Key to Fiji

May 31st, 2016 at 10:00 am by David Farrar

Stuff reports:

Soured relations between New Zealand and Fiji are “ancient history” and the timing is right to visit, says Prime Minister John Key.

It is the first time in a decade a New Zealand Prime Minister will visit the island nation.

The relationship between the two nations broke down following the 2006 military coup and sanctions were put on Fiji until it returned to “free and fair elections”.

Diplomatic relations have been restored since 2014 when Fijian Prime Minister Josaia Voreqe Bainimarama, known as Frank Bainimarama, was democratically elected.

Key said he endorsed then Prime Minister, Helen Clark’s, decision to sanction Fiji but always said the relationship would “normalise” when Fiji returned to democratic elections.

Key offered to visit Fiji because “it’s an important relationship for us in the Pacific”.

Good to see relations heading back to normal. Fiji has had democratic elections but there are still disturbing incidents such as the resignation of the Police Commissioner over military interference.

A bad sign for Fiji

November 12th, 2015 at 7:50 am by David Farrar

Radio NZ reports:

Fiji’s Police Commissioner Ben Groenewald has resigned and been replaced by Fiji’s land force commander Colonel Sitiveni Qiliho as Acting Police Commissioner.

Mr Groenewald told the ABC he was not happy with the way the Fiji military was interfering with policing.

The South African took up the job in May last year.

His departure was indirectly due to a standoff with the military over policing matters, he said.

Mr Groenewald, who described himself as a true-blooded policeman, said he was not satisfied with the way they interfered.

In a statement, the Fiji government said Mr Groenewald was leaving for personal and family reasons.

Following advice from the Prime Minister as the Chair of the Constitutional Offices Commission, the President had appointed Colonel Sitiveni Qiliho as the Acting Commissioner, the government said.

I had high hopes for Fiji after their election and new constitution. But this is disturbing.

Having the Police Commissioner resign due to military interference is bad enough. That suggests the military may see themselves as still above the law.

But to then appoint a military officer as the Acting Commissioner is worse.

A thaw with Fiji

October 1st, 2015 at 9:00 am by David Farrar

Stuff reports:

The curtain has finally been drawn on a near decade-long freeze on top-level relations between New Zealand and Fiji.

Prime Minister John Key and his Fijian counterpart Frank Bainimarama on Tuesday (early Wednesday, NZ time) held a formal bilateral talk on the fringes of the United Nations general assembly  – the first since the military overthrow of Fiji’s elected government in 2006. …

After posing for photographs and having a quick chat about rugby Key and Bainimarama withdrew to a private room to continue their meeting, with talks expected to focus on Fiji’s role in the Pacific. They will also canvass the likelihood of a top-level visit by Key.

Relations between New Zealand and Fiji soured following the 2006 coup and diplomatic relations have only been restored since Bainimarama’s government was democratically elected in 2014.

Good to see relations heading back to normal. One can disapprove of the coup and the behaviour of the military Government. But by all accounts Fiji had fair democratic elections, and is functioning again under the rule of law. it will be good to have the two Governments working together.

A clear victory

September 19th, 2014 at 9:00 am by David Farrar

The Herald reports:

Political parties bound for the opposition benches and those who failed to make the Fiji Parliament want the vote count suspended.

As of last night, Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama’s Fiji First Party had taken a commanding lead – securing more than 60 per cent of valid votes – and will almost certainly form the next Government. Its closest rival, Sodelpa, was just under 27 per cent, and would not be in a position to beat Fiji First with about 400,000 of the 520,000 votes counted.

But Sodelpa, One Fiji, National Federation Party, People’s Democratic Parties and the Fiji Labour Party said they would not accept the results and alleged vote rigging.

“We will not accept the outcome based on the evidence available which points to a co-ordinated and systematic effort to defraud the citizens of Fiji of a free and fair election,” the parties said.

This is nonsense, coming from the losers. The international observers have said it was a fair and free election. The opposition parties should focus on being an effective opposition that can hold the Government to account – rather than disputing the election result, which is clear cut.

Bainimarama well ahead

September 18th, 2014 at 9:00 am by David Farrar


Results from Fiji Times. A huge mandate to Bainimarama – as expected.

The challenge will be to see how he rules as Prime Minister. If he can get democratic government working again, that will be a good thing. That has to include though a free media.

The Fiji election

September 7th, 2014 at 7:00 am by David Farrar

The Herald reports:

The latest polls give the mercurial Bainimarama a popularity rating of 60 to 86 per cent, and suggest Fiji First will win the most seats – possibly even a clear majority – in the new, 50-member Parliament.

But not everyone believes the polls, and one unknown is the scale of a possible backlash by indigenous Fijians. They comprise about 57 per cent of Fiji’s 850,000 population, and are furious about Bainimarama’s abolition of the Great Council of Chiefs, a group of revered tribal leaders, and his insistence that the formerly influential Methodist Church stay out of politics.

Another factor which might be skewing the polls, is the reluctance of some voters to divulge their true intentions.

I expect Bainimarama will win the election, and become Prime Minister. What will be more interesting is how he does as PM, without the restrictions on media and political activity that have been in place. And if he becomes unpopular and faces losing at say the election after this one, will he accept that?

Fiji sanctions lifted

April 1st, 2014 at 11:00 am by David Farrar

The Dom Post reports:

New Zealand is lifting travel sanctions against Fiji, Foreign Minister Murray McCully has confirmed.

In a statement, McCully said the progress Fiji was making towards holding free and fair elections deserved recognition from the Pacific region and international communtiy.

“There are now more than 500,000 people registered to vote in the September elections, electoral commissioners have been appointed and importantly Commodore Bainimarama has stepped down as the head of the Military.

The Fijian elections are three days before the NZ ones.

It is almost inevitable Bainimarama will be elected Prime Minister. What will be interesting is how he copes without military powers and an actual opposition. For me, it is the second election that will be the interesting one.

