Friday, November 20, 2015

Issues Facing Fiji Journalists

FIJI: Next generation of journalists faces key challenges
Friday, November 20, 2015
Item: 9491
AUCKLAND (Radio NZ International / Pacific Media Watch): Fiji's student journalists have been told they can change the media climate in the country, but face enormous pressures to do so.
As the media industry struggles to fight off claims it is still controlled by the authorities, students at the University of the South Pacific have been praised for their award-winning stories.
But there's a clear message from the students - the government can learn and benefit from the media, and needs to start listening.
Alex Perrottet has more:
The official newspaper of USP's school of journalism, Wansolwara has won international awards for stories, including live online reports of the events of the 2000 coup.
The most recent student editor is Duane Mar, who says Wansolwara has plenty of respect in the region and although they too are subject to the tough media decree, the paper has drawn less ire than mainstream outlets.
"Many of our stories have not copped our students much flak really at all. Our newspaper comes out in the Fiji Sun. It is no secret that the Fiji Sun is very supportive of government but even if our stories can be seen as critical of them, they don't penalise us for that, they don't change our stories, they publish it as it is."
The school recently invited one of the developers of the paper and a former head of the school, Professor David Robie, to be the keynote speaker at this year's awards.
He says he's seen courageous student reporters and editors.
"To some decree they fall below the horizon as far as the media decree is even though they are subject to the media decree the same as any other journalist. They've got a little bit of leeway, well they feel that they've got a little leeway and their editors have always been quite courageous and they take things on, they have a go."
Duane Mar says a colleague this year at USP published an exposé on a student group that had not audited its accounts for some years. He was physically assaulted on campus as a response.
It's that kind of reaction that could be holding back an industry that has operated under stringent controls since the 2006 coup, and the 2009 Public Emergency Regulations that put soldiers in newsrooms.
Editors were moved on and senior journalists left more or less voluntarily. And young journalists are now starting to work in an industry they have only known as operating under a degree of government control.
Duane Mar says as a student he already has experience of the media-supressing delays of government bureaucracy.
"Whenever I've had to ask questions of someone in government, I've had to send them questions at least three weeks in advance. And I'm lucky, I'm lucky that a student publication like Wansolwara gives you that kind of leeway. If your story is big enough you are given time to get your sources in order."
That leeway won't exist in the real world though, and Professor Robie talks of a student on internship at a Fiji media outlet this year who had most story ideas knocked back after being told no response would be coming from the government.
David Robie says although there's more critical journalism in Fiji now, the media decree still has a crippling effect.
"There's a long way to go yet, but there's a feeling in Suva, I was there a couple of weeks ago and a lot of people sort of told me well basically there's a lot more freedom, even under the decree, there's a lot more freedom in the media, only if the media occupies the space but it has to do that, it actually has to push the boundaries and it actually has to have a go."
One publication that is doing just that is Republika Magazine.
It was the only outlet this year to run a story that the opposition leader, Ro Teimumu Kepa, was accusing the Attorney-General, Aiyaz Sayed Khaiyum, of making a false declaration of his assets.
But the magazine's acting editor, Vosita Kotoiwasawasa, says since then Republika was denied media passes to the farewell ceremony of the President and no longer receives email invitations to government press conferences.
"Republika chooses to stand different from other media. We just operate differently in putting issues out that would otherwise be swept under the carpet or just be kept aside altogether."
Vosita Kotoiwasawasa says there's plenty of other difficulties in the industry, such as poor pay, which also depletes the talent pool.
Duane Mar says he's heard concerns from within the USP journalism school that its degree may not be helping the industry as designed, with the high level of talented graduates seeking jobs in more lucrative fields.
But David Robie says the new generation of Pacific journalists still provide hope. He singled out Wansolwara's climate change and environmental reporting.
Duane Mar received an award this year for a piece he co-authored on some Fiji resorts on the coral coast dumping waste without proper controls. It was a scoop that no other media covered or followed up.
He says as time goes on, the decree is less and less sustainable, and importantly, it stops the government from learning and benefiting from the media.
"It hinders the media's ability to point out the gaps, point out the errors, point out the flaws that need to be addressed. If they were far more open with us, if they were willing to work with us and understand what our role is, we'd be able to highlight the gaps and the places where they don't see it. They can benefit from us just as much."
Duane Mar says there has to be a working relationship, but there's been no sign in recent years that the government is about to change tune.
Vosita Kotoiwasawasa says at times there's simply a wall of silence.
"Most of the time these days it's really hard to get a response we just get a flat out no, or it gets swept aside completely. I think if the government was more forthcoming to answer queries as we put them out it would be more effective in informing the people more effectively."
In the meantime, journalists are still able to investigate and report, like that exposé of environmental damage on the coral coast.

