#header-inner img {margin: 0 auto !important; #header-inner {text-align: Center ;} Fiji Coupfourpointfive: 2009-04-26

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Martial law wipes out Fiji's Media Freedom Day

By Violet Cho: Pacific Media Centre

Media organisations and newspapers worldwide are ready to mark World Media Freedom Day tomorrow - but this important day has been censored in Fiji because of the military regime’s decree banning media and political meetings.

Sources at the University of the South Pacific, where an annual free speech debate was due to be co-hosted with the Fiji Media Council, said plans had to be abandoned.

“The journalism programme was working with the Fiji Media Council to organise activities as it has done through the years, but decided against it after advice from the Information Ministry,” said one organiser.

“We had already held a meeting but could not hold a follow-up meeting to continue with preparations.

“We were told that all meetings to do with the Media Council should be deferred until after period of the 30-day emergency regulations expired.

“We were further advised to familiarise ourselves with the emergency regulations.”

The Fiji Media Council, comprising the country’s leading news media organisations, was also ordered to cancel its monthly meeting.

“Media freedom is seriously curtailed in Fiji,” said TV3 reporter Sia Aston, an AUT graduate who was recently expelled from Fiji.

“Reporters there have to carry out their jobs with members of the military and police within their offices censoring stories.

“International media are given selective access to government ministers and officials, banned from attending sensitive press conferences, monitored heavily while in Fiji and told that any reporting perceived as negative will not be tolerated.

“That is not what I would consider media freedom.”

In a statement marking Media Freedom Day, the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), said governments guilty of "censorship, hypocrisy, and neglect are putting press freedom to the sword world-wide”.

The president of IFJ, Jim Boumelha, said: “Governments around the world are failing to defend press freedom and the rights of journalists.

“And in the process they endanger civil liberties and democracy.”

According to the IFJ, journalists worldwide are being targeted in justification of security and counter-terrorism by authorities.

“Even democratic states are putting in place laws that constrain the exercise of journalism,” says Boumelha.

“Snooping on investigative reporters and forcing journalists to reveal sources of information is increasing. As a result, media work in an intimidating atmosphere in which censorship, direct and indirect is becoming routine.”

The Pacific regional media event, “Building courage under fire”, originally planned for Fiji has been moved to Apia, Samoa, because of martial law.

The regional event, with aim of boosting Pacific journalism’s ability to counter pressure on media freedom is being organised by the Pacific Freedom Forum, UNESCO and the Secretariat of the Pacific Community.

The meeting starts on Wednesday and will run until May 8.

Other regional World Media Freedom Day activities include:

* Malaysia: According to International Freedom of Expression (IFEX) exchange, Independent Journalism in Malaysia is organising a public forum on “media under Najib: Hope or Disappointment?” at the Central Market in Kuala Lumpur on May 10.

* Philippines: The National Union of Journalists in the Philippines (NUJP) plans a wreath-laying ceremony on May 3 in memory of journalists who have been killed.

* Thailand: The Southeast Asian Press Alliance (SEAPA) and UNESCO Bangkok is organising an event to highlight the importance of freedom of expression and media independence after conflicts and crises ranging from Cambodia under the Khmer Rouge regime to the Philippines under Marcos.

Democracy group warns of dire times

The chairman of the Movement for Democracy group has warned of difficult times for Fiji, following its suspension from the Pacific Islands Forum.

Fiji was today suspended from the Forum, after Frank Bainimarama's regime failed to come up with an election date at midnight last night.

Attar Singh from the Fiji based Democracy group says Fiji's suspension was to be expected.

"The decision to suspend the country's rulers is not surprising given the outcomes of the Forum Leaders' meeting on January 27, 2009, which required the regime to announce a definite timetable to hold free and fair elections by December 2009."

However, instead of following the Fiji Court of Appeal ruling of 9th April, which had given the nation a window of opportunity by ruling that a caretaker government be appointed to facilitate elections, the Constitution was abrogated the following day and the interim regime re-instated," Mr Singh said.

He said the Forum's decision means the beginning of more difficult and worsening times for all in Fiji.

"It will also set in motion similar actions by others particularly the Commonwealth. We have continuously called for quick return to Constitutionality since December, 2006 knowing that unless we did that our people will suffer in several ways."

"We have not only lost democratic governance but with it, our fundamental freedoms particularly of expression and assembly and the hard earned respect of the international community."

Mr Singh said Fiji's economy continues to deteriorate and the 20 percent devaluation of the Fiji dollar had sharply increased inflation prices of goods and services including basic food items.

"Jobs have been lost, wages are stagnant and many businesses are either closing or reviewing their operations. Workers face arbitrary dismissals, retirements and redundancies with little choice of alternative employment. Only this week 2301 civil servants over the age of 55 were forced into
retirement on April 30th. And this number will increase as workers in the civil service reach 55 years of age."

"This is causing acute pain and suffering for ordinary people, who are struggling to meet basic needs such as putting food on the table and educating their children."

Mr Singh said all these trends could have been reversed if the regime and its advisors "heeded our repeated calls or simply followed the Court of Appeal ruling".

"But I think we can still reverse current trends and restore hope if we all take stock and change course. But we do not have any more time to waste. We need to act now."

"To that end I am encouraged by the the Forum Chair's announcement that the Forum stands ready to assist us return to democratic rule. I therefore call on the regime and its advisors to help save us from further pain and suffering that will result from isolation," Me Singh said.

"Let us all meet to together find our way out with the help of the international community."

Forum statement on suspension of Fiji

The decision everyone was expecting - Fiji's suspension from the Pacific Leaders Forum - was officially announced today.

Below is a statement from the leader of the Forum, Niue Premier, Toke Talagi:

“It is with considerable sorrow and disappointment that I confirm the suspension of the current military regime in the Republic of the Fiji Islands, from full participation in the Pacific Islands Forum, with immediate effect from 2 May 2009.”

Hon. Talagi added: “This difficult decision, agreed unanimously between all Forum leaders at our Retreat in Port Moresby on 27 January 2009, responds to Commodore Bainimarama’s failure to address constructively by 1 May 2009 the expectations of Forum Leaders to return Fiji to democratic governance in an acceptable time-frame, in addition to responding to a range of other concerns (the Port Moresby Leaders’ Retreat Decisions are attached). It is also particularly timely given the recent disturbing deterioration of the political, legal and human rights situation in Fiji since 10 April 2009.”

“These measures respond directly to the confirmation by the military regime in Fiji, particularly through its recent actions, that it rejects fundamental Forum obligations and core principles, as outlined in the Biketawa Declaration and other key guiding documents of the Forum. Reflecting on the Leaders Vision Statement of 2004, this involves cooperation through the Forum to create a Pacific region respected for the quality of its governance, the sustainable management of its resources, the full observance of democratic values and for its defence and promotion of human rights.”

The Forum Chair confirmed: “This decision does not amount to the expulsion of Fiji, as a nation, from its membership of the Forum. That proposition has not been considered by Leaders in their deliberations. As such, the Pacific Islands Forum remains a 16-member body and the Republic of the Fiji Islands continues to be part of the Forum group of nations, albeit with participation of the current regime suspended until further notice.”

“A regime which displays such a total disregard for basic human rights, democracy and freedom has no place in the Pacific Islands Forum. Nevertheless, we look forward with great hope to Fiji’s earliest possible return to constitutional democracy, through free and fair elections, when we will be able to restore this country to its rightful place among our family of Pacific Islands Forum nations. The Forum, as always, stands ready to assist Fiji’s return to democratic rule, concerned, in particular, by the increasingly negative and wide-ranging impacts of events over the past two and a half years on the people of Fiji,” Hon. Talagi reaffirmed.

