#header-inner img {margin: 0 auto !important; #header-inner {text-align: Center ;} Fiji Coupfourpointfive: 2010-03-14

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Less of the flights of fancy, please

New Zealand and Australia did the neighbourly thing in helping Fiji this week as storm winds of about 200kilometres an hour tore through the island groups.

Whether this leads to more amiable relations depends less on the gestures of the two regional super powers and more on the integrity and intent of Fiji's self-appointed leader and his advisors.

Frank Bainimarama has had little to say about the quick support of New Zealand and Australia, other than to agree it was "very good, very good", when asked by a reporter to say something this week.

Much of the analysis and the over enthusiastic praise (and sentiments of hope) in the past few days has come from New Zealand and Australian observers, with the Fiji hierarchy  remaining typically aloof.

These are unusual times but the status quo has not changed: Bainimarama and his cohorts  have a long way to go to prove they deserve the support of the international community.

As Australia's Foreign Affairs Minister, Stephen Smith, said yesterday: 'We, of course, have a strong difference with the Fiji interim government. But we have no difference with the Fiji people and no difficulty in rendering Fiji, the people of Fiji, humanitarian assistance, as we have in the past.”

New Zealand and Australia’s support this week is a qualified one, and that’s the way it needs to stay until Bainimarama does right by the people.

Writer: I was not pro-coup

Excerpt from an interview with writer Albert Wendt (pictured), Inside: literature, politics and cultural identitfy in the new Pacific by Vilsoni Hereniko and Rob Wilson.

CP And Fiji? How do you see post-coup Fiji?
AW I haven’t been to Fiji since the coups. I’ve tried to follow the events there by talking with some of my Fijian friends who come to New Zealand. I read about Fiji in the newspapers and magazines. In some ways, I predicted what happened in Fiji. Some Fijians and Indians claimed that Fiji was very stable politically [laughs]. I’ve never believed that. My first visit to Fiji was in 1952 when I was returning to Samoa after having been away in New Zealand. I grew up in New Zealand with some Fijians who became prominent in Ratu Mara’s government. I knew from them that the racial situation in Fiji wasn’t going to be stable, politically. And years later, when I shifted to live and teach in Fiji, I realized that the country was not going to be stable, in the long run.
When the Fiji coup happened, there was enormous sympathy for the coup among indigenous people throughout the Pacific, including the Maori, Samoans, Cook Islanders, and Tongans. You might say this reaction is very racist, but you can’t help the way people feel. The coup proved my belief that Fiji was politically unstable and will be for quite a while. You can’t just hope that two different groups of people trying to live together will get to love each other.

CP What about the second coup?
AW I believe that the second coup was carried out by Sitiveni Rabuka against the Fijian leadership, against Ratu Mara and Ratu Penaia Ganilau. I was actually told that by people who were close to Rabuka.

CP What do you see as a possible solution to the racial conflicts in Fiji?
AW Marriage between Indians and Fijians. It’s a pity that the rate of intermarriage between the two races has been low. If I have grandchildren from such mixed marriages, I won’t advocate sending them out of the country, no matter how racist I am. We just have to hope that the Fijians and Indians will eventually come to like and trust one another – that will take a long time. Fiji is not unique, of course. Malaysia is in exactly the same situation. That’s probably why Ratu Mara likes analyzing Malaysia.
The coup was painful for many people, particularly for Indians. I was in Fiji during that time. I was offered the Auckland position at the end of 1986, so I didn’t have to be in Fiji, but I decided to go back to Fiji to finish my term there. My family and I suffered, living through the coups, but I learned a hell of a lot. I learned about fear and what it is, about inhumanity and what happens when it gets out of hand, about how easy it is to think it’s normal to see soldiers around every day, to have your car stopped every day, to have some of your friends arrested. I was beginning to think that this was a normal condition of life, until I left Fiji. I was glad to get out. I was getting immune to those abuses and inhumanities.

CP There were rumors around the University of the South Pacific campus that you were pro-coup. Were you aware of this?
AW I was not pro-coup. I don’t believe in military coups. This rumor came about because of the volatile Fiji situation and my political views about indigenous peoples. I don’t believe in the use of military force to obtain anything. But my heart and my sympathies are with the indigenous people. Now, you can interpret that any way you want to, but that doesn’t mean I was pro-coup. I understand why the Fijians did it; I’m not excusing it. I understand too why the indigenous people around the Pacific sympathized with the coup. I mean, look what’s happened to the Aborigines, the Maori, the Hawaiians!

CP Did you feel alienated by some of your friends or colleagues during this time because of your beliefs?
AW I didn’t care. [laughs] It didn’t matter what I believed or what I did. They were still going to say I was pro-coup. You know what happens in Fiji, particularly at that university – anything to attack somebody. That’s one of the reasons I was glad to get out of Fiji, not because of the coup, but because I would be free of the perpetual « problem » between the Fijians and the Indians!

Flight of hope

At the stroke of 6 am on Thursday March 17 2010, the silence of the, crisp and cool autumn Waitakere dawn at the Whenuapai Air force base was dethroned by the drone of an aircraft – a carrier of hope.

As the C-130 Hercules aircraft from NO 40 Squadron of the Royal New Zealand Air Force taxied out of its hangar, loaded with emergency relief supplies for the cyclone ravaged Fiji, it was a moving epitome of humanity and statesmanship in action.

It also strengthened our belief that every country, once in a while, needs a change in leadership where a relatively younger leader with a propensity to heal wounds, build bridges, and promote goodwill takes over the helm of the nation. Such a leader, with a fresh, liberal, and more pragmatic outlook, bereft of the shackles of old rivalries and unbridled ego, brings new hope to the nation.

Prime Minister John Key happens to be one such person. I had seen him last Sunday at Waitakere Indian Association’s Rang Barse Holi Festival (the showering of colours) at Waitakere Trusts Stadium. He was seen as a peoples PM, coloured in the Holi rainbow colours, mingling freely with the old and the young, the Maori, the Pakeha and the Indians, after delivering a bonding powerful Holi message for us all. He has little hesitation in walking his talk on building bridges and improving international relations, especially with countries supplying a large chunk of its migrants.

