Friday, November 28, 2014

Media Freedom in the Pacific: The Rhetoric and the Reality-- Crosbie Walsh

What follows is the unpublished half finished draft and speaking notes of an address I gave to AUT journalism students three years ago. Hence the green highlighting and underscoring.  Much has happened since but the paper is as valid now as it was then. --  Croz  

All good research, and this includes work by journalists, should start with a definition of terms. And tonight we cannot proceed unless we define the five key terms in the title, and recognize they all have different meanings for different people. If I may borrow from the title, this is my first task: to ask rhetorical questions about the reality of the terms we use.

Let' s take the the easiest word: the Pacific, and recognize that I'm trying to define its meaning in a politically charged environment. We may for a start ask: does it include NZ's Pasifika or Maori? Or are only indigenous people who reside in the Islands Pacific Islanders?

In the Fiji context, some Taukei say that only full-blooded indigenous Taukei are Pacific Islanders while all others are vulagi, or visitors ? These people obviously automatically disqualify Indo-Fijians who ancestors settled in Fiji over 140 years ago, far longer, one must note, than most pakeha ancestral links to New Zealand.

The same people, and I am not just talking about the rabid ethno-racists, I am talking about the law with respect to succession and voting, that states that people of part-Taukei ancestry, the Kailoma (part Taukei-European) and KaiSolomoni (part Fijian-part other Melanesian), have no right to be called Taukei unless their father is a Taukei. Part-Taukei people therefore have therefore no claim on land belonging to their mother's people and for voting purposes they were classified as General Voters along with Europeans, Chinese, and others. The only way a Taukei woman whose partner is non-Taukei can claim her children are Taukei is if she conceals the father's identity.

And if people such as Kailoma and Indo-Fijians do not qualify, Europeans should be non-starters. They are obviously not Pacific Islanders. Or are they? Well, it seems to depend. Ethno-racists in Fiji give New Zealand born and based journalist Michael Field who is strongly opposed to the Bainimarama government an 'honorary' Pacific Islander status but they deny this status to Fiji-born and educated journalist Graham Davis, who also speaks Fijian and some Hindi. Thus, Field has a right to speak on Fiji matters. He is cited often in their blogs. But not Davis who is labelled as a coup supporter, supposedly lacking in knowledge of Taukei culture and insensitive to Taukei protocols. I wonder how many Pasifika journalist, in New Zealand and in the Islands, hold back in case they offend protocols, and I wonder also what this may say about media freedom and self-censorship.

I take it that our concern about media freedom revolves around our understanding of democracy: another term open to many interpretations. In the Fiji context, media freedom has meaning for the educated urban elites but what can it possibly mean for less educated Taukei, especially those in rural areas, who have been brought up to accept authority, respect their elders and accept without question what their chiefs have to say?

Before discussing freedom, the question in which most people are interested, it is necessary to say a few words about rhetoric and reality.

Most people take rhetoric to mean exaggeration or the choice of words to persuade or impress which are also usually insincere. That is one meaning but it has a far more noble origin. Aristotle, the Greek philosopher who lived over 2,300 years ago, used it to refer to the art of discourse (or debate, discussion, dialogue, or conversation, if you prefer) and a means of persuasion. He said speakers seeking to persuade appealed to their audiences by using one or more of these three approaches : logos (the appeal to reason), pathos (the appeal to emotion), and ethos (the appeal to society's guiding beliefs, ideals and ideology) to which he added experience and knowledge.

This is not as abstract as it may seem. Think for a moment of the weight given to reason, emotion and our beliefs in the way our media has covered Pacific events, and how our politicians have formulated policies. Reason requires analysis that requiries “good” data, adaptability and the capacity to respond to changing events, and we have seen little of that. Our emotions are engaged as we read of floods, diseases and poverty, and we contribute to various appeals that makes us feel good and possibly superior. And the way many Australian and New Zealand journalists and politicians look at the world, shaped as it is primarily by preconceived ideology of what, for them, is right and wrong, and not by knowledge or experience, too often results in news reports with no context, misplaced government policies, and accusations from the Pacific that they object to bullying.

In the Fiji context, this explains why so much attention has been given to terms like military dictatorship, a return to democracy, the abuse of human rights, and media and trade union freedom and and early elections. It is not that these are not matters of concern. Of course they are. But to understand what is going on the concerns must be put in their historic and current perspective, we should recognize that our definitions may be culturally biased and inappropriate, and that all parties have their own motives for seeing things as they do.

Breaking Fiji news as I was writing this is that former leading politicians, Qarese, Chaundhry and Beddoes, have told the visiting Australian and New Zealand foreign ministers that they want an immediate return to civilian government, the cancellation of all decrees passed by the Baimarama government and a referendum to consider changes to the Constitution. All three requests will seem very reasonable to the foreign ministers. Afterall, this is what they would expect in their own countries but their countries have not experienced four coups in the past 25 years; they do not practice racial politics, they are not part of the problem they claim to solve, they are not obviously corrupt, their people would vote independent of the influence of chiefs and religious leaders, and they would not personally benefit if these changes are introduced. This, of course, is my interpretation of reality and my rhetoric, but the politicians requests should also be seen for what they are.

Which brings us to the definition of reality. Briefly, there is none because they is no one universally acceptable definition. Sufficient to say that Western, Eastern and indigenous definitions vary greatly, and within these societies men and women, the young, the middle aged and the old, experience different realities. As I wrote elsewhere:*
* TERS, The Essential Research Skills, 2005:87.

