Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Double Talk, Tears and Deception in Kadavu

Saying one thing while meaning another is called double talk and people in Fiji are hearing a lot of this in the lead up to the elections.

Take, for example, three incident during the recent visit of SODELPA to the island of Kadavu. 

Incident 1. Double Talk.  Elsewhere, Fijians are bombarded with news from all the political parties, but according to islander Lemeki Nabua the SODELPA visit  was an "eye opener". Apparently, people on Kadavu  had only been “hearing what the current government has been doing.”

 “Don’t get us wrong,” he said. “We are appreciative of the assistance that government has provided for us”, but  “development is the responsibility of any government in return for revenue earned from VAT on goods and services.”  

He thought Government should have consulted the people before passing new laws, expressing concern about the removal of the Fijian Affairs Scholarship which leaves “parents struggling to send our children to tertiary education.” ¹

In other words, Lemeki is covering his back. Thanks to Bainimarama, no thanks to Bainimarama. He's betting a dollar each way, so he can’t lose on the election outcome. But it's obvious he'd really prefer SODELPA. . 

Incident Number 2. Tears. It was also in Kadavu that Ro Teimumu burst into tears when speaking of supposed threats to Taukei land and customs, and the hardships people had faced, for the first time, under the Bainimarama Government.

“The struggles that people said they faced like the removal of the Fijian Affairs Board scholarships, the cost of living, fears and pain over the abolishment of the Great Council of Chiefs were just too much for the party leader to take in. Overwhelmed with emotion, the hall broke in silence briefly as the villagers saw Ro Teimumu crying.

Incident Number 3. Deception.  Not to be outdone, Laisenia Qarase explained that the election ballot papers would not include party names and  symbols that would have helped voters to identify the various candidates. Instead, they would have to vote by candidates’ nominated numbers. 

Qarase was responding to queries from the elderly who doubted they could memorise the numbers of the various party candidates (sic!)  they wanted to vote for. 

Qarase did not tell them they would not be voting for various party candidates. They would vote for only one candidate and have to remember only one number.

In these ways,  Taukei voters are left confused, concerned about the supposed threat to their identity and wellbeing as Taukei, and suspicious of the Bainimarama Government’s past actions and future intentions.  

Normal election tactics? Perhaps, and they may well be successful, but some voters will be wishing SODELPA would address real issues and real threats that affect all Fijians.  There is no threat to Taukei land.  It is better protected  now than ever before.² There is no threat to any religion and no threat to anyone's cultural identity.

¹ Scholarships are now non-race based but there's a "topping up" provision to allow for gross under-representation. 
² See Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum's detailed comments on land in the Constitution and in the Land Decree.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Helping SODELPA Lose the Elections

"We made a big mistake freezing Rabuka out. Ro Teimimumu only
stood for the leadership to block his return but he would have been a big plus and he has been sitting on the sidelines sniping when he could have been out spreading the message.

Qarase is behaving like an old fool. Fancy telling the people in Lau that they were going to be sold to the Chinese. Even they thought "this guy must be gaga". Unfortunately the Baini is right when he tells people SODELPA is treating people like fools. Qarase needs to understand that things are not the same. The old tactics don't work.

Even in Kadavu to his and Ro Teimumu's faces, ordinary people have been praising the Government for their service delivery. When that
happens, we're in big trouble. We have to offer them something other than just harping on about i'Taukei scholarships etc. For God's sake, their kids are getting their school fees paid and they are hundreds of dollars a year better off. We go in their telling them we are going to take the lease money off them and give it back to the GCC. Sorry, but how dumb is that.

The Baini has given them something. We go to them wanting to take money away. Whoever thought this would work as a tactic needs a good talking to. We must be the only party in the world expecting to win an election by going to the people telling them we want to take money off them. Our campaign has stalled but we still have time to turn it around. Bring Rambo in, shut Qarase up and keep Ro Teimumu above it all. As for the rest, most of the candidates are nice enough but there are no stars."

Friday, July 25, 2014

News and Comments Friday 25 July

FNP CANDIDATE SEEKS CONSTITUTIONAL REDRESS. Lawyer and FNP candidate  Makereta Waqavonovono is challenging an interpretation of Section 23 of the Electoral Decree that may disqualify her from contesting the elections because she was studying overseas for part of the required two years residence immediately prior to her nomination. She argues the provision infringes on her political right to be a candidate for public office guaranteed by section 23 subsection 3 C of the Constitution. The High Court will hear an application from the respondents that it doesn’t have jurisdiction to hear the case. 
Comment. This seems a reasonable request that the Elections Commission should have the power to address. I am not sure whether the Court has the necessary power to interpret the decree but, again, it should have.
National Federation Party candidate nominee and lawyer Makereta Waqavonovono says her main aim in Parliament will be to review the constitution and scrutinise all decrees to ensure they comply with the country's supreme law. The former Legal Aid Director says is concerned about the state of the rule of law in the country" and is keen in pursuing social and gender justice.

Read more at:
Copyright 2014 ©

National Federation Party candidate nominee and lawyer Makereta Waqavonovono says her main aim in Parliament will be to review the constitution and scrutinise all decrees to ensure they comply with the country's supreme law. The former Legal Aid Director says is concerned about the state of the rule of law in the country" and is keen in pursuing social and gender justice.

Read more at:
Copyright 2014 ©

THE AUDITOR-GENERAL REPORTS  that have not bee released for some years will be tabled in Parliament,  according to the P.M. The Auditor General’s Office is tasked with scrutinizing every government department and state entity, analyzing expenses and operational procedures.
SODELPA WIDENS COALITION POSSIBILITIES. Party spokesperson Sainiana Radrodro says they will contest the elections on their own but may form a coalition with other parties in addition to the FLP.  

