoration of full diplomatic relations between Australia and Fiji. I would like to see Fiji welcomed back into the Commonwealth, the Pacific Island Forum and other forums around the world.
I’m not pretending that an election can solve all issues – although I have to say that an election in Australia would solve a lot of issues!
I’m not pretending that democracy is perfect – believe me, after sitting in the Parliament of Australia for the last three years I’m well aware of its shortcomings – but as Winston Churchill famously observed, ‘democracy is the worst form of government except for every other form’.
What I believe we should aim for is to support Fiji in its elections in 2014 and on behalf of the Coalition I pledge our support, in whatever form Fiji requires, to assist them to overcome the challenges that come with going on the path to parliamentary democracy and constitutional law and rule.
We will of course be guided by the Fijian Government as to what they seek from Australia. We will of course be guided by what it is they believe we can offer.
I don’t presume to lecture any other country about how they run their affairs but I can offer the experience Australians have had in terms of parliamentary democracy.
It is essential that oppositions and politicians have the freedom to hold the government to account.
It is essential that an independent judiciary exists to adjudicate disputes and to interpret the law.
A free and unfettered media might be a complete pain in the neck for politicians but it is essential to hold all the sides of politics to account on behalf of the people.
Political stability is what business and investors seek. The issue of sovereign risk is bad for any country and political stability is absolutely essential.
These fundamentals have been the experience of Australia and a number of other countries, including countries committed to the Commonwealth of Nations, over many years and I believe that these fundamentals can be achieved by Fiji with the support of its friends. Australia should never and will never if I have anything to do with it, forsake Fiji.
Ladies and gentlemen, foreign policy under a Coalition Government will be marked by an unmistakeable focus on our region. I come from Western Australia, so the Indian Ocean is part of our region, of course here in Brisbane the Asia-Pacific is part of our region. So for Australia our region is the Indian Ocean, Asia Pacific. This is our neighbourhood. This is where we need to focus our attention as a government.
Under a Coalition Government all of our foreign policy assets, whether they be military and defence capabilities, or economic and trade capacity or diplomatic and foreign aid activity, will be focussed, not exclusively, but unmistakeably, in our region.
Let me take trade policy for example. The Coalition will describe our foreign and trade policy an exercise in ‘economic diplomacy’.
We will align all of our agencies and all of our departments across government in pursuit of our strategic goals through economic diplomacy.
In the area of trade that means we commit to a network of bilateral and free trade agreements to liberalise trade in our region. I know of no better way of lifting countries out of poverty than through economic liberalisation through trade and through private sector investment and that is what we will encourage, country by country.
In particular I’m concerned that the PACER Plus negotiations seem not to have advanced and in fact have stalled. I think that the PACER Plus negotiations need fresh thinking, a new start. What may be required is for some of the bigger economies in the region, namely Australia, New Zealand, Fiji, PNG to conclude bilateral or, if we could do it quadrilateral, free trade agreements, a high quality agreement that would bind us together and that other countries in the Pacific can then see the benefit of a free trade agreement and can opt in to such an agreement.
They would then have the ownership of the reform process that will be needed. They would have ownership of the pace at which they would join such an agreement. Instead of standing still and leaving PACER Plus to languish I believe it needs an injection and the major economies, including Fiji, must be at the forefront of ensuring that trade liberalisation can continue in the Pacific.
Under a Coalition Government, we will continue to provide overseas development assistance into the Pacific. I acknowledge and recognise that Australia is the largest provider of aid to Fiji and to a number of other island nations in the Pacific but as a Liberal I believe in a hand up, not a hand out and I believe that’s what the countries in the Pacific are looking for as well.
Through trade liberalisation, through opening our markets, through private sector investment in development, we can turn developing countries into developed countries. Our philosophical belief in individual enterprise and in the private sector I think will have much longer term ramifications than even free trade agreements.
Back in the 1950s, Prime Minister Robert Menzies signed Australia up to what was called the Colombo Plan and through this process thousands of young students from the Asia Pacific came to Australia to study in our universities. Over a 30 year period, the 1950s to 1980s, 40,000 young people from the region studied in Australian universities, lived with Australian families, got to know the Australian way of life and they went back to their country and today they are Prime Ministers, former Prime Ministers, Cabinet Ministers, business leaders, community leaders in those countries and they have fond memories of Australia and their experience in Australia.
We believe that it’s time to reverse the Colombo Plan and we’ve announced a signature initiative dubbed the ‘New Colombo Plan’, that will see young Australians given the opportunity to study at universities in the region. We want to see it as a ‘rite of passage’ for undergraduates in Australian universities to have the opportunity under a nationally backed scheme, to undertake part of their bachelor course at a university in the region.
What we hope will happen is countries will opt-in to our New Colombo Plan. When their universities, or their higher education sector are ready to accept Australian students in large numbers, we will come to an arrangement with that country. There are lots of issues about student visas, and course accreditation and mutual recognition of capacity but over time we hope that all countries in the region will want to be part of the New Colombo Plan.
How we’ll make it attractive to young Australians to study at universities in the region is a business partnership that we propose with businesses operating in the host country.
For example, a student at Queensland University, wins a New Colombo Plan scholarship to study at the Fijian National University in engineering then say Newcrest operating in Fiji could offer them an internship, one or two days a week for the duration of the scholarship. Or more pertinently, a student studying finance in Fiji could get a job for the ANZ Bank and I’m delighted to confirm that the ANZ Bank has agreed to come on board, should we win government, to be a supporter of the New Colombo Plan, throughout the Asia Pacific. Thank you Mark.
So can you imagine, just dare to dream of an Australia where thousands and thousands of young people have lived and studied and worked in a country in our region. Learnt the language, understood the culture, got to know the people, formed friendships that will no doubt last for life and come back to Australia, with their new skills, new perspectives, new insights and new ideas. Not only will they be contributing to the productivity and prosperity of our nation, they will be part of a deeper and broader and more diversified engagement with countries in our region.
I hope that I’ve given you some indication this evening of how a Coalition Government would seek to engage, not only with Fiji, but with our region, the Pacific, in Asia, and the Indian Ocean.
I want to pay tribute to the Australia-Fiji Business Council and its counterparts in Fiji for arranging this event. I think it’s a real milestone.
I hope that when you leave, after this forum is over, you will go away firm in the knowledge, as I truly believe, that the best days of the Australia-Fiji relationship lie ahead of us.

