Monday, September 30, 2013

News and Comments Monday 30 September 2013

WALKING THE TALK: COMPARING THIS GOVERNMENT WITH PREVIOUS GOVERNMENTS. A well known Bua chief has praised recent Bainimarama Government work in the province. The Tui Nadi, Taukei kei Naitauba, Ratu Peni Rasigare said the development work had improved their way of life and that the Voreqe Bainimarama-led government should be supported in its work.

“This government walks the talk and delivers the best services to rural communities and urban as well,” he said. “As the 2014 elections approaches, my people and I will stand for the government of the day, not so much because of the initiative done by the Republic of Fiji Military Forces engineering team but because of the services delivered,” Ratu Peni said.

“We will vote for the government of the day because it is a non-racist government and they reach out to the grassroot level people to deliver their services,’’ Ratu Peni added. Ratu Peni said the new blueprint of the nation would steer the country to a bright and a stable future.

The past governments have done their bit for the people of Fiji but no government can be compared to the government of the day, says Ratu Peni. “Many changes have occurred regarding developments in the rural areas, we as ordinary Fijians are always neglected”.

NEW PROPOSED MINIMUM WAGE, Fiji’s poor wage rate has been blamed for the high level of poverty in the country. And many stakeholders who been lobbying for some years now for the establishment of a minimum wage rate have welcomed the new proposed rate.  Based on the findings of the National Minimum Wage Baseline Survey $2.32 an hour is now the proposed minimum wage.

Social Activist and a strong advocate of a proper rate Father Kevin Barr says the new proposed rate is a good start. “This is a transitional arrangement and I think it is a good start, I think it is excellent but hopefully it is not the final one. And as he(survey consultant) envisaged every two years – this will be re-visited and the formulas will be used again and perhaps strengthened a little bit.”

The Fiji Commerce and Employers Federation chief executive has also welcomed the announcement.
“We said that the minimum wage should take into fact the productivity levels of this country, the economy levels of this country and where we are at this stage and his (Dr Mahendra Reddy) survey did take this into account.”

However, all stakeholders have stressed that better monitoring mechanisms must be put in place to see that all employers comply with the proposed rate of two dollars thirty two cents.
Similar consultations will be held in the western and northern division to seek people’s views on the findings of the survey.

ALL ELECTION LAWS IN PLACE BY DECEMBER. The government will ensure that all elections related laws are in place by December this year. Acting Prime Minister Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum said two technical experts from New Zealand, two from Australia and two from the EU will also assist the Elections Office in working out all the logistics for the polls. Sayed-Khaiyum said they are targeting to have voting for a day and to have 3,000 polling stations around Fiji.


RABUKA'S VIEWS ON THE PARTY COALITION. The 1987 coup leader and later elected Prime Minister, thinks the idea of forming a coalition for the 2014 elections is practical and practicable. However, the mechanics must be properly thought out first, he said.

Recently at a National Federation Party meeting, Attar Singh, of the Fiji Islands Council of Trade Unions, had proposed to form a coalition in order to be in Government after next year’s elections.
The idea has been well received by the predominantly iTaukei party, the Social Democratic Liberal Party.While they will first listen to what their supporters want, general secretary Pio Tabaiwalu said they will be keeping their options open regarding a possible coalition.

Collective platform
Mr Rabuka said: “Before the parties form a coalition, there must be a collectively agreed platform which all the parties subscribe to, so that they keep their political party support from the voters.
“The platform must be for Fiji and NOT just to defeat Bainimarama’s group – that was the case in 1999 when the Nationalists, Veitokani ni Lewenivanua Vakarisito and others only wanted the Soqosoqo ni Vakavulewa ni Taukei defeated.
“The result?  Another winner – not of their choice, but one they had to quickly swallow their pride, change their colours and join for personal political expediency.”
Mr Rabuka was referring to politicians like Poseci Bune and Adi Koila Nailatikau.

Lessons from 1999
The coalition of the so-called ‘moderate’ parties including the National Federation Party, the United General Party and Mr Rabuka’s SVT party before the 1999 polls was a disaster.
Mr Rabuka said: “We could have formed a Multi Party Cabinet in 1997 and run with it to 1999 as a demonstration of our good will and confidence in the system contained in the new 1997 Constitution, and given us a better starting platform as a Coalition in the 1999 General Elections.
“When we did not do that, we should have had a better Constitution and Voters Education Programme from 1997 to the Elections in 1999.”
Failing to do the latter, Mr Rabuka said: “We should have fought the elections separately as two parties and joined forces after the elections in the multi-party cabinet which was mandatory anyway.”

Is the Fijian population ready for a coalition?
“Our politics is too bi-polar to form workable coalitions – race, urban, rural, employed, unemployed, Christian, non-Christian and sexual orientation polarise us into non-negotiable postures on national issues.
Mr Rabuka said this is something those in the 2014 poll race should be wary about – bipolarity in our socio-political ideologies.

To the registered parties
“Be objective and not destructive – promote what to do for Fiji rather than simply getting rid of Bainimarama and military expedition-ism in national politics.
“The latter must be evolved over time of stable political leadership,” Mr Rabuka said.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Biman Prasad: His Ideas are Always Worth Reading

Challenges for Principals of secondary schools and colleges in Fiji: Leadership, Integrity and Excellence


Professor Biman Prasad
Professor Economics
The University of the South Pacific

  1. Introduction
The President of Fiji Principals Association, School Principals, invited guests, ladies and gentlemen. I thank you for the invitation to address you on your conference theme on leadership, integrity and excellence. All three are very important attributes for the future of education and the well-being of our nation.