CAMERAS IN COURT ROOMS WILL HELP TRANSPARENCY. Renovations at Government Building in Suva and the installation of , cameras in all courtrooms from the Magistrate Court right up to the Supreme Court.Media will assist transparency.  Chief Justice Anthony Gates says: "We only sit in open court. We don’t sit in Chamber anymore unless there are special reasons like national security, copyright, children or venerable witnesses" so camera footage may, on a case by case basis, be released to the media.

 "The constitutional cases, as you may remember, the hearing, the proceedings and delivery of judgement, all were done with full TV coverage."

SODELPA DOES NOT CONDONE RACIST COMMENTS OR STONING VEHICLES.  according to its media manager Sainiana Radrodro referring to comments on Facebook and allegations that SODELPA supporters had stoned FijiFirst vehicles., She said what was posted on social media sites by their supporters was beyond their control, and party officials were in no way encouraging or supporting the stoning of the vehicles of any party.
Comment. A less tepid response would have been that the party is appalled by these actions and strongly condemns them. 

BRUTAL VIDEO INCIDENT STILL UNDER INVESTIGATION. Contrary to earlier statements, Police Commissioner Major General Ben Groenewald says the matter is still under investigation. The earlier comments by  Police that the matter was closed referred to advice from the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions concerning possible charges against the person responsible for uploading the video. Groenewald said once the investigation is complete the file will be forwarded to the Director of Public Prosecutions for a decision.
Comment.  This is good news.

'CONSIGN THEM TO HISTORY': PM.  Speaking of the old parties as  chief guest at Tilak High School the PM said, "We need to consign them to history once and for all – bury them, ignore their false promises – and set our eyes on the future we can build together, One Nation, putting Fiji first to make Fiji Great.

"You’ll have heard me say; Don’t judge me by my promises. Judge me by the achievements I’ve already delivered. And the record shows that if my government has been able to deliver what it has with all the challenges we’ve faced, it is by far the best placed to deliver an even better future for every Fijian when we put the election behind us."

He urged the students to ask their parents about the prejudice and discrimination they endured under past governments. By voting for the Government to stay in power, they would be ensuring a future where they will be treated as equals.

MANY NOT VOTING.  If the FBC online poll asking whether people will be voting is any indication, one person in six (16%)  says they will not be voting.  This compares with the Fiji Sun/Razor polls that have consistently shown 28% have not registered. 

FIJIFIRST CANDIDATES.  Some names are expected to be released tomorrow Saturday.

Lockington's Everyday Fiji ... Life Goes On

          School Forum

An older friend and I got talking about his school days. In the late 50s and early 60s they used to have a school forum where school executives and teachers would sit at the top facing the students.

 It was not an assembly but a time for student reps to bring up issues , grievances, suggestions, solutions on what the students felt about their school. Students would talk about how they were treated by teachers, they would thank them or highlight teachers weaknesses. In praising and criticisms, teachers would be named. There was no holding back. Issues would be sorted out there and then and executives would hear them and take note. If any were serious it would be taken up to the way, executive forum.

The principal and teachers would answer students questions and or give reasons for their actions.

My friend noted the boldness of students especially discipline and punishment given by teachers. It was usually to go and work in the plantation. Ironically the side effect was that many student got to learn to plant and look after a garden. Something many of them didn't do back home. Each student had a cane knife and the school provided other farm implements.

 Wouldn't it be interesting if we could adopt this form.

And I had a chilling thought, how about we have the same for the work place. But in this case workers and employers would sit and discuss issues.

              Dead Wood

One way we can solve the unemployment issue is to get rid of all the dead wood occupying posts in the civil service.

These are the people who have been around for too long and are 8 to 4.30 employees.

They do not go an extra mile to serve customers and always seem to look busy carrying files and looking thoughtful.

It's very easy to identify them.

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

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

News and Comments Wednesday 23 July

NFP LAUNCHES ITS MANIFESTO. Party leader Dr Biman Prasad told a packed Kshatriya Hall in Suva on Monday night that if elected to government, the party would "work through the devolution of powers and financial resources to revitalise the Fijian administration as the primary tier of governance for iTaukei land, natural and cultural resources with 100 days of being in government." The party said it respects the special place of Taukei but would govern for all Fijians, and not favour any one ethnic group.

It would increase the availability of land for agricultural purposes through a master lease concept (calling current government's efforts "confused"), create more decent jobs, increase productivity, and immediately reduce the Value Added Tax (VAT) from 15%  to 10.

The party would provide free, quality education, including help for  children with disabilities and more funding for scholarship for students from underprivileged families.

Pensions would be increased, the retirement age restored to 60, and the $2 minimum wage reviewed. Guidelines would be established on child labour.

The party would remove restrictions in the Conduct of Political Parties and Electoral decrees; repeal repeal the Essential National Industries (Employment) Decree and amend the Administration of Justice Decree to restore full collective bargaining rights and access to justice for workers and trade unions, including police and prison officers.

The Fiji Broadcasting coverage noted that the NFP will continue some government policies such as the increase in per-capita grants for schools, free bus fares, and  the national toppers scholarship scheme. It will, however, change the minimum mark benchmark for scholarships.

The manifesto promises to  review the entire health sector, and expects to see the the lower VAT intake will result in economic growth of about 5% generating $1 billion a year

The party will also seek a review of the constitution, looking particularly  at the powers of the AG and the PM, and the parliamentary process. It will also engage with others who want the Great Council of Chiefs restored.

LARGE MULTI-RACE TURNOUTS FOR FIJIFIRST Fiji Sun's Jyoti Pratibha observes that racial mix was a prominent feature of FijiFirst meetings in the West where, at one meeting, 1,200 people crammed into Tavua's Kshatriya Hall.

