Editorials 19 April 2010

April 19th, 2010 at 11:14 am by David Farrar

The Herald focuses on media freedom in Fiji:

Two developments in Suva provide renewed evidence of the regime’s distaste for democracy in any real meaning of the word. They must surely have dismissed any thoughts among transtasman officials and politicians of achieving change by appeasement.

This is the unfortunate thing, with the timing. I think NZ, and Australia, were edging towards a more constructive relationship. But this draft decreee pushes them in the other direction.

First, Fiji’s just-published draft of a Media Industry Development Decree would virtually eliminate freedom of expression in the country. It is a remarkable document, one which would make Zimbabwe proud and Singapore blush.

I am one of those who believe taking away a voice is worse than taking away a vote.

The decree protecting the regime from prosecution is a more abstract threat to democracy – a coup leader’s fantasy that surely, once this sorry interregnum is over, will be declared null and void by a legitimate court – with the case against him then reported by a free press. That time can come, though, only if New Zealand and Australia continue to hold hard to democratic principle and the regime is subjected to the greatest sanction, the decision of the Fijian people to call time on their dictator.

This is why I don’t think the Commodore will even surrender power. He has no exit plan which guarantees him immunity from prosecution.

The Dom Post looks at trade with the US:

The US has much to gain from improved access to Asian markets for its goods but it is an unsentimental dealmaker, which swaps its free trade principles for self-interest when it sits down at the negotiating table.

The new ambassador to Washington, Mike Moore, has work to do. So does Mr Key, who is hoping for a formal invitation to the White House later this year and the heft that will give him with US business and farming organisations.

And the ODT talks apples:

The Australian apple market is not huge and estimates for New Zealand exports range around $15 million to $20 million per annum, small but significant.

On the other hand Australian apple consumption is much lower than New Zealand’s and better prices and more competition could be what is needed to stimulate demand.

It can be a win-win,

Australia is in this instance, however, a blatant hypocrite.

It battles for free trade in agriculture while putting up several specific agricultural barriers to protect its own, including against New Zealand apples.

Yes, and if they refuse to act on this issue, will risk undermining their credibility as the WTO can then approve trade sanctions against them.

Editorials 11 April 2010

April 10th, 2010 at 11:00 am by David Farrar

The Herald welcomes the legal aid changes:

Criminal defence lawyers have escaped remarkably unscathed by the damning report they received from a ministerial inquiry into legal aid last year. Decisions announced by the Justice Minister, Simon Power, this week will impose requirements on publicly financed lawyers that are no more than reasonable and long overdue. …

It will be interesting to see how well a full-fledged Public Defender Service competes with the car-boot brigade. Mr Power has been advised that the costs of setting up the service can be recovered in lower operating costs. It is hard to believe lawyers working in public service conditions can match the efficiencies of those who work with low overheads and greater mobility, but we may see.

The difference may be in the remuneration lawyers at the PDS get, compared to the income a car boot lawyer can make from legal aid.

The Press is concerned over the proposed Fijian media controls:

The freedom of the media clearly remains a totally alien and undesirable concept for Fiji’s self-appointed leader, Commodore Frank Bainimarama. …

The decree, to be enforced by a media authority appointed by the regime, would provide for fines of NZ$344,000 for news organisations that failed to comply with it.

Individual journalists whose work was deemed to be critical of Bainimarama’s regime would face fines of up to NZ$69,000, which would be crippling in Fiji, and a possible five-year prison term. To ensure the authorities knew who had written a story, it would also be an offence not to identify the journalist concerned.


The regime claims its decree is intended to encourage responsible journalism, but nothing could be further from the truth. Rather, it aims to ensure the news media cannot perform its democratic role of holding Bainimarama’s unsavoury government to account and promoting free and frank debate on issues of public interest.

Absolutely. I want to believe that the Commodore has a plan to put in place a non race based constitution, and return to democratic elections in 2014. But his actions point towards an ongoing dictatorship.

