Saturday, June 28, 2014

Blowing on the Embers of Old Fires: Media and Academic Freedom and Responsibility

Australian Dr Matthew Thompson

        Opinion by Croz Walsh*

In less than 80 days Fiji goes to the polls in its first election for eight years. The regime's opponents and the media have more freedom now than at any time since 2009. Institutions and arrangements, including overseas observers, are being put place to protect the integrity of the elections, and to protect the media —the public from the media and the media from itself. The military presence is minimal.

So why now do we have the Australian media questioning Brig.Gen. Mosese Tikoitoga about alleged abuses of power seven years ago; the political opposition distorting and exaggerating what he said, and a recently arrived USP journalism educator full of righteous hyperbole over supposed and ongoing torture? 

For the Australian media, I suspect a large part of their reason is to retaining reader and viewer interest with sensational stories. For some perverse reason, the general public is often more interested in what is wrong than in what is going well. I hardly think the Sun, Herald and the ABC could give a toss about what it happening in Fiji, or its possible outcomes.  They are after a good story.

For the opposition, anything that discredits the government is ammunition.

For Dr Matthew Thompson, the USP academic, I suspect it is as much or more about  building his personal reputation as a crusader for freedom, a useful coda for his next book, than about freedoms in Fiji.  If I am wrong, I apologize, but his biography (see below) suggests this is likely.

The Opposition's Reactions

The Opposition blog Fiji Today claimed "Government Lawyers force Mosese Tikoitoga to modify previous statement to avoid coup members being open to prosecution in the international arena" citing no source or evidence for their claim. 

This is a strange reversal of their usual statements about a military dictatorship. Before, the military told people what to do,. Now, apparently, it's the the way round, which is good to know.
Youth activist shortlisted SODELPA candidate Pita Waqavonovono (who tried some years back to lead a protest march on Suva to which no one turned up) said Tikoitoga "admitted
they had detained and tortured Parliamentarians and Pro-Democracy supporters" (which he hadn't); he claimed "the voice of many young people  who were beaten and tortured at various military installations will not be silenced"
(without naming a single one), and then, incredibly, called on the "United Nations and Foreign Embassy's in Fiji  to look at Tikoitonga's comments in it's entirety [and] look into protecting Fiji's Freedom Fighters, since the Government of Fiji is bent on threatening and abusing Fiji Islanders".

Tikoitoga Responds

Tikoitoga claims his remarks were made out of context, a selective minute or two taken from a two-hour interview.  

The situation, he said,  in 2006 and 2007 when the beatings took place was very different than it is today. "What I question now is the timing ... as we near the elections. It's very mischievous to a point that it has now questioned the integrity of the RFMF in a period where we have quite clearly told the public of Fiji that we want no part in political discussions."

"We do not support any political party and we are ready to accept any government that comes after election and we will respect the Constitution," he said. "I am sincerely asking political parties and commentators not to take those comments out of contexts."

I'm afraid this is an idle ask. The only way the opposition can use his remarks to their advantage is by taking them out of context.

MIDA: Protecting the Public from the Media

The Media Industry Development Authority Chairman, Ashwin Raj also raised concerns about the two USP academics from the Journalism Programme. He asked why they did not find and confirm the facts from MIDA before making the  allegations about freedom in Fiji. He said:

  • They alleged the Fijian Government continues to intimidate journalists in the lead up to the general election, and they also made serious allegations of torture and intimidation used by the Fiji Military Forces to ensure that there is no civil disorder.
  •  Their accusation that the military is using torture and intimidation to silence journalists, with just a little over two months before the general election, is absolutely without any foundation.
  • The political situation in Fiji maybe less than ideal but a lot has been achieved since 2006 and we must move beyond the tireless debate between legality and legitimacy raised by the  academics. 
There is no sign the lecturers have taken any notice of Raj's concerns.   

The USP Lecturers

As previously noted in this blog, journalism lecturers Dr Matthew Thompson and Pat Craddock spoke out about two journalists being denied accreditation to the recent PIDF
New Zealander Pat Craddock
meeting and were found to be correct in one case and wrong in the other. 

My main concern here is that while they checked out the story with the two journalists allegedly denied accreditation, they apparently did not check out the reasons, either with MIDA or the Ministry of Information, why the journalists had not been accredited. From this, it seems reasonable to assume they were so predisposed to believe the aggrieved journalists that they thought further enquiry unnecessary. Not the best of approaches by journalism educators.

Far more serious, though, are
Dr Matthew Thompson's comments in a recent ABC interview with presenter Geraldine Coutts. (Click here for the full interview)

In his opening remark he said he thought it ironic that the Fiji military act as international peacekeepers but condone the use of violence on its citizens at home. Asked how he knew this and whether it was hearsay, he replied that Tikoitoga had admitted it (which he hadn't) and that "the government sort of admitted that at the time and said they'd gone too far."  He then went on to say:

"But I mean it continues. I mean even just not in political terms, there's a reasonably steady toll of people with broken hands here, and so the police break their hands, as a regular punishment, they bring out pipes and whips and smash people with them."

Asked how "this rubs off on the students that you're lecturing and what kind of future they have as journalists",  he replied: "Not much (of a future), apart from rewriting press releases and doing entertainment and pro-government news stories."

And asked whether he expected  any repercussions or reprisals for speaking out he said. "Possibly, there's been academics forced out of the University before (which is questionable, to say the least) and there's been academics picked up by the military before ... I just don't think I'd be doing my job as a journalism lecturer" (if he hadn't raised these issues in class and not spoken out).

Introducing Dr Matthew Thompson

In a later interview by the Fiji Sun he said: "I don't mind a bit of heat. I have been in dicier places like Colombia and Iran."

This casual comment could tell us more than intended about the man. His entry in LinkedIn, a large internet network where professionals write their own profiles, is a self portrait of a man on the move: three journalism jobs in eight years, two books My Columbian Death (2008) and Running with the Blood God (2013), both books about violence and terror in South America.  

He lists among his interests Krav Maga  (the 'contact combat'  martial art developed for the Israeli military) and he's also a trained fire fighter  "qualified in such areas as extracting casualties from wrecked vehicles and performing abseil rescues."  His doctorate is in literary journalism. 

From what he writes about himself, he appears to be an able, versatile person with a penchant to seek out the dangerous. In ordinary circumstances he could be worthwhile appointee to USP, and I've little doubt his students enjoy being taught by such a colourful character.

But these are not ordinary times in Fiji and his recent comments, although conceivably well intended, were poorly researched, unbalanced, emotionally charged, and obviously provocative and anti-Government.  He claims he had a right and duty to speak out. But does he? And to speak out in this way?

Town and Gown and Expatriate Employees

Normally, universities encourage their academic staff to engage in off-campus activities, and in Fiji this engagement has been mutually beneficial. The past engagement of Dr Wadan Narsey and the current engagements of  USP's Ashwin Raj and Prof Vijay Naidu, and FNU's Drs T.K.Jayaraman and Mahendra Reddy, are well known cases in point.

 It is, however, not engagement as such t
hat is being  questioned, but the type, quality and timing of the engagement.

 Dr Thompson has been in Fiji for three months. Far too short a time to speak out so confidentially on local issues. Putting it bluntly, as far as local customs, behaviour and events are concerned, he is wet behind the ears. 

It could be argued that three months is long enough when civil rights abuses are concerned, but he has no direct knowledge of the alleged abuses. He has relied on what others have told him, which raises questions about the knowledge, biases and agenda of his informants. 

Much of what he called brutality existed in police culture long before the 2006 coup.   This is not to say that beatings did not occur. They did.  But his description of the severity and frequency of the beatings far exceeds even those of  the anti-Bainimarama blogs, which pick up every rumour. 