Bainimarama told the rest who were left standing outside or at the back of the hall to join him and his team on the podium.

SODELPA WANTS BAINIMARAMA NZ VISA REFUSED.  The PM's intention to visit NZ  next month has received a mixed reception. The NZ Labour Party and the Coalition for Democracy Fiji welcome the idea but the interim president of SODELPA's New Zealand arm, Sai Lealea, says the visa request "should be refused and people from Fiji in New Zealand are already voicing their objections, and will protest if his planned trip goes ahead." Foreign Minister Murray McCully will not say if Bainimarama will be allowed into New Zealand next month to campaign in democracy-restoring elections, despite lifting travel sanctions in March. Bainimarama is understood to be preparing to leave for Australia on August 8 for a similar FijiFirst campaign visit among Fijians there

FORMER FLP MP BATS FOR PDP. Vijay Singh speaks out.

. FLP Leader Mahendra Chaudhry told about 40 people at their campaign meeting at Riverside road Narere  Labour  will set up a National Service Scheme for all those who are unemployed after completing their studies if the FLP forms the next government.

WHY SUPPORT THE GCC? Addressing 600 people in Ba on Monday PM Bainimarama  said he could not understand why essentially Indo-Fijian parties supported the return of the Great Council of Chiefs, though he fully understood SODELPA's purpose.

The other political parties are claiming the 2013 Constitution that they are criticising was put together by the government for FijiFirst. This was not so, he said.  But the Constitution did guarantee equal citizenry, irrespective of race, something the GCC was never interested in.

REDUCING VAT... According to the  A-G, reducing Value Added Tax (VAT) from 15 to 10%, as the NFP proposes, will not greatly affect food prices as many people may believe because most  basic food items like flour, sharps, rice, powdered milk, tea and cooking oil are already VAT free. Government has tried to keep household costs down by other measures such as increasing the income tax thresold, assistance with tuition and free bus fares.

...AND THE FOREIGN RESERVE. Responding to comments by former PM Laisenia Qarase about the poor state of Fiji's economy, Sayed-Khaiyum said foreign reserves under Qarase  were $300 million dollars in 2006. They are now $1.5 billion.

FOUR MORE NFP CANDIDATES.  Economist, Dr. Sunil Kumar, Fiji Taxi Association General Secretary, Rishi Ram, retired civil servant Inia Tamani and Amrit Nath.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

A Free and Fair Media?

Fiji media stiffled?
              An informal poll by Croz Walsh

There have been fewer claims recently of pro-Bainimarama bias and an intimidated media, although SODELPA's Mick Beddoes conducted a poll of his own that he said shows intimidation and bias persisted.

I thought I'd check out Mick's claims with my own survey last week by recording items that included news by each party and items that were neutrally reported  Where an item included a statement from one party and a counter-statement from another, I recorded them both as favourable or neutral to the two parties concerned.  The survey included the on line versions of the two major dailies, two online media and Fiji Broadcasting.  I found following FijiTV too time consuming to record but the pro and anti positions seemed reasonably balanced.

My count was limited to the number of articles published. Other attributes such as length, page, position on page, size of headings or inclusion of photographs were not considered.

It was a simple poll  with two aims:
  • To see if each party is being given a reasonably fair go, and 
  • To see if any one media source favoured any particular party. 
 Weekly variations can be expected with the varying number of party announcements (hence perhaps the reason for fewer FLP and NFP items) but this would have little effect on my two main aims. Items concerning distinctly government activities were not included though many people may also attribute the activites to FijiFirst.

Some 113 political party items appeared in the media last week, and a further 17 contained information about the elections, mainly by the Fiji Elections Office.

The Fiji Sun published the most political items (33), and the other media published between 18 and 22 items.

Of the 113  items appearing in all media, 43  were about  FijiFirst, 38  SODELPA, 13 PDP, 10 NFP, 7 FLP and one each was about two parties not yet registered (see table).

Overall, 38% of items concerned FijiFirst,  33% SODELPA, and between 6 and 12% the other Opposition parties, that may be expected to vary more due to more sporadic news announcements.

If this one week was reasonably representative, Fiji Sun was the most pro-FijiFirst. Only 42% of its political articles were about anti-FijiFirst parties. And, conversely,  the Fiji Times was the most anti-FijiFirst. Nearly  82% of its coverage was about the FijiFirst opposition.

In terms of the number of items published:

  • All political parties seem to have been given reasonable coverage by the main media. 
  •  The Fiji Sun had a pro-FijiFirst bias but Opposition news was also well covered. The Fiji Times and FijiVillage had a pro-SODELPA/other opposition party bias and their FijiFirst news was not quite so well covered.  FijiLive also favoured the Opposition  but it  gave reasonable FijiFirst coverage. Fiji Broadcasting probably had the most fair and balanced mix of items.
  • I have no doubt that the media practised self-censorship in the past  but its overall media coverage today seems reasonably well balanced.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

News and Comments for Monday 21 July

"Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity" -- Robert Hanlon.
"Our manifesto affirms SODELPA will place God in His rightful position," -- Ro Teimumu.

The Manifesto Launch will take place today, Monday at 5.30pm. Des Voeux Road, Suva.

SODELPA  MANIFESTO.  I shall be publishing items on all  party manifesto in due course. The 47-page SODELPA Manifesto is taking a while to digest.

Meanwhile, it  can be reported that SODELPA  will allocate an "emergency" $50m to subsidise food costs, and continue with price control on basic food items which will be free of VAT.

