#header-inner img {margin: 0 auto !important; #header-inner {text-align: Center ;} Fiji Coupfourpointfive: 2010-05-09

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Fiji accepts diplomatic ties with military junta of Myanmar

Fiji's illegal government has agreed to diplomatic ties with Myanmar, the country formerly known as Burma, which has been under military hands for nearly 50 years and responsible for the deaths of hundreds of its people.

Myanmar's state-run newspaper, the New Light of Myanmar, reported yesterday that a joint communique was signed by its permanent representative to the United Nations and his Fiji counterpart in New York, on Monday.

Fiji is the first country Myanmar has chosen to forge diplomatic links with, this year. 

The diplomatic ties, which are expected to result in amabssadorial representation, is not surprising. Both countries are run by military junta's who have refused to give up power and allow elections.

General Ne Win took control of Myanmar in 1962, ruling via a revolutionary council that controlled almost all aspects of society, for the first 26 years. It's a tack the illegal government of Fiji has employed with the public emergency regulations and now the decrees.

The Burmese junta tried to legitimise itself in 1974, with General Ne Win and fellow generals resigning from the military to take civilian posts. Eelections were allowed but it was a one-party system, only.

Ne Win then ran the country via the Burma Socialist Programme Party until 1988 but the reign of power did litte good - Burma became one of the world's most impoverished countries, thanks to the policies and draconian methods of the military leadership under the guise of party politics. Some believe this is where Fiji is currently at.

The people of Burma resisted the junta rule, with students and later monks taking the lead and instigating the demonstrations, but there have been deaths. The persecution of  so-called "resident aliens" (Burma is surrounded by Thailand, China and India has many ethnic groups) has led to an exodus of an estimated 300,000 Burmese Indians.

The start of a pro-democracy movement came in 1988, after unrest over economic mismanagement and political oppression but security forces killed hundreds of protestors, prompting another coup by another general. Martial law was introduced with the mlitary government finally agreeing to a  People's Assembly elections in 1989, when Burma's name was also changed to Myanmar.

Free elections were finally allowed in 1990, the first time in almost 30 years. The National League For Democracy party of Augn San Suu Kyi was the clear winner but the results were dismissed by the military who refused to step down.

Suu Kyi remains under house arrest with the international community divided on how to deal with the military junta. Canada, the United Kingdom, the United States and France want to apply more sanctions but  neighbouring countries, in particular, China, oppose the idea saying isolating Myanmar doesn't help. The international community and Fiji's nearest neighbours are in the same dilemma.

Fiji's new diplomatic ties with Myanmar, allows it to cosy up even more to Asia. And it's working hard to maintain and build on these relations.

Voreqe Bainimarama is to lead the talks with China's premier when he goes to China in August for the World Expo. The junta is looking for $US3.5 million to help it relocate the Navua Hospital and it's clear Beijing wants only to deal with the top brass.

The illegal government has other friends in Asia, of course  - Malaysia recently gifted $US50,000 to help with the ongoing relief efforts for Cyclone Tomas. Bainimarama also met India's Minister of Finance, Pranab Mukherjee, earlier this month and it seems India is happy to support Fiji at an international level.

Pictures: Top - monks hurt during the 2007 anti-government demonstrations. Below - Augn San Suu Kyi supporters in London try to push world governments to apply more sanctions on Myanmar.

Friday, May 14, 2010

FM96 journalist breaks 1987 Fiji coup story

By Sam Thompson for the Indian Weekender

Democracy as we knew it in Fiji ended on the stroke of 10 on May 14, 1987.

The chiming of the clock at Government buildings was the signal for the then Colonel Sitiveni Rabuka and his men, to storm parliament and kidnap the democratically elected Government of Dr Timoci Bavadra.

Every journalist has a defining moment in their career.  My claim to fame was this one. I broke the news to the world. But I almost missed out on being a witness to one of the most momentous moments that changed the course of Fiji’s history.

At the time I was a cocky 26-year-old editor of Fiji’s first commercial radio station FM96.
I say that because we were redefining radio from the drab drivel of the government run stations at the time.

We pushed the boundaries by starting hourly news bulletins with a three man new team, against the vast resources of the Government broadcaster. They said it couldn’t be done because Fiji was too small and many on the sideline were watching, expecting us to fall flat on our faces.

With this back drop of having much to prove, I was sitting at my desk on that fateful day exploring options of how to generate fresh news for the top of the hour. The tedium of a parliamentary session, trying to make sense of what our elected representatives were saying was unappealing, but I decided was a necessary evil.

So I ended up at the press gallery, bored silly, and because I had skipped breakfast hunger pains were setting in. This was the pre-mobile phone era where land lines were fiercely guarded and faxes ruled. There was just one phone next to the press gallery where Hansard recording were taking place.

At 10am when the clock started chiming, I decided I had enough and got up to leave, when I noticed Rabuka striding through the parliamentary chamber towards the Speaker.

My curiosity peaked and I decided breakfast could wait.

Rabuka was not in uniform, he was dressed smartly, coat and tie and a sulu, no indication of what’s to come.
Shortly after balaclava clad men, dressed in army fatigues, brandishing pistols barged into parliament positioned themselves behind Government MPs.

I remember thinking this is an unusual exercise for the army to conduct, but than my journalistic instincts kicked in and I started counting heads and observing details.

Among those were Rabuka instructing Government parliamentarians to follow his men out of parliament.

Prime Minister Dr Timoci Bavadra leaning back in his chair, rolling his eyes upwards, slapping his table with both hand, pushing himself up in defiance.

A soldier, placing a gun in his back and ordering him to lead the way out of parliament.

Other Government MPs roughly pulled out of their seats and shoved along at gun point, some stumbling, others leaning on each other for support, in confusion.

Fiji Broadcasting Corporation journalist Francis Herman (later became chief executive of FBC) and I looked at each other and it dawned at us at the same time that this is a coup.

Both of us scrambled for the only phone. He got there first.

The nearest phone for me was the Ministry of Information building next door.