As a new boy on the block, President Obama brought renewed hopes to the United States of America. Similarly, when John Key replaced the previous leaders both in the National Party and as the country’s Prime Minister, people had expected New Zealand to reach a higher echelon of statesmanship. Somebody who could bring the diametrically opposed parties of Act’s Rodney Hide and the Maori Party’s Dr Pita Sharples under one umbrella, was destined to make a difference in promoting regional goodwill and peace.
During last year’s Waitangi Day celebrations at Hoani Waititi Marae in Waitakere City, I had reflected on New Zealand’s stance on Fiji. I had complained that the experience curve of the lessons of conflict resolution from the Treaty settlement had gone begging when it came to bridging the political chasm with Fiji.

As the aircraft of hope dipped its nose towards the runway at Nausori Airport near Suva – a struggling neighbourhood in Fiji – it was perhaps the first time a New Zealand defence force plane had been in Fiji since the 2006 coup.

Foreign Affairs Minister Mr McCully was echoing perhaps what the Prime Minister desired. The situation in Fiji was a humanitarian situation and New Zealand was reacting to that situation. It was extremely commendable of New Zealand Government to have seen it that way, ignoring complications in relation to an estranged diplomatic situation.

They say adversity brings the best in people. That has been entirely true of the New Zealand Government’s leadership. With a pledge of a sizable amount of aid and, cooperation shown by NZ High Commission and NZAID in working together with Fiji authorities, this shows there are visible signs of a thaw in relations that hitherto had been strained.

The pledge of further help and another aircraft and other resources, that will be at the disposal of Fiji, has shown that the New Zealand Government can, if it wishes, behave like a first world nation to a third world country.

The most hopeful news has been that even Frank Bainimarama (Fiji’s military leader) has been thankful to New Zealand for its gesture. As a media student, the only problem I see is that New Zealand’s mainstream media is obsessed and possessed with its own brand of democracy and solution for Fiji. It refuses to behave like a first world media and exhibits a lack of real knowledge about the situation on the ground.

I was saddened to hear an interview on Radio Live with Murray Mc Cully where the reporter lobbed a leading and suggestive question to the Minister as to what he would do in a situation where Bainimarama was hindering improvements to health in Fiji and distribution of relief supplies. Such blinkered, ill-thought and jaundiced views brought shame and demonstrated a low standard of New Zealand’s mainstream media.

This shows why there is need for greater diversity in the media in New Zealand and a commitment to better sensitivity and understanding of other cultures when reporting international issue, especially relating to troubled neighbours, Fiji in particular.

At least in this situation in Fiji, the C -130 Hercules with its capability and adequate supply of parachutes appears not to have taken aboard any parachute journalists.

This is because news coming out of Fiji so far is well-informed and of good quality, fitting in the model of development journalism that has generally been missing from the New Zealand mainstream media’s reporting on Fiji.

I am hopeful that relations between New Zealand and Fiji should improve because John Key is an independent thinker and his foreign policy on Fiji is less likely to be based on the editorial opinions of its mainstream press here, as was perhaps evident during the tenor of the past government.

Pacific Scoop - Thakur Ranjit Singh is a post graduate student in Communication Studies at AUT University.

200 builders needed

Habitat for Humanit New Zealand is calling for qualified builders to help rebuild homes in cyclone devastated Fiji.

It's chief executive, Pete North says many houses have been destroyed in northern and eastern Fiji and at least 200 qualified builders are needed to help rebuild. Plumbers and electricians would also be useful.

Third death confirmed

Three people have now been confirmed dead from Cyclone Tomas.

The third person died on the island of Rabi, just off Vanua Levu.

Anthony Blake, operations officer for Disaster Management Office DISMAC told Fijilive the man lost his life when a tree fell on his house at the height of the cyclone. He said DISMAC was hoping the death toll did not rise any further.

The second body was found yesterday in Seaqaqa of a Public Works Department worker who drowned while crossing a river near Labasa during the cyclone.

The first fatality, a 31 year old woman, came as the Category Four cyclone was bearing down on Fiji, last Saturday.

Heroes and diplomats

Two pieces on the relationship betwen Fiji and New Zealand and Australia in the wake of Cyclone Tomas

Timaru Herald via Fiji 2006
So-called heroes to the rescue
Commodore Frank Bainimarama, Fiji's military dictator, has long been critical of New Zealand and Australia's bullying of his nation. Hopefully the events of the past few days will give him a chance to reconsider his position.
When Cyclone Tomas hit Fiji this week, bringing widespread devastation to parts of the island nation, Fiji's tormentors were quick to respond.
The Royal New Zealand Air Force had an aircraft with emergency supplies on its way to Fiji in short order, charged with flying over the northern islands to try and assess damage and get supplies to where they were urgently needed. The New Zealand Government has also dug deep and put up $1 million in cash to help out. Canberra also sent a surveillance aircraft and put up A$1 million ($1.29 million) in cash for the relief effort.
Commodore Bainimarama should consider whether these are the actions of bullies, or of reasonable governments who have the best interests of Fiji's people at heart. New Zealand and Australia's governments have every reason to be critical of Commodore Bainimarama's military dictatorship. He led a military coup in Fiji in 2006 because he did not like the way Fiji's democratically elected Government was headed. Since then he has ticked all the boxes of dictatorship.
He has suspended elections, sacked the judiciary, censored the media, suppressed his opponents by imprisoning them on trumped up charges and even attacked the Church for daring to voice opposition. The governments of New Zealand and Australia, as you would expect, have waved the protest flag time and time again and tried to bring him to heel through diplomatic pressure and the use of trade and travel sanctions.
The commodore has complained repeatedly that Wellington and Canberra do not understand Fiji's "special" problems. His chief reform, a new constitution, is aimed at doing away with its voting system which favours indigenous Fijians. His aim is to have a fair electoral system that will unite all Fijians and close the ethnic divides that have traditionally split the country. He needs at least another four years – on top of the four that have already rolled by since he seized power – to sort it and all will return to democratic elections in 2014.
History is littered with dictators who have justified their actions because of the "special" character of their problems. The truth is much simpler – governments are either democratically elected, or they are not. Commodore Bainimarama holds power in Fiji because he controls the guns. It is as simple as that.