It will also abolish laws that suppress freedoms, restore God to his "rightful position" in the 2013 Constitution ("Our manifesto affirms SODELPA will place God in His rightful position."), ensure that Fiji reverts to a Christian state (while protecting other religions),  and re-establish the Great Council of Chiefs.  "We are ready to reclaim Fiji, for work, food and freedom, for truth, justice and peace, for our future generation."

Ro Teimumu said their manifesto promises national happiness, progress and freedom. "Our manifesto explains how SODELPA will restore and renew Fiji and lead it to a new world of togetherness and respect, where we overcome our differences, live as good neighbours and help each other." She appealed for support for the party from Fijians locally and abroad, saying that through their votes, SODELPA will ensure "a Fiji of prosperity and opportunity."

Comment. The togetherness sounds great. I can only ask why did it not do these things before, when it was last in power and Laisenia Qarase was PM and Ro Teimumu a Cabinet Minister?  And why they now want Fiji to be declared a Christian State, despite the likely opposition of other Christian denominations and other faiths which together comprise most of the population? This is hardly a sign of togetherness. 

'HEARTBREAKING'.  This is how retired sugarcane farmer Jai Prasad described what it was like "to see land where thousands of tonnes of sugarcane were grown [now] idle, turning into bushland." 
Comment.   If God gave Taukei the land, as Ro Teimumu, believes, I think it also likely He expected it to be used.  The non-renewal of leases and the subsequent exodus of mainly Indo-Fijian tenant farmers, largely at the instigation of some NLTB officials and scaremongering politicians, was surely not part of God's Plan.

FIJIFIRST MEETINGS in the West last week were well attended with an estimated 2,400 people representing a "good mix"  of  ages and ethnicities attending four meetings. One locally important issue raised, given that Vatukoula landowners have never received any, is the share of mineral royalties now to be enjoyed  by landowners.

PEOPLE INTIMIDATED. A FLP spokesman has attributed a low turnout at its Tavua meeting to a police vehicle cruising the street outside where the meeting was held.  The Police claim no knowledge of the incident and have invited FLP to complain to them, Other parties have reported no similar incidents, 
Comment.The low turnout could also be attributed to FLP losing much of its previous appeal.  The latest Razor poll shows only one percent of those polled would be voting Labour.

THE INFAMOUS VIDEO RECORDING. The Police have closed their enquiry into the video tape showing a recaptured prisoner being beaten by prison officers and will be making no further statement on the case.
Comment. I think the decision misguided. The beating had nothing to do with politics but it was used by Bainimarama's opponents to  show an abuse committed under his stewardship. The public needs to be assured that justice was done in this case, and there can be no assurance unless it is also seen to have been done. 

SODELPA AND THE MILITARY. Assuming there's a gulf between the military and the people, Ro Teimumu is calling for reconciliation. "You are our brothers and sisters, our relatives; our family", she said, "It is time to bring the family together," She said a SODELPA Government would care for everyone in Fiji including military officers.
Comment. All she is asking is that the military apologize.

SODELPA CONCERNED ABOUT QORVIS. Ro Teimumu Kepa has raised concern about the cost of hiring of the American public relations company namely Qorvis Communications by the government.  She apparently has no other problem with government hiring a public relations firm.

QARASE'S FIGURES DISPUTED. The former PM claimed unemployment was higher now than when he was PM in 2006. Labour Minister Jone Usamate said the latest rate was 6.9%, down form 8.6?  His 50% living in poverty compared with 32% was also disputed by Minister for Social Welfare Women and Poverty Alleviation Dr Jiko Luveni. She did not have the figure on hand  but Qarase's statement is "untrue." Qarase was speaking at a SODELPA rally at Caubati, outside Suva, attended by about one hundred people.

COCONUT OIL FOR FUEL. 40 fuel kits that will use refined coconut oil are being sent to outer islands to boost existing village electricity generators. 

FIJILIVE POLL. "Do you think government is doing enough to educate voters about the new voting system for the September elections?"  Yes 58% No 42%

RAZOR/FIJI SUN POLL. The open question for Week 21 of the polls asked  "Are opposition parties telling the truth about land?"  The opposition, particularly SODELPA, is saying the 2013 Constitution does not protect Taukei land. The PM denies this, saying the protection is as strong as ever before, and that the Opposition is playing to unreal fears in order to win votes.  It seems the SODELPA tactic is succeeding.  51% said Yes, the opposition parties are telling the truth,  33% were unsure and 16% said No.

Friday, July 18, 2014

News and Comments Friday 18 July

 SODELPA PLAYING FOOTIE. Lautoka zone Fiji Rugby League coordination Mesake Navugona has confirmed that SODELPA officials asked him to get junior club players join the SODELPA march in Lautoka last Saturday.

He told them his was a sporting body not a political party, adding that he thought the presence of League superstar Tuqiri "painted a picture that rugby league supported  SODELPA."

ANOTHER NEW PARTY. The proposed Fiji United Freedom Party is confident they have met the 5000 signature criteria set by the Fijian Elections Office to enable them to register as a political party to contest the September elections. Their earlier attempt was rejected when it was found only 3822 signatures were valid.

.  The PM said politicians should not mislead people by mixing  up the Great Council of Chiefs with our chiefs. The GCC was abolished because it had become political. The chiefs remain with their chiefly status intact, looking after their people and the Vanua.

PM TELLS OPPONENTS TO ACT LIKE CHRISTIANS and stop preaching about differences and racial discrimination. Speaking to 70-plus people at Kalabu Secondary School Bainimarama reiterated a secular state does not stop Christians or any other religion from practicing their beliefs. It means that everyone is allowed  to take part in whichever religion they prefer.  He added  that talk about religion and land by other political parties is identical to the  tactics used in the past  to create hatred and sway voters.

leader Ro Teimumu Kepa told a rally in Samabula East said she allows her party colleagues to speak at campaign forums  because they can compare the state of affairs in government now to what it was before the coup. Her colleagues including the former Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase and Tomasi Vakatora are the best people to speak during campaigns. Ro Teimumu also briefed those gathered on their visits to the various chiefly families before they launched their campaign. She said it was only right to seek the blessings of the chiefs.