The Leaders’ decision involves implementation of two specific targeted measures, taken in accordance with the 2000 Biketawa Declaration. The first involves suspension of participation by the leader, ministers and officials of Fiji from all Forum meetings and events arranged by the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat, including the annual Pacific Islands Forum Leaders Meeting. The second measure involves ensuring the military regime in Fiji does not benefit directly from Forum regional cooperation initiatives or any new financial or technical assistance, other than assistance toward the restoration of democracy.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Tourists flee from noisy Police Crusade

The start of a Police Crusade on Wednesday night inside a large shed next to the Coloi-Suva Police Post, abruptly ended the holidays of many tourists - and even some locals, who were unwinding at the Resort bar after a hard day's work.

Sources have told Coupfourpointfive the tourists were guests at the Raintree Lodge Eco-tourist Resort, but they checked out of the idyllic holiday spot because the noise from the Crusade was intolerable.

Locals at the bar also found the dn coming from the Crusade intolerable and left the resort.

Sources say the tourists shook their heads in disbelief at what was happening with the Crusade, which was being led by Police Commissioner, Esala Teleni.

The Resort owner was also said to be from the loss of business.

The three-day Crusade ends tonight.

Suva Private Hospital raises fees

The 20 percent devaluation of the Fiji dollar has forced the Suva Private Hospital to increase its fees and charges for all services effective from today.

Several copies of the following notice have been posted in the Hospital's public areas:

To our valued customers of SPH. It is with deep regret that Suva Private Hospital has been forced to increase its fees as of 1 May 2009 in response to recent events in Fiji. This decision has been made so SPH can continue to provide you, our valued customer, with high quality, locally based private healthcare services.

Your ongoing support is very important to SPH

Thank You

SPH Managemnt


It's not clear how big the increase in fees and charges will be.

The hospital is owned by COLONIAL and has been operating since 2000.

It was also the only private hospital in Suva until the end of last year, when a group of prominent local doctors opened one.

Air Fiji to shut down

The financially troubled domestic airline, Air Fiji, has decided to permanently shut down its entire operations from today.

The airline was in financial trouble even before the entry of Air Pacific's subsidiary, Pacific Sun, into the domestic market more than three years ago.

In recent months, Air Fiji has been struggling to fly its planes. The airline has been unable to pay the salaries of its staff or pay its fuel supplier. All its planes were grounded for three weeks - the public was told it was due to mechanical problems.

Cancellations or delays of flights have been recurring right up to today.

Sources have told Coupfourpointfive that staff were supposed to get their pay last Thursday, but they still haven't been paid.

Staff took a 15 percent pay cut soon after the December 2006 coup.

Air Fiji is jointly owned by the Government of Tuvalu and a Chinese company.

Frank's plea to NZ and Australia

by Graham Davis - The Australian

Fiji's military leader, Frank Bainimarama, has proposed a summit meeting with Australia and New Zealand to try to resolve the impasse over his refusal to hold elections for another five years.

With the expiration of the deadline today for Commodore Bainimarama to announce an election date this year or face suspension from the Pacific Islands Forum, the dictator has defiantly said his own agenda stands.

"It is not going to happen. There will be no elections until September 2014," he said.

Commodore Bainimarama said an election this year would restore the "racist" government of former prime minister Laisenia Qarase, whom he deposed at gunpoint in 2006.

"Qarase is finished. He will only return over my dead body," he insisted. But the Fijian Prime Minister wants to map out a way forward to rebuild Fiji's shattered relationship with its traditional partners and has challenged the Australian and New Zealand leaders to confront him in person.

"I would like to see Kevin Rudd and John Key face to face so I can explain things clearly to them about the changes we need to bring about," Commodore Bainimarama said.

Stressing that the summit should be "immediate", the Fijian leader expressed frustration about the attitude of Australia and New Zealand to his attempts to purge Fiji of racism and undertake electoral reform before elections in 2014.

"That's the sad part about it. I don't think the international community much appreciates what's happening here.

"They need to come and find out," he said.

Commodore Bainimarama was speaking after Fiji suffered fresh political upheaval early last month, when the Fiji constitution was abrogated, a clampdown launched on dissent and the media, and President Josefa Iloilo said elections would be delayed until September 2014.

Fiji faces becoming the first member to be suspended from the 16-nation Pacific Islands Forum.

In a wide-ranging interview with The Australian, Commodore Bainimarama was both conciliatory and pugnacious.

He predicted that the forum would baulk at suspending Fiji in spite of sustained lobbying from Australia and New Zealand.

He announced that the month-long state of emergency imposed in Fiji would be extended, including media restrictions.

And he repeated allegations that Australia was spying on Fiji and tapping his telephones.

He revealed that his long-term plans to produce a multi-racial democracy included the restoration of the Queen as Fiji's head of state.

On his summit proposal, Commodore Bainimarama called on Canberra and Wellington to drop their insistence on an election in Fiji this year.

"That will only ensure the return of the racist government I overthrew in 2006. We need to get rid of racism in the next five years and then have elections that people recognise will bring about true democracy in Fiji."

Commodore Bainimarama said he was prepared to give the Australian and New Zealand leaders a "cast-iron guarantee" that elections would be held in 2014, but not before.

Anticipating their response that he had broken a pledge to hold elections this year, Commodore Bainimarama denied that it was ever a formal undertaking.

"The Tongan Prime Minister, who was chairman of the Pacific Islands Forum, came to me for an informal chat and said 'Look, there's a lot of pressure on us and on you to set a date for elections. Why don't you come up with 2009?' So I said, 'If we want to change that, we can talk about it later on'. I thought it was something we could discuss, a possibility, not something set in stone," Commodore Bainimarama insisted.

The military chief said he did not believe the forum would proceed with its threat to suspend Fiji.

"No one has ever been suspended from the forum, and I just can't see it happening. It's beyond its mandate to suspend a member nation. In fact, if it was up to me, we would have removed Australia and New Zealand because they're putting undue pressure on the Pacific islands and that's not how we operate in the Pacific," Commodore Bainimarama said.

The region's elder statesman, Papua New Guinea's Prime Minister Michael Somare, warned on Tuesday that he was running out of patience with Commodore Bainimarama's regime, and the forum had no choice but to suspend Fiji if it failed to meet today's deadline.

But the Fijian leader said Sir Michael "would be thinking twice" about telling member countries of the need to do so.

"Sir Michael Somare and Fiji have a very wonderful, strong relationship going back to the days when he and Ratu Mara (the founder of modern Fiji) were friends. That relationship will remain," he said.

Commodore Bainimarama appealed to his fellow island leaders not to be swayed by Australia and New Zealand.

"Fiji was one of the initiators of the forum. Why would they want to suspend Fiji? Is there killing on the roadside? Why suspension, just because we don't go along with what the Australians and the Kiwis want?"

He also asked his fellow leaders to consider, in their deliberations, supportive comments last week to a US congressional hearing by a Samoan member of the congress, Eni Faleomavaega.

He told US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton that Australia and New Zealand were making "nasty accusations" against Fiji and "acting with a heavy hand" about a "situation that is more complex than it appears".

Ms Clinton promised to examine Mr Faleomavaega's complaints and acknowledged Australia and New Zealand as the source of much of the US's information about Fiji.

"She should listen to his advice," Commodore Bainimarama said, expressing his hope for a change in US policy.

"There's someone who understands what's happening in Fiji. At least she will have somebody else besides Australia and New Zealand to listen to."

Commodore Bainimarama also said he was unfazed by threats to move the forum secretariat from Suva, Fiji's capital.

"There's no need to move the forum headquarters, but I guess if they come to that decision, we'll assist them. I don't think it's going to happen."

In his interview with The Australian, the military chief also announced that Fiji's month-long state of emergency, due to expire on May 10, would be extended.

The clampdown has seen the media muzzled and a prominent indigenous nationalist, Iliesa Duvuloco, detained for allegedly distributing pamphlets calling for a military uprising.