I feel very much honored to have been invited to the Principals conference. As a secondary school student, I had the privilege of studying under three very fine Principals: the late Valekuta Mateni, Mr. Setareki Delana and Mr. Amraiya Naidu. These three individuals showed great dedication, selflessness and passion for the welfare and development of students. They were role models for many of us. The way they led the school had a lasting and significant impact on the lives of many of us students. In fact, my dream when I was in secondary school was not only to become a teacher, but also a principal.

I did not have the opportunity to become a principal, but today I feel very proud that my brother, Anil Prasad, is a Principal of a secondary school.

The role of School Principals in fostering leadership, integrity and excellence in our school children, and the community at large, is vital. It cannot be underestimated or downplayed. I will expound on this theme later on. But first, let me say a few words about how we have fared since independence in 1970, including its implications for education.

As we all know, Fiji has been caught in a coup cycle since 1987. Economically, we have stagnated in the last 26 years as a result of four coups. This has resulted in an increase in poverty from a low of 7% in the 1970s, to an estimated current high of more than 40%. In other countries like India and China, poverty has generally declined. It shows Fiji is regressing while others, like Singapore and Mauritius for example, are forging ahead. These two latter countries are somewhat comparable to Fiji. At one time, Fiji outranked them in terms of growth indicators. Now Fiji is well behind both of them.

In the last 6 years, Fiji has gone through various challenges characterized by uncertainty and poor economic performance, although since 2011, the economy has shown some sustained improvements. We have reason to be cautiously optimistic. We now have a new Constitution in place. Government has outlined plans for elections before September 30, 2014. While the process of arriving at this Constitution may not have been the best, the fact is that we now have a Constitution which has been implemented. We need to move forward with urgency. We have a lot of catching up to do. We can’t afford any more coups. We need to ensure that we provide the leadership that builds on the positive aspects of the new Constitution. This is where the theme of your conference – leadership, integrity and excellence – could not have been more timely. As I mentioned before, these values not only relevant to your work in schools, but to the nation as a whole.

Earlier this year I talked about the status of teachers at the Fiji Teachers Union conference. I highlighted how teachers can provide leadership to promote democracy in our country. I revisit this crucial theme in my talk today before I talk about leadership.

  1. Democracy in the schools and classrooms
None of us as parents would want to send our children to a school where they cannot freely express themselves through debate and discussions. This would be counterproductive to their personal and professional development. I believe that our society dreams of democracy for its children. We want our children to grow up in a free, open, and transparent democratic framework.

This is not the least because creativity and innovation in education is best promoted through democratic teaching and learning. Indeed, it has been established through research over so many years that a creative person must have autonomy. He or she must be connected to the wider society, both locally and internationally, for ideas. He or she must develop a delicate balance between obedience and disobedience.
Therefore, the environment in which our children study can determine whether they become conformists, or creativists. Principals therefore have an important role in creating a school environment and moulding our students to be creative and equally crucially critically minded. Creativeness, innovativeness and critical thinking are the bedrock of success at the national and international levels. Principals must create the right environment in their schools to release our children’s creativity so that they, and their country, can flourish.

By creating such a school environment, we will avoid creating a ‘nation of sheep’. As Gandhi once said “Democracy is not a state in which people act like sheep. Under democracy individual liberty of opinion and action is jealously guarded”. School Principals and Teachers have an important responsibility in this regard to uphold academic freedom, to articulate different views, engage in free discourse, reason without rancor and debate important issues affecting the country and the world.
So what can Principals do to educate our children in democratic norms? For one, they can instill democratic values by having elections for school prefect. This will help students at an early age to understand the process of elections and of the value of choosing their own leaders. It will also teach accountability and transparency.

  1. Status of Principals
Let me now make some remarks on the status of Principals. The School environment is an important democratic space. Principals and teachers therefore play a crucial role in the cultivation of democratic imagination.

In Fiji we can safely say that as a country we have been able to continuously improve our educational objectives, policies, programmes, curricula, text books, and physical infrastructure. However, principals and teachers remain the single most important factor in determining the quality of teaching. The ability to attract highly motivated, skilled and committed individuals, and retaining them in the profession, is absolutely vital for improving the quality of education in the increasingly challenging global environment.

The retention of principals and teachers is linked to their economic status in that they need to be fairly rewarded for the important work they do. Principals as leaders have a significant responsibility in managing the finances, staff, students and facilities. Additionally, they are required to play and active community role. To attract good leaders, the government ought to review the Principals salaries to bring it to the level of responsibilities that Principals have in schools.

There are only175 secondary schools in Fiji. If we were to increase the salaries of Principals next year by $10,000 across the board, we would have raised the starting salary of the lowest level 4C principal’s salary to $38,304 and the starting salary of $49,529 for the highest level 1D Principal. The highest level Principals salary after a $10,000 increase would still amount to less than 25% of the salary of the highest paid permanent secretary as of now. The total extra budget that the Ministry would need to raise the Principals’ salary by $10,000 across the board would amount to $1.75 million. This is a small price to pay for the benefits that will be returned. This is a small, but wise, investment that will bring us good returns. I would urge the government and the Ministry of Education to look seriously into this matter.

Secondly, the social status of Principals is also important. All my three principals in the 1970s and 1980s had very high social status. Back then there was public recognition and acceptance of Principals as leaders and leading opinion makers in society. They were respected by students and communities alike as promoting moral and ethical standards in society. That status might be less evident today, and it may be because of the erosion of professional pride and professional commitment. It is also due to the deteriorating moral and ethical standards amongst some of our Principals.