It's just that too many of them are resigned to stop investigating once any story leads them too close to those in political power.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Ro Teimumu, John Key and Generalised Accusations

Ro Teimumu Kepa

I'm not sure whether John Key is the best choice as an Fiji Opposition ally.  He has some serious democratic issues to deal with in New Zealand, and he's been accused of bullying and patronising in some of his Pacific dealings. But the points both he and Ro Teimumu have raised in this Fiji Oppositon statement, require answers. Or rather —they would require answers if the accusations were made more specific.  It's hard to answer generalities.  To be heeded outside the circle of their core supporters, the Opposition needs to make these claims specific.

  • How, exactly, is the independence of the media, parliament, the civil Service, the police and the judiciary compromised?  Examples, please.
  • How is debate stifled? How are civil servants intimidated? Examples are needed. Those so far raised in parliament seem more like nit picking, and the example of the Acting Police Commissioner in this statement is far from convincing. It may have been better to appoint someone other than a military officer but there was nothing illegal in the appointment. And what are the alleged human rights abuses of which he is accused?
Although not directly stated, much has also been made of the influence of the A-G on the PM.  Sayed Khaiyum is a very able, knowledgeable, hard working and forceful character. But if what he is doing is seen as "not good for Fiji", the case  needs to be argued. Relying on advice from an able and knowledgeable person would seem a wise thing to do unless the influence is excessive and  exclusionary.

In sum, generalised accusations, hearsay and rumour are not enough.  This blog would welcome specific comments from Opposition spokespeople and informed readers on the points raised by Ro Teimumu. -- Croz

Parliament House


Ro Teimumu pleased with NZ Prime Minister John Key’s offer of help for Police interim leadership

Opposition Leader Ro Teimumu Kepa has welcomed the offer of help from New Zealand Prime Minister Key with Fiji’s transition to a new Police Commissioner.  She urged the Fiji Government to take up the offer for the sake of Fiji’s faltering democracy.

Mr Key said in a Radio New Zealand report that he would have preferred if the out-going Police Commissioner was not replaced with a military commander.

Mr Key said Fiji’s democracy was still in a fragile state and he would hate for it to be eroded.

Recalling Fiji’s history of coups, Mr Key said New Zealand would hate for Fiji to start moving away from democracy and the pillars of independence, including for the Judiciary and the Police, which any decent society relies on. 

 Ro Teimumu was pleased that New Zealand had now realized that Fiji’s democracy has ‘stalled’.  “We still do not have the democratic benefits of full independence of the media, Parliament, Civil Service, Police, Judiciary and other institutions necessary for any democracy,”
she said.

Ro Teimumu said that 12 months on from our first elections in eight years, debate is being stifled, and intimidation of civil servants is openly practised by the Prime Minister and the Attorney General.  The PM had again undermined his own democracy with his arbitrary decision to appoint as Acting Police Commissioner a Military officer who is allegedly accused of human rights abuses.

Ro Teimumu said that people should become more alert to what is really going on in Fiji

 Authorized By:                                  Hon. Ro Teimumu Kepa

West Wing, Level 2
Parliament House

Phone (679) 3225657

Monday, November 16, 2015

Some Pros and Cons of the 2016 Budget: Khaiyum, Walsh, Prasad, Barr and Narsey

It's been two weeks now since Minister of Finance, Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum delivered the 2016 Budget A Strong Fiji, A Fair Fiji, A Healthy Fiji.and sufficient time for its implications to be understood and commented upon.
The main elements are:

  • The budget allocates $3.4billion met from Government revenue of $3.1bn and an estimated $2.6bn  from taxes though Fiji Revenue and Customs Authority.
  • Inflation, 1.3% in 2015, was expected to increase to 3% in 2016; and the balance of payments to widen slightly to 4% of GDP.
  • VAT to be reduced from 15% to 9% but basic food items, kerosene and some medicines will no longer be exempt from tax. 
  • Government expects to recover $108m lost revenue from the VAT reduction by the removal of the VAT exemptions, a  further $127.5m from an increase from 5% to !)% of Service Turnover Tax and a new environment levy of 6%, and increased domestic bond borrowing.
  • Education, health, housing assistance   and most other areas of government expenditure will be at least modestly increased
  • Economic growth is expected to be sustained at  between 3-4% and the net overall effects of the budget are expected to give the "average" person a 4.5% increase in spending money.