"We want this calm to continue for a while. The emergency regulations were brought in entirely for media censorship to ensure calm. I'm very worried about people like Duvuloco inciting people to rise up against the military and the Government of the day," Commodore Bainimarama said.

He repeated allegations previously made by his Attorney-General, Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum, that Australia has been spying on Fiji.

He said he had personally confronted Foreign Minister Stephen Smith with evidence that his telephone calls had been tapped in breach of Fiji's laws.

"We had to caution Stephen Smith about spying on us, that this was illegal in Fiji, and in that meeting he didn't say anything. He didn't deny or admit it, but I took that as confirmation, bugging our phones and listening to our conversations."

But the military chief described it as an irritant, and said it had not made him more cautious about what he said on the phone.

"I really don't give a damn what they hear," he said.

The Fijian leader outlined some of his plans, including closer ties with China and India, which have replaced Australia and New Zealand as Fiji's confidants and evident means of support.

Confirming that Chinese aid to Fiji had risen dramatically, he said: "Yes, the Chinese are giving us money. We have a wonderful relationship with China and we're trying to build on that. They're very sympathetic and understand what's happening here, that we need to do things our own way."

Commodore Bainimarama said his main task in the next five years before an election was to promote the notion of racial equality over the indigenous supremacist agenda of the government he deposed.

Pointing to recent high-level Indo-Fijian appointments, including the governor of the Reserve Bank, Sada Reddy - who replaced an indigenous Fijian - the military chief said: "My vision for Fiji is one that is free of racism. That's the biggest problem we've had in the last 20 years and it needs to be taken out.

"It's the lies that are being fed to indigenous Fijians that's causing this. We need to get rid of Qarase and everything associated with the 2000 coup and begin entirely on a new path."

The military chief envisaged that when democracy was eventually restored in five years, Fiji would ask the Queen to resume her position as head of state. The country declared itself a republic during the first coups of 1987. "I'm still loyal to the Queen - many people in Fiji are," he said, acknowledging her photograph above his desk. "One of the things I'd like to do is see her become Queen of Fiji again."

Police officers being mistreated by Teleni

Information has emerged over the mistreatment of police officers, under Police Commissioner, Esala Teleni.

Sources have told Coupfourpointfive of two incidents, where Teleni sacked officers because he was angry.

The latest incident happened over the Easter weekend. Since April 10, officials from the Interim Government’s Ministry of Information have been allowed to enter media newsrooms and censor all news.

Every official designated to a particular newsroom is accompanied by a policeman in full uniform.

Sources have told Coupfourpointfive that on Easter Saturday (11th April), senior police officers were looking for officers to accompany Ministry of Information Censors to the different newsrooms.

Police Director of Operations, Waisea Tabakau and his deputy Irami Raibe were on duty at Central Police Station on that day.

Coupfourpointfive has been told that Police Commissioner Esala Teleni, only allowed officers who had knowledge of how a newsroom operates, to be assigned to duties with the Censors. But being the Easter long weekend, Tabakau and Raibe couldn’t find the people they needed.

Tabakau was told that the only ones on duty that had some know-how about the media, were officers of the Special Branch. So he assigned them to accompany the Censors. The Special Branch officers do not wear police uniforms while on duty and are always in plain clothes.

According to sources, the Police Public Relations Officer, Ema Mua(a former Radio Fiji reporter), told the interim government’s Permanent Secretary for Information, Lieutenant-Colonel Neumi Leweni, that the Special Branch officers would accompany the Censors.

Neumi Leweni then called Esala Teleni, to tell him that Special Branch officers were to work with the Information Ministry Censors.

Our sources say immediately after hearing this, Teleni ordered that his
Commissioner’s vehicle be diverted to the Central Police Station (CPS).

At CPS, Teleni went straight to the operations room, told Waisea Tabakau and Irami Raibe that he did not want Special Branch officers to be on duty with the Censors, and verbally sacked them. He then told them to leave the operations room immediately.

Our sources say that after Teleni left and was on the road to Navua again, Waisea Tabakau called Neumi Leweni and told him what had just happened. Neumi Leweni then called Esala Teleni and spoke to him about the issue. And before the end of Easter Saturday, Waisea Tabakau and Irami Raibe were re-instated.

Sources say this has been Esala Teleni’s modus operandi of shooting from the hip. They say he treats his officers like dogs and wants to show that he is the only one who is allowed to have the loudest bark.

Before Easter, Esala Teleni verbally sacked a CID officer who was in charge of investigations into two journalists who allegedly broke the Public Emergency Regulations.

Sources say the officer was sacked because he could not find evidence to charge Fiji TV's Edwin Nand and Pita Ligaula of PACNEWS.

The officer was told to go home, but returned a few days later.

Fiji Times Columnist responds

Dear Editor

I was inundated with calls from many people that I know of alerting me of a post on your blog, on Sunday 19th April, where a reader enquired why my weekly column published every Saturday, was missing in the newspaper’s edition of Saturday 18th April.

Your reader posed a question as to whether I had a one-track mind of being critical against the Interim Government, Mahendra Chaudhry and the Fiji Labour Party, and could not think of anything else or a topical issue affecting the lives of people.

To correct this perception, I did write an opinion (and did not lose my appetite as it is perceived). And I wrote about the problems facing the cane farmers and provided evidence as to why they cannot afford an 160% increase in the price of fertilizer even over a five-year period, as proposed by Dr Mahendra Reddy in his opinion (Getting it right now – Fiji Times Saturday 4th April).

And in conformity with a request by the Fiji Times e-mailed to me five days after the promulgation of emergency regulations, the opinion was not critical of the Interim Government or any politician but written after the Fiji Times of Tuesday 14th April highlighted on its front page that farmers need $13 million this season for cane planting.

The opinion was e-mailed to the Fiji Times on Friday 17th April as usual. But it did not appear on page 12 of Saturday’s newspaper (18th April). Instead an article about Hollywood actor Mel Gibson’s marriage woes was published.

Upon enquiry I was informed that the Department of Information’s Censor team had directed that the opinion be pulled out and not published. Similarly, another opinion scheduled to be published on Saturday 25th September was pulled out by the Censor Team from the Department of Information.

This opinion was about the recent increase in the price of fertilizer and provided facts in terms of dollar value to counter Sugar Commission Chairman John May’s theory that farmers would still benefit because devaluation would increase the cane price by $10 a tonne. This is absolutely incorrect for in the case of 12,366 or 66% of farmers who produce an average of 200 tonnes of cane every season.

I am unable to establish the identity of the editor or team members of this blogsite. However, in the interest of ethical media standards that your blogsite professes to uphold and practice (as prescribed on your home page), I hope my explanation is posted to clear all misconceptions.

KAMAL IYER
Editor's Note - Refer to reader's letter on the blog, dated April 19, headlined Columnists Affected By Heavy Censorship

Air Pacific workers to get pay cut

Fiji’s international airline, Air Pacific is in financial doldrums as the effects of the military coup, deterioration of Fiji’s economy and the global financial crisis take a serve toll on its operations.

Sources have told Coupfourpointfive that the chief executive of Air Pacific, John Campbell, met with the Air Pacific worker's union, to discuss proposals to implement a salary cut of ten percent for all workers and also reduce the working week to four days.

This means that apart from taking a 10 percent reduction in their salaries, the workers will have to work for only 32 hours per week instead of the normal 40 hours.

Sources say an eight hour reduction in working hours is in itself a 20 percent reduction in salary, and a 10 percent salary cut will mean that workers will have their weekly pay packets reduced by a massive 30 percent.

Air Pacific has been experiencing a drastic reduction in income due to a dramatic fall in passenger numbers. This has been constant for some months now despite the Fiji Visitors Bureau’s marketing efforts, spending millions of dollars to attract tourists.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Forced retirees claim discrimination

Final farewells have been held in the last two days for civil servants who’ve been forced to retire.

As of 4.30pm today, anyone over 55 were to bid their colleagues farewell for the last time.