The Dom Post focuses on the Princess Ashika ferry tragedy:

The report of the Tongan royal commission of inquiry into the sinking of the ferry Princess Ashika has laid bare a system of government as riddled with flaws as the ship was with rust – and just as dangerous. …

However, it is up to the king to deal with the systemic ones that allowed people such as Lord Dalgety QC (the title is Tongan), now resigned transport minister Paul Karalus and Prime Minister Feleti Sevele into pivotal roles in his kingdom. The report notes that Lord Dalgety, the Shipping Corporation of Polynesia company secretary, “clearly lacks integrity and honesty, even when giving evidence before a royal commission” and that “he was not a fit and proper person to be a company secretary of any company in Tonga”.

I have some friends who have lived in Tonga. They alerted me to the vileness of Lord Dalgety some time ago, and what I have seen of him on television reinforces their view that he is a deeply corrupt and racist individual. His arrest was a very good thing. While I don’t condone Wikipedia vandalism, I did have to laugh at the edit done to his Wikipedia profile which said:

On February 26 Lord Dalgety, the Secretary of the Shipping Corporation of Polynesia Ltd, gained an entry in the Guinness Book of Records as the world’s lowest form of life

Back to the editorial:

What must not be forgotten in all this is that 74 people drowned. No women or children survived. The impact in a country the size of Tonga is, as commentator Josephine Latu has pointed out, the equivalent of 3200 New Zealanders dying. The Princess Ashika tragedy was a scandal that cannot be repeated.

Absolutely. And may the tragedy bring about some democratic reform.

The ODT talks foreshore & seabed:

Just let us pause for a moment: if the legal status of the foreshore and seabed is to be “public domain”, then who owns it, and therefore can claim the rights and benefits of ownership?

Will Maori?

Will Mr and Mrs Joe Bloggs?

Will the Crown – the obvious choice?

On the basis of the options paper published by the Government last week, in which “public domain” is the Government’s preferred choice, the issue of ownership most likely will be determined in the long term by the courts, piece by piece, over time.

Well yes courts do determine rights. The ODT editorial writer (whom I suspect is the former Labour Government Press Secretary) presumably prefers the status quo where the right to test your rights in court was extinguished.

Fiji set to clamp down on a free media

April 9th, 2010 at 1:00 pm by David Farrar

Most people are familiar with the saying two steps forward and one step back to describe a situation of slow progress.

That has been my hope for Fiji, that with a set date for elections in 2014, there would be some progress. But alas, the situation is looking more like one step forward and two steps back.

The Fijian Government has released a draft decree of proposed media censorship. It would make Fiji even more repressive in terms of media freedom.

NZPA report:

The regime of self-appointed Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama yesterday issued a new media decree which Newspaper Publishers’ Association chief executive and New Zealand Media Freedom Committee secretary Tim Pankhurst described as “highly oppressive”. …

“It not only targets editors and their journalists. Any members of the public brave enough to express dissenting views are also in line for crippling fines, ill treatment and jail.”

Media outlets could be fined up to F$500,000 (about NZ$344,000) and individual journalists up to F$100,000 (NZ$69,000) and be jailed for up to five years if they failed to comply with the decree’s dictates.

Offences included such “crimes” as criticising the government and even failing to run bylines, Mr Pankhurst said. Foreign media ownership was also restricted.

The foreign media restrictions are an attempt to close down the Fiji Times. The Commodore hates them especially as they refuse to describe him as the Prime Minister, unless he actually wins an election to that post.

Some aspects from the media decree:

  • The Minister of Information personally appoints, and can sack at any time, the Director of the Media Industry Development Authority
  • One of the tasks of the MIDA is to ban any material which creates “communal discord”
  • MIDA will require all media organisations to be registered with them
  • Breaches of MIDA rules will carry a potential penalty of $500,000 for an organisation and $100,000 plus five years in jail for individuals.
  • MIDA has police like powers to search and seize documents from media organisations
  • Bans foreign ownership of over 10% in a media organisation, which will close down the Fiji Times.
  • Sets up a Tribunal with the Chair appointed by the Attorney-General to hear complaints, and which must act within “guidelines’ given by the Minister
  • The Minister can by order prohibit any broadcast or publication that may give rise to disorder, and can demand copies in advance
  • The decree explicitly forbids any Court hearing a challenge to not just the legality of this decree, but any decisions made by the Authority, Tribunal or Minister under this decree
  • The media code bans “hypnotism” and “demonstrating exorcism”!