The status of Principals and teachers has also been affected negatively in an environment of political instability and uncertainty. This has been the case since 1987, with no end in sight as yet. Many experienced Principals and teachers and school administrators had to leave the service abruptly to migrate as a result of the discrimination they perceived in the civil service. To make matters worse, the Bainimarama government implemented an ill-conceived retirement policy, which effectively shuts out productive and experienced Principals after the age of 55.

I am pleased to say that this policy, which was included in the draft Constitution, has now been removed and it is no longer part of the 2013 Constitution. However, government should immediately change its teacher retirement policy of 55 years to 60. It does not make any economic or educational sense to have a retirement age of only 55 in the civil service and least of all in the teaching profession where experience is vital. It is misguided that reducing the retirement age will help reduce unemployment and provide younger people more opportunities. All it will do is deny us the benefit of quality principals, teachers and administrators.

The public service in Fiji should not be considered as major generator of employment. Employment for young will be generated through better and sustained economic growth led by the private sector. The sooner government does away with the 55 retirement age policy in the civil service the better. In Papua New Guinea, the Public Service Commission is thinking of increasing the retirement age from 60 to 63.

  1. New Leadership in Schools
Let me now turn to leadership, integrity and excellence by highlighting that there is a difference between a leader and a manager. According to management expert, Peter Drucker “Management is doing things right; leadership is doing the right things” My view is that most Principals are good managers but I am not sure if they are also good leaders. Management is about operational issues, managing the day to day affairs but Leadership is about providing and having a vision to lead an organization. As you can see, the distinction is very important.

Once you define and articulate the vision for your schools you will need to build a team to take the organization forward. Leaders would not be able to do this if they have too much pride, greed, anger, hatred and an excess of ego. Good leaders have humility, integrity, self reflexivity and honesty at all times.
Integrity is vital for good leadership. What is integrity and how can we build that in our leadership? Gus Lee & Diane Elliott-Lee, in their book, “Courage: The Backbone of Leadership” define integrity as follows and I quote:

Integrity is acting for what is right. When we do this, we feel whole and uniquely powerful.” 

It is always important for Principals to differentiate between the right and wrong. As leaders, if we are not able to do that, than we would be sending a wrong signal to our students. Equally important is to cultivate not just a moral but an ethical sensibility.

When your colleagues and students; your school management and your community trust and respect you, it is because you as principals possess and embody certain admirable qualities that inspire them. These qualities include humility, understanding, and tolerance of others’ points of views rather than being dictatorial and unapproachable in your dealings with students. Any form of dictatorship in school leadership is not going to work in this day and age. Principals should be able to create an environment of collegial debate, allow different view-points amongst students and staff and nurture dissent and respectful disagreement to move towards innovation and excellence.

Some Principals complain about the lack of student, parent and community support. These principals have to question why. They must also look within. Could it be because of the failure of Principals to engage effectively with the parent and community? Principals should find innovative ways of engaging parents. It is not enough to have a parent-teachers meeting once in a year. Parents could be engaged at different levels. Principals could, for example, organise informal talks, discussions, social events and workshops at different form levels with teachers and parents. Parents could be involved in organizing sports events, debates, school bazaars, talents quests, gardening etc. Such collaborations can build and strengthen school-community ties. The community becomes part of the school.

Another dimension that is adding to the increasingly complex role of Principals is the increasing rate of urbanization. The future communities in our country and elsewhere around the world will be urban communities. While urbanization will bring with it new opportunities it will also present special challenges for education or children. With more freedom of choice and exposure externalities such as drug, truancy, crime and urban poverty, Principals will have an even bigger challenge to deal with these issues in schools.

Let me add innovation to your sub-theme of excellence. Innovation and excellence is what is going to define the success of our education system. It is excellence in what we do as a country will determine our place in the world. In this age of globalization we have to be competitive. We can only compete if we promote excellence in our people.

We can no longer rely solely on traditional social institutions such as families, churches and other religious and social institutions to inculcate the virtues of good leadership, ethics and integrity and excellence. In fact many religious organisations and leaders have failed miserably in the past to deal with issues of integrity, ethics and good leadership amongst their members, especially amongst youth. Since 1987, we have seen the ‘immorality of silence’ amongst many of the religious organisations and leaders.

Many of them allowed politicians and public officials to diminish the office they occupied by succumbing to their immoral, unethical leadership roles in our society. Many of these self-serving religious organisations leaders have a lot to explain when it comes to addressing the social and moral decline in our societies and in our children. Given the failure of many of these religious organisations and their leaders, I am convinced that the only effective social institutions that can promote the virtues of excellence are the schools. It is therefore vital that Principals understand this role and become role models for students. I urge you all to rethink your roles, go beyond the normal bureaucratic ministry of education laid rules in the school to build effective collaborative strategies with parents and the community to serve the students. As principals you can leave lasting legacies for our future generations.
I now turn to another subject in relation to excellence. In many countries excellence is actually measured against global rankings. Benchmarking and measuring against global standards is important for us as a country. The most widely used measure of excellence is based on the OECD introduced Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) in 2000. Creating an identity of excellence in our children and in our teachers can take us far. But too often we have concentrated our energy on other forms of identity – ethnic, religious, provincial and regional. What we should focus on is our children’s capacity to excel in positive endeavours and exploit this to the full.
The McKinsey 2007 report on “How the World’s best performing school systems come out on top” identified three issues in relation to high performing schools:
  1. The quality of an education system cannot exceed the quality of its teachers;
  2. The only way to improve outcomes is to improve instruction, and;
  3. Achieving universally high outcomes is only possible by putting in place mechanisms to ensure that schools deliver high quality instruction to every child
Additionally, in its 2010 report, “How the World’s Most Improved School Systems Keep Getting Better” it concluded that a system could become better, no matter what its starting point, given a sustained leadership and a focus on key interventions necessary for systematic improvement. This report highlights the important role of principals, who have to be not only managers, but also leaders.