The only exception to the new protocol are the 9 post holders specified in the State Services Decree - they include Army Commander Voreqe Bainimarama, who is allowed to work for 10 more years before retirning at 65, in 2019.

The Commodore turned 55 on Monday but is exempt from the new decree and gets to continue receiving his salary. As reported earlier, the interim prime minister is expected to earn more than $739,000 in salary and Fiji National Provident Fund contributions, based on his current annual salary of $96,000.

Coupfourpointifve sources say workers who’ve been made to retire this week, regard the forced retirement as discrimination. While some 2301 civil servants will wake up tomorrow trying to scratch the bottom of the barrel to meet mortgage commitments, loan repayments, and to educate their children, Bainimarama will have no such worries.

Note - the number of workers forced to retire was originally said to be 1,614 before Coupfourpointfive revealed it was much higher - 2301. The figure was later confirmed by the Public Service Commission's permanent secretary, Parmesh Chand.

One of the two teacher unions, the Fijian Teachers Association has already warned of the deterioration in the quality and standard of education.

Ironically, the theme of the World Children's Day in Fiji this year was Uniting Fiji Through Children. How does the interim government expect children to perform this role when they are deprived of quality education by the very powers-that-be, who want to see them live in a better country?

The Ministry of Education has been the hardest hit by the 55 year retirement age rule.

Last week, interim Education Minister, Filipe Bole, was basking in glory when he told Radio Fiji news that 1028 teachers and education officers would retire. He said it was achieved by his Ministry following a directive by the Public Service Commission to reduce the size of the overall size of civil service by 10%. He said a 10% reduction in Education Ministry came to 1005 in terms of numbers but 1028 would leave the Ministry.

The Education Ministry has lost some very important personnel. All deputy permanent secretaries, all divisional heads and education officers have retired. So have many heads of department in many schools as well as principals and head teachers.

One small school on a remote island that had four teachers is now left with one. Another very small village based school on another remote island had two teachers. It now has one.

It is not known how many teachers or civil servants who have been forced to retire, will be re-employed on contracts.

Editor's Note: Public Service Commission Chairman Josefa Serulagilagi has told media that of the 2301 retiring, 192 will be retained on a one-year contract.

Mr Serulagilagi also says they've yet to determine who will be retained for the Finance, National Planning, Tourism, Public Enterprise, Information and Works and Transport ministries.

He says the retirement process will allow Fiji to move towards a leaner civil service and that government services will not be compromised.

Fiji's interim government faces deadline

By Bruce Hill - Pacific Beat, Radio Australia

Fiji faces a deadline of Friday next week to announce it’s holding free elections, or it’ll be kicked out of the South Pacific Forum.

It’s very clear that coup leader Commodore Frank Bainimarama has no intention of meeting that deadline and so within a week the Pacific will be looking at a very different political set-up.

Nations and interest groups are responding to this in a variety of ways; some are vehemently against expelling Fiji because it’s bad for business, might hamper trade links with smaller states such as Tuvalu and Kiribati, or they want to express some sort of regional solidarity.

Australia and New Zealand are as always, being singled out for especially vehement criticism.

Both nations are being roundly condemned for supporting the Westminster parliamentary system, although so far in my 17 year career as a Pacific specialist reporter I’ve yet to meet a single person who has been able to come up with an alternative system, despite constant talk of indigenous Pacific cultures needing different methods of political expression.

Interestingly enough, some of this criticism is coming from within those countries, from academics whose very freedom to criticise their own countries policies is something that wouldn’t be tolerated if they actually lived in Fiji right now.

Blaming Australia and New Zealand for anything that goes wrong in the Pacific has become something of a reflex action lately.

But if you look behind the headlines, at some of the underlying demographic processes that drive the course of history, a very different picture emerges of the relationship between island states and the two major metropolitan countries.

For a pair of neo-colonial, ignorant, un-nuanced, non-indigenous bullies with a political system transplanted from the other side of the planet and imposed at musket-point, Australia and New Zealand are very popular places for Pacific islanders to live.

The only crowds you see outside their High Commissions and Embassies in Pacific countries are there to apply for visas, not to hurl rocks at the windows.

There are thriving Pacific island communities in both countries, which are doing so well financially that their remittances to family back home are helping prop up otherwise fragile island economies.

Pacific people have been voting with their feet for decades now, and the process is irreversible.

Recently, I had a very illuminating conversation with a High School principal in a Pacific island nation.

He told me that his job was to prepare his pupils for life in Australia or New Zealand, not the country they lived in.

He was blunt in his assessment that young Pacific Islanders face a bleak future if they stay at home, and that their future lies in Auckland, Sydney, Brisbane or Wellington.

In fact, it was the parents of the school pupils who were insisting on this, preferring ex-patriot native English speaking teachers over locals, so their children would get a better grounding in English for when they tried to get a job overseas.

While political elites argue about whether Fiji will alter its foriegn policy alignment away from Australia and New Zealand and towards the Chinese, there are very strong economic, educational, sporting, religious, linguistic and cultural forces at work beneath the surface, which are binding ordinary Pacific people even closer to those two countries.

It’s a process which has been going on for a hundred and fifty years or more, starting with the conversion of the Pacific to Christianity, and continuing ever since, so that now the region is Christian, largely English-speaking and with strong family ties to Australia and New Zealand.

In the case of some of the smaller nations, their diaspora populations overseas are as large - or even larger - than the entire home country.

When that sort of demographic fusion happens, talk about some sort of split between island states on one hand and Australia and New Zealand on the other becomes unrealistic.

Whether the ruling elites in some Pacific countries, which clearly resent the influence of Canberra and Wellington will succeed in altering their foreign policy away from it’s present western orientation, remains to be seen.

But if there’s one lesson to be drawn from the history of western nations, it’s that the desires and the power of ordinary people should not be discounted.

Faleomavaega responds to Fiji criticism

The United States congressman Eni Faleomavaega has responded to criticism – some of them from the prime minister of Samoa – for commenting on the crisis in Fiji.

“My response to PM Tuilaepa is not to argue but to clarify the issues so that the public will be better informed,” Faleomavaega said. “In response to the PM’s comment that I should only comment on American Samoa-U.S. relations, with all due respect, the people of American Samoa and their elected leaders have every right to speak out about issues affecting the Pacific region and elsewhere, including Fiji,” Faleomavaega said.

“The U.S. government is based upon a fundamental system of checks and balances, and provides for three separate but equal branches of government. The legislative branch, or the U.S. Congress, makes the law. The Executive branch, headed by the President, carries out the laws, and recommends new ones. The judicial branch, headed by the U.S. Supreme Court, explains and applies the laws.

“The U.S. Congress is made up of the Senate and the House of Representatives. American Samoa is represented in the House. Every Member of the House and Senate is responsible for representing his/her constituents, and each Member of Congress is also assigned to work on Committees in which he/she represents broader U.S. interests.

"My Committee assignments include service on the House Committee on Natural Resources and the House Committee on Foreign Affairs where I serve as the third most senior Democratic Member on both Committees as a result of having been elected 11 times by the people of American Samoa, and having served for over 20 years in the U.S. Congress.

“Currently, I serve as the Chairman of the Foreign Affairs’ Subcommittee on Asia, the Pacific, and the Global Environment. The Subcommittee on Asia, the Pacific and the Global Environment has broad oversight for all U.S. foreign policies affecting Australia, Brunei, Cambodia, China (including Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan), Cook Islands, the Federated States of Micronesia, French Polynesia, Indonesia, Japan, Kazakhstan, Kiribati, Kyrgyzstan, Laos, Malaysia, Marshall Islands, Mongolia, Myanmar, Nauru, New Caledonia, New Zealand, Niue, North Korea, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Philippines, Samoa, Singapore, Solomon Islands, South Korea, Tajikistan, Thailand, Timor-Leste, Tokelau, Tonga, Turkmenistan, Tuvalu, Uzbekistan, Vanuatu, Vietnam, Wallis and Futuna, and Fiji.