This one from the Sydney Morning Herald via Matuvale.com
Fiji and Australia join  forces
Relations between Australia and Fiji are frosty, but the nations are managing to co-operate in the wake of Cyclone Tomas.
Foreign Affairs Minister Stephen Smith said despite a 'strong difference' with the Fiji interim government, led by self-appointed prime minister Commodore Frank Bainimarama, the nations had banded together following the category-four cyclone.
'The co-operation on this point, as you would expect, has been the sort of professional diplomatic contact that we would want to see when there has been a serious natural disaster,' Mr Smith said.
Australia and New Zealand imposed travel bans on Fiji's military regime after Bainimarama led a coup in December 2006, ousting the democratically elected government.
Since then the regime has tightened its grip on power, overturning the constitution, sacking all judges, imposing widespread media censorship, expelling foreign journalists and arresting and harassing people that oppose it.
Fiji is suspended from the Pacific islands Forum and the result has been an increasingly rancorous relationship.
However, on Wednesday Australian and New Zealand Defence Force aircraft were recruited to conduct aerial surveys of the northern and eastern divisions of Fiji which bore the brunt of Tomas.
A state of natural disaster was declared in the South Pacific nation on Tuesday after gusts of wind peaking at over 200 kilometres per hour and massive storm surges wiped out homes, crushed crops and forced the evacuation of 17,000 people.
The Defence Force aircraft delivered emergency aid to Vanua Levu, Fiji's second-largest island, on Friday morning for distribution among the isolated islands.
'We, of course, have a strong difference with the Fiji interim government,' Mr Smith said.
\But we have no difference with the Fiji people and no difficulty in rendering Fiji, the people of Fiji, humanitarian assistance, as we have in the past.'
On Thursday night, the High Commission in Canberra tracked down the last nine Australians who had not been yet been accounted for in the battered regions of Fiji.
Fifty Australians were registered with the government as being in the area at the time of the cyclone.
Relief co-ordinator for the Fiji Disaster Management Office, Anthony Blake, said aerial surveys revealed the northern and central islands in the Lau Group had been the most severely affected by Tomas.
The Lomaiviti Group of islands copped 'extensive damaged' caused by powerful storm surges and in northern island of Cikobia, seven of the 15 houses there 'did fall over'.
Mr Blake said recovery efforts were focused on schools and shelter - 1200 tarpaulins had been distributed and 363 people remained in evacuation centres.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Employers under no obligation to pay

Fiji employers don't have to pay workers who didn't get to work because of Cyclone Tomas.

The Ministry of Labour says employers are under no obligation to pay  for those two days because it wasn't their fault.

Fiji Live quotes the Ministry's director of labour and compliance, Sadrugu Ramagimagi, as saying  the storm was an “act of God”.

“Occurrence of things beyond our control leads to employers not being able to provide employment, eventually resulting in no pay being given out,” he said.

Ramagimagi said the Government’s announcement that next Monday’s National Youth Day public holiday would now be a normal working day would make up for the days people had lost.

He said people should not be complaining. It was obvious they could not work when there is a natural disaster because they would have to choose between work and their safety.

Eidtor's Note: This story was originally attributed to Fiji Village, when it should've been Fij Live. Apologies.

Employers Federation decision 'gutsy'

Fiji’s Employers Federation has described as “gutsy” a decision by the government to cancel Monday’s public holiday as part of an effort to recover lost working days during Cyclone Tomas.

FEF chief executive Nesbitt Hazelman told Fiji Live the federation is hopeful that the National Youth Day will not be declared a public holiday when it is celebrated.

“The federation is of the strong view that Fiji already has too many days lost to public holidays and this is impacting on productivity, loss of potential revenue and raising the cost of doing business,” Hazelman said.

The National Youth Day should be celebrated with Fiji Day in October, he said.

“Contact hours for school children have also been decreased considerably and additional national holidays will only put pressure on the school system.”

Interim Prime Minister Commodore Voreqe Bainimarama announced the cancellation of Monday’s public holiday as part of recovery efforts following Cyclone Tomas.

Editor's Note: This story was originally attributed to Fiji Vlliage, when it should've been Fiji Live. Apologies.

Second cyclone death confirmed

A second death from the Category Four cyclone, Tomas, has been confirmed.

The man has yet to be named but his body was found in the Seaqaqa River, in Labasa, on Saturday.

The Disaster Management Office says he worked for the Public Works department and was a father of seven.

The first official death was recorded as that of a 31 year old woman, who was washed out to sea.

Earlier reports suggested as many as six deaths with the police saying poor communication is slowing efforts to determine the true number of casualties.

Cyclone victims need shelter

Temporary shelter has been identified as the most urgent need for victims of Cyclone Tomas.

Officials from the disaster management office are holding discussions with Australia and New Zealand to be supplied with all-weather tents.

The two countries have been helping out by sending their defence planes to help with aerial surveys and distribute relief supplies.

Three navy vessels filled with emergency supplies and a team of technical experts, are currently visiting the Lau and Lomaitivi Groups and Cikobia.

Cyclone Tomas has affected more then 12,000 people in the Northern and Eastern divisions and the Lau and Lomaiviti groups.

Disaster officials are still trying to determine the extent of the damage caused by the cyclone.

Cyclone claims two lives so far

Cyclone Tomas has claimed two lives so far.

A man found dead in a river outside Labasa is being regarded as the second victim of the cyclone.

Fiji media reports say the man was trying to cross the river  when strong currents pulled him under.

Disaster management officials say there is likely to be more deaths but they won't know until communication is restored to the affected islands.

The first death was a woman who was pulled out to sea while performing a traditional ritual on the beach with relatives after the cyclone warning was issued.

Meanwhile satellite images show that islands in the Lomaiviti group were hit by eight metre high storm surges at the height of Cyclone Tomas.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Appeals underway

Fundraising efforts are underway for Cyclone Tomas victims.

The appeal by the Fiji Times and the ANZ Bank is the biggest to be launched, so far.