As you are aware, our economy and our society are constantly influenced by the vagaries of global issues. No longer can countries and societies isolate themselves from international imperatives and needs. We have to therefore produce global citizens. We have to steer our student’s abilities and behaviour in a way that they are not only able to deal with their own cultural and national contexts, but they also develop skills and knowledge that will be applicable beyond their national boundaries.

Let me conclude by saying that in the last 13 years, several reforms have been implemented relating to the curriculum and assessment management of schools. Many of them were perhaps long overdue. It is important to import and adapt new systems that have been tried elsewhere. But we need to be mindful of the context and the readiness of our infrastructure to support changes.
  1. Time for another Education Commission in to Fiji’s Education System
The last Education Commission report on Fiji’s education system was done 13 years ago. Another inquiry is long overdue. It is now time for another Education Commission. The next Education Commission should be based on a detailed analysis of the outputs and outcomes that has been achieved through our education system in the last thirteen years. Fiji’s future economic and social progress will depend on the kind of excellence we can bring out from our educational systems. Fiji’s national productivity compared to many other similar countries is much lower partly because of lack of excellence in the educational system which has suffered due to coups and political instability.
  1. Concluding Comments
In conclusion, let me say that Fiji is again on the cusp of another critical juncture and that is the next general election. It should not matter much who wins the next election. What should and would matter is how those who win lead the country. Leadership based on greed, destructive envy, exclusivity, racial discrimination, lack of moral consciousness and leadership devoid of any ethical sensibility will not serve the country well. What we will need is leadership based on integrity, excellence and inclusiveness. Fiji’s misfortune over the last 27 years has been that democracy- whatever its shortcoming- was not allowed to function because of military coups. The democratic deficit is huge and will require leadership, excellence and integrity in all our institutions including our military to reduce that. One hopes that after the General Elections, we would have all learnt our lessons to strive towards sustaining democracy, rule of law through good leadership.
As Principals you are leading children who are mainly aged between 14 and 18. In twenty years’ time these children will between the ages of 34 and 38. They constitute a critical demographic bank as future voters. By then many of you would have retired. Imagine the legacy you can leave behind in terms of leadership qualities with these students if you do your part. When you look back from your rocking chairs, you will have reason to feel satisfied.
Students respect their principals a lot. Take it from me that they all look upon you as role models. Their expectation of you as a leader is that you will give them lasting influences that would help them develop their skills, knowledge, and cultivate attributes such as integrity, leadership and excellence. Their parents put great faith in you. They expect you to have the welfare of their boys and girls in your hearts. Do not let students, parents, and this country down.
I thank you all and I do hope that in the next two days you will have some serious discussions about your roles and we can improve the opportunities for good leadership not only in schools but build a foundation for excellence and integrity in leadership at the national level. I thank once again for the invitation and it is my pleasure to declare your conference open.

1 Keynote address delivered at the Fiji Principals Conference held on 25 September, 2013 at the Labasa Khastriya Hall.

Lockington's Everyday Fiji ... Life Goes On

Cane farmers near Nadi.  
Here is a suggestion

Next time a business/government delegation goes to China, the US or whatever country that's holding a business showcase, include a few farmers.

If the showcase is about vegetable farming, take a few vegetable farmers. If it's about dairy farming, take some dairy farmers, and if it's  about sugar, take a few cane farmers. Then there is fishing, poultry, beef , seafood and much more.

Take the people on the ground to visit the places with Government funding  everything. It will be a good investment. Civil servants often come back from these trips and sit  on their experiences and the very people who should be informed are left wanting.

I know these people on the ground will come back and take the news to their various rural areas and inform the people during religious gatherings and even grog sessions.

Taking all civil servants and rich businessmen is good, think of the consumer next time a government delegation goes.

The people selected need not even speak proper English as long as they know what they're doing farming. These are the unsung heroes of Fiji who have been keeping the agriculture sector alive.

Let me know if a delegation is going soon.  I have  huge network of farmers who I have been working with and I know the capable ones. We usually converse in my broken Hindi, but we get the message to and fro.   Anybody game?

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.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

PM Bainimarama Addresses UN General Assembly

Click here for the full address.

Fiji's interim Prime Minister, Frank Bainimarama, has used his address to the United Nations General Assembly in New York to defend the coup that gave his regime power.

Commodore Bainimarama led the military coup against the government of Laesenia Qarase in December 2006, and was appointed as interim prime minister in 2007.
He's told the UN prior to the coup, Fiji was struggling under 'elites' that sowed the seeds of division and undermined independent institutions.
He says the previous coups, in 1987 and 2000, were expressions of the dysfunction.
"Tens of thousands of Fijians suffered and many made the decision to leave their home forever, to leave Fiji," he said.
"This is one of the most shameful episodes of our history and I determined that this must never, never happen again.
"We must never allow a fellow citizen to be second class, to be less than an equal of his neighbour."
Commodore Bainimarama also used the address to recommit to elections next year.
He says with his country's new constitution, which came into law this month and replaces the charter scrapped by the military-backed regime in 2009, "our national compass has finally been reset".
"43 years and three constitutions later, we finally have a Constitution that is worthy of the Fijian people," he said.
"It is a Constitution that meets the test of a genuine democracy that upholds the legal and moral basis of a common and equal citizenry without denying anyone's individuality or culture."
Commodore Bainimarama also expressed disappointment that Fiji has lost some of its traditional partners in the wake of the coup.
He drew parallels between the coup in Fiji and the US civil war, the French Revolution and Australia's Eureka Stockade.
"Regrettably, and to our great disappointment, some of these oldest friends had no faith in us," he said.
"They abandoned us and sought to punish us with sanctions - we sought their assistance and understanding, but they turned their backs on us.
"They chose to support a form of democracy, governance and justice in Fiji that they would never have accepted for themselves."