" The subcommittee also has jurisdiction over issues relating to the global environment, international fisheries agreements, and the law of the sea.
“Although space will not allow me to respond point by point to PM Tuilaepa’s allegations, I will say that the people of American Samoa who elected me to office know how the U.S. Congress operates, and they understand my role in representing their interests at home and abroad both as their Representative to Congress, and as Chairman of the Subcommittee which has broad jurisdiction for U.S. policy affecting Asia and the Pacific, which specifically includes Fiji. The voters of American Samoa also understand the role of the U.S. Congress in shaping U.S. policy not only domestically, but also in different regions of the world.

“When the U.S. engages in dialogue or when I meet with leaders in the region in my official capacity as a Subcommittee Chairman, it is not ‘meddling’, as the PM suggests. Instead, it is my duty as Chairman to fully engage in the process of bringing about peace and stability, and promoting American interests in this region of the world.

" This is why I have every intention of fulfilling my responsibilities and working closely with Secretary Clinton to develop a more comprehensive U.S. policy for the Pacific Island nations, and to engage in a more pro-active and constructive dialogue with Fiji’s interim government leaders.

“Like any other sovereign nation, the U.S. has every right to have an opinion about Fiji, and it should be noted that the United States has a fully accredited Ambassador and embassy in Fiji. Our U.S. Ambassador in Fiji is also accredited to Tonga, Tuvalu, Kiribati, and Nauru.

“Given the importance of Pacific Island nations to U.S. interests, I stand by my position that Australia or New Zealand should not dictate policy for the U.S. when it comes to relations with Fiji or any other Pacific Island nation. While at times I can appreciate New Zealand and Australia’s efforts, the U.S. cannot afford to abdicate its responsibilities but must participate actively in the process.”
“With respect to PM Tuilaepa’s comments about the hearing with Secretary Clinton which was recently held by the Foreign Affairs Committee, several points need to be explained.

“First, PM Tuilaepa alleged that the hearing was chaired by U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. On the contrary, the hearing was chaired by Congressman Howard Berman, Chairman of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, who invited Secretary Clinton to explain to nearly 50 Members of Congress that make up the Committee what President Barack Obama’s foreign policy will be around the world.

" Next week, I will be providing media outlets throughout the region with DVD copies of the hearing so that the public will be able to view how this process between the U.S. Congress and the President’s Administration works.

“Secondly, the PM’s release states that I told the Committee that Fiji was not ready for democracy and elections. This is misleading. As a member of the Committee, I was given the opportunity to have a five-minute dialogue on whatever subject I wanted to bring to Secretary Clinton’s attention, and I raised three main issues, including the crisis in Fiji, the need for the U.S. to have a more comprehensive policy towards the Pacific Island nations, and the current political and economic situation in West Papua, Indonesia.

"About the crisis in Fiji, what I said is that it makes no sense for the leaders of New Zealand and Australia to demand early elections just for the sake of having elections in Fiji while there are fundamental deficiencies in Fiji’s electoral process, which gave rise to three military takeovers and even a civilian-related takeover within the past twenty years – along with three separate constitutions to govern these islands.

“Thirdly, the PM stated that ‘the leaders of the Forum (not just New Zealand and Australia)…have been unanimous in their condemnation of this military dictatorship in Fiji and now a mere Congressman in Washington is barking up the wrong tree.’ On the contrary, in an April 15, 2009 report, Kiribati’s President Anote Tong says a new approach is needed to sort out Fiji’s problems. He also stated that ‘talks should proceed without input from New Zealand and Australia, because the two countries foreign policies have failed on many levels.’ President Tong also said, ‘Pacific leaders may have a better understanding of how to reach Commodore Frank Bainimarama.’

On April 15, 2009, Radio New Zealand International reported that “some leaders in Pacific nations are calling for more dialogue with Fiji’s interim government but they say input from New Zealand and Australia won’t be helpful, and the failure of the two countries’ foreign policies in bringing about a return to democracy needs to be taken into account.

The report quoted Cook Islands Deputy Prime Minister, Sir Terepai Maoate, as saying, “Fiji’s Commodore Frank Bainimarama feels cornered and bullied…and talks should be pursued.” The Deputy PM continued by stating, “You only have to find a process where there will be trust in the two parties to sit down and go through the process of dialogue.

In a newspaper article dated April 17, 2009, Tonga’s Prime Minister Dr. Feleti Sevele said, “Fiji needs help and the Pacific Islands Forum countries should engage and maintain an ongoing dialogue with the Fijian regime and help them to find their way back to normality.

On April 20, 2009, Solomon Islands Prime Minister Derek Sikua stated, “The Pacific Islands Forum should not rush into implementing sanctions against the Fiji government.

“So, while PM Tuilaepa may prefer to simplify the issue, the reality is Fiji’s history is complex. The legacy of Fiji’s colonial past has never been fully resolved since Fiji gained its independence in 1970. To date, no resolutions have been established to provide balance and fairness to both Fijians and ethnic Indians.

"In fact, Fiji has had four coups in the past 19 years. In the two coups of 1987 and the political crisis of 2000, ethnic tensions played major roles. Indians control many of the small businesses while New Zealand and Australia control major banking and commercial enterprises. However, indigenous Fijians control much of the communal land and military establishment, with serious divisions existing between traditional leaders and lower-ranking Fijians.

“Fijian rural land is mostly leased to Indian sugar cane farmers, and indigenous Fijians view land as their leverage against Indian economic power. In 2000-2002, most of the long-term land leases were due to expire. According to the Congressional Research Service (CRS), ‘many native Fijians feared that the government would impose lease terms that were too long at prices that were too low.’’
“While these factors played into the political crisis of 2000, other analysts, according to CRS, suggest that the coup attempt ‘was also a product of conflicts between western and eastern confederacies of indigenous Fijians, rich and poor.’

“Now, as a result of the 2006 coup, we have a situation where the interim government is insisting that the electoral process be reformed before an election takes place, in order to address, as he states, ‘raced-based’ politics that contributed to coups in 1987 and 2000.

“Regardless of what anyone’s opinion is about these developments, we must work together to resolve this crisis. Now is Australia’s opportunity to demonstrate its leadership by offering constructive dialogue rather than isolating Fiji from the regional community. By the same token, New Zealand’s current policy of disallowing Fiji’s citizens to travel to New Zealand is shameful and should be revised.”
“Recently, I met with one of Fiji’s most celebrated and distinguished public leaders, Mr. Paul Manueli (Rotuman and Samoan descent). Mr. Manueli is a former Commander of the Royal Fiji Military Forces, former Fiji Cabinet minister, former Senator and successful businessman who once served as General Manager of BP in the South Pacific. He is also a graduate of the Sandhurst Royal Military Academy in England. Because of Mr. Manueli’s previous association with Fiji’s military operations years ago, he was denied entry to New Zealand for medical treatment, and instead had to travel to India to have an operation on both of his knees.

“Mr. Manueli is slowly recuperating now, but one can only imagine the hardships that Mr. Manueli and many other Fijian families have had to endure because of New Zealand’s narrow-minded policy regarding travel restrictions for Fijian citizens. This policy on travel to New Zealand should be revised or eliminated entirely.

“Furthermore, while some may perceive my meetings with PM Bainimarama as an endorsement of his policies, this is not so. I met with PM Bainimarama because I believe in active engagement with the leaders of Fiji’s interim government and, despite our differences, every effort should be made to assist and not isolate or condemn Fiji, especially when Fiji is at a critical point in its political, social, and economic development. This to me is the Pacific way of dealing with our neighbors in crisis.