The Times says donations can be made at ANZ branches worldwide and that the money wll be distributed through Fiji Red Cross.

This is the account information the paper has given on its website:

  ANZ Account # 10616461
  ANZ Fiji Swift Code is: ANZBFJFX
  BSB is: 010890 (ANZ House)

In another effort, the Concert of Hope organized by the Fiji Broadcasting Corporation will be held this Saturday in Suva, at Albert Park, to raise money for children affected by Cyclone Tomas.

Fiji's top bands are performing and the money is expected to help children in the Northern and Llau group.
The concert starts at ten in the morning.

In New Zealand, a few appeals have started - APNA FM has raised thousands via its radiothon and the Fiji community in Waikato is to meet to see what they can do.

The Fiji Children’s Trust is also organising an appeal in Suva tomorrow (Saturday) from 10am to 4pm and again on Sunday from 11am to 1pm, at Patel Centre in Suva.

A spokesperson says committee members will be travelling to Vanua Levu to distribute what they collext. He says if peole can help andnthey're outside of Fiji, you can make a small contribution via paypal for groceries.

Picture: An aerial view of Cikobia, where plantations were lost. Fiji Times pic

NZ and Aust hailed

The Fiji Sun says the interim prime minster, Voreqe Bainimarama, has commended the swift aid response from the Australian and New Zealand governments in the aftermath of Cyclone Tomas this week.

Despite strained official relations, New Zealand and Australia have pledged aid and sent immediate help.
A Royal New Zealand Air Force Hercules aircraft was the first to arrive. It brought in supplies and then quickly helped with aerial surveys of damage.

“Very good, very good,” Commodore Bainimarama said when questioned on the swift response by the two countries. France is expected to contribute in the distribution of relief assistance as well.

“In this respect under the arrangement of FANZ which is the arrangement between France, Australia and NZ for assistance to Pacific Island countries, these countries shall be providing emergency relief supplies and assist in carrying out aerial surveys to determine the full extent of the damage," said Commodore Bainimarama.

“The NZ Air Force landed in Fiji this morning with the French and Australians ready to be deployed for assessment flights later today.”

Cyclone Tomas caused devastation for people living in Cikobia, eastern Vanua Levu, Taveuni Lomaiviti and Lau groups leaving many homeless and government is prepared to aid those affected.

“Government’s first priority at this stage is to carry out an assessment to determine the full extent of the damage,” Commodore Bainimarama said.

“While carrying out these assessments, emergency supplies including food and water shall be delivered to the affected regions.”

Three Fiji Navy vessels left late last night carrying emergency relief supplies including food, water, tents and tarpaulins.

“The navy vessels will leave respectively for the Lomaiviti and Lau group tomorrow and Cikobia,” Commodore Bainimarama said. “These vessels shall carry emergency relief supplies including food, water, tents and tarpaulins.

On Friday, the Prime Minister said, government vessels, the Iloilovatu and the Rayawa will leave for Lau and Lomaiviti groups with more supplies.

“They will carry planting material from the Ministry of Agriculture as well as Republic of Fiji Military Forces engineers and public servants who will be deployed to carry out rehabilitation work.

The Prime Minister said the Commissioners in various affected divisions would be responsible in assessing the damage.

“In this respect, apart from providing emergency supplies of food and water, government shall focus on rehabilitating medical centres and schools that have been damaged.”

He said apart from the outer islands, relief work and assessment were being carried out in affected parts of Vanua Levu, Taveuni, Rabi and Kioa.

Early reports say 20 per cent of homes damaged

Reports coming in suggest the damage to Fiji from Cyclone Tomas may not be as bad as first thought.

The general director of the Fiji Red Cross, Alice Cupit, says from what she has seen so far, about 20 percent of homes have been lost.

She says the damage is not as bad as she was expecting.

Red Cross was part of the team on the RNZAF Hercules that carried out a flyover over Vanua Levu and Cikobia, yesterday.

Cupit says it was hard to get a clear picture from the plane but crops and food sources are likely to be badly damaged.

A flyover of the Lau group was to happen today. Media reports over the past two days have said the Lau group has been hard hit.

17 Aussies still to be located

The Australian government is trying to make contact with 17 Australians still unaccounted for in the areas Cyclone struck in Fiji.

The Federal Government's overseas aid program, AusAID, says 35 Australians have already been located.
AusAID acting director-general Peter Baxter says communications are down in the area and it was hoped contact could be made with the Australians in the next couple of days.

The New Zealand Foreign Affairs says most of the major resorts have been unaffected and staff have managed to contact New Zealanders in those areas.

Australia, as with New Zealand, have pledged a million dollars each to help Fiji.

The New Zealand Airforce Hercules was helping Fiji disaster officials today assess the damage and get supplies to worst hit areas.
Meanwhile, the Australian Defence Force C-130 arrived last night and staff can be seen here unloading relief supplies at Nausori. With them is the acting Australian high commissioner, Sarah Roberts. Photos: AusAID

Assessment teams try to reach worst hit areas

Disaster officials and the police are still trying to establish the true scale of damage in Fiji from Cyclone Tomas.

Assessment teams are this morning trying to get to the worst hit areas and are being helped by New Zealand and Australian teams.

Three patrol boats left Suva last night and one of them is expected to reach Vanua Levu midday before heading to Cikobia island.

New Zealand and Australia have sent aircrafts with emergency aid supplies and the promise the missions will do what they can to help get supplies to affected areas.

It's believed several people have perished from the cyclone and six deaths were being reported last night, but officials have so far been unable to confirm the reports, with the police saying efforts have been slowed with communication being down.

Bainimarama reassures nation

In a nationwide address last night, Fiji's interim prime minister Frank Bainimarama assured the nation help is on the way for areas affected by Cyclone Tomas.

He said the government's first priority is to carry out an assessment to determine the full extent of the damage.
"In conjunction, three Fiji Navy vessels are leaving this evening respectively for the Lomaiviti Group, the Lau Group and for the Northern Region islands, such as Cikobia," Bainimarama said.

"These vessels shall carry emergency relief supplies including food, water, tents and tarpaulins. Assessment teams and Red Cross personnel shall also be on the naval vessels."