It is the victor who defines — and prescribes — the reality of the vanquished; the coloniser the reality of the colonised; the rich the reality of the poor; the powerful the powerless; the educated the uneducated; the abled the disabled; the present the past; the vocal the silent, and so on, and so on.

And so, having argued that nothing has only one definition, we come to media freedom. The commonly accepted definition, by Western journalists and those influenced by Western teaching, is that media freedom should only be checked by the laws of libel, obscenity and sedition. Reporters Without Barriers has gone so far as to construct a scale to permit international comparisons and censorship, self censorship and government restrictions are among their indicators. They obtain their data from other journalists. New Zealand is the 13th most free country in the world; Australia is 30th; PNG 35th, Samoa 54th and Fiji 117th, up from 149 two years ago.

But no allowance is made for context; no consideration is given to the influence of private media owners; no attention is given to the need for private media to make money, increase their circulation and so satisfy their advertisers. It appears not to matter that the news presented is so often a shallow statement of only one side, or that many reporters are themselves biased or have no special expertise on what they are reporting. And, most importantly, no consideration is given to the consequences of journalist reports. In other words, no mention is made of media responsibility, the other half of the media freedom equation. This is not to criticise all journalists but I doubt we would accept such a definition or summary of freedom if it were applied to the medical profession or to the aviation industry.

David Robie has written about what he calls peace and war journalism**
** Conflict Reporting in the South Pacific. Why Peace Journalism has a Chance. Journal of Pacific Studies 31(2) 2011: pp 221-240.
These are very important concepts in the Pacific. Briefly, “war” journalism focuses on violence, conflict the the spectacular in which one side is usually good and the other bad. It rarely examines structural causes, and it is not concerned with the consequences that may occur from publishing its material. In Peace journalism, on the other hand, issues are not painted as black and white, it provides a voice for all the people. Issues are placed in context. It avoids emotive and imprecise expressions. Race is mentioned only when it is relevant. Much more attention is given to causes and the possible consequences of publishing reports.

I'd now like to share with you some of my experiences in publishing a blog on Fiji, and my thoughts on mainstream media reports on Fiji,

My experience of NZ reporting (most in note form)
There are very few academics in New Zealand who are qualified to comment on events in Fiji since the 2006 Coup, and two of them are in this room. But I have apparently been boycotted as someone to refer to by the NZ media, and I understand David and Steve Ratuva have been rarely interviewed. Instead, our media has relied on non-specialists like Rod Alley and anti-Bainimarama people in Australia such as Briji Lal, and Jon Fraenkel.
I have no proof but there are indicators that some of our journalists have relied on the rapid anti-Bainimarama blog Coup4.5 as a source for their stories.
M ichael Field is probably the best known NZ journalist who reports on the Pacific. It was because I found his Fiji reporting so biased and misleading that I started my blog. Time is limited so I'll provide only one example of his reporting. Last year there was an outbreak of typhoid in three villages some 50 kilometres up the Sigatoka River. It affected a dozen or so people. Field reported this as a serious threat to tourists on the Coral Coast, a popular tourist destination. Field knew where the outbreak had occurred and must have known the threat was a very small one. Barbara Dreaver gave similar reports some time later.

Barbara Dreaver. Interview with Ratu Tevita Mara who fled Fiji when changed with sedition. Got lost when fishing. Picked up by the Tongan navy. Took documents that would prove all. Barbara smiled at the fishing story (obviously a lie) and did not ask to see the documents which, if they really existed, were in the next room.

Glib use of terms like “Return to democracy”. Fiji has never had a democracy as we know it. Most rural ethnic Fijian vote as they are told by their chiefs and church ministers. E.g., 2006 elections. Electorates of very different sizes, penalised urban Fijians and the Western Division. Preferential voting. One electorate required 7 counts before one candidate had the necessary 50% of votes to be elected. System Not understood. Overall, of people registered, 15-20% not voted (39% of Indo-Fijians), and over 10% invalid votes.
Won by one seat. And obvious irregularities in polls. Whole boxes of voting papers went missing and in one electorate over 100% of voters voted (Dr Neil Nielson's extension review of the2006 election hardly mentioned by the NZ media,)
Judiciary pawn of Government? FLS appalling record. Backlog of cases over 2 years; theft of client's money; Law society but won't go to Fiji.
The Appeal decision coup illegal. Abrog Constit and sacking of judges. No choice; misrepresenetation — judges not sacked. Most reinstated.
Religious freedom? Withholding of meeting permits reported as infringement on religious freedom. In the UK Methodist even held prayer meetings and fasts. Context. No mention of Church leaders' rabid racism or participation in earlier coups

Coverage of events in Fiji
A year ago the international media were very concerned about the Fiji government's treatment of the Fiji Times that was eventually forced to change it ownership.
Here are some examples of Fiji Times coverage of events. You may ask whether is was peace or war journalism.

Chaudhry complaints 1999 anti-Labour bias. Inflamed opposition, contributed to the 2000 Coup.
Coverage of ---
David --- (not just Fiji Times; all media) Speight Coup euphoria fear
Concern about HR but never IF HR 2000 and refugee camps, and exodus.
The arson reporting (FT editor and T.Uist cars). green beret QEB. Led readers to judge.
Reporting both sides for the Fiji Times meant citing one government source and three anti-government sources. (3:1)
All the instances I've cited, and there are of course many more, have intended or unintended consequences: they undermine confidence in the Bainimarama government and the economy. They misinform overseas policy makers, deter much needed investment. Gives heart to the of Bainimarama opposition. And so creates instability and distrust. Real threat of bloodshed.