Cafe Pacific has a good analysis of the decree.

Coup 4,5 report:

This is very broad so it will be interesting to see what kind of stories come under this criteria. Censors are already stopping the publication of stories which make the interim government look bad; eg water and power cuts and bad road conditions leading to pot holes.

This clause really means any stories which the interim regime doesn’t like because it exposes them or shows that they’re not doing a good job, is not in their interest and offends them as it creates communal discord.

The communal disorder clause is what will allow the Government to ban anything which criticises the Government, or if it gets published to imprison the journalist for up to five years.

Provocation from Fiji

January 22nd, 2010 at 11:04 am by David Farrar

A very provocative move from Fiji, after the conciliatory move my McCully to try and get the relationship to an agree to disagree status. The Dom Post reports:

The Government is refusing to comment on reported plans by Fiji to send a high-ranking military officer to serve at its high commission in Wellington.

The move would test a New Zealand travel ban on members of Fiji’s military-led regime, and comes after an announcement by Foreign Minister Murray McCully that the two countries would seek to boost diplomatic links.

Both countries have agreed to post an extra counsellor to their high commissions, but the move has sparked calls by Amnesty International for the New Zealand Government to address human rights abuses in the renewed negotiations.

Fijian news website Fijivillage has reported that the permanent secretary for information and military spokesperson was nominated by the Fiji Government to take up a counsellor’s post in New Zealand.

The website reported that Lieutenant Colonel Neumi Leweni was now “awaiting word” from the New Zealand Government in response to his nomination.

I can’t think of a more provocative person to propose than Leweni. He has been a major figure in the coups, and very involved in the assaults on media freedom in Fiji.

Despite the provocation, I think the NZ Government should allow him to be appointed. He’ll probably do less damage in NZ, than he does in Fiji. But more to the point is it avoids the Commodore being able to claim he is being bullied, and blame NZ for the lack of progress.

I think the Commodore wants NZ to turn down his offsider as High Commissioner. He will use it as propaganda. So don’t play his game, and allow it. It doesn’t mean you have to relax the travel ban on the military – diplomats can be an exception.

The one good thing from the ridiculously long period of waiting until 2014 for elections, is the Commodore will have no excuses left if he doesn’t have free and fair elections by then. So again, lets not give him a partial excuse.

A thaw with Fiji

January 13th, 2010 at 7:54 am by David Farrar

The Dom-Post reports:

New Zealand’s influence in the Pacific region country had been “chiselled away” to the point that “the viability of our operations was under threat”, Mr McCully said yesterday.

The two countries had agreed to post a new diplomatic counsellor in each other’s respective capitals. Deputy heads of mission would be added later.

“We’d got to a point where our viability was under some threat. This will give us the ability to conduct closer to a normal range of activities,” Mr McCully said.

Neither country has top level representation in place after a third New Zealand high commissioner was deported from Suva in November last year and Wellington followed suit, sacking Fiji’s representative here.

New Zealand representation in Suva has dwindled to an acting head of mission, two immigration officials and two NZ Aid officials.

The small staff had put “a huge limit” on what New Zealand could do in Fiji and compromised its historical position as a regional hub for the Pacific, Mr McCully said. …

The new appointments did not signal a change to New Zealand’s substantive policy on Fiji, including continuing sanctions.

“But it does signal the determination to improve the relationship and in particular to be able to agree to disagree about some things,” Mr McCully said.

Agreeing to disagree is always important.

This is a productive step forward. I’m not sure whether it will last, as my reading of the situation is that when one of the Commodore’s appointees comes up against the Australia and NZ travel bans, he has a temper tantrum and starts expelling people.