Guest Post: A first hand but different view on Fiji

January 27th, 2014 at 7:00 am by David Farrar

A guest post by Deane Jessup:

On Tuesday the 21st of January 2014 Josiah Voreqe “Frank” Bainimarama announced that on February the 28th he would resign as leader of the Fijian Armed forces so that he could contest the 2014 election as a candidate for Prime Minister.  On Friday the 19th of January I had returned from a two week holiday in Fiji, and weirdly I knew most of the details of Commodore Bainimarama’s announcement before I left Nadi Airport.  In fact I already knew such a surprising degree of detail that I was initially confused that it was new news.

I knew because the people of Fiji seemed to know, en-mass, well before it was announced.  They were also excited; not because a dictatorship was coming to an end, but because they were very happy that they would finally get to show their confidence in the man that had for so long ruled Fiji without a proper election.

At this point I probably need to make a few things clear; I am not a regime apologist, I am a politically aware centrist New Zealander, before this trip I knew about as much about Fijian politics as any other New Zealander does from the news, I have a couple of Fijian Friends, we have never talked about their home, and I had never been to Fiji before my family trip at the beginning of January this year.  In fact the last I had seen about Fiji was the horrific video David Farrar posted last year showing a prisoner being tortured by “police” officers of the incumbent government.  On political topics I often agree with David, I certainly agree that a solid democracy with a good electoral process is the corner stone of developed society.  I thought the coup was wrong, and the ends never justify the means.  That is why I am surprised, so much so that I felt the need to write this, and on top I am going to try and tell you why I have changed my mind and that Fiji may actually be one of those rare examples of an exception proving a rule.

While I was in Fiji I met and had deep honest conversations with people from all walks of life, the stories started with me overhearing and people volunteering information, eventually I became so drawn in that I was actively looking for opinions.   I’d like to think that I am a disarmingly genial chap, someone who people enjoy talking to and someone who attracts no ulterior reason’s to be disingenuous with.  So with that in mind I don’t believe I got a safe and couched view, I also work in high end sales, so I know when people are being dishonest and “selling” to me, this never happened.  Well almost never, I don’t count porters in Denerau, they nod and smile to anything you say as long as you’re out of the pool by 7pm and buying enough souvenirs and cocktails. 

Throughout my travels I met a senior manager from a large Fijian owned company and his wife who is a teacher, they both live in Suva.  A kiwi property developer who had lived and owned properties in outlying Fijian provinces for 20 years (currently in the far north).  Village elders (got to love those kava ceremonies), from Navua to Korovou and lots of taxi drivers both Fijian and Fijian Indian.  A Canadian man and his wife who had been in Fiji since 1997 who own a successful tourism business employing many locals.  A just arrived American couple managing a small dive resort, and many more including villagers from both rich and poor villages, expats, and tourists like me spending their own money in a country they felt very comfortable in.


A village elder tells me about traditional weaving

The message was the same, consistent, and delivered with vigour; the current government has done a great job, everyone expected the Commodore to step down and run for Prime Minister, and everyone intended to vote for him.  It was hard to argue looking around, education has been reformed and well-funded… from a system hardly anyone could afford to one that looks much like New Zealand’s, complete with a new law compelling parents to send children to school.  Roads look great, and the bustle of road development is everywhere, bridges are being built and other infrastructure is being improved, the police are out in force slowing down the traffic and checking seatbelts.  Health and hospitals are performing 10 times better than ever before, and new hospitals and clinics are being built everywhere.  Tourism is rising again, confidence in travel to the region is returning.


A very courteous sign warns that your speed will be checked soon.  Road-spikes impress that they are serious.


A man walks his horses on the very nice Kings Road over the top of Viti Levu through sugar cane country.

The really surprising thing was the anti-corruption and equality messaging, it was everywhere, from bus stops to bill boards; several people said to me that they simply did not realise how bad the racism and corruption was until attention was being called to it.  In fact the surprising thing was how welcome it really was.  One Fijian Indian taxi driver actually said to me, “Voreqe showed me I was a racist, and he also showed me a way to be different”.  Another, a villager said to me “I used to think it was right that my Chief got gifts to make decisions for people, even though my family never saw anything from it”.


A roadside bus stop encourages locals to call a toll free number to report corruption

Bainimarama is always painted by his opponents as a man who wanted control, a man who would do anything for power, and a man that has constantly meddled in Fijian politics (since he was able from 1999).  The funny thing is I sort of agree with them, and he probably would too.  I remember a line that Commodore Bainimarama used a while ago; it went something like “We cannot hold elections because the country will elect the old prime minister”.  At the time I thought how arrogant and dictatorial.  Retrospectively, and after seeing the bustling economic proof of his actions, I have come to see him slightly differently; yes he wanted and took control, but he has the air of a disappointed man with a heavy heart, I think he hoped that Fiji could find another way, yes he put Laisenia Qarase in power, and yes Qarase turned out to be quite a native Fijian nationalist, perhaps to begin with maybe Bainimarama thought the New Zealand apologise, respect, and repay (the indigenous) model could work for the Fijian Indian’s.  But at some point it seems he decided it wouldn’t, Fiji simply has too many other dominant points on its political compass, namely the Council of Chiefs and the Methodist Church, on top of this the Fijian Indian’s were not the dominant all controlling invading force that had something to apologise for.  Most of them were in Fiji because of external forces, brought as slaves to work fields, those forces have largely been dealt with by Fiji’s move to a republic.

I don’t know this for certain; I did not go before the coup, but I suspect that Fiji was effectively Feudal before the recent changes, and yet we are judging the change by modern standards applied to the creation of a 21st century country.  Realistically though the changes that the last coup brought could be viewed as little different to the American Revolution, or so many others that took place before and after.  No, this is not how you create a country these days, but viewed through a different lens perhaps it could be seen quite differently, perhaps even justifiably.

Bad things do happen occasionally, we saw that with the video I spoke of earlier, but bad things happen in New Zealand too, ask any European camper traveling Aotearoa with a touch more trepidation for those quite country nights than we would want them to have.  The kiwi’s, American’s, and Canadians I spoke to who have invested in Fiji are certainly staying, they are excited by the opportunity presented by an economy clearly poised for growth, every foreign ex-pat I spoke to said that without the current government they would have left years ago, some were considering it prior to 2006.  I bet the racially motivated nationalists in Fiji hate me saying that.