“Bearing in mind the seriousness of this crisis, now is not the time to condemn but to build. Now is not the time for verbal attacks and heavy-handed tactics. As neighbors who care, now is the time for dialogue, for offering new ways to resolve Fiji’s unique problems that are very much unlike any other Pacific Island nation. Now is the time for smart diplomacy and continued engagement which is the hallmark of President Obama and Secretary Clinton’s new foreign policy initiatives, which I totally agree with and fully support,” Faleomavaega concluded.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Sources: nominations cause unrest at QE barracks

The latest coming out of the Queen Elizabeth Barracks is that all is not well in the army's top brass regarding the nominations for judicial appointments.

Reports about Military Chief of Staff, Colonel Mohammed Aziz, having verbally accepted the role of Chief Justice are said to have irked even the staunchest of Frank Bainimarama's officers.

It was thought that this particular issue and the reported tension among the soldiers over the Aziz issue - plus the fact that all those who've reached 55 would have to retire - had been put to rest following the medals that were awarded to Aziz and Land Force Commander Pita Driti.

But the interim government appears to have misclaculated. The unrest continues.

Coupfourpointfive sources say the main reason for the delay in the appointment of a Chief Justice and the new judges - is due to the refusal of the top brass to give their blessing to the names being proposed by the interim Attorney-General and now Acting PM, Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum.

It seems that even the name of Lautoka based lawyer, Ikbal Khan, is causing tension. Khan was suggested by Mr Sayed-Khaiyum.

It's been noted, too, that Chief Registrar Ana Rokomokoti placed a public notice in The Fiji Times on Tuesday (April the 28th)saying the High Court and Appeal Court will stay closed until further notice.

Still on the judiciary, Coupfourpointfive has been told of other ironies. There's been some mirth over this one.

It seems that when the decision was made to sack the judges (the outcome was instantaneous, thanks to the abrogation of the Constitution and the promulgation of the Revocation of Judicial appointments Decree the same day), they weren't even allowed to take their personal effects.

One of the judges hightailed it to the High Court at Lautoka to retrieve what he could but was chased off by the police, who posted guards at the Courthouse.

Two days later, all of the dismissed judges received letters from interim Permanent Secretary for Justice, Pio Tikoduadua. In it, he addresses them as Honourable Justice, a huge faux paus considering they'd been unceremoniously dumped!

Leweni says no word from UN regarding peacekeeping

Fiji's Permanent Secretary for Information, Lieutenant Colonel Neumi Leweni, says there's been no letter from the United Nations, that Fijian soldiers will no longer be used for peacekeeping operations.

Yesterday Australia's Prime Minister Kevin Rudd said the UN will stop using Fijian troops.

Neumi Leweni says they won't believe it until they receive confirmation from the UN.

The Fiji military has had a long relationship with the UN's peacekeeping operations, dating back to 1978.

There are currently 282 Fijian soldiers on UN peacekeeping operations.

Sayed-Khaiyum is acting PM

Fiji's Interim Attorney-General Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum has been appointed Acting Prime Minister of Fiji.

A Department of Information press release on the Fiji Government website says that the interim Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama appointed Sayed-Khaiyum acting PM, while he attends the Asian Development Bank meeting in Indonesia.

The ADB meeting will be held from May 1st to the 7th. Sources have told Coupfourpointfive that travelling with Bainimarama is the Chairman of the Fiji Islands Trade and Investment Board, Francis Narayan, who is a New Zealand citizen, and newly appointed Reserve Bank Governor Sada Reddy.

Coupfourpointfive has been told that the meeting is usually attended by Reserve Bank Governors but Bainimarama insisted on going as well.

Sources say Bainimarama met with the Military Council yesterday afternoon to get their endorsement of Sayed-Khaiyum's acting appointment.

Duvuloco in hospital

Reports coming out of Fiji say nationalist Iliesa Duvuloco, was admitted to hospital last night, after he complained of chest pains.

At least four people detained by the military for allegedly distributing anti-government leaflets, are still in police custody.

The five are alleged to have distributed leaflets calling on the indigenous Fijian community to demand the President to step down as well as for the Fijian people to rise against Bainimarama's regime.

Media workshop relocated to Samoa

A UNESCO sponsored media workshop that was supposed to take place in Suva, has been moved to Samoa.

The workshop themed 'Building Courage under Fire’ was relocated due to the Fiji regime’s imposition of emergency restrictions and repressive clampdown on the media.

“While we felt that Fiji would have been the ideal workshop venue given our theme, we have a responsibility to ensure the funding support we received is used effectively, and this would have been impossible given the emergency regulations in place there,” said Pacific Freedom Forum chair Susuve Laumaea.

Part of the cancelled event in Fiji was a regional UNESCO World Press Freedom Day celebration on May 3.

“The Fiji media situation shows clearly how media freedom affects all Pacific Islanders, not just those who work in the media. We want to look at ways to encourage that understanding, not just in our newsrooms, but across our communities and in the homes and minds of more Pacific people," Laumaea said.

Delegates from Australia, Cook Islands, Fiji, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Palau, Solomon Islands, Tonga, Tuvalu, Vanuatu and the host country at attending the workshop in Apia.

Fiji will be 'dumped from Commonwealth'

Australia is maintaining its hardline on suspending Fiji from the Pacific Islands Forum and the Commonwealth.

Fiji had brought it on itself by suspending the constitution, attacking the independence of judges and curtailing press freedom, said Prime Minister Kevin Rudd after talks with his Papua New Guinea counterpart in Canberra on Tuesday.

"Australia's position is hardline," he told reporters at a joint press conference with Sir Michael Somare.

"You cannot sustain within a family of democracies within the Pacific Islands Forum or a family of democracies within the Commonwealth a government like that of Fiji, which simply treats with contempt the most fundamental democratic institutions and press freedoms of its people."

Mr Rudd said he had discussed the Fiji situation with Sir Michael and PNG was also adopting a strong line.

Fiji had failed to respond to the forum's January declaration calling for it to return to democratic rule and announce a timetable for an election.

"In fact the Fijian government has gone in precisely the reverse direction," he said.
Sir Michael said he'd toughened his stance on Fiji.

The Rudd government declared Fiji under effective military dictatorship after the country's leader Frank Bainimarama assumed more power earlier this month.

The PNG prime minister said he wasn't happy Commodore Bainimarama had suspended the constitution.

"I've always had the door open for Fiji to negotiate with them to make sure the people of Fiji are given an opportunity to stay within the forum," Sir Michael said.

"But I think the exercise they've taken recently, particularly the suspension of the constitution and the dismissal of the judges, leaves no room for others."

Sir Michael agreed if Fiji did not announce a date for elections the Pacific Islands Forum would have "no option" but to suspend the Pacific island nation later this week.

"We have bent over backwards (to help)," he said.

"I have tried my best, but they have decided to suspend the constitution."

Sydney Morning Herald

No word on new Judges and CJ

There's still no sign of when Fiji's judges and chief justice will be appointed.

It's been a week since the magistrates were reappointed.

Sources have told Coupfourpointfive that sisters Nazhat Shameem and Shaista Shameem, have refused to take up any positions under the new legal order.

Coupfourpointfive can also confirm that three judges have refused to accept any appointments under the new legal order. They are Justice Filimoni Jitoko, Justice Jiten Singh and Justice Gwen Philips.

A similar scenario happened after the 2000 coup that toppled Mahendra Chaudhry's government. The abrogation of the Constitution led to the resignations of former Vice-President Ratu Joni Madraiwiwi as High Court judge and Jai Ram Reddy as the President of Fiji Court of Appeal.

While Ratu Joni moved into private practice at Howards, Mr Reddy was re-appointed as Appeals Court President, a few months after constitutional rule and democracy was restored, following the general elections held in August 2001.

He resigned as Court of Appeal President in March 2003 after being appointed as judge on the UN International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda by the UN General Assembly.

Duvuloco plus four still in jail

Nationalist Iliesa Duvuloco is still in police custody at Nabua Police Station where he will spend his sixth night in a police cell, for breaching Public Emergency Regulations, promulgated on April 10 after the Constitution was abrogated.