But the Commodore is the person in charge there for now. He has given himself a ridiculously long time-frame of 2014 before he calls elections. The one good thing about such a ridiculously long period of time, is that if he then refuses to stick to the 2014 schedule, it will be proof that he never plans to surrender power.

What many are now looking for is actual progress towards those elections. Detailing of a process for adopting a new constitution. A timetable for the census etc.

Fiji expels NZ and Australia envoys

November 3rd, 2009 at 8:17 pm by David Farrar

NZPA report:

Fiji has ordered New Zealand and Australia envoys to return home within 24 hours, accusing them of interfering in its internal affairs.

They have not recorded the specific reasons why. It is over the respective Governments allegedly blocking travel through Australia (and possibly NZ) for their new (Sri Lankan) Judges to replace the ones fired.

The Commodore’s speech setting out his rationale is here – press conference judiciary-1.

I’m not overly impressed by the Commodore citing the need for an Independent Judiciary, when he sacked the last set fo Judges because they got too independent.

Having said that, I’m not sure applying travel sanctions against the new Judges is achieving a lot either.

Why no elections in Fiji

July 27th, 2009 at 7:26 am by David Farrar

The Herald reports:

Fiji’s military ruler says the Prime Minister he ousted in a coup three years ago, Laisenia Qarase, would be returned to power if democratic elections were held tomorrow.

Yet apologists for the coup insist the Commodre is massively popular. I’m no fan of the former PM, but you know refusing to hold elections until people will vote for someone else is not exactly the most principled reason.

I wonder what excuse will be found in 2014 to delay elections again.

Masons jailed in Fiji

July 16th, 2009 at 7:50 am by David Farrar

Sometimes you have to just despair of Fiji:

A New Zealand man spent a “wretched” night in a Fiji prison cell after frightened residents and police raided his Freemasons meeting, suspecting witchcraft and sorcery.

The man, who didn’t want to be named, blamed “dopey village people” for the raid in which 14 members of the Freemasons Lodge of Lautoka were herded into police cars and jailed for the night.

I don’t know what is sadder – the ignorance of the villagers or the fact the Police took action.

Police also seized lodge paraphernalia, including wands, compasses and a skull.

Does sound a bit Harry Potterish, but having paraphernalia like that should not lead to you being arrested.

Maori Party and Fiji

May 6th, 2009 at 1:00 pm by David Farrar

Audrey Young blogs on Fiji, and you have to agree with her it has not been handled well by the Government. Discussions have been occuring through the media, not directly to each other.

It looks like the Maori Party will still send a delegation – probably led by Hone Harawira. That is their right of course.

I’m a bit puzzled by the Maori Party stance on Fiji. The original Fiji coups were about preventing the majority Indians from forming a Government. It was about protecting what they saw as the right of indigenous Fijians, and that stance had the support of some Maori activists in NZ.

But the Commodore’s coup is (officially anyway) about the opposite. He is saying he wants to remove any special rights from indigenous Fijians, and replace the constitution which has race based seats.

Somewhat strange bedfellows for the Maori Party I would have said whose entire party is about how there should be special rights for indigenous people.

Would be funny if it was not so sad

April 25th, 2009 at 8:25 am by David Farrar

The Herald reports:

President Iloilo also issued a decree setting up the framework for a new court system and the appointment of judges, and sought to put Commodore Bainimarama’s rule beyond the threat of any further legal challenge.

Yesterday, the President honoured the commander for services to Fiji “of the highest order”, installing him as a Companion of the Order of Fiji in a ceremony at Government House.

The award was given for his “eminent achievement and merit of the highest degree, and service to Fiji and to humanity at large”.

Services to humanity at large?

Clever Fijian media

April 20th, 2009 at 2:00 pm by David Farrar

I like how the Fijian media is protesting military censorship of their stories. They are running totally banal stories, to make a point.

We have this story about a man catching a bus:

IN what is believed to be the first reported incident of its kind, a man got on a bus yesterday.

“It was easy,” he said.