Either way, I have seen with my own eyes and more than 1000km of travel that Fiji is improving, and I cannot deny that the people at all ends approve of the changes.  I would put money that Voreqe Bainimarama will be elected with a good margin, and I will also bet that if he wants a second term he will get it.  Not because he will control the military, rig the election, and oppress his opponents.  But because he will literally do the exact opposite at the same time as running the best government he can muster with the people elected by the country he loves more than anything else.  Don’t forget he is a Fijian Native Methodist, for him to push equality ahead of his personal upbringing and risk the hatred of all he cares about he must have been completely determined that this was the only way.

As for me, I am already planning my next trip to Fiji at the end of this year, it will be twice as long as the last one, and my wife, my two children and I will see twice as much of the country that welcomed us in and told a fascinating story of positive change through revolutionary glasses.  Perhaps then, post-election I will get to see if sometimes the end can indeed justify the means.

By Deane Jessep; father, enterprise communications specialist, traveller, writer, and semi-reformed politico.

The new Fiji constitution

August 25th, 2013 at 2:00 pm by David Farrar

Fiji has released what is basically the final constitution for next year’s elections, and thereafter. It is embedded below.

The constitution is a vast improvement over the former constitution which was racially divisive. It has many laudable aspects to it.

I blogged in March on the draft constitution and said:

  • Explicitly rules unconstitutional any future coups, or immunities for future illegal actions. A valiant attempt to stop the coup culture. But the wide role five to the military allows them to intervene in future and claim it is constitutional
  • Clearly defines Fiji as a secular state with freedom of religion, and that religious beliefs are subservient the the constitution and laws.
  • All citizens are equal, regardless of racial background.
  • A comprehensive bill of rights but the freedom of speech section has a long list of limitations which could in fact lead to fairly restricted speech.
  • A 50 MP proportional representation Parliament, with one national list. Was previously proposed to be a 45 MP Parliament with four regional lists.
  • No hereditary upper house
  • A four year fixed term
  • A neutral President appointed by Parliament. President is Commander-in-Chief, not the PM as originally proposed. President may not be a member of a political party
  • An independent Judiciary
  • The PM appoints the Commander of the Republic of Fiji Military Forces.
  • The role of the Republic of Fiji Military Forces is “to ensure at all times the security, defence and well-being of Fiji and all its residents”. I think that is far too wide a role, and can be used to justify the military doing almost anything they want, so long as they believe it is necessary to the “well-being” of Fiji. It is not their job to decide. Their job should be to protect Fiji from external threats.
  • Grants immunity to all those involved in past coups etc, and this section can never be amended or repealed.
  • Constitution can only be amended by a bill in Parliament that is then ratified by a three quarters majority in a referendum, and unclear if it needs three quarters of those voting or three quarters of all registered voters

The major problem with the constitution is the process, not the substance. It has been decided upon by the Commodore, and will be proclaimed by him without any public vote. Furthermore it is very very difficult to change it in future, and the clauses dealing with immunity are stated to be beyond amendment or repeal. So you have a document proclaimed by one man, that will be supreme law, and parts of it can never ever be changed even if 99% of Fijians want it.

But the reality of Fiji is they have imperfect choices. The constitution is generally very good, and greatly superior to what they have had in the past. It allows for elections next year, and hopefully a path back to democracy.

The true test for Fiji will come if there is a time the Commodore contests an election, and does not win. I suspect he will win next year, but then he will have an opposition who can criticise him more vigorously, a Parliament that provides the opposition with a voice, and hopefully a more free media. That means that his current advantages may not last forever.

Not that I have a view on whether or not he should remain PM. That should be a judgement of the people of Fiji based on how good a job he does as PM in growing the economy, providing good education and health, uniting Fiji and the like.

2013 Fiji Constitution by Cam Slater

The draft Fiji constitution

March 22nd, 2013 at 2:00 pm by David Farrar

Commodore Bainimarama has released his draft constitution for Fiji. I can’t find it online anywhere but the Government kindly sent me a copy so I have embedded it below.

The proposed constitution is actually very good in the main, and a huge improvement over the former constitution. I’ll go through what I see as the major good and not so good points of it.

Concern remains over the process. The independent constitutional panel’s report was basically sidelined and the pledge to have the draft considered by a Constituent Assembly has now been dropped also. The ends do not justify the means.

The draft constitution proposes it can only be amended by referendum. If so, then the constitution itself must be adopted by referendum, not by decree. It also should require the same vote in favour as will be needed to amend it.

The Commodore’s summary is:

  • it gives sovereign control to a single house in Parliament, which is represented by members elected by you;
  • the size of parliament shall be 45 with a four year term. The idea is to attract good quality and honest parliamentarians who will be paid accordingly and who won’t be corrupt;
  • it provides for not only civil and political rights, but also, for the first time in our constitutional history, it provides for a wide range of socio-economic rights. As seen through the constitutional submissions, many Fijians are concerned about their day to day living and access to better facilities and utilities. The draft Constitution has rights to housing and sanitation, reasonable access to transportation, adequate food and water and social security schemes. It also for the first time gives specific rights to persons with disabilities and to children;
  • it creates a secular state which will allow all Fijians to practice their own faiths;
  • it has proportional representation through a multi member constituency which will give enhanced opportunities for women and the youth to be in Parliament;
  • it gives more independence to the Judiciary,  to control their own budget and finances as approved by Parliament. FICAC and the DPP’s office shall control their own affairs;
  • it creates a Human Rights and Anti-Discrimination Commission to give protection to all citizens irrespective of their backgrounds or socio-economic status;
  • it creates a truly independent electoral commission  with appropriate powers; and
  • for the first time in our history, it gives you the right to change the constitution once implemented via a referendum;

As I said, overall it looks to be be very good, and worth adopting. But there area areas of potential improvement. My key take from it is:

  • Explicitly rules unconstitutional any future coups, or immunities for future illegal actions. A valiant attempt to stop the coup culture. Of course those with guns can ignore laws, as we have seen, unless soldiers are trained to arrest any commanding officer who gives an illegal order.
  • Clearly defines Fiji as a secular state with freedom of religion, and that religious beliefs are subservient the the constitution and laws. Excellent.
  • All citizens are equal, regardless of racial background.
  • A comprehensive bill of rights. Of course having the Commodore back state officials who torture prisoners makes you wonder about the will to enforce this.
  • The freedom of speech section has a long list of limitations which could in fact lead to fairly restricted speech. Will depend on how independent the Judiciary is.
  • A 45 MP proportional representation Parliament, with four multi-member electorates.
  • No hereditary upper house
  • A four year fixed term unless two thirds of Parliament vote for an early election.
  • There is an Independent Electoral Commission but four members are appointed by PM and one by the Opposition Leader. Would be far better for all to be consensual appointments.
  • A neutral President appointed by Parliament. Ceremonial powers only. Would be better to require President to have a super-majority so backed by Govt and Oppn.
  • PM, not President, is Commander-in-Chief of Military.
  • An independent Judiciary
  • The PM appoints the Commander of the Republic of Fiji Military Forces.
  • The role of the Republic of Fiji Military Forces is “to ensure at all times the security, defence and well-being of Fiji and all its residents”. I think that is far too wide a role, and can be used to justify the military doing almost anything they want, so long as they believe it is necessary to the “well-being” of Fiji. It is not their job to decide. Their job should be to protect Fiji from external threats.
  • Grants immunity to all those involved in past coups etc, and this section can never be amended or repealed.
  • Constitution can only be amended by a bill in Parliament that is then ratified by a three quarters majority in a referendum. Happy with that, but the adoption of the constitution MUST also be subject to a three quarters majority referendum to be morally valid.

Overall, as I said, it looks to be a sound document.

2013 – Fiji Draft Constitution

Bainimarama supports torturers

March 10th, 2013 at 1:00 pm by David Farrar

TVNZ report:

Fijian Prime Minister Voreqe Bainimarama says he will “stick by his men” if they are found to have been involved in the savage beating and torture of an escaped prisoner.

A nine minute video posted online this week shows two men being repeatedly beaten with poles, as they lie huddled on the ground handcuffed, screaming in agony. …

Sources have told ONE News the men carrying out the beating are army, police and prison officers.

Speaking to , Bainimarama said if that is shown to be the case, he would support their actions.

“At the end of the day, I will stick by my men, by the police officers or anyone else that might be named in this investigation,” he said.

“We cannot discard them just because they’ve done their duty in looking after the security of this nation and making sure we sleep peacefully at night.”

I wasn’t aware their duties included torture?

Hopefully those responsible will still be arrested and charged, despite the views of the Commodore. It would show that no one is above the law.

The Commodore is due to announce in the near future if he will contest next year’s elections. I expect he will. He may find that his support for torturers doesn’t go down that well with the voters.

Torture in Fiji?

March 5th, 2013 at 2:33 pm by David Farrar

TVNZ reports:

A brutal video allegedly showing Fiji police or military beating and torturing two men is believed to have been filmed in November.

Sources have told ONE News the man in the back of the pick-up truck is prisoner Iowane Benedito, who had escaped from custody, and that the other man pictured in the video was accused of harbouring him. 

That incident followed another in which Amnesty International wrote an open letter to interim Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama about five prisoners who were beaten.

Its East Asia head Roseann Rife wrote in that case that one of the prisoners was so severely beaten his right leg had to be amputated as a result of an infected open fracture and that he was unable to appear in court until two months after his recapture.

TVNZ and other media sites have got an edited one minute version of the video, as it is so disturbing. I’ve embedded below the full video.

The video is difficult to watch. The restrained men is beaten with stocks or batons and kicked.His ankles are targeted often and must have been shattered. A baton was inserted up his anus (through clothing) multiple times. The soles of his feet are pounded with the long end of the baton. A dog is set on him as he is helpless

There are really just two questions for the Fijian Government.

  1. Are the men who did the torture, employed by the Government and if so who ordered the torture?
  2. Have they been arrested and charged?

Actions speak louder than words. Of course it will be claimed they were rogue officers (if they were Police officers) and all countries have rogue officers. But the issue is what has happened to the men responsible? The abuse was reported last year? Were any arrests made? Have the men responsible now been arrested? he video evidence is compelling.

Fiji and the priest

January 30th, 2013 at 3:00 pm by David Farrar

Cam Slater at Truth writes more extensively on the saga of the priest:

Notwithstanding that my sources in Fiji say that although it is probably true that Father Barr was spoken to harshly by the Prime Minister, this was not the reason for cancelling his permit. Father Barr is an Australian in Fiji on a religious permit which allows him to work for the church and in certain other activities. It does not however allow him to engage in politics, something he appears to have forgotten recently with political statements concerning the minimum wage and certain decrees such as the Essential Industries Decree.

The final straw appears to have been met when Father Barr appeared in a photo supposedly supporting the formation of a trade union political party. These actions clearly breached the terms of his permit and the government is felt it was entitled to cancel his permit. He is not a permanent resident of Fiji and nor is he a citizen of Fiji.

After 32 years in country he still maintained his Australian citizenship and passport. Accordingly he is a foreign resident who was engaging in and participating in local political process. We wouldn’t tolerate this in New Zealand and we certainly do not appreciate churches, with their tax free status meddling in politics in the first place.

Actually our churches do meddle in politics all the time. I actually don’t know that churches should have tax free status. If they have a charitable arm like Presbyterian Support Services, then that should be tax free, but can’t see why a religious organisation should be charitable in its own right.

The Fijian government has now reversed its decision and Father Barr is free to remain in Fiji for the duration of his permit on the understanding he will abide strictly by the terms and not engage in political activity. He isn’t a citizen after all and further he is a clergyman. Most countries around the world eschew the involvement in politics of the church. Father Barr apparently agreed to abide by the conditions of his work permit and will now stay.