It is in this light that we need to see why PER were imposed.
Why media freedom will continue to be limited unless unless there's greater responsibility.
And why there's still significant self-censorship in Fiji today.

For the forthcoming Constitution and Electoral Reform dialogues to progress, a much higher degree of media freedom is needed, but this will only occur if its abandons “war” journalism. The type of journalism we have in NZ is not appropriate, at this time, in Fiji.

One last word, it is assumed that mainstream media is more reliable than the blogs. This is not necessarily so. The anti-Bainimarama blogs at least disclose their biases, which most media do not. My blog acknowledges its biases; provides more than one side of most stories and publishes letters from both sides; clearly separates opinions from facts; provides backgrounds to most stories, and cites sources as much as possible. Further, it avoids provocative and emotional words. and seeks positive outcomes from the present situation. I think “true believers” in democracy and media freedom should expect no less from the mainstream media — wherever it is located.
Vinaka and thank you.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Auckland Political Journalism Conference and David Robie's book "Don't Spoil My Beautiful Face"

NZ: Live streaming links for Asia-Pacific political journalism conference

Wednesday, November 26, 2014
Item: 9065
AUCKLAND (Pacific Media Watch): Asylum seekers in the Pacific, media freedom issues, post-elections Fiji, climate change, the climate of impunity in the Philippines and investigative documentaries in Timor-Leste, Australia and New Zealand are among the wide-ranging topics featured at a three-day political journalism in the Asia-Pacific conference opening tomorrow.
The conference is marking 20 years of publishing the research journal Pacific Journalism Review.
Walter Fraser, head of Pacific Advancement at AUT University, will open the conference on Thursday morning and Vice-Chancellor, Derek McCormack, will make a presentation of a mega cartoon to the editorial team on Friday, 5-6pm, to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the journal.
Fifteen journalists are covering the conference, including from Antara News Agency in Indonesia and the Bangkok bureau of TV Asahi of Japan.
Here are the livestreaming links:

Thursday, 27 November: 8.45am-10.45am:
Conference opening, video premiere of The Life of Pacific Journalism Review, Philippines and the Ampatuan massacre, media freedom issues in the Pacific and Fiji.

First Link:

Second Link (Back up link, in case if the first link fails):


Friday, 28 November: 8.45am-10.45am: 
Republika editor Ricardo Morris, a keynote speaker on Fiji, followed by Shailendra Singh (Fiji) and Nickek Chesterfield (West Papua).

First Link:

Second Link (This is a back up link, in case if the first link fails):


Friday, 28 November: 6-8pm:
Film maker Max Stahl on "anti -news" in Timor-Leste

First Link:

Second Link (This is a back up link, in case if the first link fails):

Asia-Pacific political journalism conference




Don’t Spoil My Beautiful Face: Media, Mayhem and Human Rights in the Pacific
Format: paperback, 362pp, illustrated. Index.

Date: 24 April 2014: ISBN 978-1877-484-25-4
Publisher: Little Island Press
Foreword by Kalafi Moala

“This is an extraordinary ‘secret history’ of a vast region of the world of which David Robie has been a rare expert witness. What makes this epic work so timely is that it allows us to understand the Asia-Pacific at a time of renewed Cold War ambitions and dangers.” – Investigative journalist John Pilger
Professor David Robie, an independent journalist, media campaigner and educator from AUT University’s Pacific Media Centre, distils his lessons from 35 years or working in the Asia-Pacific region. Covering environmental challenges, coups, the nuclear-free and independent Pacific movement and civil rights – as well as many barriers journalists face in the Pacific – his book, Don’t Spoil My Beautiful Face, reveals many of the hidden stories from these island nations.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

