Friday, February 28, 2014

Political Round Up: Last Week in February

By Crosbie Walsh

Tropical Depression 15F, currently bringing high winds, heavy rain and flooding, to many parts of Fiji causing power cuts, water problems, school closures, public service workers being sent home, and evacuation centres to be established, pushed political news off the front pages from Wednesday onwards.

It has also caused a delay in Bainimarama's anticipated announcement on his new political party and on his successor as Commander-in-Chief of the RFMF, leaving us all unsure whether it will be his brother-in-law Francis Kean, convicted of manslaughter for killing a  guest at Bainimarama's daughter's wedding some years back, or the present Commander Land Force Colonel Mosese Tikoitoga, or perhaps some other officer.
Francis Kean
Colonel Mosese Tikoitoga

The National Youth  Party
While the ultimate political contest is likely to be between the Bainimarama party and some coalition of the old political parties, one should not ignore other parties. If the contest is close, the votes they win could be critical.  One such party (if it's serious)  is the proposed National Youth Party that will target new, young voters with promises of jobs, pay increases, help in setting up businesses, and more PhD scholarships.  It's all nonsense, of course, but spokesman Nayagodamu Korovou may be able to fool some of them.

The ineffectiveness of sanctions
The blog Fiji Today reported an international expert on the effectiveness of sanctions who said on a global scale Fiji's case scores very poorly. Gary Hufbauer of the Washington-based Peterson Institute for International Economics says on a scale of one to 16, the sanctions brought by countries like New Zealand and Australia on Fiji have only achieved a score of about four. "Even if he (Bainimarama) allows his opponents to run, there is that question of whether the polling booths will be open long enough, votes will be accurately counted and so forth, so I will hold on to my scepticism til we get much closer. Maybe knock it up to four, but our cut off for success is nine and this is way below."  Other experts have no problem with one day voting.

Hufbauer thought the sanctions would have been more effective had the ANZ governments somehow persuaded or stopped their citizens from holidaying in Fiji.  Between 2002 and 2012, tourist numbers jumped from 398,000 a year to 661,000. Some 48% were Australians and 16% New Zealanders.

Laptop stolen
Earlier in the week came reports that a laptop computer containing sensitive data had been taken from the Elections Office by a member of staff without authorisation  and then stolen from her home. The computer has now been recovered from a well known thief and the officer continues to be employed.

The acting Commissioner of Police has reaffirmed "that the integrity of the National Register of Voters has not been compromised by this incident in any way whatsoever, nor has it affected our ability to hold elections within the time frame prescribed under the Constitution."

Chaudhry's money problems
Of more importance, because it could decide whether FLP's Mahendra Chaudhry will be able to stand in the September election, is that his lawyers are seeking to have the charge against him on three breaches of the Exchange Control Act dismissed.  The charges relate to overseas bank accounts, investments and re-investments.

The first count concerns Chaudhry's failure to surrender foreign currency, where it is alleged that he retained AUS$1.5 million for his own benefit without the consent of the Governor of the Reserve Bank of Fiji. The second count is in relation to dealing in foreign currency otherwise than with an authorised dealer without  permission. And the third count relates to failure to collect debts where it is alleged that Chaudhry, having the right to receive a sum of AUS$1.5 million from the financial institutions in Australia and New Zealand, caused the delay of payment of the sum, in whole or in part, to himself by authorising the continual investment of the sum together with interest acquired back into financial institutions without the permission of the Governor of the Reserve Bank of Fiji.

Australian registrations
The registration to vote of  664 Fijian citizens living in Australia may be the "first of its kind in Fiji’s history" as government claims, but the  nine-day campaign during which five teams travelled to 49 locations around the ACT, NSW, Queensland and Victoria, which have the the the highest populations of Fijian citizens, but the uptake seems small proportionate to the likely costs.

Meanwhile, Cabinet ...
 pressed on with the everyday affairs of legislating for the country, presumably confident what what it rules will stick after the elections.

They approved a $120 million Government Guarantee for the Fiji Development Bank’s (FDB) borrowings and term deposits that will allow for continued lending to essential sectors of the economy, particularly, resource-based sectors including Agriculture, Mining and Quarrying, Manufacturing, Transport, Communications and Storage, Small and Micro Enterprises (SME) in Wholesale, Retail and Hotels, and Professional and Business Services which will assist the disadvantaged of the community to earn a decent livelihood.

They approved amendments to the Value Added Tax (Amendment) Decree 2014, the Fringe Benefit Tax (Amendment) Decree 2014 and the Customs (Amendment) Regulations 2014 that will provide support to the local fishing industry,

They agreed to work with  key stakeholders to establish the first rehabilitation facility for street beggars who are both homeless and mentally challenged. The Interagency Taskforce on Beggars spearheaded by the Ministry of Social Welfare in partnership with the Fiji Police and relevant non-government organisations have embarked on a major plan to build this facility. The Taskforce had gathered information on each of the beggars in Suva and discovered that there are those who have good homes and own properties, while there are those who are mentally challenged and they are neglected by their families. Given these findings, the Taskforce has embarked on a major plan which is to build a rehabilitation facility for  street beggars who don’t have a place to stay. The facility will provide care services to those who are mentally challenged and need medical attention. Vocation training will also be provided to assist them to venture into income generating projects and become self-sufficient.

The Ministry of Social Welfare, Women and Poverty Alleviation is now financially supporting income-generating projects targeted towards assisting women in peri-urban and squatter settlements. Previously the focus had been on assisting rural women. The Ministry is working with the Fiji Women’s Federation Advisory (FWF) Committee to implement livelihood projects to uplift the lives of those who are challenged with poverty and unemployment. Fiji Muslim Women’s League
president, Ms Nisha Buksh has commended the Bainimarama government’s effort to economically empower disadvantaged groups of Fijians in the country.

One of the reasons Bainimarama gave for the 2006 Coup was to get rid of corruption.  Much has been achieved since but the work goes on. During the week, a  former Chief Administration Officer of the Ministry of Public Enterprises pleaded not guilty to charges of receiving a corrupt benefit of $12,592.95 and giving false information. The FICAC laid charges of Bitu in early January. The case hase been adjourned until June. The week also saw the the suspension of Sigatoka Town Council chief executive officer, Anand Pillay following allegations of some ‘shady dealings’.

A last word to  Fiji Live's regular totally unscientific poll. To the question asked this week,  "Should we have more women representatives in Parliament?", 48% said yes and 52$% said no. We do not know the number or the gender of those voting.

Foreign Aid and Growth

By T K Jayaraman

Last week’s visit to Fiji by Australia’s foreign minister, Ms. Bishop has raised hopes of return to normalcy in bilateral relations between the two countries.