Republished from Graham Davis's Grubsheet. 

Monday, July 29, 2013

Ratu Inoke's 'Candid' Talk to the Australia-Fiji Business Council

Fiji's Foreign Minister's candid speech on asylum seekers and other Australian policies affecting Pacific Islanders; on its policies on Fiji UN Peacekeepers, loans from the World Bank and ADB, on travel bans; on friendship between Australians and Fijians; on Fiji's insistence to be treated equally,  and on the Melanesian Spearhead Group,  Fiji's new international alliances, including the new Pacific Islands Development Forum whose inaugural meeting starts next week.
Photo: Senator Thistlethwaite, Ratu Inoke Kubuabola, FABC President Kalpesh Solanki..
Click here for the briefer FijiVillage report.
Better still, read the full speech.

Minister for Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation SPEECH
20th Australia Fiji Business Forum, July 28-30, 2013. Monday 29 July, 2013.

The Honourable Matt Thistlethwaite, Parliamentary Secretary for Pacific Island Affairs

The Honourable Julie Bishop, Deputy Leader of the Opposition and Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade

The President of the Australia-Fiji Business Council, Mr. Greg Pawson

Members of the Australia-Fiji and Fiji-Australia Business Councils

Distinguished Guests

Ladies and Gentlemen

Ni Sa Bula Vinaka and Good Morning.

At the outset, please allow me to acknowledge the traditional owners of the land on which we meet today and pay respects to their elders, both past and present.

I’m delighted – as Fiji’s Foreign Minister - to be here today for this important gathering of those of you who drive the economic links between our two countries and contribute so much to our prosperity. It’s especially pleasing to see the Australian Government represented here at a senior level by the Pacific Islands Minister, Senator Thistlethwaite. Relations between Australia and its Pacific neighbours are at a critical juncture and we have much to discuss While Senator Thistlethwaite is relatively new to his portfolio, I am sure he has a keen understanding of the issues we face and I look forward to continuing our constructive and friendly engagement. 

Ladies and Gentlemen, the ties that bind Australia and Fiji are clearly greater than the issues that sometimes divide us. Our people are genuinely fond of each other and nothing is more important to Fiji than continuing to welcome the hundreds of thousands of Australians who visit our shores every year.

As you all know, there are also tens of thousands of Fijians living in this country, adding the richness of their culture to the great multi-cultural melting pot that is modern Australia.

Certain Fijians are even enriching the life of Senator Thistlewaite, who’s a keen supporter of the South Sydney Rabbitohs in the National Rugby League. I think I can confidently say that without Apisai Koroisau, the Fijian hooker for the Rabbitohs and the other Pacific players at the club, the Senator’s weekends wouldn’t be quite so enjoyable.

Of course, there are Fijian players throughout the NRL, as well as in the Kangaroos and Wallabies. I’m sometimes amused at the way your sports commentators mangle the pronunciation of their names but there’s no doubting the affection in which they’re held by the fans. Or the way in which Australia’s international sporting reputation so often depends on them.

The point is that our relationship runs very deep – certainly way beyond our business ties – and, person-to-person, is overwhelmingly one of mutual affection. As our Prime Minister said in an interview with the New Zealand media on Friday, “Fijians love Australians. Always have, always will”. We are neighbours and we are friends, which also means that we have our differences from time to time and also need to treat these with openness and candour. Which brings me to being candid this morning about some aspects of our relationship that we feel need addressing.