China's PM Visits: Some Implications

Message Classification: Restricted
Bloomberg     -     21 Nov 14

Xi’s Pacific Islands Tour Deepens China Clout Further South

By Ting Shi 

President Xi Jinping arrived in Fiji today as he seeks to broaden China’s economic and strategic clout in the South Pacific, building on trade ties that flourished after then-army chief Frank Bainimarama staged a coup almost eight years ago.
The Fiji trip -- the first state visit by a Chinese leader -- bookends Xi’s 11th foreign sojourn since he became president in March 2013, doling out billions of dollars to countries from Tanzania to Costa Rica and Sri Lanka. China seized the advantage when Fiji’s ties with neighbor Australia cooled after the putsch in December 2006, and total trade has since quadrupled.
It also continues Xi’s message of soft power as he balances an expanding military and claims to territory in the western Pacific against a growing economic interdependence. As host this year of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum, Xi sought to cast China as both a partner and player in the region.
“For Xi, he has presided over a diversification of China’s diplomatic links, a more proactive foreign policy and the creation of deeper links beyond the Asian region,” said Kerry Brown, director of the University of Sydney’s China Studies Centre. “Whether there is any real depth in these relationships beyond self interest it is hard to say. But at least China is less lonely now than it was a few years ago.”
Xi’s visit follows that of the leader of another rising Asian power, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who pledged $5 million to promote small business in Fiji and a $70 million line of credit for a power plant.
‘Shared Interests’
“We have shared interests in peace and cooperation in our inter-linked ocean regions,” Modi told reporters after meeting Bainimarama Nov. 19. “We are also aware that the relationship has at times been adrift, and that our cooperation should be much stronger than it is.”
China considers itself a lasting friend of Pacific island nations, Xi said in an article carried today by the Fiji Times, according to China’s official Xinhua News Agency. China believes all countries are equal members of the international community irrespective of their size and wealth, Xinhua cited Xi as saying.
“We shall be good brothers who support each other in both good and bad times,” Xi said in the article. “Sincerity is the key to a lasting friendship.”
Education, Training
China’s president will announce “major measures” aimed at improving infrastructure, education and training with countries including Fiji, the first Pacific island nation to establish diplomatic ties with China in 1975, and seven other island nations, Assistant Foreign Minister Zheng Zeguang told reporters last week in Beijing.
China’s development will “generate huge opportunities,” Xi told a meeting of company chief executives in Beijing on Nov. 9 during APEC. Outbound investment will total $1.25 trillion in the next decade, he said.
Australia was Fiji’s largest trading partner in 2013, with China its fifth-biggest at $328 million, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. China was Fiji’s eighth-biggest trading partner in 2005, before the last coup.
China has provided about $330 million in aid to Fiji since 2006, Lowy Institute calculations show, with then-Premier Wen Jiabao attending the inaugural China-Pacific Island countries economic development forum in Fiji that year.
Balancing Act
The Fiji stop will wrap up Xi’s swing through the Oceania region, which included the Group of 20 summit in Brisbane and visits to Canberra, Tasmania and New Zealand.
“The Oceania trip brought to a full circle Xi’s diplomatic global-trotting, where he played a good balancing act between major powers and small countries,” said Wang Fan, Director of the Institute of International Relations at the China Foreign Affairs University.
Prime Minister Bainimarama, who in September won the first election since the coup, said in 2008 that Fiji would not forget China’s understanding throughout the upheavals in the country’s history.
“When other countries were quick to condemn us following the events of 1987, 2000 and in 2006, China and other friends in Asia demonstrated a more understanding and sensitive approach to events in Fiji,” he told a group of Chinese officials.
After the state visit, Xi will hold a summit with leaders of eight countries that China has diplomatic ties with in the region -- Fiji, Papua New Guinea, Vanuatu, Micronesia, Samoa, Tonga, the Cook Islands and Niue, according to Assistant Foreign Minister Zheng. The islands have a total population of 8.15 million and a combined landmass of almost 500,000 square kilometers, roughly 5 percent of China’s size, according to data compiled by Bloomberg from the CIA World Factbook.
Second Islands
Some of these countries are part of the “second island chain” often used by military strategists to describe China extending its naval reach beyond the “first island chain,” a series of islands running from the Japanese archipelago, past Taiwan to the South China Sea. The second chain would run southward past Guam toward Papua New Guinea. Guam hosts a major U.S. naval base for the Pacific Ocean.
The Pacific islands are important to China “because of their strategic regional location, in an area which China is starting to regard as increasingly in its own backyard as it aspires to become a naval power,” Brown said.
Xi in October 2013 hosted members of the Politburo Standing Committee -- China’s top leadership body -- at a conference dedicated to periphery diplomacy, which emphasized the need for a stable external environment to let neighbors take part in China’s economic growth.
Taiwan Ties
The travel done by Xi shows he “has a broader global vision that suits China’s status in the world,” featuring “a layered-structure, from periphery to near periphery to far periphery,” Wang said.
Xi will not meet during the summit with officials from Kiribati, the Marshall Islands, Nauru, Palau, the Solomon Islands or Tuvalu, which have diplomatic ties with Taiwan, an island with its own government that China claims as its own.
Their link to Taiwan doesn’t mean China “ignores” them, Zheng of the Foreign Ministry said. China and the Pacific Islands “have more cooperative space and future ties will be better under the framework of one-China,” Zheng was quoted by the Taipei-based China Times as saying, referring to China’s long-term goal of reunification with Taipei.
“It’s entirely up to them; you can’t have your cake and eat it too,” said Shen Shishun, a senior researcher at Asia-Pacific Research Centre of the China Institute of International Studies in Beijing, speaking of those nations without diplomatic ties with China. “It’ll be a choice of self-interest; and it’ll be a matter of time when they switch their diplomatic allegiance.”
Switch Allegiance
“Taiwan is involved in bilateral and multilateral initiatives aimed at improving the livelihoods of our allies in the South Pacific,” Taiwan Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokeswoman Anna Kao said in a text message. “These initiatives have been well-received by our diplomatic allies and we will continue to build on these foundations.”
Chinese aid is sometimes not as quick or efficient as assumed, according to Philippa Brant, a research associate at the Sydney-based Lowy Institute. Funding for two low-cost housing projects in Fiji’s capital Suva was promised in 2006 and construction didn’t start until 2011, she said.
“Clearly it isn’t just a matter of China pledging a loan and a project being built a couple of years later,” said Brant, who researches China’s foreign aid to areas including the South Pacific. “People there will be looking for concrete projects, not simply more pledges of assistance.”
To contact the reporter on this story: Ting Shi in Hong Kong at
To contact the editors responsible for this story: Rosalind Mathieson at Neil Western

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

The Indian Prme Minister's Visit

PM Narendra Modi
Please be advised that all media content regarding the official visit of the Prime Minister of the Republic of India, His Excellency, Narendra Modi which  includes speeches, photographs and videos can be found on, our Facebook page and our YouTube account. -- MOI.

Why Ro Teimumu and SODELPA are boycotting Modi's visit and what Government has to say about the boycott. For other reports, see below.