The visit has been fruitful in many ways: Fiji has been added to the list of Pacific island countries (PICs), which are eligible for Australia’s Pacific Seasonal Workers Program. This program confers the benefit of guest worker visas for fruit picking jobs in Australian farms.

Other results include the resumption of programs including (i) exchange of civil servants in finance and foreign policy departments; (ii) joint military exercises and training; and (iii) participation in sea patrol boat program. The discussions might have included resumption of overseas development assistance (ODA) or foreign aid.

Just a day prior to Fiji visit, Ms Bishop inaugurated the 2014 Australasian Aid and International Development Policy Workshop in Canberra. The Workshop assembled researchers from across Australia, the Pacific and Asia for discussing the future directions of Australia’s foreign aid.

Role of aid

Foreign aid is not mercy.
It is not the unselfish, manna from heaven.
In Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice, Portia describes mercy thus:
“The quality of mercy is not strain'd, It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven Upon the place beneath. It is twice blest: It blesseth him that gives and him that takes”.

Aid is not altruistic.

In her inaugural speech on Feb 12, Ms. Bishop was clear: “Aid is a powerful tool in our statecraft. It is ultimately designed to protect and project Australia’s broader interests”. It is understandable. Aid is tax payers’ money. It should promote the country’s external objectives.

Before the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, foreign aid from the West had a single objective: “contain the spread and reduce the influence of the Soviet Union”.
Since the 1990s, the focus has changed.

In the case of PICs, the donors shifted from providing budgetary support to PICs. It is now for funding projects and programs, which add to income generating activities for poverty reduction and for institution building capacities.

In more recent years, emphasis is on good governance and efficiency in delivery of services.

Foreign aid adds to domestic savings. Being in foreign exchange, it adds to real resources of PICs. Aid also helps to bridge deficit in PICs’ external accounts and stabilize the exchange rate.

Fiji and foreign aid

Amongst PICs, Fiji receives the least foreign aid from donors, including Australia. In recent years, on an average, Fiji received annual foreign aid to the extent of 2 percent of the country’s gross domestic product (GDP) as compared to the corresponding ratios of Samoa (35 percent), Solomon Islands (60 percent), Tonga (34 percent) and Vanuatu (25 percent).

On a per capita basis, Fiji received US$87, Samoa US$527, Solomon Island US$612, Tonga US$ 909 and Vanuatu US$506.

The degree of aid dependency is much less in case of Fiji.

In recent years, annual remittances from overseas residents because of globalization and increased migration of workers and professionals, have dwarfed the importance of foreign aid to Fiji.

Aid effectiveness
In a severe indictment, Professor Helen Hughes noted poor economic growth in the midst of plentiful supply of aid by the West and observed that foreign aid had failed PICs. She exposed weaknesses in aid administration : poor project selection; ineffective implementation; slackness in monitoring progress; and inadequate evaluation. She was also critical how government leaders in PICs played one donor against another and tried to grab more aid for personal benefit.

Australia had to review aid policies. In the meanwhile, war against terrorism began soon after the 9/11 event of 2001, which brought on special responsibilities for Australia, as the “Deputy Sheriff” for the Pacific.
Roger Riddle in his keynote address to the Workshop said the question three decades ago was whether projects funded met their objectives in terms of schools built and roads paved; and more recently whether aid projects made any dent on poverty.
Today, the question before us is whether poor countries would have been better off without the aid they received.
Free money has perpetuated poverty. It deepened the dependency syndrome. Growing evidence shows aid money has killed exports of traditional crops. Domestically processed goods are now less competitive overseas. By encouraging consumption of traded and non-traded goods and services, aid has contributed to the appreciation of PICs’ currencies and made exports less attractive, known as Dutch disease.

Aid is no longer twice-blessed.

PICs now say: : “No aid! Let us trade and earn foreign exchange in honourable way; encourage migration and workers will boost remittances back home.”

The Bard of Avon would have added another verse in his Hamlet:
“Neither a donor nor a receiver be,
For aid loses both itself and friend,
 And free money dulls the edge of husbandry.”

First published in the Fjii Sun Saturday, February 22 2014

Lockington's Everyday Fiji ... Life Goes On

Credit: The Fiji Times
Some short  topical items from Allen as strong winds and heavy rain hits Fiji.

“As of now there has been a lot of rain dumped over the Central Eastern Division particularly the Eastern half of Viti Levu and it takes it all along Lomaiviti Group, Lau group and Kadavu. Rain has been falling in these areas for the last couple of days. The ground is already saturated and the rivers are flooded particularly Waimanu and Wainibuka. Navua is rapidly rising in the upper catchments. So the message is there is going to be more rain in the next 24 hours.” -- Met. Office.

Points to Remember

1. Its not a full blown cyclone and we have power blackouts.
2. We were told that the tropical depression was a real threat to the whole of Fiji.
3. With all the modern equipment is it really impossible to predict how a tropical depression will behave?
4. How better equipped are we as per weather predictions compared to the old days?

And by the way, a relative called from Tavewa island in the Yasawa group and I told him that the whole of Viti Levu was without power, and he said, "Allen, what's a power  black out?"
Yes, his entire home works on solar. Sigh.


Good to see the Ministry of Education executives in the various divisions making early contact with school managements regarding safety of school buildings and students and teachers.

All the heads of department meetings are worth it when we see this kind of action. Also good to see them working with the various  Commissioners' offices around Fiji. And top marks to the people at the office for the early warnings.

Only one thing,the weather is not as it used to be, I think its on Fiji time. But thank you all, safety is paramount.


During these trying times the Water Authority of Fiji, FEA, the Road Authority, the phone companies and other corporations will get criticism. If it is constructive its good,of course you will have the silly critic.

But as it is critics are important, they let us know our mistakes, shortcomings and how we can do better. Now and again we have to accept criticism its good for us, we can accept it as a performance indicator. We can then look at ourselves and say, "Oh, ok, I can do better." And if we don't accept criticism then we may not learn that we were not doing things to the accepted standards.

Late Notice

The notice to close schools came out a bit late. Its a huge logistics issue with parents and schools to get children safely back home.

People who normally pick their children have to leave work, some employers frown on employees leaving work. For parents who do not have contact, the child may have to go to town to catch the bus.
Some may end up roaming around town and go to places we dont want them to go to. People normally listen to the radio for news updates, they will not know that school is  closed and they have to pick their child up.

My concern is for those who are in class one, these are the most vulnarable.

I hope there are plans in place to solve these issues.

Saving Power 

The dams must be full to over flowing. Has FEA saved on any diesel?

At night less power is consumed because people are asleep, Does FEA shut down a few diesel engines to save a bit? I heard that FEA plans to use hog fuel, What is it and is it environmently safe?


Another child drowns, oh lord when when will it end. Are adults becoming more negligent in these modern times?