PDP LEADERS TO NZ. Peoples Democratic Party leader and president Felix Anthony and Lynda Tabuya  flew to NZ on Wednesday. They will be in Wellington on Friday and stay on for a fundraiser event on Saturday in Auckland.

  The  magazine NZ Listener has a weekly feature "Life in New Zealand" that comprises quotes from local newspapers that are not quite what their writers intended. Three recent examples: an ad for "Burnable firewood," another for sale "Two  houses, One wife...One must go!" and a longer one: "It is similar to Viagra that was originally trialled as a heart medication when a surprising side effect in men started to pop up with regularity."

A PDP notice was surely also unintended: "PDP has not yet decided on whether it will be open to form coalitions, but if they do, it will most likely to be with a party that agrees with their policies." Really!

Or this one from the proposed Activist People's Party made up of landowners. Leader Sairusa Waininima says its role will be as a mediator in in any crisis that arises in Fiji.  That's sort of strange but the really strange bit was that the 5, 225 signatures collected to register were  "equally divided between iTaukei and Fijians"!

ELECTION OFFICE WARNING. The public has been warned about fake election offices seeking their signatures, support, and other personal details.

INFRASTRUCTURE UPDATE. Islands Business reports that the $10 million upgrade on Nadi International Airport is underway.

Meanwhile, the proposed extension at Nausori airport, close to Suva, awaits landowner approval. 

Lockington's Everyday Fiji ... Life Goes On

Trade training

Don't Forget Them

Many people are grateful for the things that have been provided for them by the government. Big business people enjoy tax rebates and tax exemption. When they give to charity or sports they get a tax break. Let's put it this way - they get incentives, and they thrive.

We also have small business people e.g car-wash, little canteens, carrier owners, internet shop, tyre repair, tailoring, etc who operate from home or operate and pay rent to a big business person.

I was with one such person and he always attends business meetings when they are conducted in the West to gain some advantage by meeting and talking to other business people.

At times he sees business people go forward because they have capital and also enjoy incentives from the government.

He hopes that one day someone in authority will look his way and say, "How can we help you?"

And offer him a small grant to keep him going and improve on his business. He often laments that the small businessman is forgotten.

At the moment I know who he will vote for.

Any takers out there to help this chap?

Please don't forget the small struggling business people. You will notice them at functions, but they are usually outside longing to be invited in. 

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

Ed, Note.  Here's a link to a speech by the Governor of the Fiji Reserve Bank that spells out some of the things government is doing to help small businesses.

In sum the  speech was an address at the launch of the ANZ Small and Medium Enterprises Credit Scheme in early 2012. After pointing to the obvious, that today's big bvusineses —  the Prouds (Motibhais), Tappoos, Jacks (Khatris), Punjas, Niranjans, Manubhais and Vinod Patels — all started as small businesses, Governor Whiteside went on to speak of the potential for Fiji's small and medium businesses that accounted for only 12% of economic activity, far less than the 40-60% typical of developing countries.  Speaking of the public private sector support for smaller businesses, he noted government's $3 million Credit Guarantee Scheme to support private sector lending that guaranteed of up to 50% on defaulting loans and up to $50,000 a business.  

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

News and Comments Tuesday 15 July

Ro Teimumu is flanked by Tuqiri and Korosau
QUOTE OF THE WEEK. "An immediate general election or a return to the pre-5 December 2006 Fiji will simply recreate the problems and the flawed system of democracy that prevailed under the Qarase government with its injustices, rampant corruption and disdain for the rule of law and the constitution" -- Mahendra Chaudhry 2007.

LARGE SODELPA RALLY IN LAUTOKA. Supporters dressed in party  t-shirts came from as far away at Sigatoka and Ra, and even two from Australia, to march down Vitoga Parade in Lautoka on Saturday.  The Fiji Australians were well-known rugby league players Lote Tuqiri and Apisai Koroisau. 

As the Fiji Times commented, " It was a rare opportunity for many people in the Western Division to catch a glimpse of rugby league superstars and former Fiji Bati reps Lote Tuqiri and Apisai Koroisau." Party leader Ro Teimumu welcomed the players and claimed party support in the West was "overwhelming." She spoke of the party being a "stabilising force" against coups, and offered a "remade Fiji ... of freedom and prosperity." 

SODELPA estimates it will need $750,000 for the election campaign of which they have raised about $350,000. The party is selling clothes items with party logos to help fund-raising.  Tuqiri's sulu and t-shirt cost $60,  or more, presumably, if autographed.
The PM with Nuku schoolchildren

FUEL PRICES DROP. The price of petrol dropped by 3 cents to F$2.53, kerosene by 5 cents to $1.82, and diesel 4 cents to $2.31 on Tuesday.

. A number of settlements from Tavua to Korovou will  soon have electricity as a result of a $9.4 million FEA work.

  Even the journalists had to be given direction on how to get to Masi village in Nuku, Serua, which is  a two-hour journey by road and later by boat up river from the Galoa junction on Queens Road. 

It was the first visit ever to the area by a prime minister. He was there at the  invitation by the Nuku people who wanted to thank him for the development his Government has brought to them, the most significant of which is the new Nuku Secondary School.