He said the navy boats will leave tomorrow for Lau and Lomaiviti groups with more supplies and planting material from the Ministry of Agriculture as well as RFMF engineers and public servants who will be deployed to carry out rehabilitation work.

Bainimarama said his regime will focus on rehabilitating medical centers and schools that have been damaged as soon as possible..

Apart from the outer islands, relief work and assessment is also being carried out in the affected parts of Vanua Levu, Taveuni, Rabi and Kioa.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Six believed dead from Cyclone Tomas

Six people are reported to have lost their lives, since Cyclone Tomas swept through Fiji with wind speeds of about 200 kilometres, this week.

Emergecy officials in Fiji are still assessing the damage but reports have confirmed the worst, that there have been deaths.

The director of the Fiji diaster management office, Pajilia Dobui, says he fears the number of casualties could be much higher.

Fiji authorities says the first casualty was a 31 year old woman, who died on Saturday.

Aussie C-130 carrying tonnes of emergency supplies

The Australian Defence Force C-130 aircraft is expected to arrive at Nausori Airport this evening, carrying 8 tonnes of emergency relief supplies in response to an official request for assistance from the Fiji interim government.

On top of the 960 tarpaulins and 20 family tents, the supplies include just over two-thousand 10-litre water containers and 680,000 water purification tablets.

The supplies will be offloaded at Nausori Airport and transported to the Government Stores in Walu Bay, before being shipped to islands in the Eastern Division.

The C-130 aircraft will also be used tomorrow for aerial surveillance missions over the Lomaiviti and Lau group of islands, carrying representatives from the National Disaster Management Organisation (NDMO), the Commissioner Eastern’s office, the Fiji Red Cross and representatives of the United Nations, and the Australian and New Zealand high commissions.

Australia’s Minister for Foreign Affairs, Stephen Smith, announced earlier today that it will provide up to $1 million in initial emergency humanitarian assistance to help the people of Fiji recover from the devastation and destruction caused by Tropical Cyclone Tomas.

This will include funding to the NDMO to enable it to charter transport such as helicopters and boats to deliver much needed relief supplies to remote communities.

The Fiji Red Cross will receive funding to distribute emergency supplies already in storage in Fiji and enable the local purchase of other essential supplies.

Neighbours do their bit

New Zealand and Australia have put aside their political differences with Fiji to help it get back on its feet after Cyclone Tomas.

There was never any doubt that John Key's government would help.

Wellington came through with a pledge to assist yesterday, despatching an airforce Hercules to Fiji this morning, with emergency supplies and key aid agency personnel.

The mission will pretty much go where it needs, if possible, to get whatever help it can to people in Fiji, with Australia today chipping in one million dollars.

Both governments would've struggled to turn a blind eye to the people of Fiji, whose country has taken a severe pounding.

Much could be made of Frank Bainimarama's determined cockiness that Fiji is capable of going its own way. It's not. It doesn't have money or friends.

It'd be interesting to see if his new mates in Asia come through with any aid and if he nods a thank you to New Zealand and Australia.

It's everyone's hope the devastation of Tomas does not set Fiji back, too far from where it is now. It already has a lot on the table.

Fiji stumps up $1million

Fiji's own government says it'll put in one million dollars for relief works for the damage caused by Cyclone Tomas, with Fiji Live saying Frank Bainimarama is visiting affected areas Friday.

FijiLive says it was told by the interim prime minister's permanent secretary, Pio Tikoduadua, that the money was approved at a meeting of senior government officials this morning. “We have allocated $1 million for the immediate needs."

He said government has not yet received any monetary assistance from foreign governments apart from the medical and emergency supplies provided by Australia and New Zealand delivered in two Hercules airplanes, and the French government’s aerial surveillance plane.

“The PM will be visiting the North, Lau and Lomaiviti on Friday,” Tikoduadua added.

Bainimarama tries to rally nation

The Fiji Broadcasting Corporation is reporting that the Prime Minister Commodore Voreqe Bainimarama is urging everyone to come together as a nation – for fellow citizens who have suffered in the wake of Hurricane Tomas.

In a statement issues a while ago – Bainimarama says - while we still wait for the final assessment from these regions, Fiji, which had stopped working and schooling as part of the precautionary measures, must return to normal activity.

He says the damage done by Tomas has been overwhelming – with it’s full impact yet to be determined.

Bainimarama says it is important to recover the lost days of productivity and education.

Therefore, the public holiday for National Youth Day set for next Monday 22nd March will now be a normal work and school day.

The National Youth Day celebrations shall be held on a date to be determined.

Australia to provide $1 miilion in aid

Australia says it will provide up to $1 million in initial emergency humanitarian assistance to help the people of Fiji recover from the devastation and destruction caused by Cyclone Tomas.

There are reports of widespread damage, especially in the northern parts of Fiji.

Australia's foreign affairs minister Stephen Smith says an Australian Defence Force C130 is expected to depart from Richmond base as soon as weather permits and a commercial flight will also be available if required.

The aircraft will carry supplies such as tarpaulins for shelter, water purification tablets and water containers.

Australia will also provide funding to Fiji's National Disaster Management Office to charter transport such as helicopters and boats to deliver much needed relief supplies to remote communities.

"The Fiji Red Cross will receive funding to distribute emergency supplies already in storage in Fiji, and enable the local purchase of other essential supplies.

Mr Smith says he spoke with New Zealand Foreign Minister, Murray McCully last night to discuss assistance to Fiji in the wake of the cyclone.

He says Australia and New Zealand will work closely to coordinate their response.

"Australia will consider further assistance for reconstruction once damage has been more fully assessed.," Mr Smith said.

Aust and NZ send aid

Two planes filled with emergency relief supplies from New Zealand and Australia will arrive in Suva today.

The plane from New Zealand left this morning and will arrive in Suva around 10am.

Disaster management director Pajiliai Dobui says France has also agreed to help and has dispatched a plane to take aerial photos of damaged areas especially in Vanua Levu and Cikobia.

Curfew lifted, schools back to normal

A curfew that was imposed on Fiji yesterday has now been lifted.