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, February 21, 2014

Fiji and Australia Rapprochement

The Strategist - The Australian Strategic Policy Institute Blog      -     21 Feb 2014
Reader response: Fiji and Australia rapprochement

Richard Herr was right to say that there was ‘no massacre of hopes’ in Foreign Minister Julie Bishop’s visit to Suva to meet with Fiji’s Prime Minister, Commodore Voreqe Bainimarama.
As Richard noted, it proved more of a love-in than a confrontation. But there’s no doubt that Minister Bishop took on a political risk with her Fiji policy shift. It’s now clear, however, that the risk was worth taking: she was praised in Suva, in the Australian media and the think tank world after the visit.
Ever since Julie Bishop announced some time back that there would be change in our Fiji policy, there were plenty of nay-sayers on the merits of shifting from our hard line position of trying to isolate Fiji. During the Rudd years in particular, such views had over-weening influence on the Australia-Fiji relationship, to our disadvantage in the region.
Being able to restore defence cooperation was a very good outcome of Minister Bishop’s visit. We should support Fiji’s UN peacekeeping efforts (Fiji has a long history of involvement here), and immediately restore places at Duntroon and our staff colleges. We could also look to explore wider national security cooperation in areas such as maritime affairs, disaster resilience, law enforcement and cyber security. After all, Fiji’s Prime Minister has delivered on his Fiji Roadmap (PDF) to date, and the elections are on track, with Australian and New Zealander people working in the elections office.
The retirement of Fiji’s Prime Minister from the Commander RFMF post at the end of this month also presents an opportune time to lift our travel bans. As Fiji’s Attorney General Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum recently made clear, our travel sanctions are a calculated insult and have been damaging to the formation of public Boards in Fiji:
I call [travel sanctions] an abomination, in the sense that how can you in this globalised world have that type of travel ban placed on individuals who are completely political. They have nothing to do, for example, the events of 5th of December, ’06. So it was a form of what we believe, a form of economic sabotage. Why would you want to deprive a country from not being able to access the best brains that’s available to help run the country or to help sit on various state-owned enterprises… there are still some people who are reluctant to come on board, because of the fact that there’s been no general announcement made, so people don’t want to necessarily go through the throws of we’ll deal with these matter on a case-by-case basis and they do not necessarily understand the extent of the travel ban… these are not people who are political people, these are very apolitical people who are professionals, who want to contribute to their country.
Fiji has been more independent over recent years, but there’s absolutely no reason why a cooperative bilateral relationship can’t be reinstated to the mutual benefit of both countries.

Anthony Bergin is deputy director of ASPI.

Political Round Up, February Week 3

By Crosbie Walsh

The untimely death of Methodist Church President Tuikilakila Waqairatu briefly brought the country together at his funeral on Thursday with mourners from all shades of the political spectrum.

The Rev. Waqairatu sought to heal the rift in the church caused by its near  takeover by extreme ethnic Fijian nationalists. Elected only in 2012, it is too soon yet to know how successful he was in returning the church to its Christian purpose. Death only too vividly reminds us of our common humanity and temporary residence, but it is a lesson we soon forget.

Political news during the week concerned the ongoing argument between unions and government over union participation in party politics; statements surrounding the two-day visit of the Pacific Forum Ministerial Group; a policy statement and hints at a campaign strategy by SODELPA; and the PM's politically directed comments at the launch of a new boat and the new Fiji Home Finance Bank

Union officials as election candidates

The Fiji Islands Council of Trade Unions General Secretary Attar Singh ("who is not part of any political party at the moment   ... though he had spoken at NFP meetings")  told visiting Pacific Islands Forum Ministers that the present constitution was unfair in denying unionists the right to participate in party politics and stand for elections.

This follows FTUC general secretary Felix Anthony’s recent claims that the government was attempting to shut up the entire trade union movement itself. Trade unionists like
Felix Anthony claim while they are being targeted the government is able to get away with things. “This Prime Minister is already calling for people to vote for him now.  Why isn’t the media quizzing him? Is there two sets of laws,  one for trade unionists and the other for the Prime Minister and his colleagues? What are we about in this country? He talks about a level playing field. Where is the level playing field?”

He does have a point. Government's response was that, despite these "attention grabbing tactics," unionists simply had to make up their mind soon on whether they want to continue in the unions or resign and take part in politics.

A-G  Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum accused unionists of deviating from the real issues. “There is a lot of hot air by these personalities and in fact you can count them on one hand.  It’s about three or four of them only who are making this noise and I think the Fijian people are a lot more intelligent than that and they will stop falling for a lot of this hoo-ha."

The A-G said the the Political Parties Decree was quite clear. It restricts the involvement of unionists in political parties and now the government has indicated it will be strengthening this decree further.

But the A-G, readers will note, was also engaged in a little deviating hot air. The main issue is bigger than a few unions. The whole union movement is affected  and he dodged the main question about whether the law was fair or democratic.

A writer on Facebook's Fiji Economic Forum, however, seems to be siding with the A-G. He asked whether the unions would help finance political parties and whether this would be decided by the union leadership or its members. This has long been an issue in Australia and NZ where the Labour Party has strong union links.

The Forum Ministerial Visit

Despite the protestations of former politician Mick Beddoes who said he is "unhappy" with the
governments of Australia and New Zealand, and unionist Felix Anthony urging Australian unionists not to ease up on  the Bainimarama government, some progress has been made towards restoring full relations  with these governments and the Pacific Islands Forum whose Ministerial Contact Group paid a two-day visit to Fiji during the week.

NZ has already lifted travel restrictions against military people visiting NZ for sports and some training purposes, and Foreign Minister McCully signaled his support for the approval of Fiji's Constitution last year with the registration of political parties, the enrollment of more than 540,000 voters including Fijians living overseas and the appointment of an independent Electoral Commission.

For her part, Australia's Foreign Minister Juli Bishop said Australia wants to normalise relations ahead of  the September elections.

She welcomed the PM's pledge to stand down as army commander at the end of the month when he will announce details of a new party he will lead into elections in September.

In their face-to-face meeting, the PM  said he was prepared for whatever role resulted, even if he were to lose the prime ministership. “He talked about a range of post-election scenarios,” Ms Bishop said.

Key among the priorities in normalising relations will be the Australian travel sanctions which she admitted had been ineffective. And in the opposite direction, "Australians have been voting with their feet, holidaying in Fiji in greater numbers than ever."

Ms Bishop said a review of the travel sanctions policy was almost complete, and the next opportunity to take it to cabinet would be very soon when Bainimarama steps down as army chief. She said the new deal she brought to Fiji was not conditional, even on its accepting the return of an Australian high commissioner to the mission in Suva which it has so far refused.