I went charging down the gallery stairs. The old parliamentary entrance had bat wing doors, like the cowboy movies. I burst through that and came to a screeching halt with an AK 42 riffle in my stomach and a balaclava clad soldier at the end of it wanting to know what the #@#* I was doing.

Like any B grade movie I immediately put my hand up, shaking my note pad, as if that was going to be any help, shouting “I’m a reporter, I’m a reporter”. He obviously had more pressing issues to deal with and told me to “get the #@#* out of here”.

I didn’t need to be told twice.

I raced into the Ministry of information building, shouting give me a phone, any phone now.
The Director of Information at that time was Peter Thompson. He wanted to know what the urgency was.
While dialling the radio station, I said there had been a coup. He and a few others around at the time laughed and said yeah right.

By that time I had been put through to the studio, I told the announcer to fade the music with breaking news.
I started my report saying there has been a military take over and gave details of Rabuka and his men storming parliament and taking Government MP’s hostage.

Peter Thompson heard the report in stunned silence and finally said “well they are going to be here wanting to put out a press release”.

One of the Information Ministry reporters grabbed the phone from me and said I can’t use it anymore.
Francis Herman should have broken the biggest story in Fiji’s history. He later told me he was trying to convince his superiors that there had been a coup, but no one would believe him. I had no such problems, I was the editor, no one was going to argue with me.

So I waited for the first news release by Rabuka, officially telling Fiji citizens, their lives had changed for ever.
By that time the building was surrounded by armed soldiers.

I grabbed the first the copy out of the printer and jumped through a window, my only way out of the building.
I ran to the road to flag down a car to get to the radio station as soon as possible, to get the official statement to air.
The first vehicle to come along was a police van which I flagged down. Luckily I knew the officers from my days doing the police round.  They said hop in and they will drop me and started asking what was the hurry .
I said there had been coup.

Their response “Oh yeah, so what happened”. I said “you know a coup, don’t know what the hell’s going to happen now”. They looked at me blankly so I explained to them the military has taken over, guns are involved, elected government is under arrest.

It suddenly dawned on them what a coup was, they both looked at each other and said to me “we can’t take you to FM96 anymore we’ll drop you at the nearest taxi stand”.

By that time the military had stormed the Fiji Sun, The Fiji Time and FBC and shut them down. FM 96 was the new kid on the block, they forgot about us when they planned the coup. When I arrived at the station there was no soldier in sight.

I got Rabuka’s official statement that he had taken over the country to air and had a field day getting reactions. Emotional clips of Bavadra’s wife and relatives of other MP’s, Opposition sentiments to the coup. It was picked up by the wire service. The news had got out. It took the military four hours to realise people knew what was going on because they had tuned into FM96.

By that time I had done numerous interviews with overseas news organisations including Radio New Zealand, Radio Australia, BBC and Voice of America.- Sam Thompson now lives in Auckland, and works for NewstalkZB radio station

Top picture Dr Timoci Bavadra, second pic: Soldiers enter Fiji Senate in 2006. Photo by Wade Laube.

Coup Anniversary and Forgiveness

By Subhash Appana for the Indian Weekender

Sitiveni Rabuka around the time he staged Fiji's first coup
Today marks the 23rd anniversary of Sitiveni Rabuka’s coup, a coup that brought into the tranquil backwaters of the South Pacific the use of might over right as a weapon to change government. Sure this had been the mode of choice in the good old days, but colonisation and refinement by the British was supposed to have changed this more than a century ago. And like all old habits, it was supposed to have receded into the mists of time.

Unfortunately, the transformative effects of colonisation and subsequent experiences with 

responsible self-government were left wanting on that fateful day as Fiji showed that it was not prepared to join the ranks of democratic nations and that there was still some learning left for its people. That was ultimately the unflattering verdict that Sitiveni Rabuka invited when he unleashed the coup genie at 10am on 14th May 1987.

Fiji’s first coup involved a well orchestrated military operation. Firebrand Taukei Movement leader, Taniela Veitata, proclaimed “power flows from the barrel of a gun” as Captain Savenaca Draunidalo and nine masked, silent gunmen executed Fiji’s “treason at ten” that brought democracy to its knees in that pacific paradise that was once referred to as “the way the world should be” by no other than the Pope.

Today marks 23 years after the fall of Fiji from that elevated pedestal from where when PM Ratu Mara walked into any international forum, the world took notice. This was, after all, the man who helped broker the Lome Convention between the ACP and EEC in 1975. And Fiji’s PM always walked tall and proud with Malcolm Fraser of Australia and Lee Kwan Yew of Singapore. Those were the days when Fiji had to be acknowledged.

Coup Fallout
The fallout from that coup has kept Fiji both hobbled and crippled since that fateful day as an unprecedented exodus of the largely Indo-Fijian community began from a country that they had helped develop into what they saw as “home”. In the euphoria of independence just 17 years before, this same immigrant community had enthusiastically chanted and sung: Fiji desh hamaara hae, praano se bhi pyara hae.

Rabuka’s coup extinguished that flame of feeling and passion that had been painstakingly nurtured through the tyrannical trials and tribulations of Girmit. Heart-wrenching farewells were made as tears flowed among unprepared families torn apart in an unexpected new search for a home outside Fiji. A lifestyle that had been built around the undulating green cane fields was suddenly not meant to be.

Indian leaders, civil servants and sympathisers were hounded, seized and removed from their positions as an ethnic “balancing” exercise ensued in the civil service amid an environment of distrust, fear and hatred. Any advantage that could be exploited for personal gain was pursued with relish. Any dislikes or misunderstandings among neighbours both near and far were “corrected” as enough soldiers chose to look through only one eye.

The hounding continued to Nadi Airport where those who chose to leave had to contend with embarrassing and demeaning clearance processes in a system that suddenly had too many gaps for abusive interpretation. Officials made on-the-spot rules to maximise discomfort and many still talk about the inhumanity shown among humans who appeared to have metamorphosed into demons overnight.