International role

Commodore Bainimarama says the isolation from their traditional friends has led Fiji to seek more independence and a stronger international standing.
He highlighted Fiji's role as chair of the G77+China and its position on the UN's Decolonisation Committee.
Commodore Bainimarama also pointed to the deployment of 500 peacekeepers to the Golan Heights this year.
"Fiji's commitment to UN peacekeeping remains unwavering," he said.
"It is a source of great pride that for a nation of our size, we are able to make a meaningful and significant contribution.
"For the last three decades, we have always responded to the call of the UN to serve, including in the most difficult circumstances around the world."
Commodore Bainimarama also pointed to his country's achievements in improving access to telecommunications.
And he's called on the UN members to follow through on commitments to sustainable development for small island states, and sustainable management of the oceans.

Source:  This account by ABC

Good Morning. Attached is the amended version of the Prime Minister’s address delivered this morning (Fiji Time) at the 68th session of the United Nations’ General Assembly Debate in New York.
To access the video of his statement delivered in New York, please visit to access this.
For more information, photos and other media materials related to this event, please visit Government’s page at or the Ministry’s Facebook page at

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

ROUNDUP FOR Wednesday 25 September 2013

"Look North Policy." I don't know what to make of Government's reach into the Middle East, with the PM meeting the Iranian President and Ambassador Robin Nair meeting the Emir or Ajman, one of the seven emirates that make up the United Arab Emirates, but if they keep going, I'm sure the USA and Fiji's former traditional allies will experience mounting concern.

Development for Women policy. Six new women's centres will open before the end of the year. Eleven women's resource centres have been built and 12 extended since 2011. Each new centre will have a business plan and focus on core products such as handicrafts, embroidery, jewelly, virgin coconut oil, tailoring, wood carving, catering, baking, salt making and seeweed production. The purpose of the centres is to help mainly underprivileged or rural women generate income for their families.

Election Registration. Registration of overseas Fijian with valid passports and eligible to vote in the 2014 elections started this week in Auckland and Wellington. It will then move to Australia, the UK and the west coast of North America. Some 540,000 people have already registered in Fiji.

Elections to cost $40 million. This is the A-G's estimate. Australia, NZ, the EU, and PNG are working closely with Government in preparation for the election, and PNG has said it will contribute $20 million towards election expenses.

Supervisor of Elections. The post has been advertised, and the person chosen with by appointed by the President of the recommendation of the Constitutional Offices Commission and and Electoral Commission. This procedure is fine for the election after this one when the Leader of Opposition will a member of the COC, but for this election all seems to be in the hands of the PM and the A-G. A bridging arrangement is needed to ensure that opinions outside the inner Government circle are consulted. Otherwise, anti-Government groups will maintain the whole thing is a jackup between the PM and A-G. 

But who to add to the commission in the interim? A prominent and well-respected lawyer, professional, businessman or community leader, or one or more of the country's university Vice-Chancellors?

The Commissioner of Police. The same criticism can be made about the appointment of the next Commissioner of Police, whose position is vacant with the expiration this week of Brig. Ioane Naivalurua's contract. The current Constitution Offices Commission is not the transparent and balanced commission detailed in the Constitution.

Monday, September 23, 2013

On Archbishop Chong's Criticism of the Constitution

The Archbishop's Ordination, 8 June 2013
By Crosbie Walsh

I am more than a little perplexed on two counts by Archbishop Chong's criticism of the 2103 constitution. First, by the criticism itself which I think misplaced, and secondly by its purpose that leaves me rather worried.

The Archbishop agrees that the constitution upholds religious liberty, but it also states that religious belief is personal. He sees this as preventing the church from publicly stating its beliefs.

 If religion is limited to personal matters, he says, "you are infringing on people's rights to freedom of expression. If the church wanted to speak out about human rights in the pubic sphere, it would be seen to be violating the constitution."

Thus, according to the constitution, he continued, the church cannot be involved in party politics; it cannot support a party or tell a congregation which party they should support. "Our role", he says, "is to make people aware of the current situation in Fiji."

I had to read this several times. Does the Archbishop really think it is the church's role to make people aware of "the situation"? Does he think he, or the church, has a special insight about what the current
situation is?  Surely he cannot be claiming that priests should use the pulpit to tell their congregations how to vote?

If so, it is no wonder the Methodist Secretary-General Rev. Tevita Nawadra, agrees with him. I'd hoped the new Methodist leadership had turned its back on political involvement after supporting the 1997 and 2000 ethno-nationalist coups. But this is apparently not so. Nawadra looks to the future. "Maybe, when we have a new constitution", he mused.  And the Archbishop has given him a leg up.

I wonder where this reasoning may lead. Will other Christian denominations also wish to engage in party politics? Will the Methodist Church tell its members to vote for the old SDL party in its new guise? Will the Muslim League and the Arya Samaj form their own parties? Where will it stop? Is Fiji to replace a divisive political system based on race by an equally divisive one based on religion? Stressing differences will not help much-needed national unity, or Fiji's path towards democracy.

This leads to my second question: why has the Archbishop made this statement at this point in time? The church in Fiji —or, indeed, in any other commonwealth country to my knowledge— has never previously supported a political party or shown any wish to do do.