The blogs have not carried stories about people being regularly beaten with pipes — and they have not reported any recent beatings.   

Thompson is engaging in polemics which reflects poorly on his academic professionalism. This is sensationalism, anything to make a headline, not investigative or even "news" journalism.

Tikoitoga made a distinction between then, soon after the coup, and now, since the Public Emergency Regulations were lifted. Thompson makes no such distinction, claiming the beatings continue.   

Tikoitoga is referring to political-motivated beatings by the military. Thompson includes non-political beatings. His only evidence other than hearsay was a 15-month old video of an escaped prisoner who had rampaged around Suva being beaten with a stick by corrections officers. This does not make it  excusable, of course, but the context was very different than that inferred by Thompson.   

The overall impression he creates is of a nation living in fear where people are regularly beaten and tortured by the military and the police. Yet this is a country where three earlier Prime Ministers, all vocal and opposed to the Bainimarama government, walk freely around Suva.  

Moreover, the image created by Thompson stands in stark contrast to recent Fiji Sun-Razor polls that show over 80% of those polled feel safer in their homes and think Fiji a better place to live in than before the 2006 takeover.

One must ask, did it not occur to Dr Thompson that to make such allegations now, with campaigning for the September elections well underway, would make it seem he was taking sides, allying himself with the political parties that oppose Bainimarama? 

Did he not consider the possible consequences for the university and his students? How will he respond if the University censor him for sensational and mainly incorrect reporting and bringing the University into disrepute? Will he claim lack of media freedom, and ignore or deny his responsibilities for accurate reporting?  

And if he is deported for breaking conditions in his working permit or for some other reason will he then retire to Brisbane with enough new material to add a disparaging deportation chapter to a new book, tentatively titled Tortures in Paradise", forgetting he has left his students, to whom he is responsible,  without a lecturer for the third time in recent months?

Dr Thompson is not the only one to determine his responsibilities. He has contractual responsibilities to the University and the students he teaches.

To Conclude

USP academics on work permits who engage in off campus activities should ensure the activities and their consequences do not undermine their university work.  What they say and write must be accurate, balanced, in context, and apolitical, especially when commenting on highly sensitive topics during an election campaign.

If, as a newcomer to Fiji, Dr Thompson was in any doubt about the likely consequences of his actions, he should have consulted the University authorities. 

I trust the university and government authorities will revisit their contract and work permit documents so that people from overseas will have a very clear understanding, before they apply and agree to take up employment in Fiji, of what is, and what is not, acceptable, . 

Dr Thompson appeared not have such an understanding or if he did, he chose to ignore it.  

* Disclaimer. I am also an expatriate member of the USP community, but my membership, as an Emeritus Professor, is honorary. I am not on a work permit and I am not a university employee. But when those conditions applied, I never  made political comments, in  public or to my students, and what I wrote met the normal academic requirements for scholarship.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Joint Australia-Fiji Statement


Today we were pleased to meet at Australia’s Parliament House to discuss our mutual commitment to enhancing engagement between our two countries.

The discussion provided an important opportunity to discuss ways we can build the bilateral relationship into a dynamic and productive partnership.

Minister Ratu Inoke updated Minister Bishop on Fiji’s further progress towards the 17 September elections. Minister Bishop emphasised Australia’s strong support for the electoral process. 

Building on Australia’s in-principle acceptance of Fiji’s invitation to co-lead a Multinational Observer Group to observe the elections, Minister Bishop said she looked forward to the finalisation of the terms of reference for the mission. 

Reflecting the growing official engagement, the two Foreign Ministers discussed a wide range of issues of common interest to both countries, including strengthening dialogue and people-to-people links. Preparatory work to re-establish defence ties was also discussed.

The expansion of trade and economic relations was highlighted, including programs to promote labour mobility between both countries.

The meeting was a constructive example of the commitment of Australia and Fiji to deepening and strengthening the relationship.

When Ignorance is Bliss

"When ignorance is bliss" is a line of poetry which means if knowing something makes you unhappy, it would be better not to know it.

John Kotoisuva is the president of the Fiji Community Association of Auckland who wrote in Facebook  he's "fuelled by a lack of transparency about how the votes in Fiji and overseas will be recorded and counted" in the September election" before stating, "The Fiji government needs to give a clear explanation if voters are to have confidence in the election and the result."

There really is no good reason why a person in his position —who can so easily influence the opinions of others— should make such a statement, There may possibly be legitimate concerns about the fairness of some elements of the election process in the lead up to the elections, but not when and after voters vote.

All John needs to do is keep up with the online Fiji media, read something other than the vehemently anti-Bainimarama blogs,  and visit the Elections Office  website to check on their news releases and educational videos.

Here's an extract of what I published on April 9th. I hope it quell most of his doubts.
  • To vote, voters will need their voting registration ID (or if this is lost or forgotten, a finger print will be taken and the vote allowed if the print matches that on the ID). Voters are not allowed to talk (except to election officials)  or take a sample voting paper or instructions on how to vote into the station and they must not use their cell phones.
  • Inside the polling station there will be several large notices [and booklets] showing   the number, name and photo of each candidate. The voter has to take the ballot paper to a private voting booth and put a cross, tick or circle around one number, that of his or her chosen candidate. In previous elections only a cross was valid. A finger of each voter will then be marked in ink to prevent voting twice.
  • The process will be overseen by election officials, foreign and other observers and representatives of the political parties, and when the votes are counted at each polling station, any one of them can ask for a recount.
  • Final results will be posted securely to the Supervisor of Elections whose team, overseen by the candidates, foreign and other observers, political parties and the media, will record the votes cast for each candidate and each political party.
  • The results will then be forwarded to to the Electoral Commission who will calculate the allocation of parliamentary seats,  having deduced candidates who failed to reach the 5% threshold, using a formula in use in at least 39 other countries. 
John, the multi-national team of observers will be headed by Australia and Indonesia. The EU will make it own separate analysis.  This is far more rigorous than was the case in previous elections.

Lockington's Everyday Fiji ... Life Goes On

Think of Levuka

It's 50 since PAFCO started, and what a journey it has been. Levuka needs PAFCO for the people to survive. I lived in Levuka from 1985 to 1990 and it was thriving. The shops could afford to give goods on credit because the shop owner knew that the purchaser had a secure job. I too had the luxury of taking a stereo home on credit - I was a Customs officer. Such was the confidence of the shop keepers.

When PAFCO was thriving pay days would see supermarkets full of people with full shopping carts. Taxis would be hired and every so often when I wouldn't someone for a while I would be told that he or she had gone to Viti Levu to visit families. That is now restricted because finances is low now.

It was not odd to see drunk staggering home from a party. And eateries would always have patrons. New clothes could be seen worn by the people. By the way even the fisherman would give strings of fish on credit because come payday he gets his money.

And as for the church collection, the people could afford to give a little more.

Now that PAFCO is not doing so well, all of the above is now at a bare minimum.

Levuka really needs another industry to be set up there. Punjas, you reading this?

Film Censors

Many parents and guardians  are concerned about the content of movies shown in theaters and on TV.

May I ask if the Censor Board still exists?We need to do regular checks to safeguard our children.

As for me, some movies shown on TV need to go into the rubbish bin because of the content. They do not challenge us intellectually. It seems we just bring in what ever Hollywood tosses out. but seriously, is the Censor Board still around?

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.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

News and Comments Wednesday 25 June

FALLOUT FROM BRIG.GEN.TIKOITOGA'S COMMENTS. The main news over the past few days has been in the fallout from the RFMF Commander's comments reported in the Australian media.