In the talanoa session, 67-year-old Kaliova Senikavika asked the PM about promises by some politicians and parties to change the Constitution when elected. The PM said the politicians and their parties were cowards because their message was based on distortion and lies. The Constitution, he said, was inclusive. He said it protected indigenous Fijian land, church and chiefs. Masi chief Ratu Manueli Roseru said they suported the PM and the Constitution.

FIJIFIRST MORE THAN A PARTY. "It is a political movement with a vision for the next 10 to 20 years", according to general secretary Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum. This was his message on the weekend whirlwind tour of rural areas in the West. Speaking only briefly at each venue he left most time for questions. Among the issues raised were roads and water whose defects he put down to poor engineering decisions be previous governments.  "The Fiji Roads Authority built cheap roads and bridges, but in six months time, it would be washed away. He said the Bainimarama-Government was after a more permanent and long term solution to issues such as water and roads."

. Villagers who once owned Denarau Island asked Sayed-Khaiyum if they could  get back their land that had been turned into freehold title with no consultation with the owners  in the 1980s under the Rabuka Government. The answer, unfortunately, was no, but the 2013 Constitution prevented this sort of thing from ever happening again.

. Land use was again the topic of discussion at the Colo-i-Suva Village hall last night where the FijiFirst Party held its campaign meeting.

Party president Dr Jiko Luveni explained that iTaukei land would need 60 per cent approval by the mataqali in order to be released. She also emphasized that under the 2013 Constitution, it was illegal for Government to take back iTaukei land or have it sold or given as a gift to another party.

Dr Luveni was responding to concerns raised by Colo-i-Suva villager Sikeli Naitale who is also the chairman of the Lomanikoro Trust whose mataqali land had been leased by a tenant who then subleased it to another person five years before the land lease expired in 2002.The request by the mataqali for the return of the land was not supported by the then Native (now Tuakei)  Land Trust Board, and it was not until last year that the tenant was evicted and four acres out of the five acres returned. The TLTB told him that the other acre near the road would be subdivided and sold.

THE PDP MANIFESTO, launched on Saturday, is committed to the protection of the rights and dignity of workers, including the right to decent work and gender equality, and the . This is part of the party’s manifesto launched last Saturday at Saraswati College, Nausori, where PDP promised to oppose any current and future laws that curtailed individual freedoms.

PDP AND EDUCATION.  If elected, the  People’s Democratic Party promises free meals for poor students on top of the free education and bus fare concessions provided by the current Government. PDP would also appoint an independent commission to examine and make recommendations on all aspects of the education system, including school curricula appropriate to students and work opportunities in Fiji.

The Court of Appeal has dismissed his appeal for a stay of sentence  but Justice William Calanchini has however granted an urgent hearing on the legal appeal of conviction which gives Chaudhry some hope to be nominated as a party candidate in the upcoming September election.

TAX OFFICER ABUSE OF OFFICE  AND CHAUDHRY. Two former employees of the Fiji Revenue and Customs Authority, Vimal Krishna and Agesh Prakash, have been charged with abuse of office by the Criminal Investigations Department in relation to a $31,600 allegedly illegal payout to Mahendra Pal Chaudhry in 2009. The two have been released on bail by the Suva Magistrates Court on strict bail conditions.

. Four organisations have been given the go-ahead to carry out voter education related activities under Section 115 of the Electoral Decree. Approval has been given to the Fiji Women's Rights Movement (FWRM), femLINKpacific: Media Initiatives for Women, Pacific Dialogue and Citizens Constitutional Forum (CCF)

YASAWAS SAFE WATER. Villages in the tikina of Waya and Nacula in the Yasawa Group will soon access safe drinking water as works on a new water reticulation system, incuding a dam for catchmnent and 3,000 metres of piping to the villages, begin next week.

NEW CANDIDATES. FijiFirst’s first batch of candidates,and SODELPA's remaining six candidates, will be announced this week.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Sofaia's Story from $90 to $600 a Month

Dr Jiko (L) at opening of the Namotomoto Women's Resource Centre
Sofaia's story provides another example of how several government down-to-earth initiatives are helping women lift themselves out of poverty. 
Other examples include the women's resources centres, assistance with marketing and budgeting, the grandmothers trained to provide small household solar energy units, the distribution of sewing machines, and, last week, the first of the cheap, low fuel Rocket stoves that will save electricity costs and fuel woods and have a minimum environmental impact.   
Some of the initiatives show the advantage of looking to rural Asia, and not the developed economies,  for low-level technologies that can be used in Fiji.

The saying that “where there’s a will, there’s always a way,” has proven true for Sofaia Finau Tagi from Wainibuku Rd, 9 miles, Nakasi. Being a widow and raising 3 children on her own has not been an easy journey for Ms Tagi, however, through the government’s Welfare Graduation Programme, she now operates not only one but two businesses and is able to see her youngest daughter receive her higher education through the Fiji National University (FNU).

Ms Tagi was a social welfare recipient for the last two years, till early this year, when she received the funding of $1600 as part of the Welfare Graduation programme to start her canteen business. She was also given the opportunity last year to participate in “Competency-based Economies through Formation of Entrepreneurs (CEFE) business training” provided by National Centre for Small and Micro Enterprises Development (NCSMED).

The former welfare recipient who used to depend on $90 monthly allowance is now able to earn $600 a month through the canteen business through which I have also been able to expand the piggery project that gives her a profit of $10,000.

“I am so proud that today, I am given this opportunity to share my story, I have struggled to raise my children and I am grateful to the Ministry of Social Welfare for always supporting me. Today I am happy to say that two of my children have well established careers, while the youngest daughter is going to FNU.