Recovery efforts are expected to begin this morning as disaster officials head out to the most devastated islands with emergency supplies.

It's not yet clear how many people have died as a result of the hurricane.

An Airforce Hercules left New Zealand this morning with relief supplies.

Schools in Fiji have been directed to open today after Metservice downgraded the cyclone to Category 3.

Cyclone Tomas downgraded

Cyclone damage in Fiji is set to be assessed today after warnings were cancelled in most areas.

Tropical cyclone Tomas, which swept through Fiji with gusts stronger than 200km/h during the past few days, has been downgraded from category four to three, said the Fiji Meteorological Service at 5am.

Fiji's southern Lau islands are still being warned of possible coastal flooding, thunderstorms, damaging swells, rough seas and gusts of up to nearly 100km/h. A gale warning is in force for Ono-i-Lau, Vatoa and nearby islands, but warnings for the rest of Fiji have been cancelled.

One woman has already been confirmed killed by the cyclone and there have been unconfirmed reports of more deaths.

Power, communications and houses have been taken out by the cyclone's winds, and uprooted trees have blocked roads to damaged areas.

Fiji Red Cross disaster co-ordinator Vuli Gauna said the first step in recovery efforts was sending planes to look at the extent of damage over the northern parts of the country hit hardest by Tomas.

Fijian authorities yesterday announced a state of emergency in the north and east, the Fiji Times Online reported.

More than 18,000 people are now in evacuation centres - predominantly in the north.

"I think some lost their lives but it is just a few, but what we have been hearing from some of the islands is the devastation and the wind and the storm surges were too much," Fiji National Disaster Management Office director Pajiliai Dobui said yesterday.

Fiji Red Cross spokesman Vuli Gauna said emergency services would first concentrate on getting any help required to those trapped or injured in islands to the north of Vanua Levu.

However, rescue personnel were hampered by strong wind and storm warnings, which remained in place around much of the country.

Red Cross teams in five northern centres were preparing to mobilise, and the organisation was in contact with its Australian and New Zealand counterparts, Mr Gauna said.

Staff at the Nukubati Resort on Vanua Levu - who on Monday night barricaded themselves into stormproof buildings - were yesterday relieved the storm passed over without causing damage.

Employee Asena Steiner said the resort was fortunate that a mountain range had spared it from the worst of the cyclone and damage had been limited to "a few leaves and a few twigs".

"[Today] there's a very beautiful breeze coming in from the west. It is as if nothing happened."
As those in the north began damage assessments, Tomas rounded on eastern Fiji and a number of low-lying outer islands.

Prime Minister John Key said New Zealand was on stand-by to help.

The cyclone was expected to start moving away from the islands about midnight.
Commercial flights into Fiji resumed yesterday morning - NZ Herald

Aid on its way

The Fiji navy will this morning deliver aid to islands in the Lau and Lomaiviti group which are thought to be the worst affected by Cyclone Tomas.

Disaster officials are still not sure how much damage has been done by the cyclone but will conduct assessments on the ground today.

A New Zealand Hercules left this morning with emergency aid for Fiji.

More than 18,000 people were evacuated to 260 evacuation centers nationwide.

The United Nations Children’s Fund says it's on standby with emergency relief supplies like medical equipment, drugs, water containers, water purifying tablets, soap, tarpaulins and tents.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Lives bound to have been lost in cyclone

There are fears a number of lives have been lost after Cyclone Tomas swept through Vanua Levu and Lau with wind speeds of about 250kmh.

Officials believe there are bound to have been casualties over the past two days.

The director of the Fiji National Disaster Management Office, Pajiliai Dobui, is quoted by Agence France-Presse as saying: "I think some lost their lives but it is just a few, but what we have been hearing from some of the islands is the devastation and the wind and the storm surges were too much."

New Zealand announced today that an RNZAF Hercules is on stand-by to head to Fiji as soon as weather improves.

The Foreign Affairs Minister, Murray McCully, says New Zealand was not going to allow ongoing political differences with Fiji’s military regime to interfere in helping the people of Fiji.

“Fiji authorities have declared a state of disaster and requested international assistance."

Navy boats to head to Lau

Fiji Live says two Fiji navy boats are scheduled to leave Suva early tomorrow morning for the Lau group and Lomaiviti taking food, tarpaulins and other relief supplies for areas worst affected by Cyclone Tomas.

The preparations have been announced as the Nadi weather office predicts a return to good weather for most of the country tomorrow.

The director of meteorology, Rajendra Prasad, said the western division and central divisions should be experiencing mostly fine weather tomorrow.

Prasad predicts Cyclone Tomas, currently located near southern Lau, is expected to be out of the Fiji group by tomorrow afternoon, having almost doubled its pace to 18 to 20 kilometres per hour.

“The boats are scheduled to leave tomorrow morning but it all depends on the weather actually,” DISMAC operations officer Anthony Blake said. “Helicopters are also on standby in Nadi to distribute relief items once the weather clears."

Schools are expected to resume tomorrow in Fiji, apart from those in the Lau and Lomaiviti groups and those being used as evacuation centres.

It's uncertain how many schools will be still be needed as shelter for people tomorrow.

Civil servants will also resume work tomorrow.

Station appeal bags $26,000

The Auckland based radio station, APNA FM, has raised $26,000 for the victims of Cyclone Tomas.

The station launched its appeal today and is aiming for $150,000. APNA is asking people to donate to its radiothon by giving at designated collection points or to a bank account.

Meanwhile, the New Zealand government says an Air Force Hercules is on standby to make aerial drops to Fiji, where needed.

Earlier, the prime minister, John Key, said the government was waiting to see what damage was done and consider its options then.

Today, the interim government of Fiji also said it would tally up the damage before deciding what assistance to allocate to victims.

Air New Zealand says it has resumed normal service to Fiji's international airport at Nadi.

Tomas over central Lau

The Fiji Disaster Management Office has told Radio New Zealand Cyclone Tomas is now over central Lau, where people should expect increasing winds.

The operations manager Anthony Blake says communications are still difficult but at least 50 homes are known to have been destroyed and many more damaged.

He says the declaration of a state of disaster will free up resources for the affected areas, and police, army, and other emergency services are being deployed.