In the Fiji Times on Tuesday, Tikoitoga  said he did not admit that citizens had been beaten and tortured by the military, saying instead that his exact words were, "I wouldn't deny that these things happened,"   The distinction may be a fine one but he was not there when the military abused women opposition activists at the Queen Elizabeth Barracks in early 2007.  The officer present, according to one of the women, was Ratu Tevita Mara  now in exile in Tonga.

Tikoitoga did, however, justify unspecified action against those opposing the 2006 military takeover.

"A  lot of these people," he said, "were actually trying to instigate violence by creating anti-government movements or militant groups. They were talking on the radio and so on. If you let them continue to have a voice, you create a potentially dangerous environment. So it was the lesser of two devils," .

If his assessment was correct, action not taken at that time could have resulted in a failed coup. And whatever one thinks about the merits or otherwise of the Coup, strong action against possibly terminal destabilisation is understandable. 

Tikoitoga also questioned the timing of the reports published in "the Herald and The Age ; how what he said was taken out of context, and "how political parties are trying to make comments including the USP people (See 'Crusade' item below.)

The Fiji Times article continued:

"I stand by my statement to the public of Fiji that the Republic of the Fiji Military Forces is apolitical as we are here to do our job and that is what we will stand by."

He said "military involvement or a push from other political parties or commentators to include the military in political discussions would not help the RFMF achieve their apolitical aspirations."

"What I question now is the timing of that paragraph to be put out as we near the elections, it's very mischievous to a point that it has now questioned the integrity of the RFMF in a period where we have quite clearly told the public of Fiji that we want no part in political discussions.

"We do not support any political party and we are ready to accept any government that comes after election and we will respect the Constitution," he said.

"I am sincerely asking political parties and commentators not to take those comments out of contexts.'

He said his full interview to the media organisations were not published.

NEW CRUSADE BY USP JOURNALIST EDUCATOR.  Since the Fijian head of USP's journalism programme went on leave to complete a doctorate in Australia, the programme has seen a high staff turnover.  First was the departure of Canadian "voyager" Dr Marc Edge who resigned or, if he is to be believed, was forced to resign because of  his heavy engagement in Fiji politics.

He was followed by the sudden departure of his replacement for either domestic reasons or because he had a philosophical disagreement with the university's management, depending on who you believe..

And now we have Dr Matthew Thompson who has gone much further than his predecessors by reading too much into what Brig.Gen.Tikoitoga said to the Australian media (see above) and, mainly on the basis of hearsay (he has only been in Fiji for two months), he has accused the military and police of beatings and torture on a scale more reminiscent of Iraq — which not even the anti-Bainimarama blogs have claimed.

I shall say more of his engagement when I have consulted with more people and had time to reflect on the implications of his actions.  I am concerned not simply with what he said and what this may mean for media freedom in Fiji, but also whether a person on a work permit contracted to teach should assume that he also has a permit to be a political journalist, free to comment and take sides on the local political scene, irrespective of its possible consequences for his students and on the institution that employs him.

MINISTRY BACKTRACKS ON PARETI BUT NOT ON RIKA. An other media-related incident saw USP journalist staff, Pat Craddock and Matthew Thompson, crying foul over Islands Business Editor Samisoni Pareti  and former Fiji Times Editor Netani Rika being refused accreditation to the recent Pacific Islands Development Forum meeting. They claimed this was political inference that limited media freedom.

The Ministry of information initially stated that the former was not a registered journalist and the latter's application was lodged five days after the official deadline for accreditation. Samisoni was, however, informed that  Islands Business,  his new employer, was welcome to send another journalist to cover the event. More than the normal security was necessary at the PIDF meeting because of the attendance of the Indonesian President.

Ministry of information Permanent Secretary Sharon Smith-Johns, however, has now  apologised to Samisoni for basing their  decision "on what now appears to be incorrect information.This was the result of miscommunication between the Ministry and the Media Industry Development Authority ... I have launched a full investigation into the matter to make sure that an incident like this is not repeated in the future," she said.

PURSE STRINGS.  NFP  Party president Tupou Draunidalo is urging some 2,000 registered Fijian voters living in NZ  ("who have an important say with their votes and financial influence over family in Fiji" ) to tell their relatives not to vote for Bainimarama because this would "legitimise the coup and encourage the military to think it was acceptable to do it again."  NFP leader Biman Prasad is also in NZ hoping to gather votes.

VOTING FOR THE FIRST TIME. It is estimated that 28% of Fijians voting in September will be voting in an election for the first time.

News and Comments Monday 22 June

WHAT THE PEOPLE WANT.  Click on this link to read the Fiji Times article on ordinary people's satisfaction with government and what they want from the government elected in September.

POLL RESULTS. The Fiji Times-Tebbutt polls found that people's main concerns are economic such as poverty,  the cost of living and unemployment.

The Fiji Sun-Razor polls, however, show most people feel safer in their homes now than they did before the 2006 takeover (86% to 10% with 4% unsure), and most think Fiji is a better place than it was before (87% to 7% with 6% unsure.) 

The two sets of polls are not contradictory. The Tebbutt poll asked general questions with which those polled by Razor may also have agreed —and still think things are better now than before 2006. 

FIJI'S DIPLOMATIC SUCCESSES.  In this important and revealing video, ABC's Sean Dorney speaks of Fiji's diplomatic successes after it was suspended by the Australia-NZ dominated Pacific Islands Forum, the growing importance of the Fiji-led Pacific Islands Development Forum, and the implications of the recent visit to Fiji by the Indonesian President.

FLP'S FIRST 28 CANDIDATES. Despite the recent court order, FLP leader Mahendra Chaudhry says he'll be a candidate in the September Elections. Of the other 28 candidates announced on Saturday there were 10 Taukei, including a Ratu and a church minister,  Lavinia Padarath, Rohit Kishore, Kini Maraiwai, Narendra Padarath, Rupeni Silimaibau, Monica Raghwan, Sekaia Suluka, Ratu Filimpne Ralogaivau, Arvin Dutt, Laisa Bale, Mohammed Anwar Khan, Roserine Lagi, Damondar Nair, Hari Krishna, Josaia Waqabaca, Pratap Sen, Surendra Lal, Solomone Vosarogo, Udit Narayan, Vyais Deo Sharma, Tula Ram, Mohammed Tahir, Rev Joji Koroiwaca, Kamlesh Chandra, Tara Somaiya, Karam Bidesi, Arendra Prasad, and Deo Narayan. 

SOLDELPA-FLP COALITION. Ro Teimumu Kepa who attended the  FLP meeting with other senior SODELPA officials, said the intended SODELPA-FLP coalition was "a relationship based on trust," The two parties were still working on a Memorandum of Agreement. SODELPA repeated its vow to amend the 2013 Constitution if it becomes government.

POLL FINDINGS ON CHAUDHRY'S CHANCES.  Three Fiji Sun-Razor polls since March have asked what people think about Mahendra Chaudhry. To the question 'Should people with criminal convictions be allowed to stand for parliament?' 83% said no. To 'Should Mahendra Chaudhry retire from politics now he's been convicted?', 78% said yes. To 'Can the FLP survive without Chaudhry?' 87% said no.

FLASHBACK TO 2006-7. In an interview reported in Friday's Sydney Morning Herald headed "Fiji military leader admits beatings, torture" cites  Brigadier-General Mosese Tikoitoga as saying,“I wouldn’t deny that these things happened" and  justifying them on the grounds that some people were trying to instigate violence to overthrow the Bainimarama government. They were, he said, creating "a potentially dangerous environment. So it was the lesser of two devils.” 

Tikoitoga said the military will respect the result of the September 17 election. “We will not have another coup, as such – that’s quite definite,” But the military would not  tolerate an elected government rewriting the new constitution.

See also 'Poll Results' (above) that showed an overwhelming number of Fijians thought Fiji safer and better than before the 2006 takeover.

