fiji UNCENSORED

June 11, 2009

ACCEPTANCE OR ISOLATION Part I

Filed under: General — fijiuncensored @ 17:01
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OPINION

  • Here is part 1 of the speech DR BRIJ LAL was to have given tomorrow at the Fiji Institute of Accountants Congress in Nadi. These are excerpts from his handwritten notes.

THE invitation to speak at this gathering was extended to me at a time that is so rapidly vanishing beyond recall. The Constitution was still in place, even though it was observed more in the breach; a political dialogue process, although fraught and flawed in many ways, was under way; the international community was expressing a cautious and conditional willingness to get engaged to rescue Fiji from the cul-de-sac it was in; and there was a glimmer of hope – just a glimmer – that Fiji might finally find its feet on the ground again.

But all that is now gone. There is now no pretense about finding a solution to Fiji’s political problems in a timely fashion, in consultation with its friends in the regional and the international community.

Fiji is now telling the world: “We will find solutions to Fiji’s problems on our own terms, in our own time. The international community must not dictate terms. Fiji is a sovereign nation. Leave us alone.

There is a palpable sense of exasperation in the voice of the interim administration: “We are the guys who are on the right side of history; we are doing the right thing; why doesn’t the world understand us?”

Why indeed.

This question goes to the heart of the topic given to me: “Fiji and the International Community: Acceptance or Isolation: Are these the only choices?”

My response is: No. I don’t think acceptance and isolation are the only two choices available to the international community when dealing with Fiji. There is another alternative: Accommodation. And there is an alternative to Monologue: Dialogue. I shall return to this theme later.

This coup is in marked contrast to the first coup of 1987. The world then was a simpler place. The fax machine was the latest invention, and it was possible to deprive society of the oxygen of information and commentary. But the world since then has changed beyond recognition.

Now censorship is enforced in Fiji and self-censorship encouraged, but technology cannot be so easily intimidated. Blogsites abound, spreading information as well as misinformation to all those who want them across the world.

The boundaries are simply too porous to be easily policed. They are transgressed at the click of a button. The whole exercise of controlling speech is futile and self-defeating.

There is another difference with 1987. Then the message was clear, even though it was based on spurious assumptions. The message was the defense of indigenous rights against the interests and aspirations of an immigrant community.

The international community, unable or unwilling to decipher the more unseemly motives of the principal actors, was willing to believe the message. But the message this time around is not clear, which is one reason for the present confusion.

Initially the coup was justified as a “clean-up campaign”. A few months later, another rationale crept in: Electoral reform and the implementation of a so-called Peoples’ Charter, the latter a kind of development plan, presented to the people as the military’s exist strategy and as a panacea for all the ills afflicting the nation.

More recently, another rationale has crept in: To create a perfect, corruption free, politics-free society. As the Interim Prime Minister puts it, “I want to rid politics from decision making that has an impact on our economy, our future. We cannot be beholden to petty politics, communal politics, provincial politics and religious politics.”

He did not use the word, but he could have been talking about creating a utopia. And when you are engaged in that mammoth task, timeliness and accountability are irrelevant.

In 1987, the military coup was always intended as a means to an end, and not an end in itself. The end was the entrenchment of Fijian control of the political process After a few chaotic months, Sitiveni Rabuka eventually handed power back to civilian rulers who then chalked the path back to parliamentary democracy.

Now the situation is different. You do not have on the national stage chiefs of mana and overarching influence, such as Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara or Ratu Sir Penaia Ganilau, who can exercise a moderating, stabilising influence on developments. Now, the military having hobbled indigenous institutions of power, is much more intent on being centrally involved in reshaping the future of the country in its own image.

They are here to stay: That message comes out loud and clear from a whole raft of things the interim administration has done since abrogating the Constitution on April 10.

Whether it is civil society organisations, the media or the Fiji Law Society, the message from the military is the same: “We are in control, and we intend to remain in control for a very long time.”

The military and the interim administration have tried very hard to convince the international community that their main aim is to create a truly democratic society in Fiji that is just and fair to everyone. They want an allegedly very undemocratic constitution to be rewritten so that every citizen has equal rights.

One would have to admit that there are some – perhaps many – people both in Fiji and abroad who are willing to believe this, and give the interim administration the benefit of the doubt. That is, they believe that the military is dead earnest about creating a perfect democracy, after which it would voluntarily leave the stage for politics to operate as normal.

I am prepared to accept this assertion for the sake of argument, just as those who embrace the military’s vision must, by the same token, accept the position of those who express grave reservation, as many in the international community do.

There is the argument that by simply having a non-racial system of voting will not remove race as a factor in politics. Just look at Guyana or Malaysia, to take just two examples, and the evidence is clear.

There are those who argue that an electoral system, however perfect, is a means to an end, and not an end in itself. So a prior question has to be asked: What kind of political culture do you want to create in Fiji?

I do not believe that this debate has taken place here. A view has been asserted, but it has not been properly argued.

But let us, again for the sake of argument, assume that the interim administration’s proposed electoral system is adopted.

Two questions then arise. What is the quid pro quo? Will the military then retreat to the barracks? And what happens if the results thrown up by the new system, whatever they are, are deemed unacceptable to the military?

There is another point to consider. Now that we have no constitution in place, the interim administration can simply decree its preferred electoral model into existence and then proceed to hold elections under it, as happened under the 1990 Constitution.