“I wouldn’t have a story to tell if it wasn’t for the social welfare ministry that has helped me to start my canteen business which has given me a new beginning in life. I usually buy the groceries in wholesale and then sell it from my canteen and this is populated area so the business is good. In the first week I started this business, I earned $400 and usually in a month I am able to earn up to $600. The earnings fluctuate however, I am able to earn enough to support my family.

“Through the savings from canteen, I have boosted my piggery project that gives me higher returns now. I am able to send my daughter to FNU and also sustain my businesses. It is through the $1600 startup capital from the Ministry that has helped me to climb the ladder of success and to move away from handed out mentality, these events changed my life forever,” Ms Tagi said.

She said that her dream is to inspire her family and those around her to always have the determination to drive that positive change in one’s life.

“This is a very big change in my life and I am thankful to the Ministry and the present government for opening such opportunities for widows and single mothers. My only message to the social welfare recipients is to come out of their comfort zone-to realize their talent and use the assistance given by the government to reach for their dreams.

“I can proudly stand and look myself in the mirror and say that I am a independent woman. It gives me that personal satisfaction to know that I don’t have to depend on the government or anyone for that matter to support me. This success began with a simple step to change my thinking, to believe in my abilities and challenge myself to run these businesses, but I am grateful the social welfare ministry for turning my challenge into my biggest success,” Ms Tagi expressed.

“The Ministry is amazed with the achievements made through the Welfare Graduation Programme and this has been possible with our partnership with NCSMED. The programme has a budgetary allocation of $500,000 and focuses on moving recipients from “welfare to workfare.”

“The programme reinforces the principle that poverty is a temporary state and as a society, we must uphold the value of work and self-sufficiency. When people move from welfare to work, they begin to contribute meaningfully towards national development, they regain their self-esteem and confidence and they inspire others to step into pathways of becoming financially independent,” says Dr Jiko Luveni, the Minister for Social Welfare, Women and Poverty Alleviation.

To date the Ministry of Social Welfare has assisted 109 recipients into starting businesses ranging from poultry, catering, canteen, bee keeping, agriculture, bakery, market stalls, tailoring, yaqona retail and  handicrafts, which are carefully monitored by the Ministry and NCSMED.   --- MOI.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Putting Fiji's Economic Performance in Perspective

 Some facts and opinions by Croz Walsh

Part I. Governments, Food Prices and the Cost of Living

Opposition parties worldwide blame incumbent governments for everything that is wrong in a country and unless voters are very careful they can be easily misled. 

In a previous article, I compared Fiji and New Zealand food prices.  I did this  because Government opponents, most notably Mick Beddoes of the SODELPA party, were blaming Government, and government alone, for the high prices.  

 I was not comparing Fiji and NZ in any other way. The issue was the price of food, nothing else. I was certainly not claiming that Fijians were better off, as some readers commenting on the article claimed, and this was made quite clear in the article.The disparity in wages, social welfare and pensions is well known. The average Fijian is much worse off than their Kiwi cousins. 

But, like it or not,  the prices of almost all the nine basic food items sampled were cheaper in Fiji than in NZ. How could this be?  If the Fiji Opposition is claiming that the high food prices in Fiji are the result of mismanagement by the Bainimarama government, by the same logic, John Key’s Government must have mismanaged the NZ economy even more!

Such claims are obviously nonsense. Governments are limited in what they can do about food prices.  They can reduce tariffs and duties on imported food; offer incentives and training to farmers to grow more food;  they can reduce direct taxes on food (VAT in Fiji) or remove VAT entirely on certain basic food items; they can  stimulate competition among food retailers; and closely monitor food prices, making sure the prices are reasonable and  that gains from lowered tariffs and duty are passed on as lower prices to consumers.

The Bainimarama Government, and indeed all previous Fiji governments, have done at least some of these things. Tariffs and import duties were reduced in the 2013 National Budget.  Numerous Government  initiatives have been aimed at increasing local food production and improving  transport to markets. Some basic food items have been made VAT-free and the Fiji Commerce Commission has watched and placed limits on many prices.

Work of the Consumer Council
In addition, the watchdog Consumer Council of Fiji has not been slow to criticise retailers for unreasonable prices.  Every year it has made submissions on the annual budget, and in most years Government has adopted some of its recommendations. In its submission on the 2014  budget, for example, it made submissions on duty reductions, food price relief for the most vulnerable, and the need for stronger consumer protection.

It noted that despite the increase of the income tax threshold from $15,000 to $16,000
and reduced import duty on many food items, the cost of  living had got no better and food prices had increased.  It noted that some food, vehicle and smart phone retailers were not passing the lower duties on to consumers.

It requested Government to remove tariffs and duties on all essential food items, mentioning powdered milk and butter  in particular, and called for reduced duties on some non-food items such as clothing, school stationery, and adult sanitary diapers.

It wanted the  duty on energy drinks increased because they are unhealthy, more controls on credit card and insurance charges, and vitamin and other supplements removed from the control of pharmacies.

Government accepted three of the recommendations in full and a fourth one in part. The Council wanted restrictions on the sale of vitamins and supplements lifted. Government did not agree but it removed the 32% fiscal duty tax. 

Monitoring Task Force
The most important CCF recommendation accepted by Government has resulted in the setting up of a  Monitoring Task Force made up of the Ministries of Finance and Industry and Trades to monitor the price of duty-reduced goods and services.  A further development this week was the signing of a memorandum of understanding (MOU) between the Commerce Commission and Revenue and Customs.

There is no doubt that food prices have risen. The table below, taken from Consumer Council’s submission on the 2014 Budget,  shows Fiji increases between 2006 and 2013, but prices have risen worldwide and many factors are responsible. It is mischievous politics to hold the Bainimarama Government solely or even mainly responsible. They have done what they could to keep prices down.