It has publicly supported some policies, particularly in the area of social justice, and opposed others, most notably on abortion, gender orientation and contraception. But it can be argued these policies lay within the orbit of the church's traditional mission in matters of "faith and morals." Thus, former Archbishop Petero Mataca's co-chairmanship of the People's Charter dialogue and Fr Kevin Barr's chairmanship of the Wages Council demonstrated the church's concern with social justice. Supporting the yet-to-be-formed Bainimarama party or the United Front for a Democratic Fiji will do nothing of the sort. 

Does the Archbishop's statement herald a change in church policy? Is he using one section of the constitution (that I will argue he misreads) to attack the constitution as a whole, and in so doing, attack the Bainimarama government and cast his lot in with Bainimarama's opponents?

I hope not because this is not the role of the church; there are too many shades of grey to paint the situation in blacks and whites,  and the Archbishop has misunderstood what the Constitution says about religious rights.

The Government's "non-negotiable" principles when it set up the Ghai Commission stated that Fiji must be a secular state. This means that the state would have no role in promoting or impeding any particular religious belief. Several submissions to the Commission, including an early submission by the SDL party —but not including, it should be stated,  by the Catholic Church— favoured Fiji becoming a Christian state. Had such a provision been included in the Constitution, an injustice would clearly have been done to the 30-35% of the population that is not Christian.

So what does the Constitution say on religious belief?

The relevant section reads (with my highlighting for emphasis):

"Freedom of religion, conscience and belief
1) Every person has the right to freedom of religion, conscience and belief.
(2) Every person has the right, either individually or in community with others,
in private or in public, to manifest and practise their religion or belief in worship,
observance, practice or teaching.
(3) Every person has the right not to be compelled to—
(a) act in any manner that is contrary to the person’s religion or belief; or
(b) take an oath, or take an oath in a manner, that––
(i) is contrary to the person’s religion or belief; or
(ii) requires the person to express a belief that the person does not hold.
(4) Every religious community or denomination, and every cultural or social
community, has the right to establish, maintain and manage places of education whether or
not it receives financial assistance from the State, provided that the educational institution
maintains any standard prescribed by law.
(5) In exercising its rights under subsection (4), a religious community or
denomination has the right to provide religious instruction as part of any education that
it provides, whether or not it receives financial assistance from the State for the provision
of that education.
(6) Except with his or her consent or, in the case of a child, the consent of a parent
or lawful guardian, a person attending a place of education is not required to receive
religious instruction or to take part in or attend a religious ceremony or observance if the
instruction, ceremony or observance relates to a religion that is not his or her own or if
he or she does not hold any religious belief.
(7) To the extent that it is necessary, the rights and freedoms set out in this section
may be made subject to such limitations prescribed by law—
(a) to protect—
(i) the rights and freedoms of other persons; or
(ii) public safety, public order, public morality or public health; or
(b) to prevent public nuisance."

Section 1 establishes the general position on freedom of religion.
Section 2 deals with the Archbishop's concerns about the private and public spheres.
Section 3 protects individuals against coercion.
Sections 4-6 concern religious organizations and education.
Section 7 places limits on religious rights and freedoms.

Similar limitations are mentioned in other parts of the constitution for obvious reasons. PM Bainimarama, replying to the Archbishop's statement, said the limitations were to prevent "hate speech and incitements to violence". Those who recall the actions of some Methodist leaders in the 2000 Speight Coup will be well aware that such limitations may again be needed.

Bainimarama also said that section 22 (2) could not be more clear, and I must agree.

I remain perplexed about Archbishop Chong's statement. Earlier, he said he had not read the Constitution, but surely he must have read it before making this recent statement. He cannot possibly have misread its meaning. Why, then, did he speak as he did of the Constitution, and claim for the Church the right to engage in party politics, which is quite a different matter altogether?  I really do not know. 

But, whatever his reasons, his commnents will thrill those who, for many different reasons —some honourable, others less honourable— oppose the Bainimarama government.

And they will leave many Catholics really puzzled.

The Archdiocese of Suva includes Fiji and Rotuma and the suffragan sees of Rarotonga, Niue, Tarawa and Nauru.
Catholics in Fiji
Second largest Christian denomination, about 15% of Christians and 10% of the population.
Membership (%): iTaukei 75; Indo-Fijians 5; Others 10.
Geography: Over-represented in Namosi and Serua provinces in Viti Levu and Tunuloa (E.Cakaudrove) and Wainikeli (Taveuni).

Saturday, September 21, 2013

The Australian Federal Election and the South Pacific

Scott MacWilliam
Visiting Fellow
State, Society and Governance in Melanesia Program

Prior to the September 7 election, there were some, even high, hopes that the anticipated victory of the conservative Liberal-National Party Coalition would bring major welcome changes to Australian foreign policy toward the South Pacific. These changes included a reversal of the stance toward Fiji’s military regime initiated by the previous conservative government headed by John Howard and maintained during the six years of centre-left Labor Party headed coalition rule.

Indeed shortly before the election the shadow foreign minister Julie Bishop signalled an intention to more closely engage with Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama’s government, easing sanctions in the run-up to the promised 2014 elections in Fiji. Soon after the Australian elections, NZ’s conservative government welcomed the release of the new Fiji constitution and also announced that some sanctions would be eased, while planning for the elections continued. Change looked to be in the wind.