The propaganda machinery in the meantime, went into overdrive as crass attempts were made to use race to justify the unjustifiable. Unfortunately the forcibly disturbed emotions did little to calm these necessary official encounters. And it would be unfair not to mention the many officials who did help in those tight times. Unfortunately the bad too often outshines the good in the human mind especially when it is outraged by a sense of unfairness.

A bigger, oft-understated, fallout from that coup was the release of variant ambitious ethnic Fijian interests that suddenly realised that there were opportunities to be exploited. This is when the tightly glued Fijian traditional system began to haemorrhage with increasing speed. This is when the chiefly system was first defied, tested and diverted towards narrow political interests.

The coup had spawned a plethora of interests, demands, expectations and more importantly, it brought to the centre a different type of Fijian bureaucrat/politician. It also centralised the role of the Methodist Church in Fijian politics. And of necessity, the demarcation between national government and the Fijian “system” was now as confused as ever.

That was the source of the tightrope that Rabuka was forced to walk throughout his reign; that’s why he was always reshuffling his cabinet and making constant political deals. Ultimately that was what led to his fall from grace at the hands of the voters in 1999. Rabuka could not continue to please the myriad interests that he had spawned with his coup and strategically nurtured through his silently intensifying power tussle with Ratu Mara. 

The “coup culture” that Fiji finds itself saddled with was thus seeded by Lieutenant-Colonel Sitiveni Rabuka more than 2 decades ago. There is also a link between all of Fiji’s 5 coups so far, the most direct being between the 1987 coup and that of Bainimarama in 2006. Rabuka thus, stands in the centre of the creation and maintenance of Fiji as “Coup-Coup Land”.  It is in this light that we need to evaluate his attempts at shaking off his Coup-Karma.

Forgiveness for Coup-Karma
There have been numerous reactions to Rabuka’s recent attempt at making a public apology for the 1987 coup. This time he took the initiative to approach the Tui Vuda, former President, Ratu Josefa Iloilo. Few realise that Ratu Josefa has direct links with Vuniduva, the seat of the Tui Cakau (one of Fiji’s 3 paramount chiefs) at Somosomo in Taveuni. There was therefore, obvious Rabuka-type strategy in this latest move.

The Taukei Sawaieke, Ratu Tevita Momoedonu went to great pains to clarify that, “Rabuka did not go there to apologise for overthrowing the Dr Bavadra-led government, but to admit that what he did was wrong....It was up to us whether to pardon him" (FT 16/4/10). This is the type of attached provisos that have always characterised Rabuka’s initiatives. And this is what makes people skeptical about his sincerity.

Some of the public reactions have been downright vindictive and unforgiving, but others have shown that we still retain what it takes to rise above the pettiness that enshrines the darker side of human nature. I do not wish to go through the more pronounced reactions here, but would like to emphasise that I doubt too many of these people have known Rabuka in person.

I have. And like anybody who knows Rabuka, can vouch that he has that elusive yet priceless quality called leadership. Rabuka has such charisma that he can effortlessly take over a gathering regardless of size. I have no doubts that he had all the right intentions when he executed that Father of Coups in 1987. I also have no doubts that his attempts at seeking forgiveness are genuine – that is the nature of the man.

Unfortunately, the web of lies and deceit that he weaved through all of his public pronouncements about that coup and subsequent developments in Fiji have come back to haunt him. Rabuka was thrust into a situation that was thought to be well above his depth; at some stage he decided to take control of the political game that had rationalised the 1987 coup. And the fact that he successfully swam through it for 12yrs has to be credited to the man.

That journey, which was initially meant to last for only a few days or weeks, called for the continuous plotting of a path for his political purpose once he decided to stay on. This is where the real legacy of Rabuka lies. He created a web of lies, a complex facade of truth to keep the aggrieved, angered and self-righteous hordes out and continue to appease the hungry factions that propped him. Fiji politics, which has largely been Fijian, continued in that vein – that’s what was being exploited by Qarase and his Gang.

Coming back to the issue of forgiveness for Rabuka, no matter what model we apply, two factors stand out as pre-requisites for real forgiveness: the need for truth and repentance. I doubt that Rabuka will ever be able to tell the whole truth; his lies that beget further lies have entangled and strangled the truth too strongly. That leaves repentance. And that is what nobody can strangle Rabuka with; he is free to repent in the unending web of his lies.

The Now
23 years later much has changed; the Indian threat is no more, attempts are renewed at every turn to castigate and ostracise Fiji even from the Pacific fraternity. The un-neighbourly outbursts from Samoa are shocking at best. Any attempt to try to present a non-outraged position on the Bainimarama regime is seen as pro-coup and seditious. Where will the solutions come from? Do elections guarantee democracy, transparency and accountability in Fiji?

Today marks the 23rd anniversary of the 1987 coup that transformed Fiji’s political landscape from one of smug complacence and acceptance to one of forceful denial of the tenets of democracy and the verdict of the voter through militant advocacy of the unfettered rights of a section of the community that could not comprehend the responsibilities that went with that elevated political positioning and has continued to refuse to accept the same. The trials for Fiji continue.

Fiji's coup de tat: the moment of takeover

An excerp from the David Robie’s book Blood on their Banner.

“OUR chiefs,” said Taniela Veitata, now an Opposition MP, “are really the guardians of the peace in Fiji.” A day after he and his Taukei colleagues had been plotting the next stage in the plan to depose Prime Minister Timoci Bavadra, Veitata was laying down the law in Parliament about racism.

“Peace is quite distinct, Mr Speaker, from the political philosophy of Mao Zedong where he said that political power comes out of the barrel of a gun. In Fiji, there is no gun. But our chiefs are there; we respect them …”

Seven minutes later, at the stroke of ten o’clock, ten soldiers wearing gasmasks burst into the chamber.

“Sit down everybody, sit down,” barked the squad leader,  a captain disguised by a balaclava and brandishing a 9mm pistol. “This is a takeover. Ladies and gentlemen, this is a military takeover. We apologise for any inconvenience caused. You are requested to stay cool, stay down and listen to what we are going to tell you.”

Lieutenant-Colonel Sitiveni Ligamamada Rabuka, dressed in a suit and a sulu stood up in the public gallery. He strode towards the Speaker – his uncle, Militoni Leweniqila.