“I just lifted one leg up and then the other and I was on”.

Fiji Daily Post reporters found witnesses willing to confirm the happening.

“Yes”, said one who asked to remain anonymous, “I saw him get on the bus”.

Superb. It’s like The Onion. And this story about watching paint dry:

PAINT has apparently dried on his old couch, Max reports.

Given the job of painting the couch, Max was excited at the prospect of the paint drying.

But when asked how it dried, he was nonplussed.

“It just went on wet, but after about four hours, it started to dry”.

“That was when I realised, paint dries,” the young scholar observed.

Fiji Daily Post asked Max if he intended to do more painting.

“Oh yes,” he replied, “I like watching paint dry.”

And a more recent story:

It’s official: a man went out.

Neighbours reported that they saw him go out last night.

‘I thought he was just mad’, a woman opined while asking to remain anonymous.

Another neighbour said he saw him open his door about ten o’clock.

‘Arreh, he went out’, he added.

It’s a very clever way of reminding readers that they are being censored.

It is 1984 in Fiji

April 17th, 2009 at 6:09 am by David Farrar

The Herald has an example of the media censorship now occurign in Fiji. It is like they are in Orwell’s 1984:


Statement by Commissioner Louis Michel on the situation in Fiji:

Louis Michel, the European Commissioner for Development Co-operation and Humanitarian Aid, expressed deep regret and disappointment regarding recent regressive developments in Fiji; in particular the abrogation of the Constitution, the sacking of all judges, the delay of general elections until 2014 and the curtailment of freedom of speech.

Commissioner Michel said: “These developments are unacceptable for the international community. Commitments must be respected. An early and inclusive domestic political process leading to a return to constitutional order and democracy in Fiji will allow us to provide assistance to Fiji, at a time when global economic prospects are becoming increasingly difficult.”


EU ready to assist Fiji
Fiji’s largest donor the European Union has again extended a helping hand.

Louis Michel, the European Commissioner for Development Co-operation and Humanitarian Aid, today said the EU wants to assist Fiji “at a time when global economic prospects are becoming increasingly difficult”.

The EU is looking to provide substantial financial support to rescue the sugar sector and help restore the economy.

Once again it does not matter how much one does or does not agree with the Commodore’s purported aims. This sort of censorship should and must be resisted. Media and press freedom is even more important than the right to vote in my books – the right to communicate, the right to just know the truth is paramount. A Government that arrests journalists (and bloggers if it could work out who they are) for reporting the truth has no redeeming qualities.

NZ Herald on Fiji

April 16th, 2009 at 12:18 pm by David Farrar

The NZ Herald editorial makes an astute judgement:

Nothing foreign diplomacy can do, however, could be as effective as the regime’s economic destruction. The arrest of Reserve Bank Governor Savenaca Narbue has been described as an “act of vandalism”. It is certainly an act of idiocy. Nobody can have the slightest confidence in the currency or the resilience of the desperately declining economy if the soldiers have usurped the country’s financial management.

In the absence of an explanation for his arrest it can only be assumed Governor Narbue was being ordered to take steps he knew to be economically disastrous. Commodore Bainimarama’s monetary expertise is probably no better than his diplomatic sense, which we know to be inept.

Exactly. The Commodore is now determining monetary policy.

Changes of government in Australia and New Zealand presented him with an opportunity to reconcile them to his coup. Sanctions applied by previous Governments had brought no sign of progress towards a restoration of democracy. The Key Government was plainly prepared to try a different approach. But it was barely in office before the commodore was threatening to expel New Zealand’s ambassador over a refusal to renew a study visa for an official’s son.

Foreign Minister Murray McCully’s response was notably mild, but the threat was carried out. Even now, in his comments on the country’s constitutional destruction, Mr McCully’s remarks do not ring with the righteous indignation that used to be heard from Helen Clark and Phil Goff.

The change of Government gave Bainimarama an opportunity to get sanctions lifted. All he needed to do was make some minor steps twoards elections – such as set a date for the census.

