Wednesday, December 24, 2014

The President's Christmas Message

President of the Republic of Fiji
State House 25th December, 2014

Ladies, gentlemen and people of Fiji

Ni Sa Bula Vinaka, Salaam Alaykum, Namaste

As 2014 comes to an end, and as we gather to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ on Christmas Day, I extend to all Fijians both here and abroad my warmest compliments and best wishes, along with those of my family.

I also take this opportunity to convey my sincere appreciation and gratitude to all Fijians for your contribution towards Fiji’s progress as a Nation.

For indeed we have so much to be thankful for:

In the first instance, the country has returned to Parliamentary Democracy through a genuinely democratic, and highly regarded, General Election in September. I thank all the members of the public who came out in record numbers to actively participate in choosing our representatives in Parliament, and our Government.

I also thank the international community for its support with facilitating the General Election.

I especially thank the countries that stood by Fiji in the past eight years as we redefined the foundations of nationhood and as we worked towards elevating Fiji to be among the greatest democratic nations in the world, a nation that promotes true equality and justice, and the highest level of respect and dignity towards all her people, without exception.

Much of what we want for Fiji is now contained in our Constitution. The Constitution, in itself, is another significant milestone to be thankful for.

Fiji now has 50 highly respected Parliamentarians upon whom the aspirations of the nation now rests. Given our social and political history, there is, before us, a strong and urgent need for men and women of goodwill and fortitude, who have the best interests of Fiji in their hearts, to come forth, and help take Fiji forward. I have no doubt that the next four years will be exciting for all Fijians as the nation continues to build on the foundation that has been laid for us.

We should also be thankful for the numerous achievements we have made together as a nation. These include, but are not limited to:

  • The contributions that Fijians have made to the international community through our Peacekeepers, our Diplomatic Missions, all those in the teaching and medical professions, our sports people, and all other fields of endeavour;

  • Fiji’s leadership position in the international community, firstly through the Chairmanship of the United Nation’s biggest voting bloc – the Group of 77 Plus China in 2013, which we handed-over early this year; and secondly, Fiji’s current Chairmanship of the Executive Board of the United Nations Development Programme, the United Nations Population Fund, and the United Nations Office of Project Services;

  • Fiji’s contribution to the Pacific region through the Pacific Islands Development Forum, which has provided an unprecedented opportunity for Governments, the Private Sector and Non-Governmental Organizations to collectively discuss the way forward towards sustainable development with a focus on the environment and on climate-change issues that will ultimately affect each one of us and future generations, if not addressed now;

  • The release, without harm, of our Peacekeepers in Syria whilst trying to contribute to stability in a region that is currently riven with armed conflict that has cost many lives; and

  • At the local and national levels, leadership across our communities that has contributed to the ability of all our people to live in peace and harmony.

We all share a genuine desire to help each other and create a new Fiji for current and future generations.

Fiji is not just our country. It is home to us all. We are one people, and one nation. As we celebrate the festive season, let us all pledge that we will continue to embrace a culture of appreciation, respect and tolerance, and that we will devote every effort to making Fiji a truly democratic, peaceful and prosperous country.

On this Christmas, I also ask that we all devote time and resources to the less fortunate and the elderly including those in hospitals and in prisons – that we put a smile on their faces and warmth and love in their hearts. Because the spirit` of Christmas is about giving. It is about touching the lives of both loved ones and those outside our immediate circle.

If our present generation is able to show love and care for the elderly and the less fortunate, I have every confidence that our children and their children will also be able to emulate these acts of kindness. And it will go a long way towards strengthening the unity we all want for Fiji.

Ladies and gentlemen, young people and children, I wish you all and your families a Blessed and Merry Christmas.

Thank you, Vinaka Vakalevu, Sukria, Bahoot Dhanyavaad.

A Happy Christmas to all Readers ...

... and a peaceful and productive 2015 to all Fiji citizens and friends of Fiji. -- Croz

Friday, December 19, 2014

Lockington's Everyday Fiji...Life Goes On

Good Illegal Operators

I feel for the Rental car industry, but....

The illegal activities will never leave us, as long as there is a market and customers, it will thrive. Rental car business people may want to rethink the charges they offer. Some bonds are out of reach of the average working man. He will go looking for the cheaper illegal private rental car.

In Fiji, we have many illegal activities that will never leave us. They are thriving. I name a few. Prostitution, sale of pirated DVDs, illegal mini vans, private sale of motor vehicles, abortion, spitting in public places, throwing rubbish into creeks, selling cigarette rolls and sales to minors, smoking in no smoking areas, government vehicles being used for private/personal business - to name a few.