Fiji opposition party plans boycott of Modi speech
As the Indian Prime Minister arrives in Fiji tomorrow, a diplomatic embarrassment is looming after the opposition SODELPA party said it would boycott the special parliamentary sitting

Narendra Modi is en route from Australia, where he addressed its Parliament and announced closer dealings between the countries. He is due to address Fiji's parliament tomorrow.
But the SODEPLA leader, Ro Teimumu Kepa, told Fiji media she was disappointed to hear that the Fiji Prime Minister's vote of thanks will not include mention of her as the leader of the opposition.
In turn, the fifteen SODELPA members in Fiji's new Parliament say they will not attend the parliamentary sitting during which Mr Modi will give his speech.
Mr Modi will be the first Indian Prime Minister to visit Fiji since Indira Gandhi travelled there in 1981.

Government's Response to SODELPA Boycott

The Government is extremely disappointed that SODELPA has decided to boycott the special Parliamentary meeting planned for the visiting Indian Prime Minister, H.E. Narendra Modi.

This visit is a national event, not a political one. It is an opportunity for our nation to engage the leader of the world’s largest democracy and one of Fiji’s most important international partners in discussions that are critical for Fiji’s future.

The visit to Parliament is an opportunity for the elected representatives of all the Fijian people—not just government—to share in this visit. Obviously, the government has primary responsibility for the visit and the official discussions, but it has taken care to ensure that H.E. Prime Minister Modi experiences a visit with all the people of Fiji.

A visit to Parliament gives him the opportunity to address all of Fiji’s elected leaders. Government notes, in fact, that the opposition leader, following protocol, is a member of the official welcoming and farewelling parties.

The traditional welcome ceremony, which will be conducted by people from Sorokaba in Ba, was designed to greet Mr. Modi in the proud iTaukei tradition, and also in a way befitting a leader who rose from humble beginnings to lead the world’s largest democracy.

Indeed, all arrangements were agreed with the Indian Government, and Prime Minister Modi’s representatives were pleased that the welcome would be a popular one and not a formal event for elites only.
SODELPA’s position is an insult to the people of Ba and all Fijians. The members of SODELPA have put their own political agenda ahead of the national interest. At this time, all Fijians should be united in putting our best foot forward.

Government believes that visiting leaders should not be used to fight petty political battles. This is an important moment for Fiji, a time for Fijians to put their differences aside—even momentarily—in the interests of the nation.

Unfortunately, SODELPA has passed up another opportunity to show that it can rise above petty politics and work for the national good. The burden is on SODELPA to show that it think beyond its own agenda, show true leadership, and focus on what is good for the nation.  -- MOI.

But NFP will attend. Click on link to FijiLive  

And FijiLeaks say "SODELPA is crying foul over the move to withdraw the vote of thanks they said the Opposition Leader was asked to give. Members said the decision was made by government members during the Business Committee yesterday afternoon. "The decision ignores the parliamentary best practice standards where the Prime Minister gives the welcome address and the Leader of the Opposition moves the vote of thanks," a SODELPA statement said. 

"The members said the decision meant the exclusion of opposition from all arrangements relating to Modi's visit although government insists this is not so as the Opposition Leader Ro Teimumu Kepa is also part of the official party to welcome and farewell the visiting Prime Minister Modi when he arrives and departs at the Nausori Airport tomorrow. 

"SODELPA also expressed concern at the "exclusion of chiefs" in the visit saying it meant that the ceremonies of welcome being accorded to Modi are not based on the normal traditional protocols that other visiting dignitaries and heads of state were accorded "and consequently any ceremonies planned will not embrace the depth, spirit and 'Mana' befitting a leader in Prime Minister Modi." 

 "But, government said the traditional welcome ceremony, which will be conducted by people from Sorokaba in Ba, is designed to greet Modi in the proud iTaukei tradition, "and also in a way befitting a leader who rose from humble beginnings to lead the world’s largest democracy." 

"The government said SODELPA's position is an insult to the people of Ba and all Fijians and in doing so "have put their own political agenda ahead of the national interest." "Indeed, all arrangements were agreed with the Indian Government, and Prime Minister Modi’s representatives were pleased that the welcome would be a popular one and not a formal event for elites only," a Fijian Government statement said. "

"At this time, all Fijians should be united in putting our best foot forward." Nevertheless, the SODELPA members are remaining firm and have written to Prime Minister Modi to convey their regrets at having to take the decision taken and have outlined reasons why. "SODELPA members said from the outset they had taken the decision to participate in the elections because they wanted to engage, and at every opportunity they have attempted to do just that, however the uncompromising stance of government has made it clear that although elections have concluded, the "top down" approach to governance remains a hindrance to any signs of an early start to a unified approach to resolving the many issues confronting the people of Fiji today," SODELPA said."

Monday, November 17, 2014

Accusations and Denials Let Fly

It had to happen. 

For well over a year now, ever since it was first revealed that the accountancy firm managed by Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum's aunt Nur Bano Ali was handling the salaries of senior government employees including those of the AG and PM, and the subsequent speculation that circulated about their supposedly astronomical salaries, it was only a matter of time before the also supposed nepotism and misdoings were hauled into the public arena.

This started a long time back with a succession of accusations crisscrossing the social media but with the recent post-elections release of the Auditor General's report  there is more substance to go on.  

The report has not yet been considered by the parliamentary Public Accounts Committee but its Chairman-designate Dr Biman Prasad has already released a number of statements querying the integrity of the interim government's finances. 