Instead he throws out the NZ High Commissioner over nothing. And now he rules elections out for at least five years.

It is easy to criticise Australia and NZ’s responses. But I don’t actually think the Commodore is entirely rational, and am not sure any policy change from NZ or Australia would in any way change what he does.

Blogs only uncensored news from Fiji

April 14th, 2009 at 12:49 pm by David Farrar

The blogs are now the only source of uncensored news from Fiji.  The media are now now allowed to report news that is “negative”. And even the blogs are at risk – there is talk that the Commodore has ordered Fijian telcos to cut off Internet access to Fiji.

I encourage people to read and promote these blogs. Also I am always happy to do a guest post from any Fijians who don’t want to set their own blog up.

And here is the news that they don’t want people to know:

  • Fiji Reserve Bank Governor arrested
  • Two Fiji Sun journalists detained
  • A Fiji TV reporter detained
  • TV3’s Sia Ashton detained and deported
  • Fiji Times publisher to be deported
  • The former head of the military legal service appointed a High Court Judge and another military person as Court Registrar
  • That Internet access may be cut off in the very near future.
  • Soldiers have taken control of banks and petrol stations
  • The head of the Dept of Public Prosecutions has been arrested
  • The President of the Fiji Law Society may have been arrested

I suspect Fiji is going to have a run on its foreign reserves, due to the Reserve Bank sacking.

Hat Tip: Andrew Bartlett and Roarprawn

Human Rights at threat in Fiji

April 13th, 2009 at 11:00 am by David Farrar

In the NZ blogosphere there has been a diversity of opinion on Fiji. Most have been highly critical of Bainimarama, but several (mainly on the right) have supported him, as they admired him standing up for the minority Indians and wanting to abolish the race based constitution.

To be honest over the last year I had been creeping more towards the camp that if he does get rid of the race based constitution, and hands over power to a truly democratic Government, then he may be seen one day on the side of the good guys.

But no-one should be defending his regime’s attack on media freedom. Supressing criticism at he point of a gun is what the Stalinist bloc used to do, and what Castro and Kim do.

The Dom Post report:

Fiji’s military have been given permission to shoot civilians without fear of being prosecuted.

Terrified Fijians say they are too frightened to speak out after the latest political upheaval, which has seen the nation’s media gagged by sweeping state censorship restrictions in a crackdown on dissenting free speech.

So the military are now totally above the law.

Reports emerged yesterday of people being detained without charge in the absence of a judiciary. Public Emergency Regulations imposed by the military regime have given military personnel permission to use arms to break up processions, meetings or assemblies. If anyone is injured or killed, the decree grants soldiers immunity from prosecution.

Hardly likely to encourage soldiesr to use restraint!

Yesterday’s Fiji Times had blank pages after police censors forced the paper to erase international reaction to latest developments.

The first action of a tyrant is to stop people being able to hear the truth.

Privately owned Fiji TV pulled its 6pm news bulletin yesterday, refusing to allow the military regime to censor its broadcast.

Good on them. And a useful reminder why the media should not be owned by the state.

“We must all be loyal to Fiji, we must be patriotic,” Commodore Bainimarama said. “The necessary regulations are in force. I’m sure we will all including the media co-operate with the relevant agencies.”

And if not, we’ll shoot you.

A Fijian citizen, too afraid to be named, spoke from Suva yesterday about his fear of being arrested, beaten or killed for speaking out. “There’s no constitution, there’s no law. They are the law.”

Many Fijians had struggled since sanctions against the regime crippled the economy, the man said. “People cannot afford to send their children to school or put food on the table. People are just struggling to find ways and means to live. You can’t fight the military because they’re the ones with the guns.

“Everybody’s praying and hoping that things will change soon that will return the government back to democratic elections … where people are free to speak [and] you’re not always looking back and worried about what will happen to you and your family.”

The promise to have elections by 2014 should only be believed by those of terminal stupidity. It does not take eight years to run a census, draft a new constitution and run an election.