As you will have gathered from the Prime Minister’s comments on Friday, the Fijian Government is decidedly less than happy about Australia’s plan to move asylum seekers seeking to settle in Australia into Melanesia - into our neighbourhood. 

For an Australian problem, you have proposed a Melanesian solution that threatens to destabilise the already delicate social and economic balances in our societies.

The Australian Government has used its economic muscle to persuade one of our Melanesian governments to accept thousands of people who are not Pacific Islanders, a great number of them permanently.

This was done to solve a domestic political problem - and for short-term political gain - without proper consideration of the long-term consequences.

This was done without any consultation, a sudden and unilateral announcement, which is not the Pacific Way and has shocked a great many people in the region. 

Why – you may ask - is this any of Fiji’s business? This was a deal with Papua New Guinea, a sovereign government surely entitled to make its own arrangements.

Well, we regard it as our business because we see ourselves as part of a wider Melanesian community through the Melanesian Spearhead Group.

We are striving for more cohesion, more integration in the MSG, including the formation of a Melanesian Common Market with a free flow of goods, services and labour.

This deal – and those mooted with Solomon Islands and Vanuatu – clearly threatens our interests by altering the fundamental social fabric of any member country that accepts a deal with Australia.

We are deeply troubled by the consequent threat to the stability of these countries – and the wider Melanesian community – by the scale of what is being envisaged.

Indeed, we are alarmed to read some of the accounts of what is evidently being canvassed in Australian policy circles.

In the words of the respected Foreign Editor of The Australian newspaper, Greg Sheridan, Quote: “Imagine what the South Pacific would be like in five or six years' time if there were 50,000 resettled refugees in PNG, and perhaps 10,000 in Vanuatu, 5000 in Solomon Islands and a few thousands elsewhere in the Pacific.

These refugees would be Iranians, Iraqis, Afghans, Pakistanis, Palestinians, perhaps some Sudanese and Somalis, and most of them getting some Australian financial support.

This population would constitute a recipe for social instability and a significant security problem for the region ”. Unquote.

Very similar sentiments have been expressed by Indonesia, the Salvation Army and a growing number of Australian interest groups. The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner on Refugees has warned that settling subsidized asylum-seekers in PNG under the deal could spark local resentment among a population already suffering significant disadvantage, thus leading to instability. History has shown us that such instability will have far reaching ripple effects for not only PNG but the rest of the region. As business people you are well aware of the potential for the negative spillover effect of this Australian Government policy throughout the region, given that our Pacific economies are inextricably connected.

So Ladies and Gentlemen, it IS our business and before this goes any further, we want thorough regional consultation. We want – no, we demand - to have our voices heard. 

It is not our concern who wins the coming Australian election. That is a matter for the Australian people. But we are deeply concerned about the impact of Australian politics on our own affairs. 

We are deeply concerned about the impact of Australian politics on the welfare of future generations of Pacific People. As Pacific Islanders, we share the horror of many in the international community at the deaths of more than one thousand asylum seekers trying to reach Australia. It is a terrible human tragedy and our hearts go out to the families of those involved. But we cannot remain silent when the current Australian Government dumps this problem – which is arguably of its own making – on our doorstep. Regrettably, from Fiji’s perspective, this deal continues a pattern of behavior on the part of the Australian Government that is inconsiderate, prescriptive, highhanded and arrogant. Instead of treating the Pacific nations as equals, your decision-makers too often ignore our interests and concerns and take it for granted that we will accede to their wishes and demands.

Australia is a vast landmass with vast resources and is thus much better placed than the small and vulnerable nations of the Pacific to address this problem. The question must be asked as to why Australia did not engage with the other Forum members before it embarked on its latest Pacific Solution for unwanted asylum seekers? From where we sit, we suspect the answer is that the Australian Government doesn’t particularly care what we think. Fiji therefore appeals to the current Australian Government to face up to the responsibilities to your neighbours.

Ladies and Gentlemen, the nature of the schism between Fiji and Australia over the events of 2006 is well known and doesn’t warrant elaborate detail here.

But we remain deeply disappointed that instead of constructive engagement, Australia chose to punish Fiji for finally addressing the deep divisions in our society, the lack of equality and genuine democracy and the corruption that was destroying our country from within.

Our doors were always open to you but you chose not to enter.

Next month, we will unveil a new Constitution that guarantees, for the first time, political, economic and social rights for all Fijians, including access to basic services. Next year, we will have the first genuine democracy in Fiji’s history of one person, one vote, one value. And the legal enforcement of our people to vote along racial lines will finally be a thing of the past. 

We imagined – perhaps naively – that our bigger neighbours – Australia and New Zealand - might at least try to understand what we were trying to achieve. But they turned their backs on us and set about trying to damage the country in the hope that they would destroy our reformist government.