The meeting with the two foreign ministers were decidedly more friendly than last year's meetings with former Australian foreign minister, Labor’s Stephen Smith and more recent meeting with Murray McCully.

Besides support for the election process, the new Australian package will include a twinning arrangement in areas including foreign policy, finance and the Public Service Commission, with Fiji officials working in Canberra, and Australians in Suva. Australia has invited Fiji to send a defence representative to Canberra, and hopes to reinstate its own defence attache in Suva. Fiji will be invited to participate again in Australia’s Pacific patrol boat program, through which its present three boats might be renovated, or it might receive two further vessels. And defence co-operation program will be re-established to include joint exercises and staff college training. Australia’s seasonal workers’ program that brings Pacific Islanders to Australia is set to be expanded to include Fiji.

blish date/time: 21/02/2014 [11:09]
Applicants are expected to be interviewed soon for the position of Supervisor of Elections.

Minister for Elections and Attorney General Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum said the Secretary to the Constitutional Offices Commission is now assessing the applications.

Sayed Khaiyum added the appointment will be made following consultation with members of the Electoral Commission.

According to section 76 (2) of the Fijian Constitution, the Supervisor acting under the direction of the Electoral Commission will carry out three key responsibilities.

The Supervisor will administer the registration of voters for elections of members to Parliament.

The Supervisor will also conduct elections of members of Parliament, and such other elections as Parliament prescribes and also performs such other functions as are conferred by written law.

Under section 76(4) of the Fijian Constitution, the Supervisor is 
appointed by the President on the advice of the Constitutional Offices Commission following consultation by the Constitutional Offices Commission with the Electoral Commission.

SODELPA: Sounds good but it's probably back to before

Readers may be interested into this profile of Pio Tabaiwalu

Government-leaning Fiji Sun published a long statement from SODELPA's General Secretary Pio Tabaiwalu during the week in which he took government to task for forcing it not to use its old name before going on to say, "Many of the guiding principles and values, vision and mission of the former SDL Party are embodied in the constitution of SODELPA. But they have been re-focused and refined for clarity, purpose, and practicality."

"As we look to the future of Fiji, SODELPA is determined to forge a strong, united, peaceful, stable and prosperous Fiji. There is much work to do after such a long period of unaccountable military rule which has been regressive for Fiji.

"We further affirm that Fiji draws its strength and character from a rich variety of traditions, languages and cultures.We will uphold Christian values and principles while respecting the beliefs and values of other faiths."  It will be remembered that in one of its submissions to the Ghai Commission, it wanted Fiji declared a Christian state.

He said the party saw the need for honest and caring governance, social justice and transparency and was  concerned about what it describes as "the present levels of gross mismanagement and rampant corruption.  (It believes)  in the fair distribution of the fruits of economic development with special recognition of the plight of the poor and disadvantaged."

What he did not say was that the party is also against the Bainimarama's decision to pay all land lease money to the mataqali owners, without the massive NLTB administrative deduction. SODELPA appears to want to return to the old system where a hierarchy of chiefs took out the main share, leaving little to people at the botton of the stack. This seems at variance with most notions of caring. social justice and the plight of the poor.

Bainimarama's campaign already started

The PM took two swipes at his political opponents this week,

First, at the launch of the MV Sigavou
("new day") which will service the maritime provinces by referring to "years of neglect." It appears this was the first boat purchased by the Government Shipping Service in 28 years, while this year alone government has commissioned three boats.

Secondly, and far more bluntly, at the opening of the new  Home Finance Company Bank, a wholly Fijian-owned enterprise  75% owned by the FNPF and 25% by the Unit Trust of Fiji.

The PM said "this is a time for celebration but also a time for sober reflection about the sorry history of our first 100 per-cent Fijian-owned financial institution – the debacle of the National Bank of Fiji. The NBF, as you know, was owned by the people of Fiji through the Government."

Launched in 1976, it was declared bankrupt in the late 1990s with debts exceeding $220 million or eight percent of Fiji's GDP. Most people familiar with the reasons for the collapse will agree with the  PM that is was due to
"a greedy elite – after the two coups of 1987 - who used the people’s bank as their personal piggy bank. With their noses stuck firmly in the trough, this elite – aided by a grossly irresponsible management and board – raided the NBFfor loans that many had no intention of repaying. They ripped off their fellow Fijians".

And then the PM really let fly:

"The ultimate blame lies with the then SVT Government, which presided over a prolonged period in which the funds of ordinary Fijians were misappropriated. These elites effectively robbed their own countrymen and women – decent, hardworking ordinary people who had put their trust in the Bank and the Government.

"Our Reserve Bank – which is meant to oversee the system – also shoulders some of the blame for failing to see what was happening, turning a blind eye to it or at the very least, going public with its concerns.

"By the time the whole fiasco ended, 51 per cent of the remnants of the NBF was sold off to foreign interests for what would be considered a pittance. Any notion of good governance took second place to the SVT’s political interests.  After all, many of those treating the NBF as their personal piggy bank were its ministers, SVT members, supporters and hangers-on. Under the SDL Government, the remaining 49 per cent was sold at what would again be considered a pittance.

"Now, some of those same politicians and hangers-on who were responsible for this scandal – and others who benefited personally — are seeking your vote in the forthcoming general election. They are relying on you having short memories.
They are treating you as if you are stupid. I urge you to call their bluff and consign them to the political dustbin of history."

The rest of Bainimarama's speech

My Government expects that the proper mechanisms are now in place to ensure that the Home Finance Company Bank meets the highest prudential requirements and the highest standards of good governance.

We will have zero tolerance for anything else and we will continue to insist on quality and stringent levels of performance if the Fijian people give us the mandate we are seeking to lead Fiji after the election.

We have had a vision and we have delivered it – of a range of Fijian institutions operating at the highest level and being symbols of national pride. Our treasured Brand Fiji includes Tourism Fiji, Investment Fiji and Film Fiji.

It also includes the FNPF – whose timely rescue and prudent stewardship of the savings of every Fijian worker has received an important accolade from the global superannuation industry.

And it includes Fiji Airways, which this Government saved and has been returned to profitably with its state-of-the-art aircraft, flying higher, more frequently and very soon, further.

To add to that glittering stable – whose reputation we must do everything to cherish and protect – we now add our own national Bank, HFC, which is specifically tasked to serve our people by giving them better and more affordable access to finance.

We expect HFC to focus especially on making home ownership more affordable for ordinary Fijians. For too long, Fijians have had to pay too high interest rates for home financing. Yes, while interests rates may be lower than usual at the moment, we need consistency.
We need all stakeholders to realise that home ownership and construction grows an economy, creates jobs and provides security for ordinary families.