By the way I just want to tell the authorities, the mini vans in Waiyavi give good illegal service, because they are always available at all times - 25/7. And they will even go to Mulomulo where the road is like a dried up river bed.

I rest my case.

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

Friday, December 12, 2014

UN Observer Status for Pacific Community

Department of Information, Fiji       -      11 Dec 14



10 December, 2014: The United Nations General Assembly has today adopted a resolution granting the request for observer status of the Secretariat of the Pacific Community to the United Nations General Assembly.
The resolution was originally submitted by the delegation of Fiji in support of the decision taken by the 8th Ministerial Conference of the Pacific Community of which Fiji was the Chair.
In his statement after the adoption of the resolution today, the Permanent Representative of Fiji to the United Nations, Ambassador Peter Thomson said this was a step in the right direction for sustainable development in the Pacific region, in particular for PSIDS, as it will help synchronize their development programmes with those of the United Nations agencies and programmes.
The Secretariat of the Pacific Community currently unites some 22 Pacific Islands Countries and territories (includes US and French territories in the Pacific). Through the assistance from its metropolitan members, SPC provides the necessary policy assistance and technical expertise to assist member countries in broad areas of development including in the fields of energy, transport, public health, agriculture development, disaster reduction, human development, development statistics, oceans and fisheries.
In concluding his statement to the General Assembly today, Ambassador Thomson said “we welcome the granting of observer status to the Pacific Community, coming as it does at the very important juncture, as we jointly design the Post- 2015 Development Agenda.”

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Thursday, December 11, 2014

Church and State

Fiji - a Secular State
Does Religion Have a Role to Play?
Fr. Kevin J. Barr

"Dear Croz, I read with interest the article of Max Wallace - interesting but also selective. I attach an article of mine published in the local press about the secular state. I enlarged upon it in my booklet called The Church and Politics.   Kevin Barr."

Today, in most countries of the world, there is a recognised separation of Church (or religion) and state.  Both are autonomous and one is not subject to the control of the other.  Where this separation of religion and state is recognised we say that society is “secularised”.  Peter Berger defines secularisation as “the process by which sectors of society and culture are removed from the domination of religious institutions and symbols”.  In a secularised society institutional religion in the form of a state religion ceases to impose order on society by way of external controls.

However one of the characteristics of a secular state is that it recognises the freedom of its citizens to practise the religion of their choice and respects their religious traditions – be they Hindu, Muslim, Christian, Sihk – or perhaps non-religious stances such as humanism or atheism.

The secularisation of society has given rise to two different interpretations and reactions among religious people.

Some see the church and religious organisations as having no role to play in politics and in the development of this world.   They think that they should be concerned only with ‘spiritual’ things and ‘other-worldly salvation’.  Religion is a private matter for individuals.  Its concern should not be with this world but with the world to come.  Some may even say that this world is evil and that religious people should have nothing to do with it.  We should look for salvation only in a future life beyond the grave.

Others however react strongly to this “privatisation” of religion - to the narrowing down of religion merely to the inner life of the private individual.  They say that religion must always be personal but not private.  They stress that our religious faith cannot remain aloof from what happens in this world and that religious people can and must exert an influence in the social, economic and political areas of their societies. Our religious faith must help to enlighten and direct our existence on earth.  Religion is not a separate compartment of our lives. We cannot separate faith and life.  Because politics, the economy, culture, and religion are all part of life, we cannot dissociate faith and the economy, faith and culture, faith and politics.  Moral principles and religious values are involved in the areas of economic and political decisions. Mahatma Gandhi once remarked: “I am told that religion and politics are different spheres of life.  But I would say without a moment’s hesitation and yet in all honesty that those who claim this do not know what religion is”.

It should be clear that religious organisations should not normally seek to be involved in politics in the sense that they promote a particular party or political platform.  But, if they are to fulfil their prophetic role in society, they must be ‘political’ in the sense that they bring the message and values of religion to this world today.  This message cannot be divorced from the economic, social and political dimensions of a particular historical situation and the challenges and demands that arise from it. Like everyone else in society they have the right to express their opinions freely.

It would be naive to think that the church or religious organisation must support any government simply because it happens to be in power.  Those who use Romans 13 to uphold the status quo misunderstand Paul’s meaning and the total message of the scriptures.  It is incumbent upon the church in its prophetic role to hold up to the scrutiny of the gospel and the values of the Kingdom any government or regime in which it finds itself and under which its children must live, and to evaluate and, if necessary, criticise the actions and policies of that government.