He is alleged to have distributed leaflets calling on the indigenous Fijian community to demand the President to step down and retire to his chiefly village of Viseisei in Vuda, as well as for the Fijian people to rise against Bainimarama's regime.

Four other people are also in police custody at Lautoka Police Station. They were arrested in connection with the same incident.

Under the Emergency Regulations, people are not allowed to speak against the President's action to abrogate the Constitution or the regime.

It's not clear who the other four are.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Fiji dollar tipped to be devalued again

The Fiji dollar is tipped to be devalued another 5 to 10 per cent.

Coupfourpointfive sources in Suva say talk of a second devaluation is strong - with some suggesting it could happen as early as tomorrow.

The Fiji dollar was devalued 20 per cent by the interim government on April the 15th, five days after the Constitution was abrogated by President Ratu Josefa Iloilo on Good Friday.

Suva sources are confident the Fiji Reserve Bank, at the instigation of the interim government, is to devalue the dollar further.

Critics denounced the first devaluation saying it'll cause further hardship for Fiji's population.

Some business analysts, however, welcomed the devaluation as a positive move for the economy.

Neumi Leweni promoted

The Permanent Secretary for the Ministry of Information, Neumi Leweni, has been promoted to Lieutenant Colonel.

He was promoted yesterday.

Last weekend, interim prime minister and army commander Frank Bainimarama received a Companion of the Order of Fiji medal from the President for Services to Humanity.

Two other senior officers, Land Force Commander Colonel Pita Driti and military law man Colonel Mohammed Aziz were also merited with the Officer of Order of Fiji Awards.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Chaudhry calls for return to democracy

by Michael McKenna -The Australian

Former Fiji prime minister Mahendra Chaudhry yesterday called on military leader Frank Bainimarama to return the South Pacific nation to democracy as the population increasingly suffers rising food prices and worsening social tensions in the face of international isolation.

With Fiji almost guaranteed to be suspended this week from the Pacific Islands Forum, Mr Chaudhry defied a press and political crackdown on dissent to blast Commodore Bainimarama's "autocratic and dictatorial" leadership after taking power
in a bloodless coup in December 2006.

A finance minister in Commodore Bainimarama's interim government until August last year, Mr Chaudhry said his former political ally's refusal to hold elections until 2014 was hurting the population, with the instability driving down the economy and contributing to racial tensions.

Commodore Bainimarama's anti-elections stance seems certain to confirm Fiji's suspension from the Pacific Islands Forum. In January, member nations ordered Fiji to set the date for democratic elections by May 1. That deadline edges ever closer and Fiji looks even less likely to meet it now than it did in January.

Mr Chaudhry's Fiji Labour Party is seeking talks with Commodore Bainimarama to resume negotiations for democratic elections to be held as soon as possible.

"We have severe problems over here with the economy, and the dollar has been devalued by 20 per cent," he told The Australian. "Fiji is a nation that imports a lot of food and people are finding it increasingly difficult to put food on the table. Ordinary people are feeling it, and, of course, there are social tensions.

"But we can't address these issues without restoring political stability, it is now imperative to find a solution."

Mr Chaudhry and two fellow Labour Party ministers quit the interim Government last year after Commodore Bainimarama went back on a promise to hold elections in Fiji by March, saying he needed more time to reform the nation's political system and root out corruption.

This month, Commodore Bainimarama went further by repealing the Constitution, before the judiciary was sacked and emergency regulations put in place to control free speech.

Regime censors have been sent into newsrooms to prevent sensitive political stories being published or broadcast.

Mr Chaudhry, a former prime minister who was ousted in the previous 2000 nationalist coup, said he had initially supported Commodore Bainimarama in his push to eradicate race politics in the country.

Commodore Bainimarama had accused that government of corruption and implementing racist policies to the detriment of Fiji's minority ethnic Indian community, which is the Labour Party's key constituency and support base. But Mr Chaudhry said the dumping of the Constitution and the regime's latest crackdown on the judiciary and press were worrying for the future of the country.

"The abrogation of the Constitution was tragic and unfortunate," he said. "We need to get talks, that include (2006 ousted prime minister) Laisenia Qarase, back on track to map out a way back to democracy."

Duvuloco and five others in custody

The leader of the Nationalist Vanua Tako Lavo Party, Iliesa Duvuloco, has been in police custody since last Friday.

He is locked up at Nabua Police Station for contravening the Public Emergency Regulations. This has been confirmed by the Director of Police Operations, SSP Waisea Tabakau.

Sources have told Coupfourpointfive that Duvuloco was arrested by police and locked up for distributing leaflets in Wainibuka early last week.

The leaflet reportedly contained a message in the Fijian language for people to demand that the President Ratu Josefa Iloilo, immediately step down from the position and retire to his chiefly village of Viseisei in Vuda. The leaflet also asked Fijians to rally and stage an uprising against Frank Bainimarama's regime.

Also arrested and detained at the Central Police Station cell last Tuesday was 68 year old William Rosa. Mr Rosa is the father of the owner of Cake 2000 franchise. He was locked up for six days until police found that it was a case of mistaken identity and released him. Sources say the police were looking for another person of the same name, for distributing leaflets like Duvuloco.

Legend FM is now reporting that five people are locked up at the moment with Duvuloco for the same act.

Reserve Bank announces new policy

The Reserve Bank of Fiji has announced further policies to safeguard Fiji’s balance of payments in light of the deepening global crisis and its lagged effect on South Pacific Island Countries including Fiji.

At a recent Pacific Central Bank Governors’ Conference held in Nadi from 15-17 April, the Governors agreed that their small island country economies were still to face the full impact of the global crisis.

The Governor of the Reserve Bank, Mr Sada Reddy, who chaired the Conference, said the
Pacific Island Countries and Fiji must take heed of the assessment by the Governors in terms of the possible adverse effects on their economies.

In light of this Mr Reddy announced the following additional policies to support the policies announced last week which also saw the Fiji dollar devalued by 20 percent:

(1) Tourism – Local Value Added
The Reserve Bank will implement policies from June this year which will link borrowing from commercial banks and other lending institutions by hotel operators to their local value added and environment protection. From now to June the Reserve Bank will consult with key stakeholders on the processes involved in identifying the extent of local value added and environment protection.

The Reserve Bank will further support this policy by giving an annual Prime Minister’s award to the most successful and innovative hotel to achieve high local value added and being environmentally friendly. The Reserve Bank will also give 6 month scholarships to the most promising graduate from the tourism industry schools to study in Asia on local food processing.

(2) High End Luxury Imports
The Reserve Bank has asked commercial banks and other lending institutions to review their lending to this sector so that there is no excessive holdings of stocks and imports of high end luxury imports which tie up valuable foreign exchange in stocks. Imports related to tourism will not be affected.

In explaining the above policies Mr Reddy said devaluation alone will not solve Fiji’s balances payments situation.

Blogs rule as Fiji Regime cracks down on media

WELLINGTON (AFP/Google/Pacific Media Watch): Fijians keeping up with
political developments since the media clampdown by Voreqe
Bainimarama's military regime this month are turning to a growing band
of internet blogs.

The latest political upheaval in the troubled South Pacific nation was
triggered by the regime's repeal of the constitution on April 10,
accompanied by the sacking of the judiciary and emergency regulations
to control free speech.

Regime censors have been sent into newsrooms to prevent sensitive
political stories being published or broadcast.

Most media have responded by refusing to run any political news,
leaving a vacuum quickly filled by the blogs, many contributed to by
journalists who have lost their conventional outlets.

Blogs played a part in the 2000 coup and again when military chief
Bainimarama toppled the elected government in late 2006, with
authorities helpless to restrict them in the same way as the
traditional media.

"I think the Fiji journalists are enormously resilient and courageous
and they have shown in the past they are very adaptable at dealing with
oppressive regimes as they have with the previous three coups," says
Pacific journalist and academic David Robie.