By having home ownership, we bring those outside the mainstream into the financial sector. We stop them from going to moneylenders. This is vitally important and the reason I announced a $10-million grant to ordinary people in the last budget to help them realise their dream to own their first home. All the CEOs of the banks have met with us and we hope to make an announcement on the release of this grant in the coming weeks .

My Government is also creating a revolution in the banking system – more competition to drive down bank charges and interest rates and drive up the level of service delivery. We have introduced new players in the market, new competition.

Soon, we’ll be implementing the National Switch, which will benefit every ordinary Fijian who conducts an electronic transaction.
I know that the CEOs of the banks have met with the Ministry of Communications and have agreed with its implementation.
This is good news because it will not only, in a very short period of time, reduce the cost of electronic transactions but increase their volume, encourage the unbanked to bank, and get more non-financial institutions which have high levels of monetary transactions such as i’TLTB to interact more directly with their customers. Of course, new banks entering the market such as HFC won’t have to expend their funds in capital infrastructure but rather focus on, as all banks should, competitive pricing and service delivery.

Starting a bank is no easy process. And I want to thank everyone who has had a hand in the immense task of getting this enterprise off the ground – the shareholders, the Board, Management and Staff.  To all of you I say: Pursue a culture of excellence. Adhere to the highest standards of honesty, transparency and propriety. Always abide by the rules, the regulations that are there to ensure the highest standards of governance. And remember above all that you are there to serve our people – to provide them with the means to improve their lives and to create wealth for them and our beloved nation.

As I keep saying, these are exciting times to be Fijian – a time to be proud, a time to face the future with confidence.

I now have great pleasure in launching the Home Finance Company Bank and its corporate branding.

Vinaka vakalevu. Thank you.

.Lockington's Everyday Fiji ... Life Goes On

On Expectations ...

You know what I want to see in politicians vying for the next general elections - politicians who come in and tell the people what they will do for Fiji.

Not politicians who first of all run other politicians down by dwelling on their weakness or what they didn't do or did wrong.

Are there any vying politicians with the calibre I'm talking about? Or will we keep on seeing politicians who talk more about others' issues than what they have to offer.

... and Corruption

Some time ago we we told that corruption was rife in Fiji.

Let me just say that at that time it was 100%. This is speaking hypothetically. It is now a few years down the line, if a curious person like me wanted to know what percent is it at now, is there anyone out there who can tell me?

One way to probably quantify this is the service we get from government departments. Has it improved? What about applications for land, housing, surveying, VAT returns and issues sent in to departments for vetting, scrutiny and approval, are they approved on time or does it take forever?

One well educated landowner said, "Allen, sometimes people have to "grease" the application for it to get approved quickly.

So it seems we still have some way to go yet.

... and
Will Services Be Affected?

Telecom Fiji's staff has been greatly reduced. This began soon after the mobile companies came in. Questions are being asked.  Why so many redundancies? Was competition too tough? Or did investments go wrong? Or what?

If experienced staff leave, will TFL still manage to stay afloat?

Just curious, because a technician who resigned and is happily working overseas mentioned a few interesting things.

Good to be curious, eh!

Allen Lockington is a self-employed customs agent and business consultant who has regular articles published in Fiji. I thank Allen for permission to reprint some of them in this political blog. They remind us that life goes on, whatever the political situation. And it's good to know that.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Australian Foreign Policy: an Addendum

Dear Croz,
Not sure if there is room for an addendum to the piece on Australian Foreign Policy you carried the other day. However if possible I’d like the following noted.
a) The February 15 meeting of Fiji’s PM Frank Bainimarama and Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop was indeed historic but not for the reasons outlined in the Australian media, where the occasion was a lead news item in the press, radio and TV.
b) Even Rowan Callick of The Australian missed the significance of the meeting in his story which accompanied a front page picture of the two shaking hands in Suva. Callick wrote that this was important because it represented    `a step away from the foreign policy position of the Rudd-Gillard years’.
c) But sanctions, the cornerstone of the Australian stance toward the military regime, were imposed immediately after the 2006 coup by Alexander Downer, the Foreign Minister in the John Howard-led conservative coalition. The Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard –led Labor dominated coalition simply adopted the policy which was in place after winning the 2007 election in Australia.
d) There was some softening in the Australian position after 2006, mainly in the form of increased aid granted at the same time as the World Bank and Asian Development Bank were persuaded to cut their support for Fiji. However the sanctions policy which has lasted until recently is better described as the Howard-Rudd-Gillard policy. Not for the first time, the Abbott government is distancing itself from its conservative predecessor.
e) Although the Fiji government will be well aware of this correct history, it will also know the underlying reason for the rapprochement being sought by the current Australian government. What the Tony Abbott-led coalition wants desperately is for Fiji to assist with its `Pacific Solution’. By using whatever influence PM Bainimarama has in the Melanesian Spearhead Group, the Australian government hopes that he will assist in finding more countries which will open refugee camps. Fiji too is on the radar as a settlement target.
f) Any other assistance the Fiji government can provide in getting Australia, New Zealand and the USA an improved strategic and commercial position in the region will of course be welcome too.
Scott (MacWilliam)

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Election Round Up for the Week

By Croz Walsh

As with the proverbial rose, the length of a a week lies in the eyes of its beholder. It is only two weeks left before PM Bainimarama steps down as PM, and at least as importantly, as commander of military forces. A lot can happen in those two weeks, and even more in the weeks to follow if things do not work out as the PM intends.

He has spoken several times recently to the military on the issue of loyalty and completing the job it started in 2006. There has been no announcement of his successor but the anti-government blog Coup 4.5 says there will also be a new police commissioner in a bid to strengthen Bainimarama's protective power base.

Unionists and the Political Parties Decree
Meanwhile, Government seems likely to tighten the Political Parties Decree which in section 14 states trade unionists cannot show support for, or be part of, or engage in party politics. They must be see to be neutral. The action is a response to unionists being present (they said only in advisory capacities) at meetings of two political parties.

Legal expert Nazhat Shameem says they run the risk of deregistration which is no doubt correct, but one must ask why unionists should be excluded from politics in Fiji. Most Labour and left-leaning parties, in the UK, Australia, NZ, continental Europe and indeed Fiji, owe their origin to trade unions. There is a natural progression from concerns about workers' rights at work to parliamentary action to improve worker conditions. Dr Alumita Duratalo makes the same point in an interview with the Fiji Sun that is reported below.

This is no different from right-wing parties whose power bases lie in farmers' unions and chambers of commerce. The Fiji government has good reason to distrust the intentions of unionists such as Felix Anthony but that, in my opinion, is an insufficient reason to ban union leaders from party political activities. It is also bad politics because it risks losing the possible support of many ordinary union members and other citizens who may otherwise have voted for the Bainimarama party.