At the back of my mind is another thought that I want to express in the hope of having it debated. And it is this. Increasingly, it seems to me, the powers-that-be are engaged in a project that goes beyond tinkering with the electoral system. They are intent on fundamentally re-structuring of society.

To put it another way, they are engaged in creating utopia in Fiji, as I suggested earlier.  This plants seeds of doubt in my mind about elections being held in 2014. 2024 perhaps, but certainly not 2014.

I hope I am wrong.

A central plank in the interim administration’s defense of defiant stance is the notion of sovereignty. Sovereignty, simply defined, is the line that distinguishes one nation state from another.

Historically, there have been two philosophical positions on sovereignty: One by Thomas Hobbes and another by John Locke. The difference between the two lies in the extent of the obligation the state has to its citizens: In one minimal, in the other considerable.

There is now another dimension to consider: Globalisation, which renders national boundaries porous through the impact of travel and technology. Sovereignty is now not an absolute concept, but a contingent one, intersected at various points by provisions of international law.

From the Nuremburg trials onwards, the world has understood international law as not only adjudicating disputes between states but also holding states accountable for the fundamental violations of the human rights of its citizens.

Look at international intervention in Afghanistan, Iraq, Rwanda, Somalia, East Timor and Kosovo, and you will see what I mean. So Fiji cannot and should not expect immunity or exception from international disapproval for what has happened here.

The consciousness of civil, political and human rights is now too deeply entrenched in many international instruments and conventions to be ignored or violated with impunity.

Indeed, Fiji is a signatory to many of these instruments. Let us take the Biketawa Declaration. Its seven or so principles include “upholding democratic processes and institutions which reflect national and local circumstances, including the peaceful transfer of power, the rule of law and the independence of the Judiciary, and just and honest government”, and “recognising the importance of respecting and protecting indigenous rights and cultural values, traditions and customs”.

And the declaration stipulates the precise steps to be taken in the event of strife in a member country: The convening of Forum Foreign Ministers meeting, creating a Ministerial Action Group, appointing a fact-finding mission, and so on.

And this is precisely what happened in the case of Fiji. So I am puzzled at Fiji’s umbrage.

A few days ago, Forum Secretary-General Slade expressed a view that is worth pondering: “The welfare of the region is inextricably tied up with the welfare of Fiji. But the present situation in Fiji involves clear disregard of the core values of democracy, good governance and the rule of law recognised by all forum members, as well as the vast majority of the international community, as crucial to the future peace and prosperity of the Pacific Forum region.”

That sentiment is unexceptionable.

Let me take another declaration, the Cotonou Agreement, about which many of you probably know a great deal. There are four fundamental principles which underpin the Agreement: Equality of Partners and Ownership of Development Strategies; Partnership; Dialogue and Mutual Obligation, and finally Differentiation and Regionalisation.

What is important in the context of Fiji is an additional provision in the Cotonou Agreement. Article 8, titled “The Political Dimension”, provides that all parties to the agreement “shall contribute to peace, security and stability and promote a stable and democratic environment”.

The dialogue “shall also encompass a regular assessment of the developments concerning the respect for human rights, democratic principles, the rule of law”, and “shall take full account of the objective of peace and democratic stability in the definition of priority areas of co-operation”.

It is all there in black and white, and I am again at a loss to understand Fiji’s puzzlement at being told that what it is doing is wrong and unacceptable.

The EU will not relax its stance. That much is certain. This is not necessarily what I or many of us want. This is, quite simply, the way things are. And the sooner the people of Fiji are told the truth, the better it will be for everyone. – fiji uncensored

ACCEPTANCE OR ISOLATION Part II

Filed under: General — fijiuncensored @ 16:44
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OPINION

  • This is the second part of the speech DR BRIJ LAL was to have given tomorrow at the Fiji Institute of Accountants Congress in Nadi. These are excerpts from his handwritten notes.

It is no secret that the interim administration is unhappy with the reaction of the international community, and it has singled out Australia and New Zealand for particular criticism in relation to their alleged interference in forum decision-making about Fiji.

There are several points to consider. The forum position has hardened over time in direct response to Fiji’s intransigence. Tonga’s Fred Sevele was sympathetic to Fiji in the beginning, as was PNG’s Michael Somare. Both were disappointed at Fiji’s snub of Pacific leaders’ meeting in Niue and then in Port Moresby.

Fiji needs to recognise that Pacific leaders are not pawns in the hands of Australia and New Zealand, and it is deeply offensive to Pacific Island leaders for Fiji to think so.

And there is a further point to consider. Why should anyone express surprise that Australia and New Zealand are using their diplomatic leverage in the region to effect an outcome they want?

You would surely expect democratic countries to champion values that underpin their own political culture and not condone practices which seek to subvert them. But having said that, I know that the international community does want to help, provided there is genuine willingness on the part of the interim administration to engage in inclusive dialogue.

Fiji’s siege mentality in the circumstances is understandable, but it is also a hindrance to progress. It is perhaps this closed mindset that obscures a clear perception of the international reaction to Fiji.

I recall what then Minister Mahendra Chaudry said when the Rudd Labor Government was elected into office.  He welcomed the new government and said that he was hopeful that Canberra would show a more sympathetic appreciation of the situation in Fiji.