So far this has resulted in three developments: 

First, the Fiji Sun reports that, according to "insiders",  SODELPA has urged Dr Prasad to tone down his remarks and defer further comments until the appropriate time, that is, when the Accounts Committee meets.  It is normally the right of the Opposition to appoint the Committee chairperson but the Government Whip has objected to the appointment, ostensibly because of Dr Prasad's prior judgments. 

Secondly, Prof Wadan Narsey has criticised government procedures revealed in the Auditor-General's report and these have been widely circulated by the anti-Government social media..

Thirdly, aunt Nur's firm, Aliz Pacific, has responded with all guns blazing, criticising Biman, Wadan and the media that published their comments. 

It has instructed its lawyers to investigate the issues raised and seek legal redress for slander and defamation. It will also inform in the Media Industry Development Authority of "unfair reporting"  and "ask the Media, the Auditor General and persons such as Mr Narsey to immediately desist from making further attempts to malign and discredit our Firm and by this Statement they are put on notice."

Aliz Pacific's statement
In a paid statement (and I publish the statement in full because so far the firm has been judged with no opportunity to reply, and because I expect readers will wish to comment) they write:

"We write this statement to respond to the incorrect reporting by the Auditor General using inaccurate and incomplete information which subsequently led to certain false statements and mis-information made through certain media reports and public opinions by the following organizations and individuals:

- The Fiji Times on 7th November 2014 by Shalveen Chand – front page headline "revealed" in red ink and titled "how they were paid " - The Fiji Times on 15th November 2014 by Nasik Swami – article headed “AUDIT REPORT REVEALED - What Aliz got - $0.5 M PAYOUT” in a prominent banner on the front page - Fiji Village on 12th November 2014 by Vijay Narayan - “Consultancy contract to Aliz Pacific should be investigated - Auditor General” - FBC Online on 12th November by Pritika Pratap – “Tender Process not followed: Audit” - Auditor General for incorrect reporting, using incomplete and selective information in his Audit Report 2010 (Vol 4, Section 27, p5)

- Wadan Narsey on 6th November 2014 on his blog site – “Wadan Narsey on Fiji - for fairness and freedom” – article titled “The Bombshell Auditor General Reports for 2007 - 2013” We has on other occasions in various outlets such as Letters to the Editor (Fiji Times), Republika Magazine and of course on his blog site been making comments about our firm and our Managing Partner

"The above mentioned articles and reports in the various media are aimed at maligning and discrediting our office. These articles contain mis-information and are premised on false, selective and incomplete information. Responsible journalists and commentators would seek to verify information and to provide an accused party a right of response. We note that these articles have sensational headlines and captions to give them prominence to malign our firm.

"The Auditor General stated in his 2010 Report that:

“The audit also noted that the then RCDC Board (Rewa Cooperative Dairy Company Ltd) was informed by a representative of aliz pacific in a board meeting on 17th May 2010 that Government through the Ministry of Industry and Trade had appointed her consulting firm to implement the restructure of the company.” This is not correct and in fact the RCDC Board (our clients and the rightful appointing entity) at its meeting on 20th November 2009 had appointed aliz pacific as Lead Consultants to the re-structure.

"Mr Narsey has resorted to a personal attack on our Managing Partner, Dr Nur Bano Ali referring to her personal and indeed biological relationship to Mr Aiyaz Sayed Khaiyum as the reason for alleged unprofessional conduct on her part. He makes allegations that our office was paid commissions, high fees, and awarded contracts by government without a tender process. These allegations of impropriety are false.

"Mr Narsey has also referred to the Chair of the Public Accounts Committee, Biman Prasad, using him as the basis for authority and quoted him saying “it has become abundantly clear that there has been widespread abuse of public funds and blatant dis-regard of fundamental financial procedures (as well as) … pilferage, wastage and abuse of public funds”.

"We are disappointed to see Mr Narsey who purports to speak from a position of self-righteousness and as the self proclaimed, ”voice of reason and fairness” for Fiji resorting to such tactics. If Mr Narsey is disgruntled in the manner Government has awarded contracts then there is a rightful and proper legal avenue for challenging these decisions not by seeking to malign people through blog sites or the media."

Saturday, November 15, 2014

China and India in Fiji

In a bizarre extension to Himalayan border disputes fought out on glaciers and in rain forests, India and China are launching a battle of the summits in Fiji next week.

Both Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chinese President Xi Jinping will leave the Brisbane G20 summit next week and head to Fiji.

They will then host separate summits with 13 Pacific nations, each hoping to outflank the other in a complex piece of geopolitical drama.

Openly at stake will be the United Nation's votes of the South Pacific nations, regarded as one of the world's biggest voting blocs.

Strangely India is hoping to weaken the stand taken by Pacific countries over global warming.

Fearing rising sea levels, Pacific states are pressing countries like India to severely cut carbon emissions. Indian political sources think they can weaken the Pacific's united stand.  

In Delhi, the Hindustan Times today quotes Modi political sources saying that the Indian led summit in Fiji “comes in the backdrop of reports of growing Chinese influence in the South Pacific”.  

It says officials say India is still a minor player in the South Pacific “but Modi's outreach will not go unnoticed in Beijing”.

They certainly will not miss it; the battle is already on for the best hotel rooms as Xi shows up in Fiji for his second state visit.

Xi has one big advantage in that Beijing steadfastly remained uncritical of Fiji's military strongman Voreqe Bainimarama as he ruled by decree from 2006 up until last month.