Blake says there has been widespread flooding and some roads are closed. Power is also out in most parts of the Northern Division, which he says is affecting the water and sewerage systems.

Tomas fizzling out in Viti Levu

Fiji Village is reporting that the Fiji weather office says Cyclone Tomas is weakening.

Rajendra Prasad, the director of the Nadi Weather Office, said a short time ago that the gale warning for Viti Levu is now lifted and only a strong wind warning remains in place.

He said Viti Levu has been given the all clear in terms of any damaging winds but the Category Four storm was fizzling out.

However, Vanua Levu and parts of Northern Lau are still experiencing damaging winds, whgich could change by midnight tonight.

Tomas is currently located in the Lau Group and is moving towards Ono-i-Lau.

A hurricane warning remains in force for Moala, Matuku, Totoya, Kabara, Ono-i-Lau and nearby smaller islands.

The centre of the cyclone was located about 240 kilometers North North West of Ono-i-Lau or 235 kilometers East South East of Suva at 1pm today.

It is now moving at 20 kilometers per hour.

Authorities are still warning people need to be mindful of high and very rough seas which could result in flooding of coastal areas.

Nearly 18,000 now in evacuation centres

Fiji Live also has figures on the number of people taking shelter in evacuation centres around Fiji.

It says a total of 17, 792 people are being housed in 240 evacuation centres throughout Fiji.

In the north there are 123 evacuation centres with 7,513 people; in the central division there are 76 centres with 3,614 people and in the eastern division, nine evacuatuon centres are housing 497 people with  38 centres in the west with a total of 1,568.

Fiji Live quoted DISMAC operations officer, Anthony Blake, as saying 89 schools are being used as evacuation centres.

State of emergency declared

The Fiji Broadcasting Corporation says a state of emergency has been declared for the North and Eastern divisions of the Fiji islands.

The state of emergency follows the arrival of Cyclone Tomas, which has damaged parts of Vanua Levu and is now pounding the Northern Lau group.

The decision was made after a meeting between DISMAC officials, security forces from the Police, the Military council, the President and the Prime Minister to determine how best they could assist the Northern Division.

Troops deployed to help worst hit areas

The Fiji Village is reporting that Fiji's National Disaster Management Council has agreed to the deployment of troops to the northern and eastern areas, declared natural disaster areas this morning in the wake of damage caused by Cyclone Tomas.

DISMAC's operations officer Anthony Blake has been quoted as sying:“The Prime Minister has directed all government ministries to prepare support for relief. The immediate needs right now for the affected areas are food rations. Some have been in evacuation centres since Saturday. Even if they brought they own food, it would have finished by now.

“We will need to clear up land passages and aerial assessments are to begin soon. Navy personnel will also be deployed.”

DISMAC expects an initial assessment to be carried out as early as tomorrow morning as the cyclone has passed the northern division and is now moving towards southern Lau.

The interim permanent secretary for information, Neumi Leweni, said yesterday that about one hundred were on standby in Vanua Levu, where the damage was rost.

Savusavu has the most cyclone evacuees

The Fiji Times says more 10,000 people are sheltering in 178 evacuation centres around the country.

DISMAC has broken the numbers as follows:
Eight evacuation centres in Nadroga with 153 people sheltering

  • Two evacuation centres in Nadi with 40 people sheltering
  • One centre in Lautoka with 18 people sheltering
  • 12 evacuation centres in Ba with 477 people
  • Six centres in Tavua with 480 people
  • Two evacuation centres in Kadavu with 252 people seltering
  • In the Cetral division six centres are open at Navua with 526 people sheltering
  • Three evacuation centres in Naitasiri with 28 people sheltering
  • Three evacuation centres in Rewa with 229 people sheltering
  • Four centres in Tailevu with 427 people sheltering
  • Two evacuation centres in Suva with 80 people sheltering
  • In the Northern Division eight evacuation centres are open on Taveuni with 410 people sheltering
  • Thirty six evacuation centres in Savusavu with 2488 people
  • Twenty seven centres in Bua with 873 people sheltering
  • And 24 centres in Macuata with 1899 people sheltering.
The Fiji Times reported at  two o'clock this afternoon that there has been little or no communication with most of the Northern Division for more than six hours.

No sureties about Rinakama's release

There are conflicting reports about the release and whereabouts of the former Fiji MP, Peceli Rinakama.

Coupfourpointfive has been trying to verify his release as reported last week ,but no one has been able to say for sure if Rinakama is out of custody and where he is now.

We have now been told by a SDL member that Rinakama's family is also still in the dark.

It's been confirmed to us that he was arrested with SDL's national director, Peceli Kinivuwai, who has been released but family and party members have no iea of Rinakama's current whereabouts.

Coupfourpointfive's source says the whole situation is uncertain at the very least and there are very real fears for Rinakama's safety.

Adding to the uncertainty has been 'confirmation' from one government source who said he was released after five days but this was later contradicted by Esala Teleni, who insisted Rinakama was still in custody.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Cyclone Tomas curfew criticised

Cyclone Tomas appears to be testing the abilities of Fiji's interim government.

The Category Four storm last night forced the self-appointed government of Frank Bainimarama to impose a curfew, with only essential services free to move around. 

The curfew has today been criticised by some people in Fiji and New Zealand, who are worried that people won't be able to get to the evacuation centres with it in place.

One man told us many of the people likely to be hit by Cyclone Tomas, live in rural or coastal areas and would be stuck without taxis or buses.

The same man also says people have now been told to bring their own bedding and food to the evacuation centres.

"They can take their bedding but we are already in an economic recession. Surely, officials can come up with provisions? We're just talking about fish and noodles, just like a soup kitchen."

Coupfourpointfve has been told by one other person, he's stunned at Bainimarama telling the country's disaster management agency, DISMAC, not to use schools as evacuation centres.

"There's a school in every village and everyone knows that's where you go, so what's with DISMAC not using the schools?"

It wasn't immediately clear why Bainimarama was so concerned about the schools but FijiLive quoted him this afternoon as saying schools should resume immeidately and that military and police are to clean up them up as soon as Operation Cyclone Tomas finishes.