 RFMF $93.6m, up $11.9m on 2014, and down $9.4m revised 2015.
Police $126.3m, up $5.8m
Education $432.2m, up $30.6m
(Special schools grant for special needs children, doubled to $500 p.a).
Health $280.1, up $11.3m
Housing $30.3m, up $3.1m
Women, Children, Poverty Alleviation $52.2m, up $6.4m
Youth and Sports $22.5m, up $5.8m
Higher Education $76.6m
Agriculture $76.2m, up $11.2m
Fisheries and Forests $26.3m, up $2.3m
Industry, Trade and Tourism $58.9m, utp $9.4m
Sugar $23.8m, uip $12m
Infrastructure and Transport $122.2m, up $9.2m
Details by ministry can be obtained from this link

Chapter 2 on Government's policy framework is important reading. 

Public Enterprise reforms with more private sector partnership/ownership in ports, ariports and electricity

Other tax reforms:
Increased taxes on  imported old vehicles. No more vechiles older than 5-8years. All must be compliant to Euro4 standard (see Dr Biman Prasad's criticism beloiw)
Increased taxes on tobacco and soft drinks.
Zero import taxes on plant, machinery. raw materials

The Minister noted that the tax amnesty on untaxed overseas incomes had been generally successful,  but that a significant number of Fiji companies had paid no tax for six years, and that of the 263 registered hotel companies only 68 had paid tax in 2014. Personal and corporate taxes had been lowered, rural and maritime province development was being encouraged, exports promoted and efforts were being make to make more land available for production,


Fr Barr and women squatters
Fr Kevin Barr in a letter to the Fiji Times welcomed the VAT decreased ("VAT of 15% in a country with so much poverty and inequality is immoral and unjust") but thought the removal of VAT exemptions on basic foods and medicine "was like giving with one hand and taking back with the other hand.  A tricky move!" that would make life harder for poorer families. If other countries "such as Canada, the US, Australia, the UK and NZ can exempt VAT on basic food, why can’t we? It is true that the Budget allows exemptions for some categories of the poor but it looks rather messy. Only the worst cases of poverty are captured in social welfare programs."

 "The need to exempt at least some basic foods and medicines is imperative in view of the fact that:
(a) About 72% of our population is earning below the tax threshold (most of them below the poverty line);
(b) When our currency was devalued by 20%, food increased by 36%
thus dramatically increasing the cost of living. (Fiji Bureau of Statistics).
"The reason given for exempting basic food items was that not only the poor but the well-off would benefit from these exemptions.  This could easily be remedied by reducing VAT to 10%, leave exemptions on basic food items, and increase the taxes of the wealthy and corporations by just 2%.
"The high percentage of revenue accruing to government just from VAT is somewhat scandalous.  VAT is a regressive tax which everyone has to pay irrespective of income so it impacts heavily on the poorer section of the community. However progressive taxation based on the principle of the more you earn the more you pay is much more just and should be the backbone of government’s revenue."

"Is there any truth in all the rhetoric about concern for all our citizens or is it just nice words?"

NFP leader and Opposition MP Dr Biman Prasad considered it the "deceptive budget of a confused government," noting that the VAT reclaimed from the rich by removing the exemptions will not help the poor, and a number of inconsistencies: notably the reversals on VAT, and vehicle import regulations, previously relaxed but now tightened. (See the new Euro4 standard and age restrictions noted above).  He thought 5% economic growth "very ordinary" (NZ  forecasts 2.4% for 2016). 

Dr Wadan Narsey   provided a fuller criticism, also published in the Fiji Times. Earlier he had dismissed the A-G's competency, telling him to keep to law and leave economics to economists.  Wadan should note that John Maynard Keynes who The Economist described as "Britain's most famous 20th-century economist" had only studied economics for eight weeks when he was at Cambridge and he never sat an exam in the subject, In 1999, Time magazine included Keynes as one of the 100 most important people in the 20th century. "His radical ideas that governments should spend money they don't have may have saved capitalism."  (Google) Keynes was seeking to increase employment and production though government deficits and social spending. Some have called him the father of the Welfare State.
In  publishing all of Wadan's article I have taken the liberty to include some of my own comments in bold parenthesis.