It is ironic, as the more moderate anti-government blog Fiji Today points out, that the PM is tarred with the same brush. While still in office, he is using every opportunity to urge people to vote for the party he will form over the next few weeks. His latest appeal was at the opening of an extension to the Vatuwaqa Primary School, of all unlikely places.

There is also an outside chance that some political parties could be deregistered. The Registrar of Political Parties says some party officials have not declared all their assets as they are required to do in law. One hopes that Labour's Mahendra Chaudhry is not holding back on more than the $3.8 million (sic!) he has declared.

Sparks flying
Sparks continue to  fly between Bainimarama and the older political parties, with claims, counter-claims, and generalized accusations. Bainimarama is urging people not to vote for the old political parties, claiming they want to re-empower the same people who "brought Fiji to its knees." He says Chaudhry's claim of "best economic performance" under his leadership in 1999 is all lies, and the A-G says the claimed percent increase was due to a low base in 1998. The NFP's Raman Pratap Singh wants Bainimarama to name the people he is accusing, saying his generalised accusations are not helpful. There was no response from the SODELPA to Fiji Village's questions on this issue when it went to press.

SODELPA: when new is old
SODELPA had not appointed its president when we went to press but a likely front runner is Ro Teimumu Kepa, paramount chief of the Burebasaga confederacy, former Qarase Cabinet Minister, and a stauch Government critic.

The party held a workshop during the week. Several election-related topics were raised but most concerned the Great Council of Chiefs and itaukei rights. For a party needing to show itself as a multi-racial party, the invitation of Indo-Fijian Waden Narsey to speak on the economy was hardly enough.

Its further claims of Bainimarama's "systematic disenfranchisement of the indigenous Fijian youth [by] dismantling Fijian institutions [resulting in] exploiting Fijian resources" is unlikely to appeal to the non-itaukei electorate, and possibly not to many itaukei, elders or youths, who benefited little from the work of these institutions under the Qarase and earlier governments.

Forum Group in Fiji
The Pacific Islands Forum Ministerial Contact Group paid a two days visit to Fiji during the week. They were there to review Fiji's progress to what is termed a "return" to democracy. They met with government and opposition parties and no doubt left Fiji as enlightened as they were when they arrived. Both McCully and Bishop want a return to normal relations but more needs to be done to lift the travel bans. Without this there can be no return to normal relations.

Unless the Forum countries do something positive soon, they may well find themselves marginalised and overshadowed by the Melanesian Spearhead Goup. But that is only if Bainimarama wins the elections. If he loses and one or more of the old political parties become government, it will, of course, be back to more of the same: a very unequal partnership of Australia and NZ and the Island countries.

The media
One final word before handing over to political academic, Dr Alumita Duratalo who is currently teaching in the School of Maori, Pacific and Indigenous Studies at the University of Otago.

By and large, the Fiji media, which included government-owned Fiji Broadcasting and the government-leaning Fiji Sun, have been fairly reporting statements from all political parties, but the Fiji Times for months now, has largely side-stepped all political issues, focusing instead of the everyday and less consequential. I'm left wondering whether it's  a case of once bitten twice shy or are they making a political point?


In an interview with the Fiji Sun
Dr Alumita Durutalo sheds some light on what the PM’s party can expect.

What can the PM expect?
She said: “Under representative democracy, party formation is done by people or voters with similar interests who believe that they can contest and win elections, form government and stay in power for as long as they possibly can.

“So a political party harnesses the many different interests of its supporters and attempt to present these to the voters in a unified and a cohesive manner through a party manifesto.”
She said a party would also have qualified and able office bearers as well as qualified and able candidates who would be supported by party members and voters in general.
“Normally political parties have political power bases from within which parties are launched.”
Dr Durutalo gave the example of Labour parties around the world are often launched through trade unions or trade union movements.
“A party needs a political power base for its long-term foundation and entrenchment.
“A power base also facilitates and enables the coming together of like-minded supporters  who may be influenced by certain ideologies or philosophies,” she said.

To maximise voter support?
“To be able to win votes any party manifesto should be able to appeal to as many voters as possible. This is quite a challenge in multi-ethnic and multi-cultural societies like Fiji.”
Will the removal of the Great Council of Chiefs (GCC) prove costly for Commodore Bainimarama?
Dr Durutalo said it depends on a number of factors including ethnicity, demography and the electoral provisions in the new constitution.
“If we assume that all iTaukei voters think alike and support the GCC wholeheartedly and the electoral provision allows people to vote for their own ethnicitythen perhaps, this may influence election results.
“On the other hand, if we look back into Fiji’s political history, two GCC supported iTaukei political parties, the Alliance (1987) and the SVT (1999) have lost elections already.
“In the globalised world that we live in now, the party that delivers to the people in terms of enhancing socio-political and economic development for all will win.”

“I would argue that a leader that is already in power  has the upper hand if he or she has been delivering on his promises to the people.”
Dr Durutalo said those from the outside trying to enter the political arena have to work twice as hard to win voters confidence unless voters preferred a leadership change.

She added that elections are about choosing outstanding leaders and voters choices can either bring forth desirable or undesirable leaders.
“Voters need to do their own research and ask a lot of questions regarding the different party manifestos and the competency of candidates in their constituencies before ticking a name on the ballot paper.
“Use your voting power to choose the best.”

Scott MacWiliam on Australia's Foreign Policy in the Pacific and Fji

Who’s in Control Now?
Australian Foreign Policy in the Asylum Seeker Age
Scott MacWilliam
Visiting Fellow
State, Society and Governance in Melanesia Program
The Australian National University

When relations between economically and politically dominant and subordinate countries are described metaphors are often employed. Australia has been described as a client state of the USA, filling the security role of deputy sheriff in this region for the world’s most powerful nation. One of the difficulties with such metaphors is that they tend to suggest a static, permanent condition. When relations change, so too must the metaphor.

Such is the case now, when Australian foreign policy has become captive to the domestic and international policy positions adopted by countries which previously appeared subordinate to the South Pacific’s major power. Australia may be able to convince the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank not to provide loans to the military government holding power in Fiji. However the region’s largest country is now in thrall to the governments of Papua New Guinea and Nauru. An important question for the future is which relatively small South Pacific country’s government will next be able to determine how it is treated by Australian governments.

For three years before the 2013 election in Australia, the Opposition coalition conducted a merciless campaign on two themes. `Stop the Boats’ and `Ditch the Carbon Tax’ became an incessant chant, with little else on offer. Nauru featured continuously as central to the Opposition’s `Pacific Solution’ for the so-called `flood’ of asylum seekers or illegal migrants. Papua New Guinea and Manus Island became the second leg of the policy to ensure people who tried to come by boat, usually from Indonesia, were not given residency rights in Australia. While the development of a detention centre at Manus was initially devised under the previous Labor-Greens-Independents coalition government, the current conservative coalition has seized upon the same policy with gusto.