I’m glad the Government reversed their decision. Although the deportation decision was legal, that doesn’t mean it was desirable. There is a chilling effect if writing a letter to the editor gives you a personal phone call from the head of government abusing you, and then deportation. The challenge for Fiji going forward is to not consider dissenting views as a bad thing, but as a good thing. And yes politics is for permanent residents and citizens, but after living in a country for 32 years I think you can regard someone as more than a foreigner.

I want Fiji to have non-racial free and fair elections. They are making some steps towards that, and as they do the NZ Government should relax their sanctions. But what worries me is that the Commodore seems to have a view that his view is the only one that counts and anyone who says anything unpalatable becomes an enemy – whether they be the independent head of the constitutional review group or the priest in question (who had been a supporter of his).  Dissent is not treason. In some cases it is in fact patriotic.

Now Fiji is deporting a priest

January 26th, 2013 at 3:00 pm by David Farrar

Michael Field at Stuff reports:

Fiji’s military regime says it is deporting a Catholic priest who had been the subject of abusive text messages and phone calls by military strongman Voreqe Bainimarama.

So what did he do to get deported?

Barr, who has lived in Fiji for 32 years, was long seen as a Bainimarama supporter but earlier this month he was subjected to a torrent of abuse after he suggested the Chinese flag could replace the Union Jack on Fiji’s planned new flag.

So let’s be clear on this. He has lived there for 32 years, and has actually been a supporter of the Commodore. His crime was to write a letter to the editor that joked about putting the Chinese emblem on Fiji’s flag (as the Commodore has taken so much money from the Chinese). That is not a deportable offence in Fiji!

But after he made the Chinese crack in a letter to the Fiji Sun, he got a phone call from Bainimarama himself.

“Then in a very angry voice he said that I should apologise to the people of Fiji for my letter concerning the Fijian flag in the newspaper,” Barr said in a letter he wrote privately to the Australian High Commission but which has been leaked in blogs.

Barr confirmed to Fairfax Media it was his letter.

“(Bainimarama) then called me ‘a f***** up priest’ and said I had become anti-government,” Barr said.

He repeated the phrase again and threw in a few swear words and told him to go back to where he came from.

“His tone was angry and really over the top.”

Minutes later he got a text message from Bainimarama: “I think you owe the people of Fiji an apology for your childish comments. You give all Catholic priests a bad name.”

Barr said he replied that he was not anti-government but disappointed at some developments.

He then got a reply from Bainimarama: “F*** U a***hole. Stay well away from me.”

Shortly later he got another text telling him to “start saying your goodbyes” and pointing out his work permit expired at the end of the year: “Go and be a missionary in China”.

If that is how the Commodore reacts to a semi-satirical letter to the editor, do you think there is any chance he will hand over power? Sure there will be elections, but will they be free or fair? Or will anyone who criticises him be deported?

Coup 4.5 has further details of the exchange:

There was yet another text message just as he was going to lunch which said: “Fuck U arsehole. Stay well away from me.” I texted back: “Thank you Sir for the nice words. If you want me to apologise I will do as you wish.”

“As I was having lunch another text arrived: “Start saying your goodbyes Father Kevin James Barr, Australian national, work permit as a missionary, expiry date for permit 31/12/2013.” 

“I did not reply. Then came the final text: “Go and be a missionary in China”.

The Commodore seems rather unstable. Father Barr is 76 and spent almost half his life in Fiji. But an enemy of the state for simply writing a letter to a newspaper. Anyone who claims to support freedom of speech should be dismayed by this development.

The Fijian constitution

January 12th, 2013 at 10:00 am by David Farrar

Michael Field at Stuff reports:

Fiji’s military dictatorship has slammed a draft constitution drawn up with New Zealand aid as an appeasement to racist divisions in the Pacific nation.

But military strongman Voreqe Bainimarama, who rules Fiji by decree, told the nation on Thursday night there will be a new constitution – and democracy restoring elections next year.

Bainimarama, who overthrew democracy in 2006, commissioned Kenyan law professor Yash Ghai to draft a new constitution, but after it was presented last month, police seized copies of it and burnt printer’s proofs.

Since leaked, the Ghai document proposes to force the military out of political life and make it permissible for soldiers to disobey an order to take part in a coup.

I think Bainimarama started this with relatively good intentions, but it is becoming clear he will never give up power. The draft constitution included everything he wanted in terms of no racial divisions, one electoral roll etc. He just didn’t like the provisions that the military must be accountable to Parliament, not vice-versa.

Bainimarama then told the nation he had asked for the draft to be amended to ensure that it was positive.

Aew draft of what will become Fiji’s fourth constitution would be be available by the end of this month.

He will then send it to a constituent assembly made up of people he will appoint to finalise it.

His draft will include the military staying on as some sort of over-lord. This is repugnant. Legitimacy comes from free and open elections, not from the end of a gun.

Fiji freedom of speech

January 1st, 2013 at 7:00 am by David Farrar

Two alarming things in Fiji. First:

A Fiji democracy advocate who posted on Facebook that “living in a military dictatorship sucks” was raided before dawn today by police demanding he delete his public postings.

Pita Waqavonovono told Stuff that three uniformed police officers visited him at his home at 4am and told him to take down his anti-regime Facebook messages.

The regime seems focused on suppressing dissent, rather than making progress towards democracy.  Even worse is this Radio NZ report:

Constitution Commission chairperson, Yash Ghai, who was appointed by the interim government, was reportedly abused by the police as he tried to intervene at the printing shop the week before last.

A senior military officer, Lieutenant Colonel Mosese Tikoitoga, told the Fiji Times they stopped the printing of the 600 copies because the documents’ distribution by the Constitution Commission is illegal.

However, a commission member, Peni Moore, has confirmed that the draft document will be released on its website within the next few days, after earlier versions were distributed via the internet.

So why is the regime trying to suppress the proposed draft constitution? Because it doesn’t keep the military as the unelected overlords of Fiji.

Radio Australia has fuller details of the Police action.

Stuff reported:

The new constitution’s explanatory notes said it ”emphasises that the military does not have any role as a guardian of the constitution or conscience of the nation”.