It is not easy to forget Australia’s efforts at the United Nations to bring an end to our three-decade long commitment to UN peacekeeping. It is not easy to forget the Australian Government’s action in severing our access to loans from the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank. It is not easy to forget the travel bans that are still in place and have led to inconvenience and heartbreak and deprived us of the ability to attract the best people to run our government departments and even serve on the boards of our public enterprises and utilities.

Even now, Australia has refused a visa for our Minister for Trade and Industry to attend this gathering. So the Minister who can most assist you all in your efforts to expand that trade cannot be present in this room.

This is an unconscionable impediment to free trade, just as it was unconscionable for Australia to ban entry to the former head of our national airline, an American citizen punished for assuming the job of Chairman of Tourism Fiji while he pursued the interests of an airline part owned by Qantas.

When Australia stops trying to damage Fiji – which it is still doing – only then can we can begin to rebuild the political relationship, including the restoration of full diplomatic ties. But it will be a different relationship. The events of the past seven years have made it so.

When it comes to global and regional politics, we have taken a different path and forged new relationships with countries that proved to be more understanding and less prescriptive, who understood what we were doing rather than telling us what to do. 

Fiji no longer looks to just Australia and New Zealand as our natural allies and protectors, we look to the World. Jolted from our complacency by the doors that were slammed in our faces, we looked North – to the great powers of Asia, especially China, India and Indonesia and more recently to Russia. We looked South, to the vast array of nations, big and small, that make up the developing world and we currently chair the G77, the biggest voting bloc at the United Nations. And we looked to our Melanesian neighbours, to forge closer ties with them and use our collective strength to make our voices heard in global forums and secure better trading deals for us all.

So while whoever wins the Fijian election next year will doubtless find a more accommodating attitude in Canberra, on the Fijian side our attitudes have changed irrevocably. We are keen to rebuild the relationship but not on the same basis. We want mutual understanding and respect and to be regarded as equals, just as we pursue all of our international relationships under our overarching policy to be “friends to all”.

And so, Ladies and Gentleman, Fiji renews its call today for the Australian Government to engage more constructively with it and with the other Melanesian countries, all of whom – to a greater or lesser extent – share our view that current Australian attitudes leave a lot to be desired.

It is, in turn, fuelling a growing belief that the current frameworks for regional cooperation are not serving our needs. In Fiji’s case, our continuing suspension from the Pacific Forum has convinced us that Australia and New Zealand have a disproportionate influence over its affairs that is clearly to our detriment and sometimes the detriment of our neighbours.

So Fiji wants to rearrange the furniture with a regional body that more properly reflects the concerns of Pacific island nations.

Next week in Nadi, Fiji is hosting the inaugural Pacific Islands Development Forum. 23 Pacific countries will be attending, as well as 10 countries with observer status. At this meeting, Australia and New Zealand will be observers, not members. And the island countries will be able to discuss their own challenges and formulate their own solutions free from outside interference and the prescription of their larger neighbours.

When it comes to our bilateral trade relationship, Ladies and Gentlemen, of course, Australia is still Fiji’s biggest partner and our healthy trading relationship continues. You will hear in greater detail about the challenges and opportunities from Mr. Shaheen Ali, our Permanent Secretary for Trade and Industry, Mr. Truman Bradley, Chairman of Investment Fiji and Mr. Inia Nayasi, Deputy Governor of the Reserve of Fiji, later on in the Forum, not only about our political reforms but our increasingly healthy trading environment, of the lowest corporate and personal taxes in the region, large incentives for investment and significant improvements in infrastructure such as roads, ports and telecommunications.

Fiji remains open for business, as the theme for the 20th Australia-Fiji Business Forum and Trade Expo states and I encourage you all to seize the opportunities that our reforms in Fiji are producing.

As a Government, we believe in creating a conducive environment for trade, investment and business. We are convinced that the best way to raise living standards is to create and sustain jobs. That means a strong collaboration between the public and private sectors and a strong collaboration between workers and businesses.

In conclusion, I wish to leave you with the following considerations:

  • The Government of Fiji urges the Government of Australia to take cognizance of the effect of its domestic policies on its Pacific neighbours and work towards an alternative asylum-seeker solution.
  • Bilateral relations between Fiji and Australia at the political level can only ever be restored on an equal footing, with mutual respect for sovereignty
  • In spite of our political differences, the Government of Fiji remains committed to facilitating and encouraging Australian businesses to reach their fullest potential in Fiji. As we keep saying, we are building a new and better Fiji and that means new and better opportunities for the business community flowing from our reform programs.

Fiji is indeed open and always ready for business!

Thank you for the invitation to address you and I wish you well in your deliberations. Vinaka vakalevu

Saturday, July 27, 2013

We, the People of Fiji

                          By Jioji Kotobalavu*

A constitution cannot be presumed to be the sourc of its own political legitimacy and legal validity”

Like the 1997 Constitution, the government's draft constitution opens with the proclamation that "We, the people of Fiji ... hereby establish this Constitution for the Republic of Fiji". This declaration is of public interest because it infers the people's participation in the preparation of the constitution and that they are in general agreement with its provisions on how we are to be governed as a state. In other words, it is a constitution made and owned by the people of Fiji.