“Please stay calm, ladies and gentlemen,” Rabuka said. “Mr Prime Minister, please lead your team down the right,” the colonel said. “Policemen, keep the passage clear. Stay down, remain calm. Mr Prime Minister, sir, will you lead your team now.”

Outside in the corridor, Ratu Finau Mara, son of the former Prime Minister [Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara], stood making sure the passage was clear. A back-up team of about 12 soldiers in full combat gear and armed with M16 assault rifles waited there. Moments earlier, Finau Mara had been making room in the passage for the soldiers to enter Parliament.

Shocked, Bavadra, his cabinet ministers and MPs were led outside at gunpoint to two waiting military trucks and ordered to get in.

Education Minister Dr Tupeni Baba, noticing uncertainty on the face of a soldier near him, made a gesture of resistance. “We’re not going on the trucks,” he said.

“Dou raici koyo, sa lako yani oqori,” snapped the captain. “Watch out for that one heading your way.”
Rabuka grabbed a loaded M16 from a nearby soldier and cocked it at Baba’s head. Baba, the most outspoken of any of the indigenous Fijian ministers, moved but still protested defiantly.

This item is courtesy of CafĂ© Pacific and is an excerpt from David Robie’s Blood on their Banner: Nationalist Struggles in the South Pacific (Zed Books, London, 1989), pp. 218-219.

And for an inside story of the role of all those, besides Sitiveni Rabuka, who were involved in the 1987 coups, take a look at Fiji Coup's in Paradise by Victor Lal.

First coup leader continues farce of 'journey of confessions'

He's old, grey and sorry but few people are likely to feel for him. And that's the way it should be.

Fiji's first coup leader, Sitiveni Rabuka, shouldn't be expecting people to take his 'journey of cofessions' to heart - that's an act of penitience that benefits him, not the people of Fiji.

Today is the 23rd anniversary of the May 1987 coup and it's a day that should see Rabuka behind bars, not on the front pages of the news media offering a limp apology.

Rabuka was responsible for creating the coup culture and the country's economic and political woes that have since ensued. He begat George Speight and Voreqe Bainimarama.

Fiji Village reported yesterday that the former colonel was continuing his 'journey of confessions' and that the Defence Minister Ratu Epeli Ganilau was the latest to get his apology.

Ratu Epeli (as with the family of the deposed prime minister Timoci Bavadra) is reported to have  accepted the confession and is said to have told Rabuka it's time to move forward and build a better future for everyone.

That's all and good for Rabuka, but what of Fiji? Under the hands of another military son, the coffers are empty, citizens are oppressed and democracy is a thing of the past. Rabuka had a hand in this, thanks to his orignal coup de tat, and that's something he has yet to front up to.

CCF uses 23rd anniversary of first coup to push again for dialogue

The Citizens’ Constitutional Forum (CCF) is using today's (May 14) 23rd anniversary of the first coup to call again for the illegal government to start an inclusive political dialogue in Fiji to find a way back to sustainable elected democracy.

It's chief executive Reverend Aquila Yabaki says moving back to an elected government is the way forward for Fiji and the international community accepts that this can be done through an inclusive political dialogue.

"Since independence in 1970, Fiji’s economy has performed better under elected governments. Human rights and freedoms have been better enjoyed by people under elected governments.”

Yabaki says the coups in 1987, 2000 and 2006, by comparison, have resulted in economic stagnation, loss of investor confidence and a decline of quality leaders in Fiji, as many skilled people migrated and many remaining leaders do not want to contribute to unstable coup-ridden governments.

"In addition to loss of skilled labour, Fiji has missed out on development opportunities and rights and freedoms have been restricted due to coups.

“We don’t need a coup to end the coup cycle or to end racism, because we cannot break the supreme law of a country to protect the rule of law. Racism and coup culture can be ended by a simple commitment from all citizens of Fiji – including members of the military – not to engage in these activities."
Yabaki says Fiji needs to learn its lesson and stop repeating the mistakes of the past. 

"We can only do that by stopping the cycle of coups, and returning to a sustainable elected democratic government. Given the current state of the economy, the need for inclusive political dialogue, as envisaged by Fiji citizens who contributed to the People’s Charter process in 2008, is now more urgent than ever.”

Thursday, May 13, 2010

FIAC to restore lost FNPF dreams?

These are the faces of Fiji's National Provident Fund. Who will bring them justice? Who will repay the $327 million that's been siphoned off, thanks to incompetence and thieving? 
And who will protect the rest of it?

Voreqe Bainimarama says people should have faith in the Fiji Independent Commission Against Corruption because it will be identifying and bringing to justice people who have lined their own pockets, but can we believe him?

His self-appointed government has been one of the ones bleeding the fund dry.

Bainimarama says people fear the anti-corruption unit because they're afraid of being exposed.

He added (generously, he thinks) that corrupt people exist in places like Government and  churches. Did he mention the military?

The junta leader says (almost as though it's a sign of faith) that the government has trimmed the number of ministers from 35 to 11 because the numbers' weren't justified.

Is that all he's going to do to show transparency?

More, so much  more, is needed, starting with an open inquiry and ending with the culprits going to jail and paying the money back.

Fiji Times: State's call on FNFP

Fiji Times Editorial
By Ifereimi Nadore

COMMODORE Voreqe Bainimarama has given an assurance that those who are implicated in the Fiji National Provident Fund saga will stand trial for their actions.

"O ni sa na raica talega ka rogoca na kedra tuvalaki vou na veitabana bibi eso ka voleka sara me ra kasura sobu me vaka na tabana ni lavo musuki na FNPF, ka vakanuinui tu kina na i wase levu ni lewe ni vanua ena i lavo ni vakacegu. (You would have seen and heard the new reforms currently being taken in important/key areas that are almost collapsing, such as the FNPF, in which lies the hope of a good number of our citizens when they retire)," he said.