I was asked to respond to this on a Hindi radio talk show. The whole world came crashing down on my head. I said that the change of government would not alter Australia’s position on Fiji, and gave three reasons. One was that no Australian political party would ever condone a military coup against a democratically elected government. Two, that after 13 years in the wilderness, the ALP having won power at the ballot box could hardly be expected to condone its violation in its own neighborhood.  And three, Australia would not take a position on Fiji without consulting its closest partner New Zealand, which had already condemned the coup in the strongest terms possible. All this was, or should have been, common sense.

Today, some in the interim administration are making a similar noise about China. Let me say at the outset that I hope the interim administration is right and that Chinese aid, trade and investment will flow into Fiji in ample measure in the years to come.

But I am not optimistic. Why?

We have been on this route before, soon after the 1987 coups when Fiji embarked on a “Look North Policy” with great enthusiasm, not the least to teach Australia and New Zealand the lesson that they were not indispensable to Fiji’s development.

Nothing tangible came from that initiative. Nothing. And I am not sure that much will come out of the current China drive either.

China’s strategic interest in Fiji is limited. Its regional policy is driven by the Taiwan factor. At this time of global financial crisis, no country, including China, will invest in an environment characterised by systemic instability and periodic eruptions. And for China, Australia and New Zealand are far more important than Fiji.

For that reason alone, China is unlikely to do anything in direct defiance of Canberra and Wellington.

The interim administration has repeatedly told the international community and anyone else who would listen, that merely having elections will not solve Fiji’s problems.

I agree. Elections by themselves don’t solve anything. That is common sense. What they do is to provide the basis of legitimacy for governance.

This fundamental point has escaped many who place trust and confidence in the military and the interim administration. Fiji tells the international community that Fiji’s constitution is “undemocratic” and that it has to go if Fiji is to develop into a fair and just society.

I have alluded to this before, but let me make some additional points. I do not know what criterion is used to define democracy. What I do know is that international laws allow for a certain margin of appreciation to accommodate a country’s unique culture and history and traditions and for these to be incorporated into its constitutional structure.

There is no one-size-fits all.

Second, I know that the 1997 Constitution attempted to deal with the most fundamental problem that has beset Fiji since the inception of party politics in 1966.

That problem was not a flawed electoral system (although the first-past-the-post most certainly was), but the systematic exclusion of one community, the Indo-Fijians, from sharing power.

They were the perennial “Other” of Fijian politics. The compulsory power-sharing provision in the 1997 Constitution was designed to address that problem. And in 2006, for the first time in Fiji’s political history ever, there was a genuinely multi-ethnic, multi-party government in place.

A new beginning was being made, however tentatively. Consider the sweet irony: Fijians and Indo-Fijians were in government, while the opposition was led by a General Voter!

Third, I know that there are other forms of democracy other than the Westminster variety, respected and practiced in many stable democracies. One such, upon which the 1997 Constitution was partly founded, was what Arend Lijphart has called “consociationalism” whose principal characteristics are: A grand coalition of elites representing different segments of society; guaranteed group representation so that no major community is excluded from power; mutual veto over matters of particular concern to the different communities; proportionality in political representation; and segmental autonomy that allows for the maintenance of different cultural identities.

This, too, a model of democracy, and Fiji’s 1997 Constitution meets its test fully. In this version, reserving seats for distinct communities is not the evil that the advocates of the Westminster model make it out to be.

Fourth, I know that no country will ever enjoy political stability so necessary for economic development unless there is basic respect for the rule of law.  You may have the most perfect constitution in the world, the most perfect model of democracy on paper, but as long as you have a large standing military in an environment characterised by violence and disorder, there will always be a threat to peace.

The time for apportioning blame about what happened is over. The question now is: Where do we go from here? First, we need to confront the inescapable truth that Fiji cannot go it alone, that sooner rather than later, it will have to engage with the international community Fiji will have to adopt a more open and inclusive approach.

Many initiatives contemplated by the interim administration are praiseworthy, and I have no doubt that there would be a meeting of minds on many of them. That is why there is an urgent need of tact and diplomacy.

Fiji is an island, I have said so many times before, but it is an island in the physical sense alone. The words of John Donne come to mind: “No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main; if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of the thy friends or thine own were; any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved with mankind.”

As a practical matter, the interim administration, if it is serious about returning Fiji to parliamentary democracy in a timely fashion – and I have already expressed my doubts before – it should deign backwards from 2014 and draw up a timetable for taking the country to elections.

Without that demonstrable commitment, the international community will not engage. That much is clear. No one wants to be taken for a cheap ride.

It would also be helpful if the interim administration set out in specific detail what aspect of the abrogated 1997 Constitution it finds problematic so that areas of agreement and disagreement among the different stakeholders can be clearly identified.

The problems Fiji faces are huge, but they are surmountable. The international community will come to the party but it will have to be convinced of Fiji’s genuine desire to engage in an inclusive dialogue.

In the end, though, solutions to Fiji’s problems will have to be found here, devised by the people of this country. And no solution will be sustainable and enduring unless it is based on tolerance and a sensitive understanding of this country’s diverse inheritance.

It must be based on the understanding that dissent does not mean disloyalty.

President Obama said it well in Cairo earlier this month. He said that “in order to move forward, we must say openly to each other the things we hold in our hearts and that too often are said only behind closed doors. There must be a sustained effort to listen to each other; to learn from each other; to respect one another; and to seek common ground”. Fiji can realise its potential that is so within its reach. That is its challenge and its opportunity.

I want to end by quoting again words from President Obama’s Cairo address which are apt for my purposes. He said: “I do have an unyielding belief that all people yearn for certain things: The ability to speak your own mind and have a say in how you are governed, confidence in the rule of law and equal administration of justice; government that is transparent and doesn’t steal from people; the freedom to live as you choose.