People as source of authorityThis declaration is important, too, for a closely related reason. As stipulated in article 21 of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the will of the people shall be the basis of the authority of government.

A constitution sets the legal framework for the institutions and the distribution of powers, and the general rules and procedures, under which citizens in a state are to be governed. It provides constitutional protection for the basic rights and freedoms of every individual citizen. It lays down the values and principles to guide the formation and conduct of government in the best interests of all the people, and a national code of conduct which shall apply to all state and public office holders.

But an important point to note is that a constitution cannot be presumed to be the source of its own political legitimacy and legal validity. Anyone who has studied jurisprudence knows that where the rule of law and a genuine commitment to democracy prevail this has to come from an external source. It comes from where the political sovereignty of the state resides: the people. It is derived from the collective will of the people as expressed through their free and unfettered participation in the constitution-making process and their general consent to the outcome as embodied in the final text of the constitution.

Ensuring people's confidence in the ConstitutionThere is a third consideration that needs to be taken into account when evaluating and assessing the suitability and utility of a constitution in appropriately addressing the aspirations of the people. The people's immediate concerns are about their day to day survival, good education and secure jobs for their children, the security of their person and property, their human rights and fundamental freedoms as individual citizens, and their right and interests as individuals and communities to live their lives in accordance with their religious belief, culture, customs and traditions.

For the people, the test of a good constitution is whether it gives them the confidence that the machinery of government and public services, constitutional protections, and standards of personal and professional integrity and probity for national leadership, it provides will enable those entrusted with the constitution's implementation to deliver on their expectations. For this, it is crucially important that the people should be given a feedback by government that their submissions have been taken fairly into account along with an undertaking that they will have an opportunity to freely signify their general acceptance of the final proposed constitution.

Role of Government
No country in the world can claim that it has a perfect constitution. And no sensible person can insist that the unanimous support of the people should be a precondition for the legitimacy of a constitution. As another reality, we have to accept that in the absence of a parliament, the government of the day has to perform the lead and final role in the preparation and promulgation of the constitution. Not to do so would be an abnegation of its public duty and its own undertaking to return Fiji to constitutional democracy. The Ghai-Commission came within this prerogative but not outside it as some people seemed to have misconceived.

The government is to be commended for drawing from many of the Ghai-Commission's recommendations in preparing its draft constitution, for consulting directly with the people on this draft, and for its assurances that this was still work in progress and that people's submissions are being considered. Nevertheless, we come back to the point already made that the minimum requirement for the constitution's legitimacy and validity is the involvement and contribution of the people in the public consultations process to the maximum extent possible.

Learning from the pastHere, a pertinent question to consider is: what can we learn from the procedures followed in the preparation and promulgation of the 1997 Constitution and the political consequences as manifested in the results of the 1999 General Elections, the first elections under this Constitution.

The people were directly involved through their submissions in public consultations conducted country-wide by the independent Reeves Commission. The final draft of the 1997 Constitution and its promulgation were then left to government and parliament. In this, Parliament was assisted by a joint parliamentary committee of government and opposition representatives, led by prime minister Sitiveni Rabuka and leader of the opposition Jai Ram Reddy.

On hindsight, perhaps the most important lesson we can learn from the 1997 constitution-making process was that in the eyes of many people the democratic process followed was still incomplete in that there was no public referendum to give the people a final and direct say in the constitution that was promulgated in their name. The consequence was that the 1999 General Elections were easily exploited by the less scrupulous of the competing parties to stoke up public misgivings about the 1997 Constitution as political expediency to capture seats away from the two main sitting parties. They succeeded and the result: both the two principal architects of the 1997 Constitution and their political parties were decisively defeated. And the very sad irony of this was that Mr Rabuka and Mr Reddy were the two best political leaders at the time to implement the 1997 Constitution and its vision of a united Fiji to be facilitated through a multi-party government.

Merits of public referendum
So, if we are to learn from our political past, the people should see merit in encouraging the government to submit its final draft to a public referendum for approval even through a simple absolute majority affirmative vote of 50 per cent plus one of the votes validly cast.

Such a democratic approach to the finalization and promulgation of the new constitution will yield the following positive outcomes, both for the government and the country as a whole.

Firstly, it legitimizes and validates the new constitution as the successor to the 1997 Constitution.

Secondly, it renders a positive public indication of majority popular acquiescence in the authority of the government. This in turn should open the way for those overseas governments that currently regard the government only as a de facto entity to elevate their recognition to full de jure status, and along with that, Fiji's re-admission to the Pacific Islands Forum and the Commonwealth.

Thirdly, it should facilitate the holding of the 2014 General Elections by helping to create the environment of goodwill necessary for the people to freely choose the political leader and party who in their view offer the best prospects of honest, responsible and benevolent government for all Fijians.