'U-turns' in 2016 Budget

Professor Wadan Narsey
Saturday, November 14, 2015
If you listened only to the first 10 minutes of the 2016 National Budget speech by the Minister for Finance, you might think the Bainimarama Government has been following a consistent strategy for Fiji's economic growth and development, right from 2006 when they took over.
You might even be convinced that the "unprecedented last four years of annual 4 per cent economic growth" proves the great confidence of the private sector, in the Bainimarama Government policies.
But the major tax policy U-turns in the 2016 Budget reveal that the Bainimarama Government is not consistent in its budgetary strategies and is now giving mixed signals to the private sector.
The Minister for Finance is not talking about the four years of stagnation between 2007 and 2011, while he is not admitting that the last four years of economic growth is due largely to the massive public sector increases in investment, not that of the private sector, although there is some private sector investment taking place. (See Keynes note, above).
There continues to be a large number of situations where the Minister of Finance and FRCA officials have discretionary authority to grant waivers or tax exemptions, a recipe for corruption. (and other areas where the window for corruption has been narrowed).
U-turn on VAT
In the 2011 budget, the Bainimarama Government increased VAT from 12.5 to 15 per cent, with a few basic items exempted.
VAT is generally regressive as it is paid on consumption, hence for poorer people, a fixed percentage of VAT usually represents a larger proportion of their income than it does for richer people. (Total agreement. See also Fr Barr's comment, but it is part of the new economics favoured in the West that seeks to reduce personal and corporate taxes while maintaining government revenue )
In the 2016 budget, however, the minister is boasting about the large reduction of VAT from 15 to 9 per cent.
This is a complete U-turn from the 2011 budget and would have been expected to reduce government revenues by more than $300 million.
But, the really strange thing is that the detailed 2016 budget estimates reveal that VAT revenues for 2016 will only be $48m less than the 2015 receipts, not the $300 million loss of revenue being bandied around.
Apparently, the removal of the exemptions on the basic items which the poor consume more (and which will now be taxed at 9 per cent instead of the previous 0 per cent) will offset a large proportion of the lost revenue because of the reduction from 15 to 9 per cent.
FRCA needs to release their detailed calculations as the numbers just do not add up. But without a doubt, Government has to find large amounts of additional revenues.
U-turn on corporate taxes
In the 2012 budget, the Minister for Finance reduced corporate tax, quite needlessly, from 30 to 20 per cent, losing FRCA an unknown amount in taxes (possibly up to $150m).
The business sector gleefully applauded the "wisdom" of the Bainimarama Government and most promptly exported their increased after-tax profits.
However some businesses are not applauding this time as the Minister for Finance has doubled the Service Turnover Tax from 5 to 10 per cent, expected to raise an extra $60m in revenues. A new 6 per cent environment levy is expected to raise another $70m. (Some sort of environmental levy would seem desirable to protect the environment, not to mention the tourism industry.)
No surprise that one prominent hotel representative looked quite sick on TV while another business tycoon pleaded on FBC TV that it would be simpler for the Bainimarama Government to just increase corporate taxes from 20 to 25 per cent (yes, this is not a typo).
The public needs to remember that for some businesses, corporate tax can always be reduced by creative accountants taking advantage of numerous tax loopholes (such as SLIPS and Half SLIPs) granted by successive governments, whereas straight turnover taxes cannot be easily avoided. (Government is well aware of this. See the note above about the tax amnesty and companies not paying tax. Major changes in behaviour sticks and carrots and time.)
Mixed economic signals
If a Minister for Finance with seven years' experience on the job knew what he was doing with the annual budget, there would be little need for major taxation policy changes year after year. ( Why not? A nimble mind makes changes as situations change, and no one gets it right all the time.)
The private sector has to be worried when they see the Minister for Finance one year reduce corporate taxes, income taxes, levies, allowances and tax thresholds, while exempting basic items from VAT, here and there.
Then the next year, while claiming that all is hunky dory, increases some corporate taxes (but not all), brings in new levies, changes allowances and tax thresholds, and removes the VAT exemptions on basic items, here and there.(The private sector reaction has been mixed but generally supportive)