“These are not just American ideas; they are human rights, and that is why we will support them everywhere.” – fiji uncensored

June 10, 2009

AN EXPERIMENT IN NATION-BUILDING Part I

Filed under: General — fijiuncensored @ 15:53
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OPINION

  • This is part 1 of the paper GRAHAM LEUNG was to have delivered at the annual Fiji Institute of Accountants Congress convention to be held at the Sheraton Fiji on Friday. As a result of instruction by the police on Monday that the permit to hold the convention would be revoked unless Professor Brij Lal, Richard Naidu and he were dropped from the speakers’ list, this paper is now being circulated to stimulate discussions on the “way forward”.

WE have had five coups in 22 years. Dictatorship and arbitrariness has replaced the rule of law, democracy and human rights. We have a regime whose authority is based on force rather than the consent of the people. That is our reality. Who can say with certainty that this scenario will not continue beyond September 2014?

The prospect is depressing. How do we climb out of this quicksand into which we are fast sinking?

Fiji is not just in a political, but a deep financial crisis. The root of that crisis stems from the underlying political instability and coups which have ravaged the country over the last two decades.

This crisis cannot be solved merely by getting the economic fundamentals right, because its origins lie in systemic political and governance issues. This crisis will not solve itself if we just ignore it.

No matter how attractive the fiscal and policy incentives cobbled together by the regime, there will be few takers given the present political instability and uncertainty. And the confidence needed to restore the economy will only come if we make the right decisions going forward.

The world has changed since 1987. Human rights concerns do matter. And in the world of real politick, we are vulnerable and small enough to be held accountable.

Call it double standards, call it what you will. That is how international relations work. The regime may well think it can defy external pressures. But it will come at the expense of further decline in social services, our standard of living, decay in infrastructure, increased poverty, crime and other social ills.

Why Should We Despair?
The Reserve Bank of Fiji has forecast a contraction of the economy by 0.3 per cent in 2009. This follows very low growth of just 0.2 per cent in 2008 and a contraction of 6.6 per cent in 2007.

Exports are projected to decline by 12.2 per cent in 2009. Investment in 2009 is estimated to fall to about 13 per cent of GDP, down from an estimated 15 per cent of GDP in 2008.

In early March 2009 official foreign reserves stood at $674 million, equivalent to around 2.7 months of goods imports. The abrogation of the Constitution is likely to worsen the liquidity situation. The RBF’s introduction of measures to tighten exchange controls on 14 April in order to protect foreign reserves underscores the fragility of our economy.

In April 2009, Standard and Poor’s Rating Services announced that it had revised its outlook on the long-term sovereign credit rating on Fiji to negative from stable. Standard and Poor’s affirmed its ‘B/B’ foreign currency credit ratings on Fiji.

The outlook revision reflects Fiji’s declining international reserves and weak growth prospects. It also reflects a likely rise in external borrowings this year and into the future at a time when the Government’s fiscal flexibility and economic options are diminishing.

The RBF reports that reserves have fallen to US$431 million (7.2 per cent of GDP) in December 2008 from US$618 million at the end of 2007 (or 10.3 per cent of GDP).

They have come under pressure from recent floods that have damaged Fiji’s key earners of foreign exchange: Tourism and sugar. Recessionary conditions in key export markets have also weighed on merchandise exports and remittance flows. These factors may also impair short term. Growth will also be depressed by an uncertain business environment with lower levels of investment.

Recent figures by the International Monetary Fund show that Fiji’s GDP ranking is in the same league as Eritrea, Bhutan and the Central African Republic. We were ranked 150 of the 192 countries listed by the IMF. Zimbabwe was ranked 159, nine places behind Fiji. Not exactly comforting statistics.

You don’t have to be a genius to work out that we are in the bottom 20 per cent of the class – the dunce in the class.

Savenaca Narube until recently the Governor of the Reserve Bank was appointed by the Constitutional Offices Commission. But he was sacked by the army-backed regime.

There is no evidence that the board of the RBF protested against his summary removal. For that matter, there is no evidence that anyone did.

What does it say about us as a nation when senior constitutional office holders can be swept away without not so much as a murmur from the business and financial community? Did anyone stand up and say “No you can’t do this. This man has done nothing wrong? What is his crime?”

Sadly, courage and truth have become rare commodities in this country.

In a report published in April, the Sydney based Lowy Institute for International Policy said “the removal of the respected Reserve Bank Governor will destroy what is left of business confidence and deter potential foreign investors. Fiji faced a serious liquidity crisis even before 10 April; the negative outlook for the economy will be dramatically worse as a result of the actions of President Iloilo and Commodore Bainimarama.”

Fiji has been suspended from the Pacific Islands Forum. The Commonwealth is likely to take a similar decision later in the year. EU aid funds have dried up. Even the normally conservative Japanese Government declined to invite the current regime and its leader to an annual summit with Pacific Island leaders that was held in Hokkaido last month. Our international standing has never been any lower.

The situation has been made worse by the dismissal of the judges and a judiciary which is now even more dysfunctional.

More recently, the regime took over the licensing of lawyers, removing the power to grant licenses to practice from the law society to the Registrar of the High Court, an army-appointed major.

Frank Yourn executive director of the Australia Fiji Business Council said “Both existing business operating in Fiji and prospective investors would be very concerned by this radical development”.