Recognizing PNG’s importance to the Australian government which has pinned its electoral future on `stopping the boats’, the government led by Prime Minister Peter O’Neill has played the trump card for all it is worth. Not only have money flows for the construction and operation of the detention centre and ancillary activities increased, funds continue to be diverted from an already reduced aid budget for the central elements of `Operation Sovereign Borders’. Under this campaign, led by a senior army officer, the navy is reduced to the role of towing asylum seeker boats back to Indonesian waters or placing refugees in inflatable boats which are then deposited on less populated locations in the archipelago. Navy officers and other ranks were forced to suffer in silence the humiliation of an army officer explaining that all the sophisticated radar and other equipment could not prevent naval ships `inadvertently’ sailing into Indonesian waters.
When boats avoid or escape the net and refugees manage to land on Christmas Island or a part of the Australian coast, they are immediately transported to Manus or Nauru for `processing’. Refugee claims, security and health requirements can take years to assess, with detention in both places of an indeterminate length. Detention camps in both PNG and Nauru are over-flowing with refugees who are likely to remain there for years. Riots, escapes and self-harm are common occurrences. 
The conversion of aid into border security is made even easier by the hostile takeover of AusAID by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. The former agency has effectively disappeared, with many senior AusAID officials gone and the remainder working under the unsympathetic authority of DFAT managers. Even this change in administrative arrangements has a further twist which affects the balance of power between the Australian, PNG and Nauru governments. 
Unlike AusAID, for whom such matters as corruption, governance, accountability and transparency were central policy goals, DFAT is more concerned with international relations that advance Australian security and commercial interests in the region. These interests, as well as PNG’s support for the asylum seeker policy ensure that the relevant minister Julie Bishop visits PNG regularly and is invariably pictured with PM O’Neill. Not a word is said publicly by either Bishop or her department’s officials about the increasing grand corruption that has become the signature behaviour of the PNG government and administration. As a Southern Highlands, Hela, Enga and Simbu bloc seeks to displace the previously ascendant indigenous commercial interests the top ranks of the public service and government agencies are now filled by officials from these provinces. Manus is too important for the Minister and government to object to the accumulation practices which Australian foreign policy tolerates and sustains. 
What next? While other smaller South Pacific countries are on the Australian radar for the location of detention centres, the next larger country after PNG should not be discounted. Bishop has already flagged a changed policy toward the Bainimarama government in Fiji, even if the details of the shift remain to be fleshed out. Despite all their previous rhetoric about the need for Fiji to return to democracy, would Australia (and New Zealand) accept an electoral victory by their erstwhile enemy, no matter how this is achieved? 
The ties between Australian parties and their Fiji counterparts might ensure that a rigged election would receive some criticism. Nevertheless `Stopping the Boats’ and keeping asylum seekers who travel on them out of Australia is of such importance that a conservative Coalition government would easily ride out objections from within the Liberal Party. In the event of Commodore Bainimarama making a successful transition to elected PM, could he make a trip to Australia, and be photographed alongside PM Tony Abbott, Bishop and Immigration Minister Scott Morrison? Would the picture be attached to an account of how Fiji has now agreed to establish a detention centre, paid for by Australia with employment for surplus to requirements Fiji military personnel? And what metaphor would be employed for this change? Tail wagging the dog, perhaps.

Lockington's Everyday Fiji ... Life Goes On

Vunato Dump

I was at the Vunato rubbish dump in Lautoka and as usual people were there. I have been told that lots of them rummage around in the dump, find things of value and sell them. Whole families were there and most were well protected.

One day late. Happy Birthday,  Allen. 
While the dump is out of bounds it is almost impossible to stop people coming in.The authorities have an impossible job keeping them away. Poverty is one of the reasons for people going to the dump.

By the way, I was quite surprised to see good pieces of cloth and material at the dump - no wonder people go there, its like going a supermarket.

If you want to see humanity, go to a rubbish dump.

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, February 14, 2014

Back in Harness

I'm almost back in harness. Tomorrow's postings include Allen Lockington's column, an article by Scott MacWilliam on Australia's foreign policy under the new goverment, a roundup by me on Fiji's political news of the week, and an interview with Dr Alumita Duratalo on the prospects of the PM's yet to be announced party. .  From now on until the elections, I will normally post once or twice a week.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Charges Against Unionists Withdrawn

I'm not sure why the charges were laid in the first place. It seemed a minor issue. Presumably, there was a perceived breach of the law, or perhaps the prosecutors were just trigger happy, wanting to teach the unionists a lesson.  This sort of thing is not good publicity for the Bainimarama government. It was not a party to the prosecution but its opponents would hold it responsible.  But whatever the reason, the charges are now to be withdrawn  (no case to answer) —and that's a good thing for Bainimarama in election year. - Croz

PRESS RELEASE (No. 2 of 2014)
The Director of Public Prosecutions, Mr Christopher Pryde, has decided to withdraw unlawful strike charges against trade unionists Daniel Urai, Peni Finau, Sikeli Gavidi, Isei Levula, Merewai Vocevoce, and Akariva Nawai.
The six accused are members of the National Union of Hospitality, Catering and Tourism Industries Employees Union and were charged in the Magistrates’ Court under section 177 (d) of the Employment Relations Promulgation 2007 in relation to an alleged unlawful strike at the Sheraton Fiji Resort on 31 December 2013.
“I have reviewed the charges and the evidence and I am satisfied that no offence was committed. Accordingly, we will be filing a withdrawal of these charges when the matter is next called in court”, Mr Pryde said.
The matter will next be called in the Nadi Magistrates’ Court on 17 March 2014.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Bainimarama Refutes Rabuka's Allegation on High Debt Levels

 The three issues most raised by opponents to the Bainimarama government other, of course, than the statement that his coup was illegal, are, first, actual and alleged abuses of civil rights, most particularly limits placed on media freedom, freedom of assembly and restrictions on trade union activities; secondly, failure to disclose government expenditure, particularly the absence of public audits and  alleged hyper-salaries paid to Bainimarama and Attorney-General Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum; and , thirdly, the assumed cripplingly high level of debt that will need to be repaid by future generations.  In the following article published in the Fiji Sun, PM Bainimarama takes Fiji's first coup ledader, Sitiveni Rabuka,  to task on the debt issue, and he has some words to say also on expenditure on education.  -- Croz 