As Marcus Borg (2006:27) notes:
          “Much of the Bible protests the injustice of political and economic
          systems.  Indeed, perhaps half of the biblical message is political in
          this sense.  Moses, the prophets, Jesus, Paul and the Book of
          Revelation all protest against human systems of domination and
          advocate a very different vision of life under God.  They are
          passionately against injustice and war, the two great scourges of the
          ancient world and passionately for justice and peace. In this they
          participate in God’s passion, for God is passionate about justice and
          peace.  Indeed this is what the Kingdom of God is about – it is for
          the earth.  It is what life would be like on earth if God were king and
          the rulers of this world were not.”

In 1976, President Jomo Kenyatta of Kenya said to the Catholic Bishops of Kenya: “The Church is the conscience of society, and today’s society needs a conscience.   Do not be afraid to speak.  If we go wrong and you keep quiet, one day you may have to answer for our mistakes”.   And the American theologian, Monika Hellwig, wrote: “The task of the churches is at all times to protest against injustice, to challenge what is inhuman, and to side with the poor and oppressed.” The church must raise its voice in criticism whenever the values of human dignity, justice, freedom and community are at stake.

Recently (2014) our Prime Minister Voreqe Bainimarama stated:
“Fijians are a religious people, and our government must depend on people of all faiths to be our moral compass – not to impose their religious practices through law but to ensure government’s actions respect the guiding  principles of all faiths.”

 So religion and religious organisations are still important in a secular state and exert an influence on the lives of individuals and, through them, on society – its policies and its structures.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Putting the Cat Among the Religious Pigeons

Website accessibility
There's the occasional minor error, a pronounced anti-religious bias, and it's a little dated but this straight talking article addresses a very important issue that needs to be answered once and for all: the legitimate —and illegimate— role of the churches in a truly democratic Fiji.  The article is published for discussion.  I do not necessarily agree with the opinions expressed.  --Croz

Fiji: Now a Secular Nation

Fiji has a new Constitution that makes it a secular nation, with separation of Church and State. Dr Max Wallace explains.

On 10 April 2009 all the judges in Fiji were removed from office by the military led by Commodore Voreqe (Frank) Bainimarama. The Constitution was treated as if it were a mere piece of paper. This major event was a consequence of the December 2006 military coup, one of four since 1987 to shock governments, diplomats, law societies, defenders of human rights and civil liberties, and non-government organisations.

The military coup, described as a ‘revolution’ by University of Sydney constitutional law professor, Anne Twomey,[1] has not allowed anyone to get in the way of its perceived need for reform - including - of all people - Rupert Murdoch. He was obliged to sell one of his newspapers to an Indian-Fijian businessman in 2010.

This short paper emphasises the role of theocratic Methodism in Fiji, how its dogmatism and likely corruption may have helped cause Commodore Bainimarama to arrive at the position where he is now in 2013, but where was not prior to the 2000 coup: advocating a secular democracy, on terms that he defines.

It will assert there has been a power struggle between an indigenous, military, mostly Methodist, regressive elite, and a more progressive elite, composed mainly of a faction of the military, led by Commodore Bainimarama, who have de-converted from their earlier support for the 2000 coup.
They in turn have had support from a politically astute, mostly Indian-Fijian group of leading figures, and some passing support from the Catholic Church. The progressive elite have turned partly to secularism to sideline the indigenous-Methodist elite. Their success seems assured, but the moment of truth will arrive in the September 2014 elections.

As Helene Goiran noted in 2008 ‘It is, of course, paradoxical to conduct a coup d’etat in order to enhance democracy.’[2] Commodore Bainimarama’s version of democracy allegedly emphasises fairness in the application of consolidated revenue, in a country characterised by under-development and poverty, but with an economy growing at about 3 per cent.

Commodore Bainimarama has - as required - suspended the basic structures of democracy, including: censoring the press; causing judges to resign; arresting ministers of religion and protestors; kicking out diplomats. It has been Napoleonic and breathtaking. He has remained totally focused on what he apparently perceives is the matter at hand – introducing stable and reasoned government – and has let nothing or no one stand in the way of achieving this.

The Catholic Archbishop Peter Loy Chong was reprimanded by the Prime Minister of Fiji for saying that the secular Constitution deprived Fijians of the right to worship in public.