* Jioji Kotobalavu is a retired public service permanent secretary/CEO in the Prime Minister's Office where he served under four of Fiji's prime ministers since independence in 1970. He is a Master of Arts graduate from Auckland University and he studied international law and diplomacy at Oxford University.

Lockington's Everyday Fiji ... Life Goes On


How many more people like Chen Guoming are in Fiji, and how many hope to find refuge in the Pacific Islands?  All of the Pacific Island governments have to work together to keep these scoundrels away. We have our own problems and we don't need any more. They will probably be loaded with money made from drug sales and hope to launder it in the Pacific. It is my belief that this kind of people will come to the Pacific because they think that we have a laid back life style.

Border control agencies will have to lift their vigilance to another notch to be able to identify and catch them.

And we may need to re-look at the laws governing new crimes, because criminals could be scouring the laws of Pacific Island countries and find that they could get away with their type of crime.

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, July 26, 2013

News and Comments Friday 26 July 2013

WEEKEND READING  Allen Lockington Column  Jioji Kotobalavu on constitutions

'THE ETHNIC COMPOSITON OF THE RFMF.' Please read, and add to the comments, on this earlier posting shown under the RFMF crest.

FLYING THE MSG FLAG.  Fiji will soon fly rhe Melanesian Spearhead Group flag alongside the Fiji flag at its overseas missions. It is  understood other MSG countries will follow Fiji's lead. The move is expected to strengthen the group’s presence worldwide.

FIJI WILL ACT IN ITS OWN INTERESTS. Fiji will act on its own interest and not of those who impose their will on us, says PM Bainimarama. Addressing Head of Missions, the head of the Fijian Government said “the days of us being dictated to by outsiders are over.” He said the expansion of the country’s diplomacy in the past five years is testament to the growing influence and diverse interests in a dynamic and evolving global landscape. “Fiji is becoming a cohesive, unified force that is truly independent. We are taking charge of our own destiny and carving out our own niche in the world. We don’t see ourselves as beholden to anyone,” Bainimarama said. He said Fiji demonstrated its leadership credentials in the region and to the world. “We have shown that the strength of our leadership is in our ability to form solidarity and unity among fellow nations. As a result, our international standing has never been higher. “Fiji has emerged as one of the world’s most dynamic countries in delivering ICT services and infrastructure to our people, presenting our reforms in a number of international conferences.” Within the region, he says Fiji is restructuring the landscape of the Pacific together with its neighbours to better suit the needs, demands and aspirations of the people. 

SUGAR STRIKE ON OR OFF?  With the announcement that over 2,000 sugar workers are to receive a 5.3% pay rise, equal access to health insurance, access to a special welfare fund,and the resumption of overtime rates, one might think the strike called by union secretary Felix Anthony would be called off.  But this may not be the case.

FSC CEO Abdul Khan said, “When I took this post, FSC was in bad shap. People were saying the sugar industry was dead and our workers were demoralized. Now, two and a half years later, FSC is in financial good health, the staff is motivated and full of confidence, and everyone is sharing the benefits of our success [thanks to] the financial reforms instituted by the Bainimarama Government and the hard  work being done by everyone to make FSC a more efficient and financially healthy. Everyone is pulling in the same direction.” The future of the mills and mill workers, however, depend on a good and constructive industrial relationship between the Fiji Sugar Corporation and mill workers.

While the FSC will not comment on the proposed strike action planned by the Fiji Sugar and General Workers Union,  Khan says their priority is to always look after their employees, and that FSC can only award a wage increase after looking at its budget and ensuring that it’s financially viable to do so.

FIJI HAS LOWEST ELECTRICITY TARIFFS IN PACIFIC. In the 2013 budget, the PM announced a 5% reduction in electricity tariffs which resulted in  Fiji having  the lowest tariff rate in the entire Pacific region.

Now, the FEA has  announced a $75.3 profit after tax for 2012 which profit equates to a Return on Shareholder Funds (ROSF) of positive 13.6%. This excellent result is attributed to the performance of the Monasavu Hydo Scheme, the commissioning of the Nadarivatu Hydro Project, stringent measures implemented to control operational expenditure. but most of all to an income tax benefit of $13.5m as a result of the 40% fuel allowance for the Nadarivatu Hydro Scheme. Had this allowance not been approved, FEA would have recorded an income tax expense of $12.4m in 2012 and this would have resulted in a profit after tax of $49.4m.

Fuel cost the Authority  $105.1m in 2012, equating to 35% of its total revenue. The FEA also  incurred an estimated cost of around $25m in non-commercial obligation  costs by reaching out to interior areas of Vanua Levu and Ovalau.  FEA has a target to be 90% reliant on renewable energy by 2015 and the Authority’s current renewable energy consumption ranges between 60-70%.