The public should note that every time a government policy is reversed with great fanfare (as is happening virtually every month in education), it is also implying that this same government has been doing the wrong thing for the previous eight years. (Not at all. Government's education policy has progressively improved the lot of the poor: free or heavily subsidised transport, meals, books and stationery, fees; reserved places at boarding school for children in remote and rural areas; doubling the grant for special needs children; more teachers and slowly improving student-teacher relations; more career-orientated tertiary education, and so on.)
The private sector must be excused for thinking what else is going to be changed next year?
It is comical however, that there are two powerful media organisations who keep praising the Bainimarama Government year after year, even if they keep reversing their policies.
IMF praise
The Minister for Finance announced the IMF's calls for economic reforms and greater private sector development, was "music to his ears".
Mr Khaiyum's ears were however closed to the IMF a few years ago when it offered a loan of $500m at only 2 per cent interest, which was rejected by the Bainimarama Government.(It was rejected because the loan was conditional of IMF demands that govenment could not accept. (In fairness, why didn't Wadan mention this?)   Instead, the current Minister of Finance accompanied ANZ on an international jaunt selling bonds costing 9 per cent in foreign exchange, now apparently reduced to 6 per cent after refinancing.
Nevertheless, Fiji taxpayers will have needlessly paid more than $100m in interest, because our Minister for Finance did not like the IMF music in 2012.(Interest and repayment spread over several years.)
This Bainimarama Government does not wish to release a Bureau of Statistics report that shows that for the first four years of the Bainimarama Government the private sector was not investing, and there was economic stagnation while employment declined.
This Minister of Finance does not acknowledge that the bulk of the economic growth for the past four years has been driven not by private sector investment (which may have increased a bit through construction of housing), but by the massive increases in public sector spending on roads and water, funded by increases in public debt, and increases in consumption driven by remittance receipts. (Yes, it does. Read the budget.)
Other budget stories
There are many other budget stories deserving in-depth investigation not possible here.
There is the continued excessive allocation of more than $600m to the Fiji Roads Authority, which by September this year has apparently spent only 36 per cent of its allocation (so wait for a last minute wasteful splurge as the allocation is desperately used up). (Expenditure is notoriously difficult to estimate and is not confined to Fiji. Financial year-end binges are typical in many overseas budgets. Government has acknowledged and expressed frustration on this issue and is now imposing strict time limits. See  Did this not happen under previous governments? )
This year again, the deficits are shown to be artificially low because of plans to sell off very profitable public assets (effectively farms selling their cows in order to balance their books). (Maybe, but the downscaling of public assets and their sale to the private sector, and joint government-private sector ownership, is a central pillar of modern economics in many Western countries. Come to NZ where it is much more extensive. Wadan also knows this.)
There is the creeping extremely unhealthy increased FNPF ownership of critical sectors of the economy.
There are the special favours granted to some businesses, through increased duty protection for false industries (apparently, Fiji is now a local manufacturer of "electrical junction and mounting blocks").
There are continued discretionary powers granted to tax officials to waive duties and taxes, a recipe for corruption and bureaucratic nightmare.
And much more.
Annual hype
If a government truly had in place a consistent economic and budget strategy, there would be little need for the hundreds of the annual tinkering that goes on with taxes and government expenditures as currently.
There would be no need for the massive hype given by the minister's budget speech, in front of the annual carnival of who's who of Fiji; ambassadors, donors, business tycoons, NGOs, socialites and government hangers-on, all reported by an excited, less than investigative media, pretty much like the hype around the Melbourne Cup..(Hyperbole that detracts from his argument)
If Fiji achieved all the glorious objectives that the Minister for Finance stated in the first four pages of his 2016 Budget, our people will be in heaven by the end of 2016 and we are already half-way there.
But the statistics on suicides, crime and violence against women and children, suggest otherwise, as do the dismal data on real production in the economy.
* The views expressed are those of the author and not of this newspaper.