However the experienced and astute Fiji foreign minister Ratu Inoke Kubuabola immediately placed the significance of the proposed ANZ shift in context. In an interview Kukuabola indicated that, 'while Fiji welcomed the incremental changes in the New Zealand stance, it was regrettable they were of little impact at this late stage of Fiji’s progress towards a return to democracy'.1 Expect much the same once the now foreign minister Bishop is sworn in and makes a similar pronouncement to that coming from NZ Minister McCully.

Kubuabola has been around long enough to know the long-term drivers of ANZ foreign policies towards Fiji and other South Pacific countries. He would be well aware that soon after Bishop trumpeted her greater sensitivity to the region at a conference in Fiji, the conservative treasurer-to-be Joe Hockey announced a AUD4.5 billion cut over the next four years to the aid budget. For reasons outlined below, I expect this to be only the first such cut. AusAID for Fiji, which has increased substantially since 2006, is unlikely to be spared major reductions UNLESS the government feels it can be used to exert further leverage on the military regime.

Kubuabola would also know that a central if not publicly stated plank of the Australian foreign policy toward Fiji is the re-installation of the former SDL (Soqosoqo Duavata ni Lewenivanua) party, now SODELPA (Social Democratic Liberal Party) in government. 

On a recent visit to Fiji, I was informed by a normally reliable source that the Liberal Party in Australia had provided for two SODELPA officials to watch how that party conducted its election campaign. While I have not seen written evidence to this effect, it did not surprise as AusAID support has previously been forthcoming for the training of SDL and Fiji Labour Party officials at the ANU’s Centre for Democratic Institutions.

The opportunistic United Front which consists of SODELPA, the Fiji Labour Party and the National Federation Party is likely to also receive support from Australia in the form of assistance for the FLP

That is, Kubuabola and the regime would know that lifting sanctions is code for back to the future. Propping up the bloc that led to the military takeover is aimed specifically at whatever party PM Bainimarama establishes to run in the elections. When the PM’s bitter opponent ex-PM Laisenia Qarase is the principal adviser to SODELPA, which currently has a largely token figure at its head, the domestic Fiji battle lines are becoming sharper each day. What Australian foreign policy hopes to achieve is equally transparent.

While much has been made of the previous ALP-Greens-Independents coalition government’s internal divisions, there is now a pronounced campaign under way in Australia to claim that the conservative Coalition is a united team. Indeed so consistent have been the efforts by senior party figures to proclaim a cautious, common front as was shown when in opposition that this suggests divisions needing to be glossed over. Already there have been the much publicised attacks on the presence of only woman, Bishop, in the Cabinet. Less noted have been the very public criticisms of proposed policies in areas which point to the inherent tensions between the Liberal and National parties.2 Similarly the handing of Trade and Investment, the former traditionally a National Party sinecure, to a Victorian Liberal who previously held the shadow Finance portfolio is likely to produce major disagreements between what might loosely be called the `economic nationalists’ or `agrarian populists’ and the `economic rationalists’. Resolving these disputes, with more funds poured into agriculture and rural infrastructure – both ministries held by National Party politicians – can be most easily resolved by further cutting foreign aid. Both sides are in agreement with this direction, with the new National Party agriculture minister being an especially vociferous critic of giving to others money which he believes is needed in Australia.

And then there are climate changes, the effects of which are so critical for nearly all South Pacific countries and highlighted at a recent regional conference. For all the attempts to suggest an incoming government which is trying to be get closer to the governments of other South Pacific countries, the new Australia one will be forever branded by two phrases. One of these is `climate change is crap’, with the second being `stop the boats’.

On the first, one of the earliest signs that denial is still a central belief of the new PM Tony Abbott is the appointment as consul-general in New York of former Senator Nick Minchin. A South Australian party hard man and extreme conservative, Minchin shares his leader’s view on the predominant scientific position regarding global warming. Minchin, an Abbott promoter in internal party tussles, is famous or infamous depending upon one’s respect for medical knowledge for proclaiming that the documented links between passive smoking and various illnesses are not proven. In the mid-1990s he was described as holding `troglodyte’ views on the subject and there is no evidence that he has changed since. So for the people of the South Pacific concerned with the effects of rising sea levels, don’t expect this government to bring climate science to the table in discussions on Australian foreign policy toward Pacific islanders.
On `stop the boats’ little more needs to be said except that the initial stance does not show any change from the heralded Opposition position. Don’t expect much greater sensitivity from the government or the foreign minister to the views of regional governments on this internationally difficult issue. The suggestion that Australia would buy boats which might be used for transporting asylum seekers and destroy them has not been given much credence. Bishop has already declared her position regarding Indonesian opposition to such proposed measures as paying informers to gather information about proposed people smuggling activities in Indonesia. To the critics who point to the possible implications for Indonesian sovereignty, Bishop has stated `"We're not asking for Indonesia's permission, we're asking for their understanding". 3 Indonesia’s foreign minister almost immediately spoke against the payments proposal.4 Papua New Guinea’s PM Peter O’Neill too is clearly on the alert regarding attempts to redefine the deal signed with the previous Australian government.

Over-all, for those who looked forward to a change of government in Australia as one which would bring greater benefits to South Pacific countries, all the initial signs are for the need to be cautious rather than optimistic. Being in opposition allows grandiose promises: being in government of a relatively minor and not very important country in world affairs means having to bend to major storms which blow across the globe. An attempted muscular foreign policy from such a minor player is unlikely to convince too many in the region or elsewhere. Alternately, whether this government can instead sway and bend in its dealings with neighbours is yet to be tested.

1 Fiji Sun September 13, pp.1-2
2 `New Nats threaten to rebel over CSG’ (Coal Seam Gas) The Australian September 10 2013, p.5
3 `Julie Bishop says Coalition's policies would not breach Indonesia's sovereignty’ The Australian September 17.