Some background
Fiji has a population of some 900,000 people scattered over hundreds of islands. The Deed of Cession written in 1874 formalised Fiji as a British colony. The British created a Great Council of Chiefs to facilitate smooth control, as they did in New Zealand, with the creation of a Māori ‘King’.
Australian aboriginals and New Zealand Māori suffered the indignity of the huge loss of most of their land to colonisers. That did not happen in Fiji. Some 80 per cent of the land is still in the hands of the descendants of the tribes. That ownership is guaranteed in the preamble to the new 2012 constitution.
Indentured Indians were brought out between 1879 and 1916 to work on sugar plantations. They mostly leased land from indigenous owners. Instructively, they were not even counted as citizens until the 2012 constitution. They now comprise 37.6 per cent of the population, down from their pre-coups level of 51 per cent. They turned to business and other enterprises to make their way.
Despite this near monopoly of land ownership, overseen by the Native Land Trust Board, land was a hot issue for indigenous Fijians. Some argued the potential loss of government to an Indian-Fijian elite could lead to land reform, but that threat, critics responded, has been used as a pretext for the dreadful early coups which led to tens of thousands of Fijian-Indians leaving the country under the fear of violence.
A 2010 estimate has 45 per cent of the population living in poverty.[3] Religious adherence is very high. According to the 2007 census 64 per cent of the population are Christian, 33 per cent Methodist and 9 per cent Catholic. The remaining population of Christians are represented by as many as forty seven sects; 28 per cent of the population are Hindu, 6 per cent Muslim.
There were coups in 1987, 2000, 2006. In May 1987 lieutenant colonel Sitiveni Rabuka overthrew the government of Timoci Bavadra motivated by the racist assertion that indigenous Fijians were ‘losing control’ of their country to its Fijian-born Indian residents.
In October that year Rabuka took another step that would have consequences he would not have foreseen. For reasons that were never made clear, possibly to avoid a charge of treason should the wheels come off his coup, he made Fiji into a republic, formally breaking the link to Britain.
In 2012 it was thus a simple matter for the Bainimarama regime to endorse secularism as a cornerstone of the new constitution, despite the high degree of religious adherence, for the informal but influential constitutional link to the religion of the monarchy was long gone.
Theocratic Methodism
The leadership of the Methodist Church in Fiji, up until very recently, has been hard core. They:
* Wanted Fiji to be declared a Christian state barely tolerating other beliefs;
* openly campaigned in 2001with full page ads in newspapers encouraging the electorate to vote for the indigenous-elite SDL party on the grounds the party was supported by God;
* advocated a top-down patriarchal form of government that endorses male control, from government to the family to the school, with punishment for children an acceptable part of its agenda; and
* have argued that those of other religions are heathens.
SDL stands for Soqosoqo Duavata ni Lewenivanua which means ‘the party of land owners’. It was established after the 2000 coup by the man Bainimarama had chosen to be a stand-in prime minister, businessman Laisenia Qarase. In alliance with another conservative party SDL won the 2001 election.
Australian Liberal Party election campaign consultant, Mark Textor, was involved in Qarase’s campaign, using the fear-factor approach. The latter trades on the researched prejudices of voters. Just why Textor got involved is not clear, but having a business-friendly party may have been an incentive to Australia as well as the strategic interest of keeping Fiji out of China’s sphere of influence.
In a radio interview in 2012 Mark Textor said that ‘Methodist preachers ... were an important influence in the vote’.[4] This is a somewhat surprising comment.
In the United States, preachers are constitutionally forbidden from telling their parishioners how to vote from the pulpit on the grounds that religious involvement in the political process contravenes the establishment clause of the First Amendment separating church and state.
Similarly, in Australia and New Zealand, churches, which are legally charities, stand, in principle, to lose their charitable tax-exempt status if they engage in pulpit-driven political involvement. Political comment outside the church is another matter: it is free speech. Be that as it may, Textor’s comment seems to confirm Commodore Bainimarama’s statement that
In Fiji, you don’t come with your own vote. Your vote is dictated by the chiefs, it is dictated by the Great Council of Chiefs, it is dictated by the provincial councils, and it is dictated by the [Methodist Church] ... So it’s not your vote. So don’t tell me that it’s democracy.[5]
It is alleged the way Qarase ran Fiji led directly to the 2006 coup. Methodists were heavily represented in the cabinet. There were many allegations of corruption. Mark Textor said:
Unfortunately [Qarase’s] policies got a bit radical towards the end of his second term and led to, you know, another coup. And that was unfortunate.
It is worth noting that some Methodists despaired at the political behaviour of their colleagues. In 2002, Aisake Casimira noted that a former, now deceased, president of the Methodist Church, Reverend Paula Niukula, said the heavy advocacy of a Christian state had nothing to do with Christianity. Rather, it was all about ‘accumulation of power and wealth by those in power’.[6]
In justifying his 2006 coup in a 2009 interview on SBS TV in Australia, Commodore Bainimarama said that there is a ‘rot that we need to get rid of [and] radical change cannot be brought in by some weak organisation. It has to be a strong entity and there’s no other strong entity than the military.’
After the coup he established the Fiji Independent Commission Against Corruption. Amazingly, there are many billboards in the main cities and towns, featuring a phone number, asking citizens to contact the Commission to report corruption. Critics say this is just a feint to cover for the 2006 coup and the scale of corruption was no worse than in other comparable countries. Certainly, in making corruption such a high profile issue, the Commodore is setting the bar very high for himself and his colleagues. Any hint of nepotism or the like would undermine his credibility.
In the age of the internet, it is debatable whether Fiji’s compliant press is enough to keep the lid on serious allegations. The regime is walking a fine line, especially after former Prime Minister, and sometimes lay-Methodist preacher, Lisenia Qarase, was gaoled for twelve months for share dealing corruption in 2012.
From 2012
In 2012 a Constitution Commission was established consisting of eminent persons, headed by constitutional law expert, Professor Yash Ghai. After the Commission allegedly released its report and draft constitution prematurely, it was destroyed. The Bainimarama regime took the view that as it had no oversight role for the military, it would not work.
The government re-wrote the draft constitution to ensure the military had that oversight. They also kept the key recommendation that far from being declared a Christian state, Fiji would become a secular state with a constitutional separation of church and state.
The influential Methodist, Reverend Tuikilakila Waqairatu, since August 2013, president of the Methodist Church in Fiji, said in 2012 that the state cannot be secular because that means ‘moving away from God’.[7] His colleague, Reverend Akuila Yabaki, gave a prize in a 2012 essay writing competition to a teacher who wrote that ‘God is in control’ and ‘the constitution should include a Christian state, irrespective of what the government of the day wants.’[8]
But, when inducted into the presidency, Reverend Waqairatu said:
[The] church ... is committed and open to dialogue with other Christian churches, living faiths, government, all ethnic groups, the vanua [indigenous land and culture], civil society, as a way of moving the nation forward in the course of healthy nation-building.[9]
However, writing in the Fiji Sun on 13 October 2013, retired, former USP Professor of Geography, Crosbie Walsh, a blog commentator on Fijian politics, said the same old politicians are still around and want nothing more than to return Fiji ‘to how it was before the 2006 coup.’
The elections are due to be held in September 2014. That is when we will find out whether Fiji, with its brand new constitution has moved on, and whether Commodore Bainimarama, standing as a civilian candidate, will succeed in holding the secular line; or whether Fiji will relapse into the regressive Methodist-influenced state where religion is used, on the one hand, to enforce conservative, patriarchal values, while exercising self-interest on the other.
At this point in time, the Commodore seems very likely to succeed. In addition to the sweeping changes detailed above he has abolished the Queen’s birthday public holiday, the Queen’s face is to be removed from the currency and the union jack is to be removed from the flag.
In 2006, Sitiveni Rabuka, the military leader of the 1987 coup was cited as saying, approvingly, after visiting India for medical treatment, that ‘The president [of India] is a Muslim, the Prime Minister and the military chief are both Sikhs and the head of the largest political party, Congress, is an Italian.’[10]
After nearly two decades he finally got the secular point that one's beliefs and ethnicity are irrelevant to the business of government. The tens of thousands of Fijian-born Indians who had to flee the country after Rabuka’s 1987 coup would surely agree.