Ultimately, relief from high prices and a better standard of living can only come from  a combination of improvements to the Fiji economy and more enlightened policies that benefit the average Fijian household, and not just the most advantaged.  

Improving situation
The Opposition claims that the Fiji economy has gone into free fall since the 2006 Coup and that Government policies have exacerbated a deteriorating situation.   It is true that on a number of economic indicators, the economy did briefly deteriorate after 2006 (and sugar has still not recovered) but Government critics have chosen to ignore current World Bank and Fiji Reserve Bank figures that show a generally improving situation. 

Taking just three examples:
  • GDP is expected to be US$3.94 billion in the last quarter of this year, and US$6.04 billion next year.  
  •  Inflation is expected to drop to 0.47% in the last quarter of this year and to 0.28% next year. 
  • Unemployment, down from earlier levels, will remain constant at about 7.2%.

 Part II. A Longer View of the Fiji Economy

". Fiji is tittering on the brink of stagflation and bankruptcy!”  -- Singh Rahul in the blog FijiToday
By selecting 2006 as their base line the critics  have also chosen to take a rather short term look at the Fiji economy.  Had they gone back earlier, to say 2001 after the 2000 coup or even to 1989 before the coup, the picture would have less suited their argument. 

We will take a longer view  of the economy, using   World Bank and Fiji Reserve Bank figures (see Footnote 1)  to look at pre- and post-2006 coup figures and from this see whether the Fiji economy is in as bad a shape as Singh Rahul and other Government opponents claim.
1. Fiji GDP. Gross domestic product  (GDP) is equal to the total expenditures for all final goods and services produced within the country in a stipulated period of time.  Fiji's GDP averaged US$1.39 billion from 1960 until 2012, reaching an all time high of US$3.88 billion in 2012  and a record low of US$0.11 billion  in 1960.

The graph shows GDP from 2004 to 2013. Note that in most years it continued to increase after the December 2006 coup and in 2013 was significantly higher than the Qarase Government years of  2004 or 2006.  

2. GDP Annual Growth Rate  averaged 2.4%  from 1971 until 2013, reaching an all time high of 12.7% in 1973 and a record low of -6.4%  in  1987.  

Figure 2 shows marked fluctuations in the GDP growth  after the December 2006 coup when growth was adversely affected by sanctions imposed  by international sanctions and a loss of local business confidence.  The coup also resulted in a sharp increase in emigration causing a loss of critical skilled manpower and problems attracting foreign capital.  However, growth rates have been positive and increased since 2011.
3. Fiji Government Debt to GDP
Generally, Government debt as a percent of GDP is used by investors to measure a country's ability to make future payments on its debt,  thus affecting the country borrowing costs and government bond yields
Government Debt To GDP in  Fiji averaged 44.02%  from 1980 until 2013, reaching an all time high of 56.2%  in 2010 and a record low of 33.69% in 1981. In 2013 it was  52.8%, approximately the same as in 2006 before the coup (see x in the graph.)

4. Fiji Government Budget. Fiji recorded a Government Budget deficit for most years before and after the 2006 Coup. Government Budget deficits  averaged -2.55%  of GDP from 1992 until 2013, reaching an all time high of  5% in 1998 and a record low of - 6.5%  in 2001.  The deficit was  in 2013 was -2.6%, far less than 2003 and 2004 when Qarase’s SDL party was in government. The only year during this period when there was a government surplus was in 2009, under the Bainimarama Government.  

5. Unemployment.   Much has been made by the Opposition of Fiji’s high unemployment rate, the primary causes being attributed to the Bainimarama Government,  but the World Bank figures in Figure 5 show that significantly higher rates occurred before the 2006 Coup. 
The Unemployment Rate (the number of people actively looking for a job as a percentage of the labour force)  averaged 7.67%  from 1986 until 2011, reaching an all time high of 12%  in 1988 and a record low of 3.7%  in 1996.  

In 2003 it was 8.5% dropping to 5.6% in 2005. By 2006 it started to rise again and this rise continued after the coup. The rate had increased to 8.5% by 2008 but since then has been dropping.  It has remained unchanged at 7% since 2010.

6. Fiji Inflation Rate
The inflation rate (broad rises or falls in prices that consumers pay for a standard basket of goods) averaged 4.38% from 2003 until  2014, reaching an all time high of 10.5%  in April 2010  and a record low of -0.30%  in April  2009.  Post-coup inflation was generally higher than in the pre-coup period but the rate has been steadily declining since 2012. The rate at May 2014 was 0.8%, lower than in any year since 2004.

In Part I,  I argued that many factors, many of them outside government control,  were responsible for the increasing price of food, and noted a number of measures taken by Government and the Commerce Commission to contain increases. I also noted the work of the Fiji Consumer Council in persuading Government to accept four of its submissions to the 2014 National Budget.
In Part II, World Bank and Fiji Reserve Bank data were used to show  that some economic measures were no worse, and in some cases much better, than before the December 2006 coup.
In sum, some things are better and some worse, but the worst of the worse seems to be over and most indicators are positive for 2015 and beyond. The argument that Fiji is on the verge of bankruptcy —and its attendant argument, that the Bainimarama Government is solely responsible for this dire condition—  are just not true.   

The Opposition would be well advised to focus on what they will do to improve Fiji’s living standards (things they did not do when they were last in government) rather than playing on false fears to win votes.

1. To see the graphs used in this article, and others, click on the graph icons at the right of the table. I am indebted to TradingEconomics for the graphs and explanations used in this article.  
2. For another opinion, see  Prof Biman's article written in September last year before he became a politician. He highlights the increase in poverty, that is not covered in my article, and he thinks the recent positive trends tenuous, but he also supports some Bainimarama Government measures.