Experienced journalists in Fiji are all too familiar with attacks on
media freedom after a series of four coups between 1987 and
Bainimarama's 2006 takeover.

"But this is the first time we have had really systematic censorship
and for getting on for two weeks now," said Dr Robie, an associate
professor and director of the Pacific Media Centre at the Auckland
University of Technology.

Former Fiji Broadcasting Corporation chief executive Sireli Kini said
the clampdown on the media was creating more uncertainty, with news
being replaced by rumours.

"It's human instinct, people want to know what's happening and when
somebody spreads a rumour it spreads like wildfire and it's very
destructive," said Kini, who now lives in Auckland.

Some of the blogs have relayed rumours and wild anti-regime rhetoric,
but others, such as Coup Four and a Half and Fiji Uncensored, have a
strong news focus.

With Fijian journalists contributing material, these blogs are filling
the gap left by the muzzled media.

"They have taken over the role of the conventional journalism by
informing the members of the public," said Kini.

"Some of them are on the target. There are some well written stories
there."

Under the latest crackdown, Bainimarama has announced any person or
entity which fails to comply with government media orders may be told
to "cease operations".

"We want to come up with these reforms and the last thing we want to do
is have opposition to these reforms throughout. So that was the reason
we've come up with emergency regulations," Bainimarama said in
explanation.

When the censors first entered the newsrooms on April 11, the
newspapers and broadcasters devised their own ways of protesting.

The television news bulletin was cancelled and the next day the Fiji
Times appeared with blank columns with "This story could not be
published due to government restrictions" written across them.

The rival Fiji Post tried a satirical approach, reporting on what staff
had eaten for breakfast on the front page.

These reactions angered the regime, which threatened to close down the
offenders if there was any repeat.

The government also expelled three foreign journalists who had arrived
to report on the upheaval and at least two local journalists were
detained but later released because of work they had done for foreign
media.

Now the main media are not carrying any political news at all, leaving
Bainimarama unable to communicate effectively with Fijians.

"They've shot themselves in the foot by doing this, because by clamping
down they've cancelled out any chance of getting their side of the
story across as well," said Dr Robie, who was coordinator of Suva's
University of the South Pacific journalism programme during the 2000
coup.

Judging by past experience, the regime is likely to gradually ease the
restrictions.

"I think there will be a loosening in time, but it's hard to say with
the degree of paranoia at the moment just what will unfold," Dr Robie
said.

Until then, the blogs will continue filling the news void.

FNPF tightens withdrawal policy

Coupfourpointfive has been told that the Fiji National Provident Fund has adopted a rigid policy, for those migrating and wanting to withdraw funds.

The new policy states that those migrating, will need to apply for withdrawal after six months of residency in their new country.

This is causing anger amongst those migrating overseas because they need their funds to establish their new homes and look after their families.

Further stress has been put on the management of FNPF, with thousands of withdrawal applications expected this week, from those retiring from public service.

Bainimarama is 55 today

Fiji's interim prime minister is 55 today but does not have to worry about retiring in three days time.

Thousands will retire on Thursday, under a new State Services Decree, which the army commander is exempt from.

Instead the Commoddore will continue to earn his living by staying on as Army Commander for 10 more years until 27th April 2019.

Coupfourpointfive has calculated how much the Commander will earn in the 10 year period he stays on.

His salary is now $96,000 per annum, calculated from his $184,000 leave payout for 698 days of leave, as authorised by the former interim Finance Minister, Mahendra Chaudhry.

If the FNPF contribution remains at 16 percent for the next 10 years (employee 8 percent and employer 8 percent) from the gross salary, the Commander will have accrued $153,600 in FNPF contributions alone.

If one adds interest (average of 6 percent paid to members by FNPF) it will be close to a quarter million dollars in 10 years.

As for his salary he would have earned $58,560 per annum or $585,600 over 10 years if one calculates his nett salary (minus 31% tax and 8% FNPF).

When one adds the FNPF contribution (excluding interest) and the nett salary [$153,600 + $585,600], the Commander would accumulate up to $739,200 over 10 years.

This while his officers as well as thousands of public servants are forced to scratch the bottom of the barrel for survival.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

4000 civil servants to retire

The number of civil servants retiring in four days time is not 1614, as told by the Permanent Secretary of the Public Service Commission, Parmesh Chand.

Coupfourpointfive has been told the actual number is at least 2200 and this is the figure the Fiji National Provident Fund (FNPF) is working on. Sources say the interim regime forgot to include the lower category of public workers like the PWD, Water and Sewarage Department and Department of Roads. FNPF is projecting that 4000 government workers will have to retire by the end of the year.

FNPF is worried about the number of retirement applications it will have to process, when these civil servants retire. Most of the government workers have been members of FNPF all their life. FNPF contributions is compulsory for all workers, and members can only withdraw funds to buy a house, pay for their children's university fees and when they retire.

With the deteriorating economy and rising inflation due to devaluation, it's expected that most of those retiring will want to withdraw their money all at once, instead of taking the pension scheme under which the calculated percentage of their funds is paid out once a month.

The interim regime has publicly stated that all those retiring at the age of 55 should depend on their FNPF savings to sustain them for the rest of their life and cater for the needs of their families.

Sources say it will be interesting to see whether the FNPF allows members to take their money out in a lump-sum.

Law Society cancels meeting

The Fiji Law Society members did not gather for a meeting yesterday as planned.

Sources say the Society applied for a permit to hold the meeting with its membership and the interim regime gave a verbal approval but not a written one, despite the Law Society asking for one.

The meeting was supposed to be held at a well-known resort on the Coral Coast that's hosted many of the Society/s meetings in the past.

Coupfourpontfive has been told that in the absence of a written approval by the authorities, the Society’s leadership decided to call off the meeting.

The meeting would have discussed the events from 10th April: the abrogation of the Constitution; re-appointment of the interim regime; the draconian decrees like the Administrative of Justice Decree that removed the Society from being a member of the Judicial Service Commission and the acceptance of positions like magistrates by member lawyers.

Background to PSC appointments

A member of the National Council for Building a Better Fiji (NCBBF), Josefa Serulagilagi, was appointed Chairman of the Public Service Commission last week.

The PSC Members are the former acting PSC Chairman Dr Mohamed Yunush, Udai Raj Prasad and Claire Aull. All appointments were made under Section 11 of the State Services Decree by the President on the advice of the (interim) Prime Minister.

Background

Serulagilagi was a career civil servant. He was the Commissioner in the 1990’s and a Permanent Secretary/Chief Executive Officer in the Regional Development Ministry, during the term of the SDL Government. He is currently Chairman of Rewa Dairy Corporation.

Yunush was the acting Chairman appointed early this year following the exit of Rishi Ram. He runs a dental surgery in Nadi.

Claire Aull is the wife of former General Voters Party Parliamentarian Bill Aull, who was an MP and supported the Rabuka Government from June 1992 to March 1999, then the Mahendra Chaudhry’s government from May 1999 to May 2000.

Udai Raj Prasad was made redundant when the financially insolvent National Bank of Fiji underwent restructuring in the mid-1990’s after the famous $250 million financial scandal. Since then, he has been jobless – apart from being a part-time tutor at the Central Queensland University (CQU) campus in Suva, The university closed down more than 2 years ago.

Serulagilagi did not qualify for appointment under the 1997 Constitution because he was disqualified under Section 145(1) (a) that states “Any Member of either House of Parliament (Senator and House of Representatives) or a member of a local authority or of another representative body prescribed by Parliament”. That is why he could not be appointed acting PSC Chairman after Rishi Ram’s Departure.

Similarly, the interim regime appointed Yunush, despite being reminded that he was a national office bearer of a political party (Management Board of the SDL). He said he quit in November 2006 but the SDL maintains he is still a Board Member.