VOTE FOR SODELPA: FIJI'S DAVID v. GOLIATH. I found this appeal to voters on SODELPA's Facebook page and honestly couldn't believe what I read:

"You have the guns, all of the weapons, the rifles and grenades and all of the equipment to hurt us and keep us down. You have the trucks, cars and ships. You have thousands of men and your disposal, army, navy, police and all of the civil service to do your bidding, to sack us from our jobs if we raise our voices, to beat us to death if you like. Yes you are all powerful and through this power you have become rich beyond measure. Indeed you are the Philistine, Goliath.

"Who are we? No one important. We do not have a voice, since you have silenced us and we are faceless, because the bottom of your jackboots are placed on our skulls. We are David, with nothing but the hard pebble of truth in our slingshot of righteousness.

"Now I must go to the Living Word of my Great God Jehovah to read for myself in the Holy Bible how this epic battle ended. I believe the reference is Samuel 17."

Sunday, June 22, 2014

NZ Poll Rigged

John Key
The latest NZ Herald-Digipoll poll is obviously  rigged. Either that or people are too afraid to speak their minds, which is not surprising given that the Governor-General Lt Gen Jerry Mataparae is a military officer and the PM a Jew with clandestine links to Israeli's notorious Mossad.

There's no way in a peaceful, democratic environment (which we used to have) that 66% of potential voters could prefer John Key as their PM, or that 50.5% would vote National if an election were held now. Yet that's what the poll claimed.

The skulduggery does not stop there. The Stuff-Ipsos showed National poll  had 56.5% support. As if anyone in their right mind would believe this result genuine!

It's clear also that the September election is not going to be either free or fair either when  Key's backers —in addition to controlling these influential polls— more importantly also control the media and judiciary,  and the police are able to monitor cell phone messages. Forget the level playing field,

It's no wonder the EU has refused to join the Australia-led team of observers. The whole thing is a sham. The election outcome is obvious. Key will be elected, and the EU will continue to withhold aid and assistance from our kiwifruit industry.
For those unfamiliar with thus type of writing, it's called satire."the use of humour, irony, exaggeration, or ridicule to expose and criticize people's supposed stupidity or vices, particularly in the context of contemporary politics and other topical issues".-- Croz

The Pacific Islands Development Programme

 An extract from Bainimarama's closing address to last week's PIDF meeting:

"Part of the attraction of the PIDF is still its novelty value, the fact that for the first time, we all have a genuinely Pacific gathering that is also genuinely inclusive – Governments, civil society organisations and business working together to forge a sustainable development path for us all...

"Why has it taken us so many years to officially recognise the need for this grand coalition, to recognise that Governments don’t have all the answers, don’t have a monopoly on wisdom?

"Think about it. Where else can we all gather together under the one roof to exchange opinions and ideas?

"Where else do we see Pacific leaders actually chairing sessions addressed by civil society and business representatives, as happened yesterday with the Presidents of Kiribati and Nauru?

"Where else can we hear senior representatives from some of the world’s greatest nations outlining their own development ideas, as happened with the special envoys from China and Russia?

"Where else can representatives of the grassroots in our societies benefit from the wisdom of a leader of the stature of our Chief Guest – His Excellency, the President of Indonesia?

"Where else can the voices of ordinary Pacific Islanders - through their representatives – cut through and be heard? "

PIDF AND PIF SHAKE HANDS.A new agreement has been signed by the Secretariat of the Pacific Community to work with the Pacific Islands Development Forum. The memorandum of understanding aims to increase collaboration between the two organisations, including the development of joint programmes in areas of mutual interests and information sharing.

The agreement follows on from previous agreements to increase activity on Youth and Green Growth, and to move towards a shared ‘green growth agenda.’ The MOU comes into effect immediately and will be subject to review after two years.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Political Round Up Friday 20 June

The most important event of the week, in my view, was the State Visit of the Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, his attendance at the second summit meeting of the Pacific Islands Development Forum (PIDF), and Indonesia's agreement to co-lead, with Australia,  the multinational group of observers for Fiji's September election.

His visit, the sharp increase of Fiji's diplomatic missions, and the  growing importance of the PIDF shows just how much Fiji's foreign policy has changed in recent years.

The implications of this geopolitical shift are yet to be seen but it is unlikely —unless the old political parties win the elections—that Australia and New Zealand will ever again resume their former patrons' prominence.  Fiji seems set to independently form its own foreign policies and Pacific Islands nations seem more likely to look to Fiji for a lead. 

This posting includes the usual round up of what the political parties have been doing during the week; comments by the PM on Fiji's economy, and has two economic updates,  on tourism and development in NE Viti Levu, and on the work of the controversial Land Bank.   I draw your attention in particularly to the Mahandra Chaudhry's interview with the Fiji Times in November 2007. -- Croz.

SODELPA: Two or one?
IS SODELPA BILINGUAL?  I'm hearing reports that SODELPA is saying one thing in English and a quite different thing in Taukei. In English they say they'll restore the Great Council of Chiefs; in Taukei they talk also of making Fiji a Christian state. Can anyone confirm or refute this rumour?  -- Croz

CHAUDHRY'S FLP HOLDS HANDS WITH SODELPA. This is the same man who now praises the 1997 Constitution and seeks a power-sharing arrangement in government,  a system he said did not work, with the same party he denounced in 2007. Read what he said in 2007 and then consider  what he is now saying about forming a government with SODELPA should they win the elections in September.

 What Chaudhry is Forgetting He Said about Pre-2006 Fiji

Chaudhry and Bainimarama 2007
In mid-November 2007, nearly one year after the 2006 Coup,  Mahendra Chaudhry said the 1997 Constitution was "seriously flawed from day one",  the Qarase government lacked "integrity and ethics", and under Qarase's  "rule, social conditions deteriorated markedly with poverty levels escalating to more than 50 per cent."

"Fiji," he said, "needs to move completely away from divisive and feudalistic hang-ups such as communal electoral systems, parochialism and provincialism, religious fundamentalism and such like, if we are to build a modern, progressive state.

"Such anachronisms tend to spawn corrupt politicians and elitism through the corridors of power while keeping the masses poor and subjugated.

"Such feudalistic notions cannot have a place in a reformed society."

These comments and others were published by the Fiji Times under the heading “Chaudhary picks out the flaws from a past regime”.   Click here.

Thank you, Raj, for the link.

"CUSP OF A NEW ERA":PM.  Extract from the PM's closing words in his address to the Second Summit Meeting of the Pacific Islands Development Forum (PIDF) this week.  The Summit was attended by Pacific  and Asian government, business sector and civil society organizations.

"Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen, you are all in Fiji at a very exciting time. There are now less than 90 days to our General Election, in which five registered political parties are vying for the votes of more than 550-thousand Fijians who have so far registered to vote.

"We are on the cusp of a new era – a genuine democracy which will herald a new era of stability and prosperity.

"Our economic growth forecast for 2014 is 3.8 per cent, greater than our larger neighbours.  So Fiji is on the move and the signs are all around us.

"We also intend to cement our position as the hub of the Pacific with major improvements to our infrastructure – our ports and airports – and the expansion of our national airline, Fiji Airways. And we also intend to work hand-in-hand with our neighbours on issues of mutual concern and making sure our collective voice is heard in the world."

NFP'S NEW CANDIDATES.  The party named  five new candidates today:  Sadasivan Naicker, Frederick Harol Work, Sant Kumar Murti, Jone Vakalalabure and Captain Rainjesh San. Party leader Professor Biman Prasad said, "I call it a milestone because these candidates reflect the NFP's commitment to offer to the people of Fiji a leadership team that is going to define the future of this country."