"Ena tikina oqo e sa bokoca kina na FNPF ena macawa sa oti na dinau levu e $327milioni ka biuta ka vakacuruma na matabose ni FNPF kina otela mai Natadola ka vakayacori tu ena sala butobuto kei na veivakalolomataki ena nodra i yau na tamata cakacaka e Viti (The FNPF has written down a big debt of $327m, part of which it had invested in Natadola, and conducted under shady dealings, abusing workers' savings in Fiji)," he said.

"Era na beitaki kina mataveilewai ko ira kece era tiki ni gacagaca ni veivakalolomataki oqo (All those who are party to this oppression/abuse will be charged (taken to court)," he said.

Commodore Bainimarama said members' money had been misused by some people through dubious means and corruption.

Opening the Kadavu Provincial Council meeting yesterday, Commodore Bainimarama said after having seen how the FNPF members were ill-treated, they would see that those who did wrong would be dealt with accordingly.

The comments come after the Fiji National Provident Fund announced that it had to write down $327million worth of investments that were not performing.

Meanwhile, Commodore Bainimarama also told the meeting that changes were also made within the Native Land Trust Board to improve its service to landowners and tenants.

He said Government had also liquidated the business arm of the NLTB, the Vanua Development Corporation, which had used up $3million on its business dealings with businessman Ballu Khan.
He said the money, which was owned by the landowners, was not recovered.

Commodore Bainimarama said apart from that, Government had also injected new life into the Rewa Co-Operative Dairy Co Ltd to improve its production, which will see it extend to Vanua Levu.
He said Government had drawn up plans for the utilisation of vacant land under the new land reforms.

Saving FNFP - and Fiji

By Professor Wadan Narsey

In this last month, worrying news have emerged about two of our most important institutions in Fiji- the Fiji National Provident Fund (FNPF) and the Reserve Bank of Fiji (RBF).

The public have largely focused on the FNPF, after it announced a $327 million “write down” in its investment value (with some $300 million of that due to the Natadola loan).

But FNPF also has some other large exposures which are not looking good:  Momi, FSC and other private sector borrowers.

And the public has not picked up on the strange news that RBF has lent $22 million to the Fiji Sugar Corporation (FSC).

These are all extremely worrying developments for FNPF, RBF and for Fiji.

Need for Public Inquiry

The FNPF Board and Attorney General wanted the public to “know the truth” about the current real value of FNPF assets. Of course, that is good.

But more importantly, we need to “know the truth” about FNPF’s huge losses at Natadola, Momi and other loans.  $327 million is more than the entire annual contributions into the FNPF by its members.

How did these massive losses take place?  Who should be held responsible? Might it get worse for FNPF?  And how should FNPF management be strengthened to prevent further unwise decisions?

When the National Bank of Fiji (NBF) collapsed and lost the tax-payers more than $200 million, we never had an inquiry into who was responsible for that massive disaster, till then, the biggest in Fiji.

All we know is what the Rabuka-appointed manager of the NBF (Makrava) is then reported to have said  “if I go down, all the high and mighty in Fiji will go down with me” while the Minister of Finance then, (Vunibobo- also associated with the Natadola resort) said it was “water under the bridge”.

Yes indeed, there were quite a few high and mighty names in the full list of NBF defaulters, once published by The Fiji Times.

But unless we have a full public inquiry into the FNPF lossess, we will never really know who was responsible for this even bigger disaster, which increasingly looks like “flood-waters under the bridge” ready to carry away the FNPF ship.

The losses may be larger

Of great concern is that the real long term losses for FNPF (at Natadola, Momi and other precarious investments) may be much larger than the current $327 million write-down.

While the FNPF exposure at Momi has been around $80 million, the best tender at the previous auction was only around $40 million.  Future auctions may bring even less, as many moveable  assets at Momi were sold off at the last auction, while the uncompleted buildings, golf course and other infrastructure are all rapidly deteriorating and losing value.  The eventual Momi losses for FNPF may be much larger than the $18 million write down announced.

Furthermore, if the FNPF tries to itself build and operate the Momi resorts, we are likely to repeat the mistakes of Natadola, where FNPF spent more than $380 million and now is supposedly in possession of  assets worth only $80 million.

Put simply:  the FNPF management and the FNPF Board, despite all their good intentions,  hard work and personal stress,  just do not have the commercial expertise to build and operate hundred million dollar tourism projects.

Neither does FNPF  have the expertise for property development and sales, either at Natadola or Momi, that may generate some capital gains down the line.

Note that FNPF has not even been able to develop a valuable asset such as the Grand Pacific Hotel, which for several years now, has provided extremely costly accommodation for soldiers.

Note: FNPF has lent more than $44 million to FSC which continues to be a loss-making institution, with every indication that it will continue to make a loss for the next few years.

Note: FNPF also has other very large exposures to private borrowers whose investments (including massive shopping centres) are facing severe financial pressure because of the continuing economic stagnation.

We, whose savings are in FNPF, have to be worried that the write-downs required in the future may be far larger than the $327 million revealed now.

Who is accountable?

Before the 2006 coup the public could have held an elected Government to account.   And indeed if ever there is an inquiry into the current FNPF losses, then the Qarase Government’s relaxation of FNPF’s investment policy in 2005, and the failure of their Board appointees to make sound lending decisions on large projects like Natadola and  Momi, may be found to have been partly responsible.

But since the 2006 coup, the Military Government has changed the FNPF Board two times. Will the FNPF Board members who accepted their appointments after the 2006 coup accept personal financial responsibility down the line for any mistakes, regardless of their good intentions?

Or will personal responsibility be taken by those who implemented the 2006 and 2009 coups and appointed all the FNPF boards since then?

We, who have our savings in the FNPF, never asked or authorised this Military Government or its appointees, to take over the management of our pension fund.

If this Military Government believes in the principles of accountability stated in its People’s Charter, it should immediately allow those who have savings in the FNPF to elect their own representatives to control the FNPF Board, in partnership with employers.

The Fiji Government (elected or otherwise), which is the biggest borrower from FNPF, should have no role on the FNPF Board which makes decisions to lend money to Government.