It said the military’s role was to protect the country ”from external threats” and was under civilian control through the elected parliament.

The post of president will no longer be termed ”commander in chief” and security force members must not obey manifestly illegal orders.

”But it is of particular relevance to the military, especially in a country with a record of coups,” the notes said.

A manifestly illegal order ”includes carrying out a coup”.

The new constitution also said there would be no justification for a coup and warned no immunity would be granted for any coup.

But it contains a continued immunity for Rabuka and now Bainimarama, both of whom could face treason charges under previous constitutions.

Immunity would only apply to people who take an oath which says that they accept the sovereignty of the people.

This is how it should be, and must be. I agree with the immunity for past actions – however the coup culture must come to an end. It is a basic human right for people to be able to elect and sack a Government.

The Fijian constitution

December 23rd, 2012 at 12:00 pm by David Farrar

ZB reports first the bad:

Fiji’s ruling military has warned it will closely monitor parliament when the coup-plagued nation finally elects a new government, as officials wrapped up work on a draft constitution. …

However, the role of the military, a key political player in the Pacific nation that has endured four coups since 1987, remains contentious, with the author of the draft constitution calling for it to stay out of politics after 2014.

But in a submission to the commission tasked with working on the new constitution, the Republic of Fiji Military Forces (RFMF) indicated it had no intention of restricting its role after the elections.

The military exists “to deal with both internal security situation and external threats,” said the submission, which was seen by AFP.

“The forces cannot and will not be complacent in dealing with situations that undermine national interest.”

The military said it would not allow any government that won office in 2014 to undermine its reforms.

This has always been my concern. Fiji will be a pseudo-democracy. The people will be able to elect a Government, but only if the Government does things the military approves of.

Kenyan academic Yash Ghai, the head of the five-person Constitutional Commission that handed the draft document to the government on Friday, said the military should be subject to parliamentary oversight and focus on national defence.

“We think the professional military, their conscience should be to defend Fiji against external aggression and we would rather the police handle internal disorder issues,” he told Radio New Zealand.

“We feel that the military must be responsible to the government and to parliament and they have to act within the confines of the constitution.”

But sadly this will not happen. Fiji’s future appears to be a series of military rulers. They won’t interfere most of the time, but will grant themselves the right to intervene purely because they have the guns.

The new constitution is intended to guarantee, through a People’s Charter, principles such as one-person-one-vote, an independent judiciary and transparent governance, as well as establishing a secular, corruption-free state.

And that is the good. But the military must be accountable to the elected Parliament, and not above the Constitution.

Herald on Fiji

August 9th, 2012 at 9:00 am by David Farrar

The Herald editorial said:

Pointedly, however, Bainimarama has also taken steps to ensure his vision of a democracy featuring equal suffrage for all of Fiji’s racial groups will hold sway.

This year, he disbanded the Great Council of Chiefs, a leadership tradition that dates back more than 130 years. This was to prevent the council being written into the new constitution. Last week’s imprisoning of Laisenia Qarase, the country’s last democratically elected Prime Minister, on nine charges of corruption was also a conveniently-timed damning of the pre-regime government.

Bainimarama has further decreed that the term Fijian applies to all 837,000 people in the archipelago, including the 37 per cent who are Indian.

“We must now look to our commonalities as citizens of the same nation, not to what separates us as individuals or groups,” he has said.

This admirable sentiment, in a country where extra voting power has historically been allotted to ethnic Fijians, does not mean, however, that the draconian nature of Bainimarama’s regime can be overlooked. Or that emergency powers of the sort that effectively suppressed any sign of dissent, can be excused.

There has, , however, been obvious progress in the lifting of some of these powers, public consultation on the new constitution, and preparations for electronic voter registration – enough to encourage the restoring of diplomatic relations and the more flexible, case-by-case implementation of travel sanctions on members of the interim Government and the military regime.

The signs are encouraging, and I am cautiously optimistic. The intention of a non-racial constitution and electoral system I applaud. However I struggle to see a full restoration of democracy, as can Bainimarama risk someone else taking power – who could hold him accountable for his illegal actions?

Time will tell.

Helping Fiji

July 24th, 2012 at 11:46 am by David Farrar

Stuff reports:

The Government will provide $2 million to help Fiji prepare for its 2014 general elections.

Foreign Affairs Minister Murray McCully, who met with his Fijian counterpart Ratu Inoke Kubuabola in Suva over the weekend, said the funds would be to help with voter registration, constitutional process and voter education.
The Government has yet to decide how it would be allocated, though McCully said $500,000 would go to the Constitutional Commission for work on consultation. …

McCully said he’ll be watching the situation closely, but he was happy with the process so far.
”We’ve been given an assurance by the attorney general … that there would be freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, freedom of the media to report on the work of the commission,” he said.

With the elections just two years away, this is a good time to be helping. The Commodore has succeeded in having the elections done on his timetable, which means there are no excuses for any further delays.

A good step forward for Fiji

March 10th, 2012 at 11:00 am by David Farrar

The Fijian Government has announced a timetable for a new constitution. This is well overdue, but better late than never. First the principles that will make up the constitution:

  • A common and equal citizenry;
  • A secular state;
  • The removal of systemic corruption;
  • An independent judiciary;
  • Elimination of discrimination;
  • Good and transparent governance;
  • Social justice;
  • One person, one vote, one value;
  • The elimination of ethnic voting;
  • Proportional representation; and
  • A voting age of 18.

The commitment to a secular state, an independent judiciary and the elimination of ethnic voting is especially welcome. Hell, maybe one day we’ll do the same in New Zealand and our Head of State won’t have to be a particular religion, and we won’t have race based seats.

Some of the issues to be discussed are:

  • Do we want economic and social rights to be included in the Bill of Rights? In other words, should there be a right to basic housing, to clean drinking water, to basic health services, to electricity?
  • What should be the size of Parliament? Should it be reduced from previous numbers?
  • How do we attract better quality candidates to Parliament?
  • Should we have a Senate? If so, should Senators be elected or selected?
  • How should the judiciary be selected?
  • Should political parties and their office holders disclose their assets and liabilities?