Bainimarama has made no secret of his approval of the "new friend" and derisively noted that New Zealand and Australia would not support him.

The Hindustan Times' political sources said Modi will be the first Indian leader to have such a broad interaction with Pacific leaders.

It points to the historical ties in Fiji with 313,000 Indians, or 37 percent of the total population, living in Fiji.

They also point to India's long purchasing of phosphate from Nauru and involvement in mineral rich Papua New Guinea.

Xi will be visiting New Zealand after the G20 but Modi will not.

In 1981, Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi visited Fiji.  

India and China have a number of border conflicts, including one across the so-called McMahon Line (after British raj civil servant Henry McMahon) over ownership of Tibet and the Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh.

It prompted the Sino-Indian War in 1962.

That war also involved ownership of one of the highest but most obscure places on Earth, Aksai Chin. Both sides claim it and tensions occasional flare up.

The Asia game continues regionally. China sent a submarine to neighbouring Sri Lanka and India sent oil exploration ships into the South China Seas.

The South Pacific, long used to being part of greater power struggles, is new territory for the fight.


Lockington's Everyday Fiji ... Life Goes On

Doctor Shortage

Every person who has gone to a  government hospital knows what its like. The wait is long and the time in the doctors examination room is/can (sometimes) be short. Heck the doctor has to see so many and he/she has to try and see them all. Some people will undergo a through examination and some will get a fleeting glance and the doctor has mad a diagnosis. For the experienced doctors, they will know the genuine case and the one who came in for a sick sheet. (Here I speak from my days as a customs officer - re sick sheet, but that's another story.)

Sometimes people who go there do not really need to go and see a doctor. They probably have a headache in their stomach or big toe. But they have the right to go and see a doctor if they so need.

We, the people who go to the hospital can see that doctors and nurses are sometimes stressed. And I ask, how well can a person under stress perform? No wonder some people get the wrong medication prescribed to them.

Furthermore, there has been a huge exodus of our medical staff in the recent past. If you ask me why, I will say that they have gone to greener pastures. Because over there they get better pay and better working conditions. Then we go and bring in expats and we have to pay them the expats wage. Why cant we just hike the doctors pay so that we can retain them in Fiji.

When will we learn, for goodness sakes.

I have written about this so many times that I sound like a stuck record.

Bad Situation

We just went pass the furore of the general elections. Lots of stuff were said about political parties and individuals but we went on and we now have a legitimately elected government. Some low life even went so far to make fake Face book pages.

Now we have the furore about the Public Accounts Committee.

Sobo, lets get on with the issues at hand and stop the nit picking. I'm sure many people want justice to take place. Forget what the professor* said and lets debate the Auditor Generals report. Please don't be frightened by one mans comments. I, for one want to see justice done because of the gross misuse of public funds.

Stop the small stuff, we have bigger things to tend to, please.

* I've been unable to contact Allen about the professor but presume it's Biman Prasad, the FFP leader who is chairing the scrutiny of government accounts before the elections. If not, it's Wadan Narsey who has been critical about spendings.

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, November 11, 2014

Narsey, Fiji and the Pacific Islands Forum

Prof. Wadan Narsey
As always, Wadan makes some good points (his articles in the Fiji Times are solely missed even though the anti-Bainimarama blogs recycle them all) but why does he see membership of the Forum as so important to friendship and normal diplomatic relations between Fiji and Australia/NZ?  Fiji is not the only Pacific Island nation to have serious concerns about the overly dominant role of the 'big brothers" in regional affairs.  It could well be time for that role to be re-examined — politely, of course. - Croz