PM to Rabuka: Get facts right

n Claims on education policy and debt management refuted
n Questions on management of public funds by Rabuka Govt
Prime Minister Commodore Voreqe Bainimarama brought smiles to those sheltering in evacuation centres during his tour of flood hit West areas yesterday. Photo: MINFO NEWS
Prime Minister Commodore Voreqe Bainimarama brought smiles to those sheltering in evacuation centres during his tour of flood hit West areas yesterday. Photo: MINFO NEWS
Prime Minister Commodore Voreqe Bainimarama yesterday rubbished claims made by the former Prime Minister and Social Democratic Liberal Party (SOLDELPA) leadership candidate Sitiveni Rabuka. These were in regard to education policies and debt management..
The Prime Minister detailed how the Government is managing debt and how Fiji is doing much better than a range of similar size economies.
He also pointed out debts included those accumulated from borrowing by previous governments such as the SVT government Mr Rabuka had led.
Mr Rabuka had said that while he was happy with the developments taking place across the country he was concerned “about how we are going to pay for it.” He called it the “debt burden.”
In reply, Commodore Bainimarama said that whilst his Government had borrowed to finance capital for infrastructure development, they have also reduced the income and corporate tax rates.
He said the reduction in taxes increases the disposable income of workers and supports investment plans of private businesses.
Commodore Bainimarama said the borrowing was supported by the IMF Article IV Mission assessment of Fiji.
“Therefore, one can deduce from Mr Rabuka’s statement that he will either reduce borrowing, thus affecting development of much needed infrastructure in Fiji that will support the private sector, small and medium enterprises and improve standards of living, or he will raise taxes again to finance development thus increasing the financial burdens of workers who currently enjoy more take home pay as a result of the current Government’s tax adjustments.
“The positive spinoffs from the tax rate reductions has been witnessed in the economy through higher sales by businesses and investment levels, and evidenced in the high revenue collection by the Fiji Revenue and Customs Authority (FRCA), a level that has never been achieved before.”
He said to reach the record level of revenue collection as such, $1.86 billion in 2013 despite the tax cuts, was commendable.
“In fact it has been hovering around $1.7b for the last three months.”
Free Education
Mr Rabuka had also stated that the free education implemented by the Bainimarama Government was a hand-out.
The Prime Minister responded: “With regards to free education as a hand-out Rabuka obviously does not understand the big picture.
“Education is the greatest investment a nation can make in its future.
“My Government wants an educated society; it brings social and economic development.
“Free education provides a level playing fi eld for everyone, in particular the poor and the disadvantaged.
“By giving free education and scholarships, students and families from these disadvantaged groups can now say we have a chance in life.
“So if that’s a handout then it’s certainly a benefi cial one.”
Below is the full response regarding Mr Rabuka’s comments on debt:
Debt Position
This is the Fijian Government’s response to Mr Rabuka’s comments in the Fiji Sun (30/1) regarding Government Debt.
As the former Prime Minister may be aware, Government’s debt position reflects not only the existing Government undertakings but comprises of borrowings undertaken by the previous government over the years. To only state that future debt burden is a result of the loans borrowed by current Bainimarama Government is completely erred, considering that the portfolios of existing stock were taken in the last 15 to 20 years.
These debts were accumulated from previous governments including the SVT government led by Mr Rabuka.  Though loans acquired over the years has grown marginally, the Bainimarama Government has maintained its credibility by ensuring that the loans are serviced as per the loan repayment schedules.
The recent improvement in the Fiji Government rating by S&P is a testament to this.
When this government came in 2007, Fiji’s Debt to GDP ratio was around 52 per cent compared with 49 per cent as at December 2013. For the period 2002 to 2006, the borrowings undertaken previously were as follows:
Majority of borrowings above were for loans with term of 15 years.
The Qarase led government’s borrowing recorded the highest with $891 million in 2006, of which US$150 million relates to the 1st global bond issuance.
In 2007 when the current government came into power, we reduced the total outstanding debt from $2.86 billion to $2.73 billion, as Government introduced stringent expenditure measures.
From 2007 todate, we have maintained tight fiscal policy which resulted in the reduction of Debt to GDP ratio to 49 percent in 2013.
These fiscal policy measures has enable the current government to withstand the financial crisis in 2008 and the debt crisis that affected the Euro zone and other developed countries of the world.
Tabulated below is the debt position of the current government
It should also be noted that between 2001 to 2006, Public Debt increased from $1.68 billion in 2001 to $2.86 billion in 2006.
This accounts to an average net debt financing of $197.2 million on an annualized basis.
On the same note, Public Debt stands at $3.81 billion as at 31st December, 2013 which equates to an average net borrowing of $154.1 million over the last eight years (2007 to 2013).
This not only reflects prudent borrowing but targeted borrowing specifically confined towards capital projects.
Comparison with Similar Size Economies
Fiji has maintained prudent public financial management ever since the Bainimarama Government came into power. The table below reflects Fiji’s debt level when compared to other economies of similar size.
Objective of borrowing
Unlike the previous governments where borrowings were mostly to meet operational expenditure, the Bainimarama government has mandated that all borrowing are for capital and infrastructure projects.  As part of this exercise, the government changed its bond title from Fiji Development loans to Fiji Infrastructure Bonds.  This is noted in the improvement in infrastructure and public utilities in Fiji today.
Developments in Capital Market
Not only have there been improvements in the debt position, the current Government has introduced more initiatives to develop the primary and secondary market.
This includes more tax benefits for those willing to list their companies with SPSE, a new Viti Bond to target retail investors and reducing short term debt level.  The easing of monetary policy together with a more accommodative fiscal program brought about more demand for government securities. Furthermore, interest rates fell significantly and government was able to borrow at low rates.  The US$150 million first raised by the Qarase government in 2006 was successfully settled by this government in 2011.
Part of the success was the opening of Sinking Fund account abroad where surplus funds could be deposited to assist in future repayments of our debt.
With the new loan of US$250 million contracted in 2011 (through Global Bonds), the current Government already has US$140 million in the sinking fund account, in readiness for the full settlement of loan in 2016. Improvement in capital and infrastructure around Fiji is moving at a much faster pace. To name a few, the Nabouwalu/Dreketi Roads, Moto Roads, Raiwai Low Cost Housing are some of the projects that this government is pursuing to improve livelihoods of the people of this country.
The improvement in rural roads has other benefits like establishment of business, hotels, eco-tourism and more developments in the rural area. Developments have created market access for people in the rural areas, something that they have been deprived of, in the past. This is in contrast to loans contracted by the previous governments, where bulk is diverted for operational expenses, and majority of the capital projects not realizing their full potential. Had the Rabuka Government ensured soundness in the management of public funds, this government wouldn’t be carrying out all this initiatives.
Refinancing of Expensive Loans
Other initiatives undertaken by the current Government, includes the prepayments of expensive loans.  This is done, in conjunction with Government’s intention to continue to reduce the Debt to GDP ratio in the medium term to 45 per cent, and below 40 per cent in the longer term.