The Chairperson of the Constitutional Commission will be Professor Yash Ghai, who is an  internationally renowned constitution and human rights expert.

The timetable is:

  • July 12 – Sep 12 – Public consultation
  • Oct 12 – Dec 12 – Commission writes a draft constitution
  • Jan 13 – Feb 13 – Constitution considered by a Constituent Assembly

The one area for concern at this stage, is that an unelected Constituent Assembly approves the constitution. It would be better to have the Assembly amend the draft and finalise it, but have a public referendum on approving it.

But overall it looks a positive step forward.

An encourging step

January 2nd, 2012 at 9:00 am by David Farrar

Stuff reports:

Fiji’s Prime Minister has announced an end to regulations that imposed martial law on the country in 2009.

In his New Year’s address to the nation this evening, Commodore Frank Bainimarama said Public Emergency Regulations would end from Saturday January 7. …

Martial law gave the military and police the right to use lethal force without being subject to judicial review, and also includes media censorship.

This gives some hope or cautious optimism for Fiji. I am not sure if Fiji will be able to transition back to a democratic state, and if the Commodore will surrender substantial power in 2014. But this is definitely a good step in the right direction towards a democratic Fiji.

The media censorship regulations especially were quite repugnant, and it will be good to see them gone.

A poll in Fiji

September 8th, 2011 at 1:00 pm by David Farrar

The Herald reports:

Most Fijians think the world should butt out and leave the country to sort out its own return to democracy, according to a poll released today. …

The Lowy Institute Fiji Poll, which last month surveyed 1032 people from Fiji’s main island of Viti Levu, found the majority of local people opposed the international pressure and thought the country should be left alone to return to democracy.

Of those surveyed, 63 per cent either strongly disagreed or partly disagreed with the international approach taken towards Fiji in response to the coup. …

Cmdr Bainimarama’s performance as Prime Minister was highly regarded by 66 per cent of those interviewed, and 65 per cent said Fiji was heading in the right direction.

A slim majority (53 per cent) said democracy was preferable to any other form of government.

The poll’s credibility is expected to be questioned by the regime’s opponents, who say that people living in Fiji are under pressure to toe the Government line.

It sounds like the poll was done face to face, in which case it is hardly surprising that people said good things about the Commodore.

I’m not saying that the Commodore doesn’t have popular support, but you have to remember Fiji is now a country where the media is censored, you are basically not allowed to criticise the Commodore publicly and there is no scrutiny of the Government and no opposition is allowed.

Popularity alone is no excuse for dictatorship.

John Key got elected on a popular mandate. He is the country’s most popular Prime Minister ever. Key may well hold a genuine belief that the former Labour Government was corrupt. And if he had the former PM arrested, abolished Parliament, promised elections in eight years once he has got rid of the racial Maori seats and ruled with no opposition or media scrutiny – well then he might still be quite popular in the polls.

But would that in any way justify him doing any of that? No – not at all. A country must be a nation of laws, not power seized at gunpoint.

If the Commodore is so popular, then let the media be free, let there be an opposition, let political parties campaign and let the Commodore stand for election.

It has now been five years since he seized power. he has promised elections in 2014. I remain sceptical that these will eventuate.  I hope they will, but I just can’t see him risking a future Government ever being independent of him – as there is a risk he could then face charges.

Fiji v Tonga

May 17th, 2011 at 10:20 am by David Farrar

The “rescue” of Lieutenant-Colonel Ratu Tevita Uluilakeba Mara by Tonga is fascinating, as are the demands of the Commodore that he be returned. You would think he would be glad to have a dissident out of the country.

Mara is the son of the founding Prime Minister, Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara. He was very close to the Commodore and it is not known what has led to him to be charged with sedition, which led to him fleeing.

What I find most interesting is the suggestion that Mara was helped to flee by his brother-in-law Ratu Epeli Nailatikau. Nailatikau is the current Pesident of Fiji and nominally Commander-in-Chief. Is it possible the President could move against the Commodore?

Editorials 30 June 2010

June 30th, 2010 at 2:00 pm by David Farrar

The Herald focuses on Fiji:

The second was the introduction of a grandly titled Media Industry Development Decree. It means, among other things, that the Fiji Times, the country’s oldest and largest newspaper, has three months to remove Rupert Murdoch’s News Ltd as its owner or face closure.

If the first development borders on farce, the second should remove any lingering illusions about the regime’s view of democratic niceties. The decree effectively eliminates freedom of expression in Fiji.

Aside from the restriction on foreign ownership, a tribunal has been established to ensure nothing is printed or broadcast against the “national interest or public order”.

In essence, Fijians will no longer know what their rulers are up to. Special attention is being paid to the Fiji Times because, according to the Attorney-General, it has been “the purveyor of negativity, at least for the past three years”.

The move against the media is part of an ongoing removal of Fijians’ rights. This has included the abrogation of the constitution, the squashing of dissent and the dishonouring of pledges for a return to democracy.

There is sadly no evidence that there will be a return to democracy. I can’t see a scenario where the Commodore will give up power and let Fijians actually decide on their Government.

This step should also occasion a rethink by New Zealanders who spend their holidays in Fiji. Tim Pankhurst, of the New Zealand Media Freedom Committee has suggested a boycott.

He has a point. Tourists might like to say that Fijian businesses and jobs should not be penalised for the sins of the regime. But they are undermining their own country’s diplomatic efforts.

Fiji’s tourism-driven economy attracts 60 per cent of its patronage from New Zealand and Australia. No official boycott can be imposed, nor should it be.

But a rethink by would-be tourists would apply further pressure. And if, ultimately, it is up to the Fijian people to send Commodore Bainimarama back to the barracks, tourists temporarily moving away from Fiji for other Pacific destinations would hammer home a message about the pariah status of their rulers.

Rather than out all the onus on consumers, the media could play their part. Rather than just write editorials, APN and Fairfax could refuse to accept advertising for Fiji tourism. That would be a sign of solidarity with their colleagues in Fiji, and show real commitment rather than just words.