* Max Wallace is the vice-president of the Rationalists Assn of NSW and a council member of the New Zealand Assn of Rationalists and Humanists.
1. A. Twomey, ‘The Fijian Coup Cases – The Constitution, Reserve Powers and the Doctrine of Necessity’, Legal Studies Research Paper No. 09/26, University of Sydney, May, 2009, PDF.
2. H. Goiran, ‘Commodore Bainimarama: military dictator or true democrat?’ New Zealand International Review, March, 2008.
3. ‘45 per cent of people in poverty’, Fiji Times Online, 21 April, 2010.
4. Sunday Profile, ABC, 1 April, 2012.
5. Cited in G. Nair, Challenge to Reason, Bison Media, Thornleigh, Australia, 2008, p.46.
6. A. Casimira, ‘A fundamentalist Christian state?’ Fiji Times, 30 November, 2002.
7. Fiji Times, 1 November, 2012.
8. V. Cakau, ‘Influencing Change’, Tutaka, (Quarterly Newsletter of the [Christian] Citizens’ Constitutional Forum Ltd) Volume 6, Issue 4, December 2012, p.9.
9. Fiji Times Online, 26 August, 2013.
10. Cited in M. Field, ‘The media and the spectre of the 2000 coup’, in J. Fraenkel & S. Firth (eds), From Election To Coup in Fiji, ANU Press, 2007, p.174.

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