Happy to control the massive FNPF balances, Government after selfish Government has failed to reform the FNPF management structure- and we are now paying the price.

This Military Government and all its Ministers would do well to relieve themselves of the terrible burden of managing FNPF, before they turn it into another disaster like the NBF.
FNPF safety

Of course, the FNPF Board and management are technically correct in saying that the Fund’s assets in book value are enough to cover the benefits owed to those who have their savings in the FNPF.

But the real difficulty is that the FNPF may not have the liquidity to be able to fully and freely pay these benefits when they become due.  Look at these symptoms:

Symptom 1:  The rate of return on FNPF assets has been gradually falling from more than 10 percent some fifteen years ago, to less than 6% currently.  This year, for the first time in decades, the real rate of return (net of inflation of around 10% currently), will be negative.

Symptom 2: In 2008, when the amounts withdrawn from the FNPF became larger than the contributions coming in, the FNPF was forced to tighten up the grounds for withdrawals from the fund, at great cost to those who wanted to borrow for education or housing.

Symptom 3: Provisional migrants and large legal withdrawers, have not been able to take their FNPF savings all at once.

Symptom 4:  The FNPF is already preparing for reduction of the future pension rate, probably down to 10% for single pensions.

Symptom 5: The biggest borrower from FNPF is the Fiji Government whose own liquidity is under threat.

These are all symptoms of increasingly severe liquidity problems faced by FNPF.

Applying band aid solutions will not work.
Because at the heart of FNPF’s liquidity problems, is the continuing economic stagnation, and lack of growth in employment and new FNPF contributions.  And a management board system  which the real owners of FNPF do not control.
Government Guarantee No Use

While Fiji Government guarantees to FNPF may have some long-term benefits for those with savings in the FNPF, it will not help FNPF or Fiji in the long run, simply because the largest borrower from FNPF is the Fiji Government itself.

A  borrower cannot guarantee its own loan, especially when the borrower is itself in financial difficulty.

With the Fiji economy in the doldrums, the Fiji Government’s revenues have not been buoyant, while their recurrent expenditure has not been controlled.  The 2010 Budget saw increased government deficits and increased public debt.

For the Fiji Government to repay its FNPF loans, it may have to borrow more, locally or abroad.

Problem 1: The commercial banks simply will not lend more to Government.

Problem 2: And with Fiji’s export earnings also not showing buoyancy, the international institutions like ADB and IMF will worry that Fiji will not be able service loans in foreign currency.

Problem 3: It would be extremely dangerous for FNPF to lend even more to Government, because it would effectively amount to FNPF repaying the loans due to itself.

All that will happen is higher inflation, leading to further loss in the value of the money held by all savers in Fiji, including those whose money is tied up in FNPF, and possibly further devaluations of the Fiji dollar.

If the Military Government finances its spending through higher public debt, it will simply be passing on the costs of our current mismanagement, to the future generations.

The RBF,  FSC and FNPF

It should be of grave concern to all who hold Fiji money in their hands, that the RBF has lent money to the FSC.

By legislation, the RBF is tasked  with regulating all the financial institutions and transactions in Fiji, including all lending to Government and the private sector.

For RBF to lend money to the FSC is therefore an inherent conflict of interest: how can the RBF be an objective regulator of private sector lending in Fiji, if it itself starts lending to the private sector?

This situation is even worse as the FSC is making losses and is likely to do so this year and the next, and will therefore have great difficulty repaying not just the local loans but also the substantial foreign loans it has taken out.

Yes, $22 million is not a large sum of money for the RBF.    And yes, FSC is a critical industry on which hundreds of thousands of people, and indeed the Fiji economy, depend.

But if FSC is to borrow, then RBF should advise it to  borrow from the private sector banks, the Fiji Development Bank, or as a last resort, from Fiji’s tax-payers through a Government of Fiji loan.

The RBF itself should not be lending to the FSC.  It is also not healthy that the current CEO of FSC is also on the Board of the RBF (even if he was not party to the decision to lend to FSC).

As before, the Fiji Government under-writing the RBF loan to FSC is of little use.

The RBF is tasked by its legislation to monitor and regulate the financial dealings of both the Fiji Government and the FNPF.
The RBF must be totally at arms length from both the Fiji Government and FNPF.  This has not been the case, from even before 2006.

Following the 2000 coup, and again after the 2006 coup, in order to strengthen Fiji’s foreign reserves,  the RBF forced FNPF to bring back most of its foreign investments.

FNPF lost its associated overseas interest income, which went to inflate the RBF profits, the bulk of which was then passed on to the Fiji Government ie this lost interest income is a continuing hidden tax on our FNPF savings.

Also remember, should FNPF ever be allowed to re-invest overseas, we will have lost a large chunk of our foreign asset value, because the Fiji dollar was devalued after FNPF was forced to bring back its overseas investments.

As a minimum, given FNPF’s current liquidity problems, it is only fair that the RBF should be annually crediting FNPF with the interest income lost annually, because FNPF has been forced by RBF to bring back its foreign investments to strengthen Fiji’s foreign reserves.  Why should FNPF bear the burden for the country?  FNPF is NOT the country.

Economic Stagnation and Loss of Investor Confidence

No amount of “telling the truth” about the current value of FNPF assets will help FNPF in the long run (or FSC or the Fiji Government).

Only sustained economic growth can create the increased employment, and employer and employee contributions into the FNPF that will take FNPF out of their long-term liquidity crisis.

Only sustained economic growth can generate healthy government revenues which will enable the Fiji Government to assist sick companies like FSC and sick industries like sugar.

The RBF’s recent release shows that total investment as a proportion of GDP is likely to be around 14% this year, as it has been for the last three years.  This is continuing bad news for Fiji as we need investment to be well above 25% of GDP.

The sad reality is that the private sector (local and foreign) are reluctant to invest in Fiji, not just because of the political instability, but given their grave doubts about the ability of the judiciary to protect their investments.

All investors would have been frightened by the Military Government’s recent decree seizing private assets (whatever may have been their specific justification in the Natadola case).