Economic and Fiscal Supplement to the Budget

Naidu:Another Resignation, But Why?

Earlier, when Police chief Ken Groenewald unexpectedly resigned, Opposition leader Ro Teimumu asked for a meeting of the Constitutional Offices Commission and was told by the PM and CAC chairman that it was his job to call meetings, not hers. I've little doubt her call was in part politically motivated (why give up an opportunity to debunk government) but I thought she was perfectly entitled to speak as she did, and the PM would have earned more respect if his response had not been so petty and personal.

Now, we have the resignation of Opposition CAC nominee, prominent lawyer and Government critic Richard Naidu.

He gives his reasons and is answered by the A-G in Fiji Times article below.

The larger question is: was the reason for his resignation as simple and straightforward as he claims, or was it primarily a further attempt (if Ro Teimumu was an earlier one) to undermine government offices? Or, like many human actions, a mix of several reasons?

Lawyer resigns, A-G says no politics

Siteri Sauvakacolo

Monday, November 16, 2015

THE Constitutional Offices Commission is not politicised, says Attorney-General and commission member Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum.

This followed the resignation of Opposition nominee to the commission and prominent Fijian lawyer Richard Naidu yesterday.

Mr Naidu in a statement said the commission was effectively politicised with four Government members/appointees having the power to outvote the other two members.

Concerns were also expressed by Mr Naidu on the recent appointment of the Acting Commissioner of Police.

He said Prime Minister Voreqe Bainimarama should not act as he pleased and "he should have recommended the most senior available officer in the police ranks to act as commissioner until a new substantive appointment was made."

"If he wanted to recommend a random acting appointment, outside the police hierarchy, he owed it to the commission members to consult them first," Mr Naidu said.

He said previous constitutions had provisions where non-politicians were members of the commission hence respected the need for independent constitutional officers to be appointed by an independent body.

Mr Sayed-Khaiyum said this claim by Mr Naidu was wrong

"Under the Constitution, the commission has representatives from Government as well as from the Opposition," Mr Sayed-Khaiyum said.

"It must also be noted that apart from the Prime Minister, the Leader of the Opposition and the Attorney-General, the other three members of the Commission are not politicians.

"This constitutional composition of the Commission effectively allows the elected representatives of the Fijian people as well as non-politicians to have an input in the appointment of Constitutional officers. This is the essence of a constitutional democracy."

He clarified that the April 17 meeting of the commission, all members of the Constitutional Offices Commission unanimously agreed to the following resolution:

* Leave of absence and acting appointments for a period of less than 3 months are to be approved by the Chairperson and the Secretariat;

* Leave of absence and acting appointments for a period of more than 3 months are to be approved by the Members of the Commission through Flying Minute.

" Interestingly, the former Commission member Richard Krishnan Naidu ("Naidu") agreed with the above-cited resolution of the Commission, under which all the members of the Commission unanimously delegated to the Chairperson the authority to make acting appointments for a period of less than 3 months.

He said at the same meeting, members of the Commission unanimously agreed for urgent matters that require the attention and decision of the Commission, notices and all other relevant documents will be sent to the members of the Commission by email or by fax.

"Therefore, the acting appointment to the position of the Commissioner of Police was clearly made in accordance with the above-cited resolution. The appointment of Brigadier-General Sitiveni Tukaituraga Qiliho is for a period of up to three months.

"The above-cited resolution allows the Chairman to make the acting appointment. That is a discretion expressly and unanimously delegated to the Chairperson."

Mr Sayed- Khaiyum also clarified that the fact that emails were sent by the Secretariat to all the members for their comments and decision with respect to the extension of the acting appointment of the Commander of the RFMF two weeks ago, was in full accordance with the resolution passed by all the members of the Commission.

He added that even under the 1997 Constitution, before the Commission could make any appointments, they were required by the Constitution to consult respective Ministers and other entities. For example under section 111(2) of the 1997 Constitution, the Commissioner of Police was appointed by the Commission following consultation with the Minister.

"Under the 2013 Constitution, once appointed by the President on the advice of the Commission, the independence of the Constitutional officers with respect to their powers, duties and functions is itself expressly guaranteed by the Constitution.

"Once a person is appointed to an independent Constitution office, he or she is completely independent as provided under Constitution.

"If Naidu has chosen to resign from the Commission then that is his prerogative, notwithstanding the fact that the reasons put forward by Naidu are misplaced."

The Attorney General also said that Mr Naidu's resignation would not hinder the functions of the commission as under section 132 of the Constitution, the quorum for the meeting of the Commission is three out of a total of six members (that is, the chairperson and 2 other members).

He added the commission will continue to perform its constitutional duties.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Groenewald Resignation Stirs Doubts

This really is a most disturbing development. Government seems to be on track on so many issues, but its relationship with the military, police and trade union movement are matters of democratic concern.  -- Croz
FIJI: Crusading police chief quits over army meddling

Wednesday, November 11, 2015
Item: 9481

SUVA (Global Post / AFP /Pacific Media Watch): Fiji's police chief has resigned abruptly, accusing the military of interfering with his job.

Highly respected South African Ben Groenewald has been credited with cleaning up Fiji's police force and raising its professionalism since his appointment in May 2014.

But he resigned on Tuesday effective immediately, with more than six months left on his contract.

A government statement issued late Tuesday said Groenewald had quit "for personal and family reasons" and would be temporarily replaced by the military's land force commander Sitiveni Qiliho.