Fijilive also quoted DISMAC official, Anthony Blake, as saying police and soldiers are to ensure that all school buildings are looked after properly ‘and not damaged by evacuees’.

Another curfew is in place for tonight from eight o'clock, until early tomorrow morning.

Tomas delays Media Decree talks

Fiji's interim Permanent Secretary for Information and government spokesperson, Lt Col Neumi Leweni, has confirmed that a public consultation on the media decree that was supposed to start on Wednesday has been postponed because of Cyclone Tomas.

Leweni was unable to say when the discussions would be back on the table or how many days would be allocated to it.

The consultations were supposed to be held in Suva, Lautoka and Labasa.

The Media Decree, as with all of the other Decrees, are controversial with critics describing it as probably  the final nail in the coffin to permanently bury media freedom and free speech.

The interim government maintains the aim of the Media Decree is to improve the industry but there has been particular concern about its intentions and decision to exclude the Fiji Times and Fiji Television from the public consulations.

Booth media agencies have been accused of being partisan but many would agree that all media outlets in Fiji have been forced to be partisan since the implementation of censorship last year.

The media cannot, and are not allowed, to report statements from pro-democracy activists, negative stories like the declining economy and sugar industry or job losses, or even do critical analysis of issues either through radio talkback shows, Close-Up (Fiji TV) or newspaper editorials.

News teams are allowed only to report statements from the regime or stories that have little news value or ones that take up significant space and time on news bulletins.

The fact that the media has been forced to become partisan to the regime, is forcing organisations to fill their news pages or bulletins.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Money woes for Peoples Charter

It's been revealed money continues to be a stumbling block for the implementation of the Peoples Charter for Change, Peace and Progress.

Fiji TV is reporting that funding was the big concern at the second National People's Charter Advisory Council meeting, today.

The council is responsible for monitoring the implementation of the 11 pillars of the Peoples Charter for Change, Peace and Progress but chairman, Josefa Serulagilagi, says its proving a challenge.

The National Council is also an advisory body, providing support to Government and carrying out civic education and dialogue on important national issues.

Serulagilagi said recently that the response received  from Permanent Secretaries on the status of Charter implementation was objective and informative.

 He said while the Charter impact and benefits are filtering well to the grassroots people, the implementation of programmes that promote multiracialism were still a challenge.

 Serulagilagi added they also wish to discuss and provide some inputs to Government on the national dialogue initiative, which has been publicly announced by the interim prime minister's office.

 “The subject of land reforms is also something which the council may wish to deliberate upon and provide inputs to Government."

Serulagilagi also said recently that scholarships were still being given along racial lines and there was clearly low representation of Fijian Indians in senior civil service positions and heads of missions overseas.

 He said “Indigenous Fijians continue to lag behind in business and commerce.”

Concern was also raised about the Divisional Development Boards and the Provincial Development Boards.

“The formation of these Boards are important as they assist in bringing the views of grassroots people to the attention of decision makers and vice versa in matters pertaining to developmental projects and issues.”

 “In this regard, the formation of such Boards would be critical as the proposal for formation of these consultative Boards were in the first place included in the Charter based on their proven success previously following independence."

Bainimarama: Sugar irreplaceable

The interim prime minister, Frank Bainimarama, has told cane famers of the Cuvu Lomawai farming communities in Nadroga, the sugar industry is facing some real challenges but the State is doing all it can to address them.

Bainimarama spoke to about 500 cane famers, telling them the State was committed to ensuring the survival of the Fiji Sugar Corporation while addressing other challenges faced by the sugar industry.

The Fiji Times story quotes him today as saying "Government is unmoved in its resolve to ensure that it is revived to become viable and remain sustainable."

The paper says Bainimarama spent more than three hours with farmers, talking also of the challenge of improving mill efficiiencies plus the need to increase cane production.

He said: "And where viable, the establishment of diversification initiatives of power-cogeneration and ethanol production.".

Baimimarama said no other crop could match sugar cane and its ability to secure reliable foreign exchange, employment opportuniites and stable livelihood.

"It is in this regard that Government makes this decision, despite all odds to ensure that the industry becomes viable and remains sustainable."

3,000 landowners in sugar land talks starting Monday

The interim government is expected to start consulting with landowners tomorrow (Monday) about maximising land for the sugar industry.

It's believed 87.6 per cent of the land in Fiji is owned by indigenous Fijians, so the bulk of the talks will be with them. Key areas are set to be Sigatoka, Nadi, Rakiraki, Tavua, Ba and Lautoka and a figure of 3000 landowners has been mentioned.

Commissioner Western, Commander Joeli Cawaki, told the Fiji Sun recently that land would remain unchanged but landowners have to give access to the Government and farmers.

“The objective is to see the big picture as through this, the Government wants to increase the economy. If there are no developments taking place on the land, then they have to make arrangements rather than just letting the land sit idle."

Commander Cawaki said if Chinese people owned the amount of land indigenous Fijians did, they would have been millionaires.

The plan has already been criticised with cynics saying the land reforms are consistent with the interim government's intent to dismantle Fiji.

Suliasi Daunitutu, of the Fiji Democracy Movement in Australia, told Coupfourpointfive: "First the The BLV, the Lotu, the SDL government, and now the piece de resistance, the Land. Unfortunately it is being done by a Taukei in the name of racial reform and getting rid of corrupt practises in the government."

Daunitutu maintains Fijian landowners have never been able to show too much power over their land and have been victimised in Frank Bainimarama's plans.

"The gullible landowners can be hit hard by these reforms if they are not careful. The 99 years lease will find a few generations of Fijians not being able to enjoy their land and its security except for the two payments a year they will get.  That is not security for the landowner, that is revenue raising for this poor government."

He adds: "Their argument of land lying idle is all a confused explanation of trying to take the land and give to some Chinese people who want to start an ethanol plant, a load of rubbish. The Fijians are well-educated and are already starting their own businesses using their biggest asset, their land. They don't need someone who has no land to tell them how to manage theirs."

Commander Cawaki has said there is a need to change the mentality of landowners and that Bainimarama has said the sugar industry is here to stay.