PDP ANNOUNCES NEW POLICIES. Party Leader Felix Anthony says they will remove any
decrees  that "limit any of rights for the people [including] the Essential Services Industries Decree which does not allow workers to have union representatives from outside their workplace" if it comes into power after the September 17th general elections.

The party will also bring the Great Council of Chiefs back to "look at what is best for the itaukei, and  review "the $2 national minimum wage rate, saying it is too low and they will have a higher rate."

Comment: Getting the chiefs to determine what is best for their people seems similar to getting employers determine what is best for their workers. The $2 minimum wage may be low but it's the first time Fiji has had a minimum wage which leaves me wondering why trade unions did nothing about it before. -- Croz

DEVELOPMENTS IN RAKIRAKI.  Three new hotels, one locally owned,  are in the final
planning stage on the Rakiraki coast. Construction costs total over $20 million, and when complete the hotels and other ventures on this under-developed area at the end of the upgraded Kings Road will create jobs for over a thousand people.

TOURISM UPDATE. With Fiji's annual tourist arrivals at 660,000 (up from under 400,000 in 2002) and growing at over 6% a year; service by eight airlines (compared with two in 2007), the multimillion dollar facelift of Nadi International Airport, and the country's improved infrastructure developed over last seven years, many parts of Fiji, including the Rakiraki coast, should see more jobs created and more money-earning opportunities in the next two to three years.

LAND BANK UPDATE. The utilisation of land deposited under the Land Bank Unit has so far attracted close to three quarter billion dollars’ worth of investment. Some 64 landowning groups have deposited their land leases with the unit which have been successfully rented out to investors who have brought in $730m worth of business to Fiji. To date, the land comprises 4388 hectares with 23 leases issued to 19 investors. Another 40 mataqali/tokatoka have shown interest in depositing 14,539 hectares. Payments to landowners to May this year totalled  $4,586,653 and Government has received a total of $1,364,211,” Mr Boseiwaqa said. The value of major projects using the land total $730 million.  Some local investors have also approached the Land Bank Unit  who are interested in commercial farming.

The PM has assured landowners wanting to utilize the services of the Land Use Unit to market their land that there will be no change in land ownership. “The land ownership system will remain as it is. In other words the ownership of all lands shall not change,” he said.

Lockington's Everyday Fiji ... Life Goes On

Mulomulo Secondary School jubilee
Local Tourism

Interesting situation: I get a call from the employee of  an organisation in Suva.

Suva : "Mr. Lockington we are just enquiring about (subject)."

Me: "Oh OK. How can I help you."

We talk a bit more and the person asks, "Mr. Lockington where do you live?"

Me : "In Mulomulo, Nadi on the Nausori Highlands road."

Suva person: "Goodness gracious, where the heck is that."

I explain and the person says, "OK, don't worry, I'll look it up and find where Mulomulo is."

I thought I'd share this because many of us know about places overseas. Have traveled there, seen that and done that. Yet we haven't seen our own country. Fiji has so many beautiful places that we can travel to. We have some of the best beaches in the world and the most breathtaking places that tourists come over to see. How many of the people who live on Viti Levu have been to Vanua Levu? How many have traveled to Levuka, to see the old capital and all the Fiji history that is kept at the library?

How many people who live in Suva have been to Sigatoka, Nadi, Lautoka, Ba or Rakiraki? How many have traveled via  Kings Road?

There is so much of Fiji that we haven't seen that we can enjoy. If we were to encourage local tourism at least our  dollar will remain here.

Tourism Fiji, how about it?

Rural Experience: the Game on TV
Saturday 7th June dawned at Mulomulo and my mates and I did some work around the school compound. Only one subject we talked about ... the Fiji v. Italy game.

We all put in $2 each and bought some grog, At 3 pm we tuned into Fiji One and we got a live coverage.   Then the presenter says that at 3 pm the programme would end and the game would be shown on Sky Pacific.

We were like, WHAT?

One friend has Sky Pacific and we all go to his place and guess what .... the game was on PPV. We look at each other and wonder how the under 20 rugby games could be televised to us free from New Zealand and a game being played in our very own country we have to pay extra.

One guy said .... you gang just want everything free.

And it was back to radio and the voice of rugby and all we needed was to envision him calling the 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.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

News and Comments Wednesday 18 June

MORE CHIEFS THAN INDIANS. SODELPA has now named all of its 44 election candidates with a line up that includes 11 chiefs and 4  Indians,  Party leader Roko Tui Dreketi Ro Teimumu Kepa said the candidates would work to protect the interest of all Fijians, as the party fights to protect Fiji's needs.

The selected candidates are: Provincial: Ro Teimumu Kepa, Ratu Naiqama Lalabalavu (two of Fiji's three parmount chiefs), Ratu Viliame Tagivetaua, Josefa Dulakiverata, Kiniviliame Kiliraki, Ratu Suliano Matanitobua, Mikaele Leawere, Luke Ratuvuki, Nanise Nagusuca, Ratu Viliame Niumataiwalu, Anare Jale, Anare Vadei, Ratu Sela Nanovo, Ratu Isoa Tikoca, Viliame Gavoka, Sitiveni Loco, Niko Nawaikula, Jeremaia Namuaira, Ratu Osea Bolawaqatabu, Simione Drole and Iosefo Nainima.  Urban: Ratu Jone Kubuabola, Dr Tupeni Baba, Pio Tabaiwalu, Dr Mere Samisoni, Losena Salabula, Tomasi Vakatora, Salote Radrodro, Penina Ravulo, Mitieli Bulanauca, Laisani Qaqanilawa, Parayame Cakacaka, Semesa Karavaki, Samu Saumatua, Simione Rasova, Ratu Jone Bouwalu, Marika Lewaqai, Ratu Nemia Vainitoba and Viliame Satala. National: Mick Beddoes, Abdul Sahim Cavalevu, Sushil Shudhakar, Nirmal Singh and George Shiu Raj.

NFP CANDIDATES. The National Federation party has announced six new candidates five of them Indo-Fijians, including former president of the Fiji Law Society Dormani Naidu,.  NFP has now announced 19 candidates and will announce more soon.

MAHENDRA CHAUDHRY HAS TOLD YOUTH THAT THAT VOTES ARE IMPORTANT BECAUSE:  "The fundamental difference this time is that this election is not being held in a democratic environment, there are too many restrictions, the whole system has been changed, things have been made difficult — the system has been made complicated — elections should be simple for people to easily understand it and cast their vote," he claimed.

ELECTIONS WILL BE FAIR. "Our Constitution expressly requires that free and fair general elections must be held before 30 September 2014. The Fijian Government is committed to ensuring that we have the right electoral processes and oversight mechanisms in place to address the corrupt practices and flaws of past elections. It will ensure that we have truly free, and fair, general elections on 17 September 2014". – Labour Minister Jone Usamate.

ASSISTANCE FOR VOTERS. The Electoral Commission has assured people who may need assistance to vote that voting stations'  Presiding Officers will assist. Commission member Fr David Arms says that while only one person at a time is allowed behind the voting screen, the Presiding Officer will assist when requested and another official will ensure the Presiding Officer marks the paper in the way that the voter has directed. Voters can also ask for a replacement voting paper if they make a mistake. He confirmed that Pre-polling will be done in remote areas and locations where voter numbers are low such as part of Lau and Lomaiviti Groups. Voting starts at 7:30am and finishes at 6pm on 17th September, 2014.

EU SAYS NO. The European Union has turned down Fiji's invitation to join the Australian-led observers group for Fiji's 2014 Election. EU rules do not allow EU observers to be embedded in a multinational mission nor to operate under the leadership of any third party. It will, however, rely on its own experts and take other observers' comments into consideration before resuming its bilateral aid.

JUDICIARY LAX. Lynda Tabuya (PDP) has again attacked the judicial system.  This time for failing to invest investigate the death of a four year old boy  since April last year.