Groenewald, however, told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation that he was unhappy about the country's powerful military meddling in police matters.

"The fact is, I don't agree with the way they're interfering with policing," he told the broadcaster.

"I'm a true-blooded police officer and I'm not satisfied with the way that they're interfering in policing."

Officers charged
The matter came to a head this month when the military recruited three suspended police officers who had been charged with beating and sexually assaulting an escaped prisoner in 2012.

The brutal assault caused outrage when mobile phone footage leaked online, with police handling of the matter seen as a crucial test of their credibility.

Investigators had quietly dropped the case before Groenewald's appointment but he ensured it was pursued, resulting in four security personnel facing charges last month.

Three of the accused were police officers and prosecutors said at the time that the case showed no one was above the law.

But in a calculated snub, the military last week hired the three officers, who Qiliho said had been "abandoned" by the police force for doing their duty in apprehending escaped prisoners.

Fiji has endured four coups since 1987, the most recent of which was carried out by the military in 2006 under the command of current Prime Minister Voreqe Bainimarama.

While elections were held in September 2014, the military remains a powerful institution in the democracy.

Rights groups allege there were numerous cases of torture under martial law from 2006-2014 and Amnesty International last month called for a wide-ranging and independent investigation into abuse allegations.


Ratu Epeli's Farewell Speech

President of the Republic of Fiji
Coronation Ground                                                                                                                                                              Wednesday 11th November,  2015
STATE HOUSE                                                                                                                                                                   2.30p.m.

Honourable Ministers
Your Excellencies the Ambassadors and High Commissioners
Members of Parliament
Distinguished guests
Ladies and gentlemen

Good afternoon to you all, ni sa bula vinaka, assalam alaykum, namaste

Thank you for your very generous statement, and for the state’s gifts.   I also gratefully thank the Tui Namosi and the chiefs and warriors of the Vanua o Nabukebuke for the elaborate traditional ceremonies they have accorded me. I am deeply touched.  I wish to convey to the Government and the people of Fiji, my deepest gratitude for the opportunity given to me to serve the nation as President for the past six years and I depart much richer in spirit and experience.

I leave the Office of the President today confident that Fiji is steadfastly on its way to becoming one of the world’s great democracies. I reiterate that it has been a great honour being part of this generation that has seen our nation transformed and set firmly on the path to becoming a modern nation state.  I have especially enjoyed interacting with you all my fellow citizens across the entire spectrum of society under varying circumstances. And I particularly value my many encounters with our young people.

As a Nation, we have embraced a Constitution that provides the foundation for equality, unity and lasting peace and prosperity. We have revived our economy. We continue to re-position ourselves to meet the challenges of an increasingly globalized world. And we have returned the country to parliamentary democracy. But having a parliamentary democracy in itself is not the end of the journey.  We can only continue to be successful through understanding and implementing the true spirit of unity enshrined in our constitution.

So, I am extremely pleased to leave office knowing that our young people’s access to all levels of education is guaranteed and being facilitated. It is through education, wisdom, and the willingness of the heart to understand and appreciate the essence of our Constitution that our people will be equipped to take our nation to the next level.

As I leave office, I wish to convey my sincere personal gratitude - and that of my family - to all Fijians for your unwavering support for the new direction our nation has taken.  I thank the Government for its decisive approach to rebuilding our nation.

As the Commander-in-Chief of the Republic of Fiji Military Forces, I acknowledge the invaluable service and sacrifice of all past and present personnel in the disciplined forces including the Military, Police, and Corrections Services. I also acknowledge the noble services of our medical and teaching personnel overseas who, like the disciplined forces, continue to be great ambassadors for Fiji.

On the home front, I acknowledge the role of the business community, civil society and all those in the formal and informal sectors. I particularly acknowledge the work of the civil service, and as well as most importantly the role of all the religious organizations in Fiji for their teachings and guidance.

I do not intend to retire permanently from serving the nation after today. I am committed to continuing my advocacy on HIV/AIDS and to continue my close contact with the national, regional and international humanitarian organizations and other just causes because I firmly believe that we must all work together to save and improve the lives of all our citizens and our neighbours, irrespective of their personal circumstances.

Finally, I reiterate my appeal for greater unity and for all Fijians both here and abroad to give your fullest support to the incoming President, Major-General Jioji Konrote. I am most honoured to pass on the mantle of Head of State to a very distinguished and exceptional person.