The Press lashes FIFA:

Football prides itself on being the “beautiful game”, but the current World Cup in South Africa has been marred by too many ugly refereeing decisions.

One of the most egregious occurred this week when England’s Frank Lampard was not awarded a goal against Germany despite the ball clearly crossing the goal line after hitting the crossbar.

This must serve as a wake-up call for Fifa boss Sepp Blatter and his top officials to get their heads out of the sand and harness the electronic technology successfully used by so many other sports.

It is a no brainer.

The Dom Post looks at smoking in prisons:

But surely an outright ban goes too far? How about halfway measures first, such as a prison smoking-room, or a ban on smoking in cells? If she is wedded to a total ban, what are known as “cessation assistance” programmes – already available to anyone, including the incarcerated, who want to quit – must be funded appropriately. …

As usual with any broadbrush proposal, the devil will be in the detail. But that detail should acknowledge union unease. The minister has already attended the funeral of one prison guard this year – a political show that bore an uncanny resemblance to former prime minister Helen Clark’s infamous appearance at the Folole Muliaga funeral in 2007. Ms Collins does not want the option of attending another.

What an incredibly stupid comparison, in terms of funerals. Jason Palmer was employed by the Government and died doing his job, and as a result of his job. I don’t know anyone who thinks a Minister should not attend the funeral of law & order professionals who get killed by criminals. In fact it is almost disrespectful not to go.

What that has in common with the circus generated around the Muliaga’s I don’t know.

The ODT also looks at smoking:

With this background, it may have surprised some readers to learn that the inmates of our prisons are permitted to smoke, including in their cells, unlike in Canada, some British prisons, and those in some Australian states, where the practice is banned.

The intention of the Minister of Corrections to ban smoking in our jails from July next year is certainly easily justified on health grounds alone, and the overseas precedent suggests the fears being raised here by vested interests are largely groundless. …

Objectors have raised two main issues: the right of prisoners to smoke in what is effectively their “own home”; and the potential for violent reaction from prisoners required to cease smoking.

The first claim is groundless.

Prisoners are, in effect, tenants.

The State, as landlord, can and does impose conditions of use.

Additionally, prisoners who do not smoke – and prison guards – are entitled to not be confined in conditions where their own health may be damaged by second-hand smoke.

The department has anticipated prisoner reaction by giving a year’s notice of the measure, and by its intention to offer a cessation programme, including nicotine replacements, for those who seek such help.

That approach is not unreasonable.

Meanwhile 65% of people in Labour’s poll say they back the ban, so I expect we will see them come out backing it shortly.

Editorials 26 April 2010

April 26th, 2010 at 11:00 am by David Farrar

The Herald looks at Pharmac:

The drawing up of free-trade agreements is always an exercise in compromise. Sometimes, unpalatable concessions have to be made with an eye on the bigger picture. …

At the forefront of American concerns will be two issues – the strength of our dairying industry and the role played by Pharmac, the Government’s drug-buying agency.

The US farming lobby will want little conceded, while American pharmaceutical companies want Pharmac’s role drastically reduced.

The drug companies say an end to New Zealand’s anti-competitive drug-funding system would give its people quicker access to new and expensive medicines.

US drug companies can introduce these new and expensive medicines at any time. Whether or not they gain a subsidy from the state is another issue.

Trade Minister Tim Groser has described Pharmac as “an outstandingly successful public institution”, which has saved taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars. The estimated savings in a five-year period are enough to have built the Starship hospital.

Mr Groser has also said that, as the principal economic adviser at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, he had negotiated with the US on Pharmac 10 years ago and had seen no need to make concessions.

That is reassuring. But the issue will doubtless be raised again, as New Zealand covets a free-trade agreement with the US. Hard choices will have to be made.

The Government has already bowed to pressure and allowed some slippage in Pharmac’s integrity. With the taxpayer uppermost in its mind, it should hesitate before venturing further down that path.

I agree Pharmac is of great value to New Zealand. The gains from a free trade deal would have to be significant for us to agree to changes to Pharmac.

The Press remembers ANZAC Day:

The history of Anzac Day remembrance has been shaped by memory and ideals – memories and ideals that have changed over the decades since the landing on the Gallipoli Peninsula in 1915.

The commemoration therefore has reflected the great alterations that New Zealand has undergone in those 95 years.

Yesterday’s services saw the men and women of World War II and will continue to see many of them in future years. But their number is dwindling and thoughts thus turn to the Anzac Days of the future. …

Voices last week were raised, predicting a decline in turnout over the coming decades, but that is unlikely to eventuate. The respect for what our fighting men and women achieved and the honour they brought us is now deeply and uncontroversially embedded in the nation’s psyche.

The Press pages on New Zealand’s military history, which we printed in the lead-up to Anzac Day, are but one example of this. They were prized by readers, and schools have taken them in large numbers. A hunger exists for hearing again the old tales of valour and service.

The men and women who performed those deeds will not be forgotten and Anzac Day will live on in their honour.

While on TV, once again I found Maori TV did best.

The Dominion Post looks at Fiji’s proposed media restrictions:

The primary function of Fiji’s proposed new media regulator is “to encourage, promote and facilitate the development of media organisations and services”. It sounds reasonable.

There is just one problem. In order to perform its duties the Media Industry Development Authority is being given the power to fine and lock up journalists, editors and publishers, censor news reports, search premises, seize documents, and shut down news organisations.

Coating a dictator’s iron fist with a veneer of legality does not soften the blow.

The commodore is labouring under a misapprehension. The misapprehension is that he is the big man in the Pacific.

He is not. He is a tinpot dictator who has gained power at the point of a gun and is destroying his country’s economy and prospects and the institutions, already weakened by three previous coups, that underpin good government.

The news media is one of them. Journalists, editors and publishers will bear the immediate brunt of the latest restrictions, but the real losers are the Fijian people, who have already lost the right to learn what is happening because of “emergency” regulations put in place last year.

Free speech is a fundamental pillar of democracy. “Were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers, or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter,” said Thomas Jefferson, the author of the American Declaration of Independence.

Another great Jefferson quote.