4 `We will reject Abbott’s policy on asylum seekers: Indonesia Foreign Minister Marty Natalagawa’ Sydney Morning Herald September 13

Lockington's Everyday Fiji ... Life Goes On

       Jaywalking at Uni

I went to the FNU campus in Natabua, Lautoka and witnessed something that should be addressed by the university.   When classes are finished students mill around in the middle of the road like it was okay. These students are there to earn a high level of education, yet they disregard road safety. Cars have to wait for them them to move to the side at their laid back rate. One student even had the audacity to scowl at me when I stopped to let him pass, and he had on earphones and wouldn't have heard the purring of my automobile.

If we have to get rid of jaywalkers from the main streets,can we start with private roads, like the universities.  I wonder if any of the students can stand up and talk about road safety and the dangers jay walking.

False Pretences

An old timer went to collect his social welfare cheque and was told a whole bunch hadn't come from Suva. He then asked to see the boss who was unavailable. Then he asked to see the assistant and he too was unavailable.

In his frustration the man said, these people should be here to speak to us and earn their pay. What they are doing is obtaining money by false pretences.

Take Care

Now that gold is being bought easily (as per advertisements) , may I encourage  Fijians of Indian origin to take more care on who they invite to their homes. The lady who was killed by an alleged miracle worker should be an indication.  We are surrounded by people who prey on the poor and desperate. Please don't talk about how much jewelry you have at home because these people could go on to tell others, and your home could become a target.

Those who prey on the poor and vulnerable  should be given lessons that they will never forget.

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.

Fiji Country Statement on ICPD Programme of Action

Sixth Asia and Pacific Population Conference
Dr. Jiko Luveni
Minister for Social Welfare, Women and Poverty Alleviation
UNESCAP, Bangkok
16 – 20 September 2013

The Chairperson, Honorable Ministers, distinguished ladies and gentlemen.

On behalf of the Fiji Government, it gives me great pleasure to address this important session. I extend my gratitude to UNFPA and UNESCAP for the invitation.

At the outset I am pleased to inform the forum that Fiji’s new Constitution was assented to by our President just over a week ago. For the first time in the history of our beloved nation and in response to the strong wishes of our people, Fiji’s Constitution has provided for a wide range of socio-economic rights. These rights include rights to education, access to health care, housing and sanitation, reasonable access to transportation, food security and safe water, and social security schemes. It is also the first Fiji Constitution to articulate specific rights to persons with disabilities and to all children. It provides for greater civil and political rights to youths through reduction of the voting age from 21 to 18 years ensuring their say in the political life of the nation. Furthermore, it outlaws any form of discrimination based on sex and gender.

While increasing numbers of young people in Fiji are getting married late or not at all resulting in low fertility, the fertility rate of 2.7 reflects the effect of the increasing teenage pregnancies. The urban population growth rate is 1.5% against -0.1% rural growth rate. According to a recent World Bank report, of the 32% poverty rate in Fiji, poverty in the rural population stood at a high 44% while poverty in the urban population is 25%. The report noted that the high poverty rate is attributed more to monetary poverty as food poverty was a low 7.5%. NCDs are the number one killer in Fiji with increasing deaths due to cancer. Amputation of limbs due to diabetes increased from 300 in 2006 to approximately 800 in 2012.

The effect of climate change and natural disasters such as increasing intensity and frequency of tropical cyclones and flashfloods has very significant negative impact not only on the economy of the country but also on the population challenges. Affected families are reduced to poverty living and there is increase in domestic violence and sexual violence that lead to unintended pregnancies in displaced persons. The availability and accessibility of reproductive health services particularly contraceptives becomes a major issue. Moreover, the special needs of vulnerable population groups such as women, persons with disabilities, children and senior citizens is a major challenge and that it should be embedded in the national development plans.

The government recognizes the importance of gender equality and empowerment of women for equitable and sustainable development. This is proven through its increased budgetary allocation from $200,000 annually up to 2006 to $1, 010,000 in 2013. Subsequently, there have been significant achievements in riasing the social status of women through economic empowerment programmes, effective campaigns to reduce violence against women and children, upgrading and expanding scope in capacity building, leadership skills, etc. and overall participation in the national development process.

Fiji has a relatively young population with 57% below the age of 30. In response to this fact, A National Youth Policy is in place to address the needs of adolescents and youth in relation to community and family support, employment opportunities, participation in the political process and access to education and quality reproductive health services.

The social protection programs of the government include the provision of cash transfers and food vouchers to almost half of the poor category, the single mothers and all those who are 70 years and over. Relevant legal frameworks with resources and structures are also in place for our senior citizens and Persons with Disabilities.

The Government of the Republic of Fiji believes strongly in the value of education as a strong vehicle to ensure that its citizens are well prepared to live free and worthwhile lives. And as we continue to face the challenges of population demographics such as increased rural to urban drift, and changes brought through globalization, we need to ensure that we have an education system that is flexible and responsive to better mitigate the impacts of such challenges.

To conclude, given the fact that parents of the current era and certainly beyond 2015 are becoming better educated than the past generation, in partnership with other relevant Government Line Ministries and CSOs, the Fiji government will strengthen and mobilize community participation to:
  1. Ensure the presence of the ICPD Programme of Action at community level through the Women’s and Young People’s Institutions including educational institutions;
  2. Promote sexual and reproductive health including improving accessibility of contraceptives;
  3. Take ownership of the campaign to eliminate violence against women and girls; and
  4. Ensure the implementation and enforcement of existing legal frameworks to protect the vulnerable population groups.

Thank you.