Thank you, vinaka vakalevu, sukria, bahoot dhanyavaad.

May God bless you all.  May God bless Fiji.

Friday, November 6, 2015

Prof David Robie: an Interview on "Good Journalism" and a paper on Implications of the Digital Revolution

The essential role of democracy's fourth estate, free, responsible journalism (and the difficulty of balancing these two elements) has been a recurring theme on this blog, particularly as it applies to Fiji.   Here Prof David Robie reflects on the challenges facing "good journalism" in New Zealand and the Pacific. 

A hyperlink to his recent address "The Digital Revolution, a Free Press and Student Journalism" at USP's 21st Anniversary Journalism Awards ceremony is provided at the end of the article -- Croz 

AUDIO: What does good journalism mean? Lisa Er talks to David Robie

Green Planet FM's Lisa Er talks to Pacific Media Centre's David Robie
on the state of the media in NZ and the Asia-Pacific region.

Thursday, November 5, 2015
Item: 9472
Lisa Er

INTERVIEW: AUCKLAND (Green Planet FM / Pacific Media Watch): Freedom of the press describes the right to gather, publish, and distribute information and ideas without government restriction.

This right encompasses freedom from censorship, but does our media really have complete freedom in New Zealand? We need to ask this question when we see the government’s response to Nicky Hager’s investigative journalism, and Channel 7 is removed from TV in spite of having half a million viewers.
A journalist was recently no longer required by the New Zealand Herald after writing an honest critique of the TPPA, and what happened to Campbell Live and why?

David Robie, professor of communication studies and Pacific journalism, director of the Pacific Media Centre, journalist and author answers these questions and more.
Are journalists part of a movement that merely holds up a mirror to society with all its cynicism, or are they part of a process of empowerment and action for a better world?
Why are certain topics ignored? Perhaps the headings would not be sexy enough. Perhaps sport and tabloid news are appealing to the masses more than educated comment on important events in this country and around the world.

Have the corporations bought the larger media outlets? How do economic issues affect the impartiality of the media?

Optimistic view
In spite of all this, David Robie is optimistic about the work of "our last TV public broadcaster" - Maori TV.

However, he is concerned for his students as to what sort of career they can expect in New Zealand’s media.
Political crises and indigenous issues throw a spotlight on a region’s news media and its role in democracy.

David Robie champions media scrutiny in the Pacific and believes more research will contribute much to the communications industry. This is an area where young journalists can go and experience stories that need to be reported, but they might be dangerous assignments.
For example in West Papua people are being arrested and detained for taking part in peaceful activities.

The victims of security force harassment and violence in West Papua are predominantly those who have publicly expressed their support for self-determination or independence.

We hear little about this in New Zealand, although Māori Television did a story recently. The journalists were escorted by the Indonesian authorities, however.

Embarrassing Indonesia
Perhaps if the world’s mainstream media reported on this it would embarrass Indonesia into modifying their behaviour somewhat.
Also “Understanding our neighbours is vitally important and researching and publishing on the media is an important goal for good governance for the region,” says Professor Robie.
Having been a journalist on board the Rainbow Warrior on the voyage leading up to the bombing in 1985, David has always had an interest in peace.

He talks on how peace journalism can challenge "war voyeurism".

Is a peace keeper keeping peace peacefully when carrying a gun, for example.
Peace journalism explains conflicts and the reasons for them in some depth. It gives all parties a voice, whereas war journalism is propaganda oriented and is mainly concerned with victory.
“The idea of peace journalism troubles some journalists – mostly due to a lifetime of relying on ‘conflict’ as a core news value. This is surprising, because in this era of ‘infotainment’ and super-hype in news media, this peace notion is much more about reasserting basic news values such as truth, context, fairness and depth.”
Reporters and editors have the choice to create opportunities for society to consider non violent responses to conflict.

This is an example of where journalists can be a part of the solution and not part of the problem.
* David Robie has written 10 books on the region’s politics and media, including Mekim Nius: South Pacific politics, media and education; Eyes of Fire, a book about the bombing of the Rainbow Warrior, and Don’t Spoil My Beautiful Face: Media, Mayhem and Human Rights in the Pacific (Little Island Press, 2014). He was awarded the 2005 PIMA Pacific Media Freedom Award and the 2015 Asia Communication Award.
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Pacific Media Watch
Pacific Media Centre | Te Amokura
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Editor: Professor David Robie 
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Link to Prof  Robie's  USP Journalism Awards ceremony paper