Reacting to the unilateral changes to the Legal Practitioners Act, the president of the Law Council of Australia John Corcoran expressed concern that the changes could be the first step to the “government’s” attempts to control the country’s legal profession by not allowing lawyers who oppose the regime to practice law. He said that “an independent Judiciary and legal profession are vital to the stability of a nation.

“Without an independent legal profession, a crucial ingredient in upholding the rule of law in Fiji would be missing.”

Investors will get no relief from doing business in Fiji without the safeguards of an independent and competent judiciary to adjudicate over commercial disputes, including where government is a party. The level of distrust within and between communities is unprecedented in our history. The rivers of political enmity and suspicion between our leaders run deeper than ever before.

The news is not good. In fact it is positively depressing. And it will get worse. The spin doctors cannot fool us. The facts and figures do not lie. Fiji is falling apart. If we do not stem the tide, Fiji will be a failed state. – fiji uncensored

AN EXPERIMENT IN NATION-BUILDING Part II

Filed under: General — fijiuncensored @ 15:43
Tags: ,

OPINION

  • This is part 2 of the paper GRAHAM LEUNG was to have delivered at the annual Fiji Institute of Accountants Congress convention at the Sheraton Fiji in Nadi on Friday.

The Problem: 
As we look back over the last 39 years, one thing has become clear. Constitution bashing and finding fault in the supreme law has become something of a national past time. Whenever there is a crisis, there is a tendency in some circles to blame the Constitution for the country’s woes and to think that by changing it, we would thereby fix our problems.

May I remind you that the 1970 Constitution produced a Labor Prime Minister with substantial support from the Indo-Fijian community. Similarly the now vilified 1997 Constitution produced a second Labor Prime Minister. And following the last general elections in 2006, it produced a multi-party cabinet with a significant number of Labor ministers in an SDL government. So it is misleading and simplistic to suggest that the Constitution is the cause of our problems. The comment of those who dismiss the Constitution as racist is shallow and simplistic. Context is everything.

The Constitution was not perfect. Reform of some of its parts was work-in-progress. But what we should remember is that every time we criticise and demonise the Constitution, we are contributing to its erosion and the erosion of democracy.

Because it lends the uninformed detractors of the Constitution an excuse to tear it up and to dump it. This is a lesson we must all remember moving into the future. We must stop treating the Constitution as if it were an expendable document that can be chopped and trashed at will.

We must give the Constitution the respect that must be accorded to the supreme law. The lack of respect for the Constitution and a recurring failure to honour the rule of law has been one of the biggest sources of political instability in Fiji.

Time and again our fragile democracy has been hijacked by people who prefer the language of force instead of persuasion. The notion that you can secure real lasting democracy and security through force is misconceived.

It is a wicked lie. The twin evils of racism and corruption will not be eradicated overnight. Neither will they be rooted out by the force of arms.

The best Constitution in the world will not fix our problems. And how have we responded as a people to the rape of democracy?

For whatever reason, the great majority of us have chosen to remain passive, even acquiescent in the face of illegality, hoping that the excesses of the usurpers will soon end, trusting in their vision. Since the first coup staged by Rabuka, we have rewarded and left the usurpers unpunished. We are paying a heavy price for so doing.

So who is responsible for the situation that Fiji is in today?

We all are. Not just the politicians and political leaders, both successful and failed. Not just the corrupt businessmen who support them. Not just the extremists at both ends of the political spectrum. Not only the lawyers and judges who have succumbed to the easier path of acquiescence and revenge. Not just the chiefs who have chosen expediency over what is right. Some religious leaders, members of civil society and the trade union movement must also share some of the blame.

Leaders who have failed us and a culture of selfishness, greed and revenge have also partly led us to where we are today. All of these different elements have worked over the last three decades to weaken and undermine democracy in Fiji.

One day the educated elites in all the professions will have to answer for their silence in the face of despotism and authoritarianism. All of us who have looked the other way and did nothing are as much to blame for our political predicament and economic woes. For not raising our individual and collective voices to condemn the rape of the constitution, the weakening of democratic institutions, of the judiciary, of parliament, the muzzling of the press and the erosion of fundamental freedoms.

Instead of adding voices of reason to the debate on issues of national importance most of us have chosen the easier path of silence and complacency. It is too inconvenient, perhaps even embarrassing to get involved or to take a stand. There is a possible fear of recrimination in some quarters. Some of the reservations about speaking out are understandable. But it is not excuseable.

What should we do? 
We must tell our rulers that we have had enough of leaders who choose the path of force over dialogue, who would govern us by fear instead of persuasion. Who tell us that they know what is good and better for us only because they say so. We need to stand up against the evil of dictatorship.

Because make no mistake it is an evil. If we continue to remain silent in the face of what is taking place we become complicit in the wrongs that are happening. I appreciate there is a fear of retribution and of being singled out. But if we all speak out that will lessen the chances of some being targeted for unfair treatment.

Indifference is the friend of the oppressor. Indifference is not a response in the present crisis which has befallen Fiji. Indifference in the face of the human suffering which affects so many is a denial of the humanity of those that suffer. And we betray our own humanity in the process.

Fiji needs to return to constitutional legitimacy. This will generate hope and confidence. It will restore a framework that will allow for respectful debate and conversations about the way forward. It will bring about political stability and accountability, the necessary preconditions for economic recovery and sustainable long term growth. It will allow the voices of the people, all the people of this country, to be heard.