Investors cannot have confidence in a country where a military decree can stop private investors  from even bringing their grievances (legitimate or otherwise) to court.

It is extremely disappointing that this message is not going out from the current Governor of the Reserve Bank of Fiji, which is the only statutory organisation tasked with giving independent objective advice to any Government of Fiji, elected or otherwise.

It is also extremely disappointing that the Reserve Bank of Fiji is not advising the Military  Government that the best way to save FSC and the sugar industry is by meeting the very mild conditions required by the EU for it to release its $300 million dollar assistance package.

Solution faces the Military Government

This Military Government can take decisive action to restore investor confidence in Fiji and enable the economy to grow immediately, if

(a) the EU can release the $300 million originally allocated to assist the sugar industry adjust to its ongoing crisis.

(b) Australia and NZ can relax their travel bans and allow experienced and honest people to assist the Fiji Government and the judiciary.

(c) Fiji can be readmitted to the Commonwealth, and the Forum Secretariat (and all regional initiatives such as the PACER Plus discussions).

(e) All our donors (Australia, NZ, EU, China, Japan, India and others) co-operate and assist the recovery of the Fiji economy.

I suspect that all the Military Government has to do is to begin an all inclusive political dialogue and, in return for aid commitments from our international partners, agree to bringing elections forward to 2012.

Preparation for that could begin immediately, including any minor constitutional changes, such as the electoral reform whose outlines are now accepted to all experts.

Note that by 2012, Bainimarama and the Fiji Military Forces will have already demonstrated their “iron fist” ability to run the Fiji Government for six years, with virtually no resistance from a docile Fiji public, despite the worsening economy and poverty.

Which future elected government (perhaps even a Bainimarama government) will step out of line with any genuine national development guidelines such as the Charter, established by the current Military Government?

The ball is clearly in the court of Frank Bainimarama, the Military Council, and the coup supporters. 

Let us pray that they do not wait until the FNPF, the Fiji economy and the Fiji dollar have completely collapsed.

CCF tries to put heat on junta on 23rd anniveray of first coup

The Citizens’ Constitutional Forum (CCF) says it's time the illegal government started an inclusive political dialogue in Fiji to find a way back to sustainable elected democracy.

Itschief executive Rev Aquila Yabaki says moving back to an elected government is the way forward for Fiji and the international community accepts that this can be done through an inclusive political dialogue.

“Since independence in 1970, Fiji’s economy has performed better under elected governments. Human rights and freedoms have been better enjoyed by people under elected governments.”

He says the coups in 1987, 2000 and 2006, by comparison, have resulted in economic stagnation, loss of investor confidence and a decline of quality leaders in Fiji, as many skilled people migrated and many remaining leaders do not want to contribute to unstable coup-ridden governments. 

In addition to loss of skilled labour, Fiji has missed out on development opportunities and rights and freedoms have been restricted due to coups.

“We don’t need a coup to end the coup cycle or to end racism, because we cannot break the supreme law of a country to protect the rule of law,” Rev Yabaki said.

“Racism and coup culture can be ended by a simple commitment from all citizens of Fiji – including members of the military – not to engage in these activities.

He says Fiji needs to learn its lesson and stop repeating the mistakes of the past. 

"We can only do that by stopping the cycle of coups, and returning to a sustainable elected democratic government. Given the current state of the economy, the need for inclusive political dialogue, as envisaged by Fiji citizens who contributed to the People’s Charter process in 2008, is now more urgent than ever.”

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

$84 million valuation for Natadola Resort absurd

Why is the luxurious 5-star Natadola Bay Resort being under-valued at $84 million by the Fiji National Provident Fund?

In its shocking disclosure of a $301million write off on the Natadola Resort project last week, the Fund’s Chief Executive Aisake Taito and Chairman Ajith Kodagoda revealed that international valuers had put the market value of the resort at $84 million. 

This seems an absurd valuation for a luxury five-star 300-plus room hotel of Natadola’s reputation. It has not been said whether the valuation includes the internationally rated golf course and the residential lots. 

Even without, the figure is questionable considering that experts put the current construction cost (post devaluation) for a five-star hotel room at about $0.5million per room. 

No details were released on who carried out the valuation and the credentials of the firm involved. We were simply told that an “international valuation” put the value at $84 million. 

The FLP has written to the CEO of the Fund, Mr Aisake Taito, expressing its concerns at what appears to be a gross under-valuation of the resort. 

We have asked for a copy of the valuation report and for the credentials of the valuers. 

The full text of our letter to FNPF is given below:
7 May 2010
Mr Aisake Taito
Chief Executive
Fiji National Provident Fund
Private Mail Bag

Dear Sir
re: the Natadola Bay Resorts Ltd
I notice from statements made to the media by yourself and the Chairman of FNPF Mr Ajith Kodagoda that international valuers had put the market value of the Natadola Resort at $84 million.
This seems an absurd valuation for a luxury five-star 300-plus room hotel of Natadola’s reputation. Does the valuation include the internationally rated golf course and the residential lots or is the valuation just for the hotel itself?
I shall be grateful if the valuation report can be made public in view of the questions that are now being raised regarding the credibility of this valuation report. My information is that a valuation of the hotel commissioned by the FNPF in 2008, at a time when the hotel complex was only 60% complete, had put its value in excess of $230 million.
How does one explain such a huge discrepancy in the two valuation reports? I am also curious about the value of the Momi Bay development (or whatever is left of it) in the books of FNPF. Was this property also valued by the same firm of international valuers?
There is a great deal of anxiety about the $84 million valuation. Who are these valuers? What method of valuation did they use? These are same of the questions being asked.
We ourselves have been informed by experts in the tourism industry that present day construction costs, taking account of the devaluation, for a five star hotel room average around $0.5million.
On that basis, the Natadola Resort should be worth no less than $170 million, excluding the golf course and the residential lots.
We cannot let this matter go unchallenged as it has huge implications on the future safety and security of FNPF funds. It also calls to question whether the business of the Fund is conducted in a transparent manner.
There is speculation in some circles, albeit unsubstantiated, that the resort has been deliberately grossly undervalued so as to facilitate its sale at a later date to a favoured buyer.
The value of the resort having been substantially written down, the impropriety of the sale at well-below the actual market value of the property cannot then be questioned. What is alleged is that the ground is being prepared for that to materialise.
Members of the fund do not appear to be satisfied with the official explanation given by the Attorney General and the management of the Fund. There appears to be a lot more to it than has so far surfaced.
In the circumstances, I shall be grateful if you will forward me a copy of the valuation report of the Natadola development, with the credentials of the valuers.
I shall also be grateful to be informed of the value of the Momi Bay Resort development in the books of the FNPF.
I would appreciate an early response from you, in view of the importance of this matter to the general public of Fiji.
Yours faithfully
Mahendra P. ChaudhryGeneral Secretary
Member FNPF  