The Director of Public Prosecutions, Chris Pryde, replied, "Justice rushed is justice denied."  He again urged aspiring politicians to approach the appropriate authorities for information, rather than taking their complaints to the media for political advantage.


TEBBUTT POLL According to the poll, the most common responses to all three of these questions were unemployment, high cost of living, and poverty. Many of the bread-and-butter issues which dominate the top of these lists are common across the globe, and Fijians are not alone in facing these issues, the poll also outlined.

Labour Minister on Worker, Human Rights

Addressing the ILO (International Labour Organization) conference in Geneva last week, Labour Minister Jone Usamate made references to a number of topical issues. Here are some of them. I have added the sub-heading. 

Blog author (L), Minister Jone Usamate (R)
On worker and employer rights, he said Government was committed “to protecting and promoting the rights of all Fijian workers and employers, including our migrant workers. This is evident from the significant economic, constitutional and labour reforms which the Government has undertaken over the last 5 years.”

"The Fijian Government has taken significant steps to review and modernize the existing labour laws, practices and policies in Fiji. The Government has activated a tripartite social dialogue process, under the Employment Relations Advisory Board, which has undertaken a total of 38 one-day tripartite meetings since July 2012 and just concluded the review of our Employment Relations law at the end of last year.  This revised law, which also covers migrant workers, and which addressed issues raised by the Committee of Experts, is expected to be gazetted before the end of the year."

BILL OF RIGHTS. “Our new Constitution … has one of the strongest Bill of Rights in the world.  It reflects the basic rights of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Social and Economic Rights, which protects ordinary workers. 

"….guarantees universally accepted principles and values of equality and justice to all Fijians. These include - common and equal citizenry, removal of all forms of discrimination, a secular State, eradication of systemic corruption, protection and promotion of human rights, an independent judiciary, and a voting system based on one person, one vote, one value, which totally removes ethnic voting." 

"… our Constitution also contains an extensive chapter on fundamental human rights, which guarantees the promotion and protection of rights and freedoms of all Fijians including workers and their families [including]  provisions guaranteeing freedom from slavery, servitude, forced labour and human trafficking; freedom from cruel and degrading treatment; right to executive and administrative justice; freedom of expression, publication and media; freedom of assembly; freedom of association; the right to fair employment practices; the right to humane and proper working conditions; right of all workers to economic participation; as well as the right of all Fijians and migrant workers to a just minimum wage." 

"For the first time, all Fijians have guaranteed socio-economic rights in the Constitution. These include the right to adequate food and water, right to housing and sanitation, right to health, and the right to social security schemes. Also, the rights of disabled persons and the rights of children are protected, including the right to free primary, secondary and further education.  Also for the first time, discrimination on the grounds of pregnancy and marital status, amongst many other grounds, is prohibited."

"The Fijian Government, in working towards maintaining its obligations as a member state of ILO, has introduced significant reforms to preserve and create jobs, to sustain industries essential to the economy, and to improve the living standards of all Fijians. 

"For the first time in decades, Government has reduced the income and corporate taxes payable by over 99% of all Fijians, including thousands of workers as well as employer groups and companies.

"For the first time, all Government wage-earners last year received a 10% increase in their wages. All civil servants in the lower salary bracket, received sizeable increases in their salaries. From the beginning of 2013, senior citizens and retired workers over the age of 70 who do not have access to pensions, are being provided with State-funded pension benefits.

"In consultation with our tripartite partners, we are now reviewing the workers compensation regime, with a view to implementing a fair and modern no-fault scheme, to cover all workers, including migrant workers, for injuries and deaths arising at work.  This complements the significant Pension Reform undertaken by the Fiji National Provident Fund.

"In response to the ILO Global Jobs Pact Resolution, the Fijian Government has established a National Employment Centre in 2009  This is a one-stop public employment service for all Fijians, and we have successfully implemented our first Fiji Volunteer Service which has sent many volunteers to Pacific countries on request.   We are currently working with the ILO and ADB to formulate our first National Employment Policy to ensure job rich growth across all sectors.  We aim to effectively address the issues raised in the World of Work Report 2014, as reflected in the resolution of the ILC Committee on Employment.

"We [have also] implemented our first National Minimum Wage to protect marginalized workers in the formal and informal economies.  This will complement our existing 10 sectoral minimum wages."

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Political Round Up Friday 13 June

The early part of the week saw further  sniping at the Judiciary.  The Opposition persists with accusations that the judiciary is not independent of Government, although it has yet to produce a single piece of evidence to support its claims —and it never notes when judgements go against Government.

Then, the blogs claim senior judges have resigned and are fleeing the country before they are held responsible for supporting the Bainimarama government. And, again they never publish denials  by the judges.  

Similar accusations were levelled at USP over the cancellation of a student's scholarship when it should have been obvious that the decision was that of the Scholarship Board acting on advice  from USP's Student Advisory Services. But not so writes someone as a comment on this blog: "USP VC Rajesh Chandra and deputy Esther Williams are responsible for this debacle... they are only too happy to follow directions from Khaiyum."  

And so we follow the countdown to the elections.  Lots of accusations, no evidence, and little concrete on new or alternative policies. Then, on Thursday we heard from PM Bainimarama and Dr  Prasad. Accusations were made by both, but neither stooped to personalities. Both dealt with differences and rebuttals on policies.  Good on them!

Here are the main news items since Wednesday ....

FIJIFIRST LAUNCH. The FF party was launched at the party’s office in Brown Street, Suva, on Friday afternoon.  Its advertisement for people wishing to stand as FF candidates says they must embrace the core values laid out in the FijiFirst Constitution which include integrity, a commitment to the Fiji Constitution, inclusiveness, self-reliance and opportunity for all Fijians. Other attributes listed were reliability, honesty and trust, unity, loyalty. discipline. Wow!  The political movement [why don't they call themselves a party?] is also calling for volunteers to join the campaign. Written applications can be sent to the FijiFirst office or through its website.    This is a link to what Bainimarama said at the opening ceremony

NFP PROMISES.  This is a link to FijiLive's report on Dr Prasad address to Rotary  on Thurday.

SODELPA CANDIDATES.  The names will be announced tomorrow, Saturday.

USP RESPONDS. Click here for the university's statement on the cancellation of the scholarship of Seruiraduvatu Tamanirarama, the student who volunteered to help Independent candidate, Roshika Deo.

541 CONSUMER COMPLAINTS, valued at $1.2 million,  have been received by the Consumer Council in the first five months of this year  Mobile phones, electronic goods and landlord-tenancy related issues topped the list of complaints received by the Consumer Council that has resolved 85%  of the complaints.

1) The announcement that the  Commander of the Republic of Fiji Military Force, Brigadier-General Mosese Tikoitoga and  RFMF chief of staff, Brigadier-General Mohammed Aziz have set up office in downtown Suva, while also keeping their offices at the Nabua barracks in the outskirts of Suva city, will almost certainly be viewed with suspicion by those opposed to the Bainimarama government, and the Commander's statement  said his new office was in a location where he could easily carry out his work will definitely raise eyebrows. Click here .
2) Fiji's Supervisor of Elections Mohammed Saneem has confirmed that public Service and private vehicles can be used by political parties for their campaigns. Only public structures which include buildings, electricity posts and monuments needed approval from the Fijian Elections Office to be used. The FEO has so far named 92 "places"  that can be used for campaigning. Click here. [I think the clarification comes after complaints  about the FijiFirst Party bus with logos on its sides, but I am surprised public service vehicles can be used in the campaign.]