We need to restore trust at all levels. We need to reject extremism and violence in all its forms. Because violence begets violence.

A coup is not just an act of violence. It is a crime and it can never be justified, whatever the cause. By accepting dictatorship we perpetuate it. The road ahead will be long. We will trip.

But we must stand up again and continue the journey of rebuilding a Fiji of which we can all be proud. The task to be accomplished will not be achieved in our lifetime. But we must start that work today. We cannot delay the job of reconciling ourselves to each other. Within and between races. Within and between religions. Within and between families. We have no choice. The alternative to peace, reconciliation and democracy is too horrible to imagine.

Further conflict, tension and arbitrary rule will bring untold hardship. Historians will remember this dark chapter in the nation’s development as the generation of lost opportunities. Future generations will ask: what did you do to halt the decline? And what will your answer be?

It is sometimes said that we get the leaders we deserve. There is a grain of truth in this. When we reminisce about the past, I think it is fair to say that by and large many of our elected parliamentarians have been fairly uninspiring and unimpressive.

This is partly the result of political party selections typically based on patronage and connections. It has resulted in successive parliaments being dominated by poor leaders, lacking vision and wisdom. Leaders who have not led but divided. Leaders whose ideology has contributed to the destruction, instead of the growth of the nation. Leaders who have sown the seeds of discord and rancour.

And let me say this. They are not confined to any one community or political grouping. And we are reaping a bitter harvest.

The well being of all who live in these beautiful islands is inextricably linked to the ability and willingness of all our leaders to come to terms and deal with one another on the basis of tolerance, dialogue and mutual respect. There is no escaping this simple truth. They must abandon past hatreds. We need to insist that this process commence forthwith. If it is delayed, we will be doomed to become another failed, sad state like Zimbabwe. – fiji uncensored

AN EXPERIMENT IN NATION-BUILDING Part III

Filed under: General — fijiuncensored @ 15:33
Tags: ,

OPINION

  • This is part 3 of the paper GRAHAM LEUNG was to have delivered at the annual Fiji Institute of Accountants Congress convention at the Sheraton Fiji in Nadi on Friday.

Possible Way Forward:
The immediate need is to restore legitimacy and confidence. As a start, the 1997 Constitution must be restored.

Commodore Bainimarama, let our people go. Put down your guns and let us talk. A nation that lives under the cruel tyranny of dictatorship loses its vitality and zest for life.

Legitimacy in the sense of a government broadly acceptable to the people of this country. One that is also able to attract international recognition as well. This might be a caretaker government comprising the political parties, civil society and the military.

I know any suggestion of military involvement is anathema to many. I have my own reservations. But for as long as we have a standing army of significance, they will not disappear overnight. The task of such a government would be to take the country to elections under a new electoral system within agreed time frames. September 2014 is unacceptable. It is too far off. By then the damage to the country would be beyond repair.

What incentives would there be for the military to accept this arrangement.

First, they would require assurances of immunity. This would have to be negotiated according to broad principles, with exceptions. Already, we have allowed a culture of impunity to take root and it must be ended. How it is to be achieved must be left for another day.

Second, financial incentives could be provided with support from abroad to reduce the size of the military.

Third, peacekeeping assignments might be widened as part of our return to good standing in the global community.

Fourth, a refocusing of the military’s role from security to national and community development.

Given the commitment and resources that went into the making of the 1997 Constitution, it would make sense to restore it. Let us remember it was the product of widespread consultation with the people and that it was adopted unanimously by both Houses of Parliament. The only aspect that appears to attract some criticism is the electoral system. So let the political parties and civil society discuss what system would best suit Fiji.

My own thinking is that some form of proportional representation would be best for the country. Because it protects minor parties and ensures that the larger parties do not secure exaggerated majorities.

The military has said it favours a non-racial electoral system. That is possibly not the challenge it once was. Demographics have softened the stance of Fijian political parties in this regard which is why proportional representation makes sense for ethnic minorities in this country.

In the period before elections, there would need to be agreement on the basic issues: the electoral system and government of national unity after the elections. This government would have the responsibility of implementing the reforms agreed to as well as the introduction of a new electoral system.

A political dialogue could determine whether the military might have a role to play in this process. Which brings me to the contentious part : the elections would have to be held under the present electoral system. Otherwise they would not be legal.

It is important to remember that changing the electoral system will not necessarily change ethnic politics. Cultural identity is a strong motivating factor and communities and individuals will still seek ways to express these sentiments.

I raise this merely to address the belief that somehow altering our electoral system will remove ethnic issues from people’s consciousness. It won’t.

As part of this comprehensive political system, consideration might be given to the military being allocated seats in the government of national unity by appointment to the Senate. This would be one way of ensuring that the electoral and other reforms agreed to are effected. But I recognize that the suggestion is fraught with dangers.

Ignoring the military, or seeking to emasculate them overnight is unrealistic. It is unlikely to happen. It will be a slow, gradual process. A portion of those in public service positions may be redeployed to the military. For the rest, demobilization from the military and complete integration in the public service might be the only possible alternative.

Whatever the solutions, the militarisation of the public service has to stop. It blurs the distinction between the military and civil aspects of government. It undermines the ethos of the public service because the chain of command mentality of the military is ill-suited to civilian decision making. It compromises the criteria for the public service when military officers are appointed ahead of career public servants. The end result is a demoralised and dysfunctional public service.