One can debate the pros and cons of what Bainimarama claims he wants to achieve. But there should be no debate at all in condemning his attacks of freedom of speech and freedom of the press.

A massive step back for Fiji

April 11th, 2009 at 9:35 am by David Farrar

I had begin to warm towards the Fijian regime. Not their actions, but their intentions. I had taken tme to talk to a lot of Indian Fijians in NZ and they all supported the Commodore’s aim to replace the race based constitution with a new supreme law that does not discriminate.

But the Government had to demonstrate a programme for moving back to democracry, for sanctions to start to be lifted.

Instead the Government has nullified the Constitution, sacked the Judiicary and said there will be no elections for five years.

Now don’t let anyone think the Fijian President has done this. The Fijian President has no authority to abolish the constution, abolish the Judiciary or do anything else that the Constution does not grant him. His “powers” come from the guns controlled by the Commodore who will enforce these decisions.

There is an interesting discussion on the ipredict forums, over whether the court decision to declare the Government illegal, means that the contract for “Frank Bainimarama to lose position as Interim Prime Minister of Fiji in 2009” has been satisified or not.

Some argue it has been, since the court ruling. Others argue that if the President confirms him as Interim PM in his “new” Government then he has remained PM throughout. The contract only pays out on the date that a permament appointment takes effect, so that lends some weight to saying the contract is unfulfilled. Of course I have a vested interest in saying that, as I had shorted the stock.

Samoan PM attacks Bainimarama

February 25th, 2009 at 10:00 am by David Farrar

AAP reports:

Tuilaepa Sailele, prime minister of Samoa, has launched an unprecedented attack on his Fijian counterpart, Frank Bainimarama, claiming the military man has no plans to relinquish the leadership.

“I strongly believe that Bainimarama has no intention of relinquishing power and returning Fiji to democratic government,” Tuilaepa told the New Zealand Fairfax newspapers on Tuesday.

“Therefore, that’s a clear indication that Bainimarama has no intention whatsoever of holding general elections and returning his country to democratic rule.”

He also said the commodore was “stealing public money” by appointing himself as finance minister and paying himself F$200,000 (NZ$213,000) in unclaimed leave.

The Samoan leader mocked Bainimarama’s “ridiculous” full military garb and the need for an army, saying “perhaps Bainimarama fears a combined canoe attack from Tuvalu and Kiribati,” its closest neighbours.

Wow, that is pretty stinging.

I have considerable sympathy for the purported goaals of the Commodore – a non racial constitution, a census, democratic elections. However the problem is he does indeed seem to have no intention of ever holding elections. If he wants sanctions to be lfited, he needs to spell out a time-frame and commit to it.

A legal perspective on Fiji

February 5th, 2009 at 10:35 am by David Farrar

Stephen Franks blogs on a column by Richard Fowler, the President of the Wellington District Law Society, regarding Fiji. Fowler has just returned from there and quotes Fowler:

Yet I am afraid that nothing about the present Fijian situation as outlined to me was that simple – particularly for Rule of Law type issues. I am no apologist for the 2006 coup but there are certainly some very odd aspects to the situation that do not sit easily with the abovementioned ’simple’ analysis. There is even a ‘back to front’ quality to much of it. The best I can do is pose for you the questions that started worrying me:

If Commodore Bainimarama was the counter-coup hero who removed George Speight in 2000, installed Quarase as interim Prime Minister, and then went back to his barracks rather like a latter day Garibaldi, what caused him to re-emerge and, for that matter so different from the previous coups, at glacial speed?

Why does the Labour party representing over 40% of the population and supported by most of the Fijian Indians, the people most obviously and adversely disenfranchised in the previous coups of 1987 and 2000, give some support to the interim government and even for a period participated in its cabinet?

I have to say that every Fijian Indian taxi driver I have had in the last couple of months has been 100% supportive of the coup, and saying how the NZ Government does not understand the situation.

Fowler goes on:

Contrary to what was suggested concerning a pervasive military presence in the New Zealand newspapers recently, in the whole of the week I was in Suva I never caught sight of one soldier and further the interim government during that week lost a very public Court challenge to the legitimacy of some of its actions and did not reach for extra-legal remedy.