ILLEGAL LAND DEVELOPMENT EXPOSED. FLP'S  Mahendra Chaudhry  has raised concerns about the possible abuse by a foreign developer of a Suva site at Sawau Rd in Bayview Heights, currently zoned for civic development, probably being developed for commercial purposes. Party leader Mahendra Chaudhry has written to  the Director of Lands for clarification. "A visit disclosed that substantial structures are being constructed on the subject land," he wrote.  Suva City Council has confirmed that approval had not been granted for the building and engineering plans submitted by the company for the construction work being carried out.  The ongoing work is therefore illegal. Comment.  Brownie points to Mahen. But I hope his interest is apolitical. The SCC has prime responsibility here. Not the Government.

HICKUPS WITH ROTUMA-TUVALU TRADE. Government attempts to provide cash incomes on the northern island of Rotuma (improved shipping,  jetty improvements, freezers, quarantine facilities) have been temporarily put on hold because the islanders have been unable  to meet Tuvalu demand.
Rotuma Island Council advisor, Major General George Konrote admits there are some issues with the trade deal. “I believe there are brighter days ahead as you’ve heard the Prime Minister – we are now ironing out the shipping problems, the storage problems. I have no doubt following more dialogue and discussion with the government of Tuvalu things will improve.” Meanwhile, Tuvalu is importing directly  from Suva.

BLOG COMMENT OF THE WEEK. "I am a "I-Taukei" and a very proud one at that who has had a "gut-full" of our inability to debate in such a forum without resorting to name calling when people disagree with someone else's opinion.

"Rather than trying to swap their perception through constructive well structured arguments backed by concrete evidence, we start "mud-slinging" mate. You just have to go to anti-coup blogs to see this sort of immature behavior. Whilst I agree with them on principles, I loathe the way we talk to each other online. It's so so sad."

TO CHEER YOU UP, TWO JOKES.  Why is a person who plays the piano called a pianist, but a person who drives a  racecar is not called a racist?

If lawyers are disbarred and clergymen  defrocked, then doesn't it follow that  electricians can be delighted, musicians  denoted, cowboys deranged, models deposed,  tree surgeons debarked, and dry cleaners  depressed?

Lockington's Everyday Fiji ... Life Goes On

Allen's had a burst of creative ideas recently, so I'm publishing three this week rather than the usual one or two.

 Good News

A report says that there has been a decline in imported prices has resulted in the reduction of prices for 450grams Rewa Full Cream milk powder by nearly five percent.

Fiji Commerce Commission chairman Mahendra Reddy said the reduction followed a submission from Fiji Dairy Limited and attributed this to a decline in imported prices.

I wonder how many shops will immediately reduce the cost of milk they have in stock — like when they raise the price of old stock when prices go up.

But thank you Doc. Reddy and the Commerce Commission for this.

By the way,  what about the price of hardware, what has happened to this issue?

Mud Slinging

If one looks properly, all the political parties seem to  have the same agenda:  to make Fiji a better place, create employment and other opportunities. They wish to create greener pastures right here.

However, while all have noble intentions, some sling mud at each other at the same time.

Ever since I can remember, political parties of old did the same thing. Will we ever get out of that proverbial rut? Will we ever have a general election where we have peace and quiet and the members of the parties explain their policies  without insulting another party or individual?

Sex Trade

Brazil police is on the look out for hot spots where child prostitution can take place. This is being done before the influx of people who will come to watch the soccer world cup.

World news articles say that this is bound to happen in the poorer
neighbourhoods and with the fact that there will be people who will engage underage sex workers.

Here in Fiji we just saw two people sent to jail for a very long time with regards to the sex trade. Who knows, this could be the tip of the iceberg as sex workers and their employers will be very discreet and it will be happening in an underground way.

No doubt there is a market for sex workers and the under age will be a novelty.

The two men have been sent to jail.  But what about the girls they employed? What happens to them? Will they also be charged?

And what about the clients who used their services, can't they be traced and also charged?

Let's do a thorough job and net all who are involved, that way the customers will be frightened and mend their wayward ways.

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.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Claim Some Politicians Misleading Public on Law Issues

To avoid being accidentally incorrect aspiring politicians should do all they can to check the facts before making public statements that could influence public opinion. If they fail to do this—or do not later retract their incorrect statement— it is not unreasonable to suppose their errors are deliberate.- ACW.

Christopher Pryde, the Director of Public Prosecutions, is concerned that certain politicians “are attempting to mislead the public in relation to criminal justice matters.”
Lynda Tabuya and Christopher Pryde
Mr Pryde said: “In an article published in the Fiji Sun on Saturday, June 7,2014, entitled ‘Welfare of Children Paramount’ Peoples’ Democratic Party (PDP) President Lynda Tabuya stated in reference to the death of a four-year child that the State ‘has taken no action to charge the parents for criminal negligence’.”
“Ms Tabuya is then quoted as saying that the PDP will ‘enforce prosecution upon those who purposefully neglect their children as a deterrence’.”
He said Ms Tabuya had not been properly advised and her statement was incorrect.
“All suspicious deaths are investigated by the Police but the ultimate decision by the State to charge the parents is made by the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP),” he said.
“The file in this matter will be reviewed by the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions (ODPP) in the normal course once investigations from the Police have been completed which is expected by the end of next week.
“A final decision on what charges, if any, will then be made by the DPP. It is incorrect therefore to state that no action has been taken.
“Ms Tabuya should also note that in the past year the Police have referred six separate matters involving the deaths of children as a result of negligence to the ODPP resulting in five prosecutions being initiated in the courts. These have been well publicised in the media.
In relation to Ms Tabuya’s comment on “enforcing prosecution”, Mr Pryde said section 117 of the Constitution stated that it was the DPP that was the sole authority in deciding whether to initiate criminal proceedings.
“That decision is made according to the sufficiency of evidence and whether it is in the public interest. A decision to prosecute or to discontinue criminal proceedings is made by the DPP alone and without reference to or in consultation with the Attorney-General or any other Minister or Government entity,” he said.
“The position by the PDP therefore that they intend to ‘enforce a prosecution’ is unconstitutional and amounts to an improper interference in the independence of the ODPP and the criminal justice system.
“If political parties are unclear on the Constitution and how it relates to the criminal justice system, they are invited to seek clarification directly from the ODPP.”
Office of the Director of Public

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Commonsense Prevails: Injustice Put Right

The Tertiary Scholarship and Loans Board has reviewed the case and reinstated the scholarship of Seruiraduvatu Tamanirarama, after allegedly cancelling his scholarship for involvement in political activities.

Board Chairman Dixon Seeto said that  the initial information and the resulting recommendation from the education institution (The University of the South Pacific) were incorrect.

He said the Board expects all scholarship students to adhere to the conditions of their contract and follow their study program, which means  they must attend all and instructional classes as required by the institution, but in  no way does this restrict the activities of scholarship holders outside of their study program.

Comment. The case reflected badly on the Board and,  by extension,  on the Bainimamrama Government. Its opponents claimed or inferred that Government was behind the scholarship cancellation, leaving the general public with another presumed, and in this case incorrect, instance of "lack of freedom" and the absence of a "level playing ground" under the Bainimarama Government.

I trust USP will follow the paper trail to the person who supplied this incorrect information and take the appropriate action.  I trust also that the Board and USP will apologize to Seruiraduvatu.

Friday, June 6, 2014

Political Round Up and Comments 6 June

I published substantial news and comments articles on Monday and Wednesday. These are the items I thought worth mentioning that have occurred or been brought to my attention  since Wednesday.-- Croz Walsh.

Dr Vakaoti (L), Rev. Yabaki (R)

CCF REPORT ON "YOUNG PEOPLE AND DEMOCRATIC PARTICIPATION."  Click here for the full report. This survey report conducted for the CCF by Dr Patrick Vakaoti of Otago University  records and discusses  the responses of young people (aged between 17 and 35) to  a sizable number of political, youth  and  community-related questions. With the voting age now reduced to 18,  the survey provides a fascinating and instructive insight into how 40% of eligible voters may vote in the forthcoming elections.