We proceed to elections on the basis of the electoral system under the 1997 Constitution. If we are to move away from the destructive cycles of the past, we must build on what we have.

So let us work within the Constitution to change it with the support of all concerned parties. But let us do so properly and legally following the right procedures. Just as there are no short cuts in life to success, there are no short cuts to making the perfect society.

Going forward, there is a need for genuine tripartite dialogue and co-operation between the government, the private sector, the unions and for the foreseeable future, the military. National objectives, profit and the welfare of workers can be matched.

There will always be tensions – that is the nature of the dynamic and the relationship. But the rebuilding process must begin with some common values of what is right and wrong. What has happened in the past has occurred precisely because sufficient of us have looked the other way and given aid and support to those who would overthrow the established legal order on one pretext or the other.

Our political upheavals have come at great cost in terms of social economic, political and psychological loss. We have had five coups. We recover each time. But each time the recovery is longer and the human spirit weakened further.

I look back and I see a repetition of mistakes, of unexploited potential together with misguided and misconceived opportunism that has returned to haunt us. Our commitment to our narrow partisan interests rather than principle is a failing we need to reflect on deeply.

It is only invoked when convenient to camouflage another agenda. An entire generation has grown up with the example of the last two decades. It is right to take what is not yours. To use force. To break the law when it suits you. That right is might; that bad behaviour will be rewarded and good behaviour will go unrecognized. No one should be surprised or shocked at the kind of society we have become. We have allowed it to happen.

We must act together now to put Fiji back on track. Because as the country drifts we become more isolated and the economy collapses. The lack of accountability nationally promotes arbitrariness and mediocrity in all spheres of life. There is a widespread loss of hope and hopelessness. The level of frustration and resentment grows by the day. The spirit of Fiji is broken. It is a time of extraordinary pain. The human impulse to create, to enjoy and to live has been dampened.

Double standards are practiced resulting in further loss of morale and confidence. That leads to abuse whether of office, of rights, of the public trust. We see it already before our eyes. The exceptions to retirement ages for the Commissioner of Police and the Commander of the RFMF, the release of the killers of Sakiusa Rabaka on CSO, the censorship of the media that prompts the government spokesperson to say the quality of reportage has improved, the use of FICAC to target certain people and not others.

The list is endless. It will grow longer if this situation is allowed to continue.

So the rebuilding that needs to be done is quite clear. Restoration of the Constitution, agreement on elections and the surrounding issues, possible involvement by the Military in the process, agreement on the broad changes including the electoral system, and a government of national unity to implement reform. It will require goodwill and commitment to doing what is right for Fiji and all its people. We have no choice. Time is running out for Fiji and for all of us who call this place home.

More broadly we the people have to face up to our own responsibilities. We cannot shirk them. We must tell our leaders to stop the bickering and the rancour. We are weary of division and polemic. Our spirit is wounded and our souls yearn for real leaders of humility and integrity who will take us to the promised land.

We must be careful of false prophets in our midst. Leaders who divide and conquer must be rejected. We do not need them. They pretend to pray at the altar of high principle but instead feed from the trough of self interest and hypocrisy. If we accept and acquiesce in what is happening around us, how then can we complain about the path the country is following?

So I am suggesting that those of us who say that they truly love this nation, must be prepared to put their money where their mouth is. To stand up and be counted.

If I have succeeded in leaving you in a somber and reflective mood, my time here today would not have been wasted.

Hope in Fiji is all but dead. Hope does not happen by chance. It must be created. All of you, by virtue of your training and education, are well placed to play a big part in restoring hope to this country. You can choose to create hope or you can continue to stifle it.

When you leave this salubrious and indulgent gathering, the problems and challenges that you left behind will once again confront you. Poverty, high unemployment, political uncertainty and an economy in freefall. They will not disappear.

Will you say that it is for others to fix and pretend they are not yours to address as well? Will you remain an idle bystander while others destroy all that our respected leaders who led us to independence have put together? Will you avoid confronting the challenges facing Fiji today and upon which our very survival as a nation depends? Or will you answer the call to national service? – fiji uncensored

AN EXPERIMENT IN NATION-BUILDING Part IV

Filed under: General — fijiuncensored @ 15:23
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OPINION

  • This is the final part of the paper GRAHAM LEUNG was to have delivered at the annual Fiji Institute of Accountants Congress convention at the Sheraton Fiji in Nadi on Friday.

So I end where I began. Fiji is falling apart. This is not an exaggeration. The choices you make and the decisions you take when this conference ends may determine whether Fiji continues its journey of ruin and misery or whether we will wake up to a new dawn of hope and opportunity.

The time for burying our heads in the sand is over. It is a time for action. We cannot carry on and pretend that all is well in our beleaguered country. We all know what the problems are. If we are allowed to engage in unconditional and open dialogue over these issues I am hopeful that there are many men and women of goodwill out there who have the wisdom and the resolve to solve Fiji’s problems.

My fellow citizens, today I challenge you to search deeply into your conscience. Each and every one of you can make a difference. It is not an answer to say that those who are taking us on this course of madness and disaster bear the force of arms.

No force however strong can ever be a substitute for reason, logic and consensual governance. History has taught us that regimes which rule through fear and the blunt instrument of coercion will fail.

Franklin Roosevelt the only United States President to win four consecutive terms said “Happiness lies not in the mere possession of money, it lies in the joy of achievement, in the thrill of creative effort” and I might add, in the service of one’s neighbour and one’s country.