Posted Matavuvale

The ironic vows of the junta to punish the greedy and selfish

Fiji's illegal government is burying its head in the sand over its role in the millions of dollars being written off by the National Provident Fund.

Voreqe Bainimarama today said his government will get rid of selfish and greedy people, who only want to benefit themselves.

In opening the two-day Kadavu Provincial Council meeting this morning in Suva, the junta leader said the government wants to eliminate waste of funds and the FICAC will be weeding people out.

Bainimarama singled out the Fiji National Provident Fund, which has had to write off $327 million worth of its assets, saying those responsible will be taken to task.

Strange, how he has deliberately overlooked the fact that the National Provident Fund lent the illegal military government of Fiji money for its worthless T-Bills and FDL Bonds.

He's also ignored how the Reverse Bank of Fiji has not published - as required under law - the activities of the fund since 2006. Remember those secret guerrilla loans?

Bainimarama says a lot of trust was placed in those responsible for safeguarding the funds and that they failed and must be punished. He doesn't have to look far does, he?-Source Fiji Village. Fiji Live. Illustration: Fiji Times 2009

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Bainimarama: knock on doors, know your role and don't fight for land

Pearls of wisdom seemed to be dripping from the mouth of Fiji's self-appointed prime minister, Voreqe Bainimarama, this week.

At the opening of the Tailevu Provincial Council meeting in Korovou, yesterday, the junta leader urged civil servants to go directly to the people - to their doorsteps - if they really want to be of use to the public.

He also harped on again about nation building. He said: "There is too much laxity among Fijians (therefore) we are not able to achieve the dreams and goals we once had. We are not working hard, instead we are always waiting for Government to help us."

Bainimarama chided people saying Fijians were blessed with land and they need "to work together as a family, mtaqali, tikina, village and with our brothers and sisters who now call Fiji their home. We need to change our mindset. It is time we work together for a better Fiji."

He also had the temerity to tell people not to fight for land because it would not bring anything but overgrown property. "We cannot go back to the land issue every time. We all know that land is a big issue but no one is going to take it with him/her to the grave yard."

Let's hope the military strongman is himself living a life that is exemplary; one that Fijians can look to and want to follow instead of despise.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Chinese nationals accused of bribing Prasad with cash and Chinese tea

A key figure in Fiji's illegal government has appeared as a witness in the court case against two Chinese nationals accused of trying to bribe him in return for a contract for a water project in Savusavu.

The Permanent Secretary for Finance, John Prasad, is giving evidence against Chen Xue Liang and De Chuan Zhao.

The Fiji Village says the men are from the China Huashi Enterprise Fiji Limited, and have pleaded not guilty to one charge of allegedly bribing a public officer in July 2009.

It's believed the two men gave Prasad $6000 and a box of Chinese tea to promote, to procure and to obtain a contract for the water and sewerage upgrade work in Savusavu.

The Fiji Village says Prasad told Judge Justice Salesi Temo that the Media Officer from the Ministry of Works Sainiana Waqainabete called him to arrange a meeting with the two accused as they wanted to discuss a water project with him in his capacity as Permanent Secretary for Finance and Chairman of the Water Authority of Fiji.

Prasad said according to Waqainabete the two wanted to meet him alone and a time was arranged for 5:30 on the afternoon of July 28th last year. He revealed that he met the two in his office at Ro Lalabalavu house in Suva.

Prasad said during the meeting, the two told him about their company and showed him photographs of other projects they have done for the Water department in the past.

Prasad told the court that the two than allegedly gave him a bag containing Chinese tea.

He said after the meeting, while he was walking the two to the exit, Zhao allegedly gave him an envelope containing money.

Prasad says he looked into the envelope and put it in his office and went into another meeting.

The Permanent Secretary for Finance said he then tried to call the Attorney General Aiyaz Sayed Khiayum, failing which he called the Minister for Finance Commodore Voreqe Bainimarama to inform him of the incident as he was not sure how to report the matter.

Prasad said Commodore Bainimarama advised him to try and call the Attorney General again.

He said he managed to get hold of Sayed Khaiyum who then advised him to detail the incident in writing and email to him and also that the money be counted in front of FICAC Officers to verify the amount of cash in the envelope.

Prasad said that evening, he was called by the two accused and he told them that he cannot accept the gift, it was inappropriate and that he will have to report them.

He said while he was in the process of emailing the Attorney General, the two accused sent him text messages.

FICAC lawyer Vincent Parera presented a copy of the text message in court which stated and I quote " I am sorry but I really need your help. I promise that no one knows about the gifts. It is just traditional Chinese gift" end of quote.

Another text message presented in court read and I quote, " I am sorry, I am sorry, I don't know Fiji tradition, this simple Chinese tradition as I want to meet the Prime Minister to introduce my company so I give gift to you" end of quote.

Prasad told the court that from the meeting and what transpired afterwards, he felt that the two accused went to him to induce a bribe to get the contract for the Savusavu water project.

During cross examination by defense counsel Gavin O'Driscoll questioned Prasad on how he was the Chairman of the Water Authority of Fiji at the time of the alleged incident when the Authority was formally set up in January 2010.

O'Driscoll also pointed out that his clients had placed a bid for the contract in question in March 2009 when the alleged incident occurred in July of the same year.-Fiji Village.