HOTEL DEVELOPMENTS. Some 69 new hotel developments were
recorded between  2010 and 2012

Social Media and the Elections

FIJI: Social media on the rise before upcoming election

Social media is predicted to influence the 2014 Fiji election. Image: Fiji Sun
Thursday, July 25, 2013
Item: 8365
Rosi Doviverata
SUVA (Pacific Media Watch / Fiji Sun): For the first time in Fijian elections, the use of social media will be on overdrive as polling day next year draws nearer.
Political parties have no choice but to channel time and efforts to ensure such a platform is catered for.
This is simply because the sought after youth vote belongs, in part, to those who visit and spend hours browsing the World Wide Web.
The majority of Fiji’s population do not use social media, but while the numbers may be small, getting votes through social media will definitely be a factor for the parties, according to the Fiji Sun.
The US Presidential elections last year was won by Barack Obama because he won the social media battle. At least that is what commentators said. So what will parties do? 
People’s Democratic Party (PDP) spokesman Nirmal Singh said to engage the younger generation, PDP will use the social media as a platform. The party already has a Facebook forum with 419 members.

Facebook presence
The Social Democratic Liberal Party (SODELPA) youth wing also hosts a Facebook forum
Similar to the PDP, those who wish to be part of the forum will need approval from one of the three administrators of the group.
At the time of writing, there was a total of 608 members of the SODELPA youth wing Facebook page.
The Fiji Labour Party’s Facebook page has attracted 120 members.
Fiji Democratic Forum has 1127 members. Administrator and moderator, Pita Tuiloma, said he created the forum to address pressing issues that affect regional and national issues.
“The main idea is to allow people in Fiji to understand their fundamental human rights which we are party to and to create awareness of pressing issues domestically particularly our political situation.”
“More importantly to get a wider perspective from Fijians around the globe on what they think would be best for Fiji,” Tuiloma said.

Generate discussions
The Masters of Diplomacy student at the University of the South Pacific said the idea was to generate discussions on social issues.
He explained that 70 to 80 per cent of Fiji Democratic Forum members reside abroad.
“These are the ones who are proactive in commenting and posting on the current situation in Fiji.”
“Majority of these are pro-regime in my analysis and are well educated in their field of discussions,” Tuiloma told the Fiji Sun.
Tuiloma works hard to make sure that only issues and facts are posted on the forum. He therefore censors and removes people who are deemed to be racists, sexist and contradict moral ethics.
Moderation does not apply to those running anonymous blog sites. Most are hosted overseas.
The popular ones include Coupfourpointfive, Fiji Today and Fiji Democracy Now. But their credibility is compromised by their lack of transparency, accuracy and often openly racist views on them.
What impact will social media have on the 2014 vote? The polls are still very unclear on that one. But political parties will, for sure, for the first time be factoring social media into their campaigns.
Rosi Doviverata is a Fiji Sun journalist and a graduate of the University of the South Pacific.

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Saturday, July 20, 2013

Lockington's Everyday Fiji ... Life Goes On

            Good Investment

Since buying a sugar cane farm in 2010, this year has been the best for an investor farmer from NZ.

Faiyaz Khan, an ASP of Prisons in NZ and my former Customs work mate, said the best thing he did was invest some of his savings in Fiji which is holiday money for him and his family and helps the poor of the area by providing work and at the same time helps the sugar industry.

Faiyaz said that he would like to thank the Government, the Cane Growers council and FSC for all this and he is ready to invest more in the sugar

industry. He will be harvesting 300 tons this year but wants to expand to 600 in the next few years. He  advises farmers to make the most of this good price which the government is paying.

                    Dirty Money

How interesting is the following report on Dirty Money. "An estimated $200 to $300million in dirty money has been circulating in the country for the past three years, the Fiji Revenue and Customs Authority revealed. This, the authority says is dirty money generated through money laundering, tax evasion and the underground economy." And this is going to increase.

We are still a developing country, yet what is happening in the developed countries is with us now. Its amazing that people have unexplained wealth in their bank accounts. Is this to do with foreign investors who come in with good papers but deep dark secrets?

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, July 17, 2013

News and Comments Wednesday 17 July 2013

ANOTHER COUP4.5 OGRE STORY. Coup4.5 is at it again mischievously "interpreting" news events to put their own spin on what is supposed to be happening, based on the most slender of evidence, and Michael Field is worse for repeating these dubious stories. As a professional journalist he needs to distinguish carefully between his outbursts on Facebook and his responsibilities to Fairfax NZ. 

This time the heading reads "Fiji regime bullies Fiji TV into appointing media censor 'news manager.' Click  here for full report.  The "evidence",they say,  is based on "monitoring posts and speaking to our sources" and is based on two threads: the dismissal a month ago of a TV sports announcer and the return from Beijing  of  Major Neumi Leweni.  Put these two unconnected events together with rumours that Fiji TV is about to undertake major organizational changes and  Coup4.5 has its story.   It is evident, they claim, that "the regime is firmly on a path to making the station another puppet, just like the Fiji Sun and Fiji Broadcasting Commission."  The anticipated path will see a "purge of Fiji TV personnel" and  their replacement with staff  headed by Major Leweni.