We should act now. Without further delay. For the Fiji we all love lays wounded and bleeding.

The words of the national anthem that speak of “a land of freedom hope and glory” ring hollow. Where is the freedom when the press is muzzled? What hope is there to anticipate when all the signs are of economic stagnation and ruin? What glory is there when we are being led by rulers who revel in duplicity, the politics of division and double speak? The time for action has surely arrived.

There is no room for timidity and ambivalence in the face of confronting evil. It is time to break out of the cycle of coups and violence as a way of solving our problems. It is time to reach a new and enduring understanding through respectful dialogue. It is time for the real leaders and the people of this country to put their hands up and say enough is enough. And that includes all of you in the audience today.

Together we can help redefine the destiny of these islands. Together we must work to restoring hope to our hearts and to our families. It is only with political stability, a common vision and respect for the rule of law that we can build a prosperous Fiji which is home to all of us. A Fiji based on respect, equality and dignity for all its people.

My dear countrymen, no other generation of citizens has been bestowed the sacred responsibility of preserving the future of our beloved country. That responsibility has been placed on your shoulders. That rare opportunity and privilege is yours. There will be no second chance. – fiji uncensored

Australian financial aid for education

Filed under: General — fijiuncensored @ 15:10
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PRESS RELEASE

AUSTRALIA is providing approximately $151,000 to the Ministry of Education to assist with the continuing rehabilitation efforts resulting from the damage caused by floods in January this year.

This is in addition to the $756,000 Australia provided to the Ministry of Education in February this year.

In the latest funding, $32,000 will be used to repair damaged classrooms and replace teaching material in six Early Childhood Education (ECE) centres. The remaining funds of $118,897 will cover annual school levies (i.e. those levies charged by school committees) for approximately 1780 students from 15 schools in the Western, Northern and Central divisions.

Provision for annual school levies is aimed at assisting families, who have suffered financial hardship as a result of the floods, to ensure their children continue to attend classes.

The Ministry of Education will disburse the funds to the individual school management committees. – fiji uncensored

June 9, 2009

The ‘naked emperor’

Filed under: General — fijiuncensored @ 09:35
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NEWS

By Michael Field Stuff.co.nz

AN Auckland legal expert claims Fiji is now being led by a “naked emperor” who has no authority to be president.

Auckland QC Grant Illingworth, writing in the Auckland District Law Society’s LawNews, has been critical of Fiji’s de facto president, Josefa Iloilo.

Illingworth said that at Easter dictator Voreqe Bainimarama overthrew the constitution, which saw Iloilo lose his job and presidency.

Iloilo then re-appointed himself as president, despite having no authority to do so.

“We learn at a young age that hauling ourselves up by our own bootstraps makes us no taller,” Illingworth said.

“For Iloilo it may well have had the reverse effect: he lost his official status and was reduced to being a mere usurper, an unlawful pretender to the throne.

“And in claiming to be clothed with a new form of self-invented authority, Mr Iloilo made the same foolish mistake as the naked emperor in Hans Christian Anderson’s famous fairy tale.”

He said the army, police and civil servants of Fiji had not realised “the emperor has no clothes”.

Illingworth added: “But a warning is needed: if the populace give their tacit support to the usurper, there is a danger that they may eventually be taken to have clothed him with their approval.”

That, he said, would be a tragedy for Fiji. – fiji uncensored

June 8, 2009

Former Commonwealth SG disappointed with Bainimarama abandoning democracy

Filed under: General — fijiuncensored @ 10:29
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NEWS

FORMER Commonwealth secretary-general Sir Don McKinnon says he is disappointed that Voreqe Bainimarama is moving away from democracy in Fiji.

Sir Don, who described Bainimarama as a complex workaholic who came out of the navy to command Fiji’s military forces, said Fiji’s regime leader had felt let down by the Qarase Government.

“Bainimarama believes there is no other way out of the current situation than to delay elections but it is critical to take people with you,” he told TVNZ.

Sir Don said Bainimarama had to be more positive about taking the rest of Fiji with him because if the public did not get a say in Fiji’s future, they could “get quite agitated”.

“Democracy comes in many forms [but] the most important thing is for the people to have a say.” – fiji uncensored

June 5, 2009

ADB predicts worse than expected economic decline, Vanuatu benefits from Fiji’s loss

Filed under: General — fijiuncensored @ 20:50
Tags: , , ,

NEWS

THE Asian Development Bank says Fiji is likely to experience a worse than expected decline in economic growth.

Speaking on ABC radio this week, ADB’s Pacific economist Craig Sugden said there was always the knowledge that Fiji would face problems, especially with floods earlier this year, but they did not understand how severe these would be.

“[The contraction] are a bit bigger than we had expected. In addition, the political developments in March are a negative, in that they seem to [have] deferred some tourists. So overall, we’re expecting a significant contraction,” Sugden said.

“The latest official projection is a contraction and -0.3 per cent. We’re looking at a noticeably larger contraction.”

Sugden said Fiji’s loss in tourism was Vanuatu’s gain. “Vanuatu had developed a good economic management last year, built around tourism and real state development. And we expected that to continue into this year, albeit at a slightly lower rate.

“But what has happened has been the problems in Fiji Islands appear to be a positive for Vanuatu, so tourists instead of going to Fiji are going to Vanuatu and we’re now seeing quite a marked increased in tourism numbers, which will keep the economy going much faster than we originally expected.” – fiji uncensored

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