Bainimarama and the Pacific Islands Forum: 
a Storm in a Calm Ocean

By Prof. Wadan Narsey

Thinking members of the public would have been pleased to see the Chair of the Pacific Islands Forum (PIF) announce that Fiji was being admitted back into this regional organization.
But immediately, they would have been horrified that Bainimarama is demanding, as a pre-condition, that either Australia and NZ relinquish being full members and become only development partners like Japan, China, Korea and USA OR that these other countries are allowed to become full members.
This unnecessary aggression from Bainimarama does not help his other government ministers in their work, it does not help the Fiji people in their relations with Australia and NZ, it does not help the other Forum member countries, it does not help the Forum staff in their work, and it undermines Bainimarama’s own personal standing in the diplomatic world..
It is a pity that the Fiji First Party does not have senior advisers who could encourage Bainimarama to make the transition from his stormy eight years of military dictatorship to being an elected prime minister accountable to his people, and working diplomatically in their interests.
Both Bainimarama and Fiji stand to gain, if he could.
The expulsion fall-out
Fiji was expelled from the Forum when Bainimarama failed to hold elections in May 2009.
The argument was that the Forum wanted to give a clear signal to the region that it seriously disapproved of the illegal removal of a lawfully elected government.
Whether the instigator of the expulsion was Australia or not and whether that decision, in hindsight, was a wise one for the Forum Secretariat to make, will be debated till the cows come home.
But the expulsion, along with travel sanctions and the mutual expulsion of high commissioners, ruined political relations between Fiji and its two traditional donors and split the Forum. The investment climate was damaged as potential investors worried about how badly relations could deteriorate.
To the relief of many, the tourism industry and many aid projects, as well as people-to-people relationships and emigration to Australia and NZ, continued as usual, although investment did not recover.
Fiji also strengthened extremely beneficial foreign relations with and sources of funding from countries such as China, India and Malaysia. By and large, it escaped the diplomatic freeze with Australia and NZ relatively unscathed.
The continued aggression
It is natural that the Bainimarama Government is still unhappy with Australia and NZ given their opposition to his coup over the last eight years.
But that opposition was a principled one on the basis that it was unacceptable for a military coup to depose a lawfully elected government, and this was not a precedent to be encouraged elsewhere in the Pacific.
The Bainimarama Government should acknowledge that it has been a military dictatorship for eight years, with no accountability to the ordinary people of Fiji (not having been elected by them). Their hostility towards Australia and NZ did not need to take into account the people’s views.
But since the September 17 elections, with Bainimarama elected as the Prime Minister of Fiji, he also loses that total freedom he had previously.
An elected accountable government
The Bainimarama Government is now a democratically elected government, representing the interests of the majority of the voters of this country, and accountable to them.
Without fear of contradiction, one can say that the majority of the people of Fiji would like the complete normalization of relations with Australia and NZ, without any unnecessary and unwarranted aggression on the part of their elected leaders.
With tens of thousands of Fijian families having emigrated to Australia and NZ, there are many family ties between Fiji and both countries, and any chilling of relations would be to their disadvantage, on both sides.
The majority of Fiji military personnel and their families have welcomed the normalization of relations: they have no wish to go back to the dark days between 2009 and 2014 when they were banned from traveling to Australia and NZ.
The majority of Fiji citizens who have taken up board memberships despite the sanctions, and those who are now willing to take on these social responsibilities in the future, have also welcomed the normalization of relations and the ending of travel bans on them.
The large numbers of our students who go to study in Australia, and the large numbers of labourers for whom temporary guest worker schemes may soon open up in Australia and NZ, would also not like to see any further deterioration in relations between Fiji and Australia, in case their opportunities in Australia and NZ are affected.
The ordinary people of Fiji wish to see the close, warm relations with the Australian and NZ governments that existed pre-2006, and which they know very well cannot be replaced by Fiji’s new relations with China, India, Malaysia or Russia.
In the thawing of Fiji’s foreign relations with Australia and NZ, the elected Bainimarama Government is duty bound to place the people’s interest first, and not their leaders’ own egos.
The Bainimarama Government should note that there are many fronts on which the ordinary people of Fiji can benefit from more favorable foreign policy treatment by Australia and NZ: temporary work visas, easier immigration entry for permanent residency or holidays, strengthening of military ties, greater integration in sports such as rugby, soccer and netball, and in culture, disaster relief, policing and protection of national economic zones against illegal fisheries, etc.
Most important, it is on the cards that renewed confidence by both foreign and local investors may drive economic growth well above the 4% or so currently predicted for the next few years, and nothing should be done to undermine this burst of confidence and investment.
These positive developments can only be encouraged if Australia and NZ view our government as friendly and co-operative, instead of being unnecessarily aggressive and hostile, the stance currently being projected by the Bainimarama Government.
Adapting diplomatically
Bainimarama must surely know that Forum cannot and will not give in to his “ultimatum” to expel Australia and NZ as full members, given that they are the ones who provide the funds to keep the Forum going, not the other countries on whose behalf Fiji claims to be speaking.
China, Korea, Japan and US must be diplomatically affronted, astonished or just merely amused, that Fiji is demanding that they be included as full members of the Forum without them being asked, or without asking for it themselves.
Other Forum countries, especially those of the Melanesian Spearhead Group, who have been torn apart these last eight years because of the conflicting pulls of being on good terms with Australia and NZ (who are vital to their economies) and giving fraternal support to Fiji, would like to see an end to the turbulence in the Forum and a return to their annual meetings with peaceful wining and dining.
Let us also not forget that unnecessary diplomatic spats between Forum member countries must also be extremely demoralizing for the staff of the Forum Secretariat, who would like to focus on their tasks at hand and not be thinking perpetually about Fiji’s ‘Damocles Sword’ hanging over them. Their predicament is made worse with the establishment by Fiji of a competing Pacific Island Development Forum, funded by China.
Foreign Minister Inoke Kubuabola, whatever gloss he puts on the Fiji statement, must be tearing his hair out to see his hard work at rebuilding good relations with our traditional partners being undone by continuing diplomatic aggression from his prime minister.
Many other ministers (and their ministries) who also work closely with important Australian and NZ aid projects in Fiji will find relationships made more difficult.
It is a pity that the Bainimarama/Khaiyum elections strategy and results give the appearance that Bainimarama is the only popular Fiji First Party candidate, and that the others in his Cabinet have little democratic mandate and popular support in their own right.
It is a pity that the Fiji First Party does not have a depth of secure leadership that could confidently advise Bainimarama to put his stormy diplomatic past behind, and trim his sails to the calmer ocean that Fiji has steered to after the September elections.
Not only would Bainimarama benefit personally, but so also would Fiji if such diplomatic storms are not unnecessarily created in our calm Pacific ocean.
A diplomatic solution may be in the offing. The Bainimarama Government has agreed to Australia’s proposal to have a meeting in Sydney in 2015 to discuss the architecture of all the regional organizations, presumably including the Forum Secretariat and Pacific Islands Development Forum, largely funded by China. What will come of it is anyone’s guess. Probably there will be a greater role for China and India in the regional organizations, and no doubt a greater collective co-ordination and rationalization of aid that countries like Australia and NZ already attempt.

Wadan Narsey is Adjunct Professor, The Cairns Institute, James Cook University and former Professor of Economics, The University of the South Pacific.