My only criticisms — and this is more a criticism of Government  whose own statistical records now exclude or hardly mention ethnicity — are that all those conducting the survey were Taukei and, more importantly,  there is no breakdown of how Taukei, Indo-Fijians and Others responded. I hardly think there would be no differences on such sensitive issues as land and who and what influences their opinions.

However, of the 197 people surveyed in Labasa, Levuka, Nadi and Suva, the sexes, and I assume, ethnicities,  were equally represented. The median age was about 22.

Here's a sample of some of the findings.  I urge you to download the full 80-page report for more.
  • Interested or quite interested in the election process and 2013 Constitution: 64%
  • Read (19%) or partly read (27%) the 2013 Constitution.
  • Registered to vote (the survey was conducted some months ago): 51%
  • Understand the voting system, Yes or mostly: 49%
  • Will vote in September: Yes 61%, Probably 10%, Refused to answer 23% (I wonder why. Refused to answer was very low on almost all other questions)
  • Issues affecting your vote: Unemployment 43%, Education 37%, Transport 11%, Health 10%.
  • Politics corrupt (52%)
  • Major issues: Land 44%, Ethnicity 42%, Religion, 38%, Freedom 33%
  • Who influence your voting: Family 39%, Friends 18%, Political parties 18%, Election Office 13%, Politicians 9%, Media 8%.
          People in Government...
  •    ...  Can be trusted to do their best for Fiji: Agree 51%, Neutral 23%. 
  •    ...  Are doing  their best for Fiji: Agree 52%, Neutral 31%; 
  •    ...  Are honest with Fiji: Agree 27%, Neutral 32%; 
  •    ...  Don't care about Fijian citizens: Agree 20%, Neutral 29%.
  • Sources of information on political and constitutional process: Radio 80%, TV 76%, Websites 46%, Family 28%, Friends 17%, Politicians 8%, Church 8%.
  • Blog sites offer credible news on development in Fiji. Agree 39%, Neutral 34%.

COMMONWEALTH TO MONITOR ELECTIONS. The Commonwealth Secretariat will assist the Australia-led elections monitoring body and also assist after the elections to help Government put in place the appropriate parliamentary systems and services. This was conveyed to Fiji’s Foreign Minister Ratu Inoke Kubuabola in a meeting with the Commonwealth Secretary General Kamalesh Sharma in London on Thursday.

. Former  Fiji Human Rights Commission operations manager and Greenpeace Australia Pacific worker. 42 year-old Seini Leba Nabou  put her name forward as a NFP candidate.

She says,“I have always been impressed with the NFP and their incredible legacy in Fiji and only recently have i become appreciative of some of the principle stands they have taken for e.g; on the 1997 constitution. Also I know that this party is not a new one and it stands on the shoulder of some of the giants of this country.”

Nabou who has extensive experience in training, communications and journalism holds social justice, organizational change and environmental protection close to her heart.

. Fiji Airways brand new ATR 72-600 aircraft for Pacific Sun (Fiji Link) will be given a traditional welcoming ceremony when it arrives a Nausori airport tomorrow morning. This will be followed by the launch of Fiji Link at the Grand Pacific in the evening.

RURAL BIO-FUEL FAILURE. Efforts by Government to help outer islands development may not turn out as well as expected if bio-fuel projects are are typical of other initiatives.  Commissioner Eastern Lt-Col.Netani Rika  says it is due to three factors: the lack of feasibility studies; the islanders' preference to  engage in Virgin Coconut Oi (VCO) projects, and  the "handout mentality and dependency syndrome and work towards achieving the true purpose of the project." . He made these comments after FijiLive raised queries on the bio-fuel plant that still lies idle in Mavana village in Vanua Balavu since it was commissioned last year.

LAND LYING IDLE. Speaking at the Macuata Provincial Council meeting yesterday,  FSC representative Navitalai Masivuya  said they expected to crush about 620,000 to 650,000 tonnes of cane this crushing season, 70,000 tonnes of sugar from the Labasa  mill. But to achieve this result support was needed from grassroots people and the Council. Many cane farms had been left idle in the North as a result of people moving out and taking up other income-generating sources. [The exodus started in earnest after the 2000 coup with the non-renewal of leases to mainly Indo-Fijian tenants.]

THE MISSING LINK?  In the two items above, I have pointed to the likely absence of positive leadership by local Taukei chiefs and turaga-ni-koro, and in earlier postings I've reported that a large number of these positions have been left unfilled.  When the political parties talk about the allegedly poor state of the economy and insufficient rural development, as they do doubt will, I would like to hear specific mention of the role of chiefs at all levels and  HOW they may be encouraged to help stimulate the rural economy.

WADAN NOT QUITE RIGHT ON POLLS. He's always a good read and he always makes some good points but he's clearly not impressed with published poll results, especially the Fiji Sun-Razor polls because of its "relationships" that could bias results in Bainimarama's favour,  but mainly because "the internal Razor Research processes are not available to public scrutiny."  I concede the outside possibility of the former and am in complete agreement with him over the later. Tebbutt has kindly provided me with detailed information on its methodology and I am impressed. Effort to obtain similar information from Razor have so far not been successful.

Wadan's main comment on the polls is that all of them are samples that probably don't accurately reflect the opinions of all voters (Razor is at bus stops, Tebbutt in urban and per-urban areas), and that sample size (Razor 600, Tebbutt 1032) is too small.  He says, "The possibility of sampling error becomes larger, as the sample size becomes smaller."  This is true but only up to a point.

Probability samples  such at Razor and Tebbutt make no claims to represent any more than the total "population" of people who use the bus stops and live in the selected urban areas. These statistical "populations" comprise all the voting age people at the selected bus stops and the selected urban areas.  Neither poll makes any claim to be representative of all Fiji voters.  

The pollsters know, or can find out, the total populations, and from this they can calculate the likely margins of error (the extent to which they could be wrong at 95% of the time).  Generally, as Wadan says, the margin of error decreases with increased sample size but the decrease is not constant. A margin of error for a poll of 600 people, for example, could produce a margin of error of 4%, a poll of 1000 3%, and one of 2000 2%.  Sample size is all about how much the pollsters are prepared to be wrong. 

Thus, if we use these figures for this Saturday's Razor poll that shows Fiji First as the preferred political party for 74% of voters, the "true" figure (95% of the time)  could be as low as 70% or as high as  79%.  The next highest polling party is NFP on 8%, way outside the margin of error. Weekly Razor polls for the past three months have shown similar results.

So, on the preferred political party result, we have two choices: the results are rigged, as Bainimarama's opponents claim, or they are accurate, at least at this point in time. 
The latter conclusion is supported by the definitely independent and probably more accurate Tebbutt which, although sampling a different "population", arrives as slightly lower results. 

FOOTNOTE. Wadan says systematic errors and biases depend on  five factors.  My responses are in bold. (1) Who owns and/or controls the opinion poll? Could it lead to bias? Yes. It's a possibility, but unlikely to have influenced results so far. (2) How are the questions asked and responses recorded? We don't yet know for Razor but Tebbutt looks fine.  (3) How randomly are the respondents selected? Tebbutt totally random. All eligible voters, if they are at home,  have an equal change of selection.  Razor. My guess is something close to systematic or cluster sampling. As many as the pollsters can handle at one time.  (4) How many respondents are selected relative to the population of voters (which will be around 550,000)? This factor is largely irrelevant once you have a sufficient number to  produce results at the accepted margin of error. (5) How close might be the true party support results in the September election, for both large parties and small? We will only know in September.