The story is a complete concoction. Fiji TV has just had its licence renewed for six months at the company's request while it undergoes a restructure. And there is no suggestion of Leweni going anywhere near the place. He doesn't know anything about running a newsroom and the whole notion is laughable.

My take on the story is that it is yet another exercise in Coup 4.5 (and Michael Field) mischief  designed to trigger alarm and dissent.  But I could be wrong.  Coup4.5 says: "We have established that Fareed told Patel that if Fiji TV wants its licence to be permanent instead of the current 6 month extension, then Leweni must be appointed news manager."  The validity or otherwise of the story will be evident if Leweni is or is not appointed news manager. Watch this space.

VILLAGE DEMARCATION LOOKS AT FUTURE PLANS.Government will soon demarcate boundaries in i-Taukei villages to deter land disputes and allow for better future planning. Government has committed close to $348,566 to the project to ensure that all villages in Fiji are demarcated and gazetted as full i-Taukei villages by 2016. The Ministry of i-Taukei Affairs permanent secretary Mr Savenaca Kaunisela said the work was being done in order of provinces with three provinces in the Northern Division already completing this process.

“It has been taken for granted over the years that, this is an i-Taukei boundary and the elders decided that the boundary is from here to there but when the idea of village bi-laws came in it could be easily challenged through the law,” Mr Kaunisela said.

Mr Kaunisela said thorough consultation processes are carried out with all villages in order to explain the reasons behind the land demarcation. “When we go into the villages we sit with them for about an hour and explain the work we are doing and why we are doing it,” Mr Kaunisela said. Mr Kaunisela added the talanoa sessions enable the villagers to think about future developments and amenities such as footpaths, reticulation systems and sewerage before the boundaries are drawn up.

He said in past, houses in villages were built in an ad-hoc manner but through the demarcation process, villagers  are now advised to have a systematic way of building within boundaries. The project has received a further boost with a separate budgetary allocation of $100,000 for the demarcation of un-surveyed land; while $148,586 has been provided for demarcation of village boundaries.

Divisional commissioners play an important role in formalising the demarcation process through witnessing the signing of a declaration forms by village elders on the agreed boundary. “We bring this (form) and present it to the i-Taukei Board where they formally declare, that the village has officially fully become an i-Taukei village and is then gazetted in the official gazette,” Mr Kaunisela added. We prepare what we call the Registrar of i-Taukei villages, something like the Registrar of i-Taukei lands so we do the RTL and the RTV as well.” The Ministry is currently working on demarcating villages in Kadavu. -- MOI.

FLP TEMPORARILY SUSPENDED. The Fiji Labour Party has been temporarily suspended for failing to comply with a key financial requirement of the Political Parties Registration Decree.

ADVERTISING COSTS COMPLAINT. The Commerce Commission is expected to make a decision today on the official complaint of the three political parties regarding the advertising cost of the declaration of their assets and liabilities.

SODELPA SEARCH FOR LEADER. The Social Democratic Liberal Party expects to gather the list of names of nominees for the new party leader from the four divisions by the end of next month. Former PM, Laisenia Qarase will be on the selection committee but he cannot become the leader because under the Political Parties Decree, a person is disqualified from being an office holder of a political party if that person, has in the five years preceding the date when he or she applies to be an office holder, been convicted of an offence and sentenced to imprisonment for a period of not less than six months. 

BA TOWN SPECIAL ADMINISTRATOR Arun Prasad has been sacked following allegations of corrupt practices. Mr Prasad ha denied the charges.

STRIKE COULD CRIPPLE SUGAR INDUSTRY. Radio Australia reports sugar industry expert Dr Padma Lal as saying the proposed strike by Felix Anthony's Sugar and General Workers Union, prompted by the mill workers not having had a wage increase for seven years,  could cripple the industry, timed as it is right in the middle of the crushing season.  Lal says  government could take the approach that  'This is an important industry and we can't actually be hostage to unions also... not be dictated to by people outside... who may not be seen to have the interest of the country at heart."

Anthony is a long-time Government opponent and not the easiest of people to deal with, but it is hoped Government will handle the issue with more wisdom than it has earlier union issues. And seven years is a long time to go with no wage increase. 

NZ NOT TO PRISSY CLEAN. "The (NZ) Law Society has just issued a report that makes this country sound distinctively Albanian in its trajectory.  In the society's assessment, our Parliament has just passed five laws that remove the courts' constitutional role of judicial review, three giving the Cabinet unjustifiable powers, three that give rise to serious human rights  concerns and five laws that the government's own Attorney-General, Christopher Finlayson QC, refused to give a tick to under the Bill of Rights." -- NZ  Listener, July 6-12, 2013,  p. 14.   In an unprecedented move, New Zealander of the Year,  Dame Anne Salmond, had this to say. Click here.