Indeed, the Fijian Government has lost a considerable number of cases.

Who could blame the Fiji Law Society for cutting the interim government some slack in the light of the latter’s avowed intent to achieve a fairer electoral system that is not racially slanted in lieu of holding an election now which would just have the effect of perpetuating the old one? At what point does the Fiji Law Society cease to do so – because sooner or later the Commodore has to demonstrate meaningful progress? And where would that leave the participation of the Fiji Law Society up to that point?

I held my peace and boarded the plane thankful that no law society in New Zealand has ever had to face the issues the Fiji Law Society is facing.

I am one that supports Fiji not having a race based constitution, that marginalises one particular race. But that doesn’t mean the ends justify the means, and the Commodore should have stood for election on the grounds of changing it, not done a coup.

However the coup is now a reality, and the end game is going back to democracy. And as I said, I have no problems with holding a referendum on a new constitution first, and then elections.

But the problem is the Commodore is unable or unwilling to give any sort of timetable, to which he will be accountable. The longer it goes on, the more you suspect he will never give up power.

The challlenge for the Commodore is to turn rhetoric into reality and actually take steps towards elections. If he does so, then he will no doubt find sanctions start to get lifted. But if he doesn’t produce a timetable, then people will assume it is all about retaining power, not about changing the constitution.

Is there a way forward for Fiji?

December 29th, 2008 at 10:00 am by David Farrar

There is a very easy way for the travel sanctions against Fiji to be lifted, and that is for the interim Fijian Government to keep its word and take credible steps towards democracy. In fact the NZ Government has offered significant help and assistance if the interim Government takes these steps, as former High Commissioner Caroline McDonald reminds us.

Whether or not one approves of the Commodore’s professed aims, his mandate comes from the fact he has lots of guns. That is not a long-term mandate.

So when there is an easy way to get the travel sanctions lifted (keep your word) and a near impossible counter-productive way to get them lifted (threaten the NZ Govt), what does it mean when Fiji chooses the latter?

Either it means the Commodore is not acting on good advice, or it means there is a deliberate strategy to lower expectations that Fiji will even restore democracy.

Fiji to expel High Commissioner today

December 20th, 2008 at 10:44 am by David Farrar

Very stupid. Fiji is going to go ahead and expel the NZ High Commissioner today.

If Fiji wants the travel restriictions lifted, then they need to make progress towards elections.

Meltdown with Fiji

December 16th, 2008 at 10:52 am by David Farrar

Commodore Bainimarama seems to be very misguided if he thinks he is in a position to demand NZ issue visas to various family members of Fijian officials.

Such a demand would guarantee the Government won’t issue a waiver. If he wants waivers, then you have to make concessions, not threats. Such as a firm timetable for elections.

The threat is very lame – expelling our Acting High Commissioner. So what? It hurts Fiji far more not having NZ diplomatic presence, than it does NZ.

And this morning, they have expelled TVNZ’s Barbara Dreaver. Again, the Commodore is getting bad advice if he thinks this upset the Government at all.

I’m open to persuasion that the Commodore has good motives – his planned reforms to get rid of race based voting are laduable. But the longer he remains the self-appointed ruler, without taking concrete steps towards elections, the longer sanctions will remain. The way ahead lies with him.

Fiji Government wins complaint against Radio NZ

September 14th, 2008 at 4:59 pm by David Farrar

The Fijian Government complained about an interview with Michael Field on Nine to Noon on 7 March 2008. Radio NZ rejected the complaint so they went to the BSA. And they won.

They’ve sent me a copy of the decision: bsa-decision-28-8-08 (large pdf) that upholds four complaints of inaccuracy.

Now I have been a pretty strong critic of the Commodore and his Government myself. But there is no reason to make things sound worse than they really are there. The four items the BSA upheld were:

  1. Radio NZ were wrong to state the management of Fiji Broadcasting was military appointed (the Board is unchanged from before the coup)
  2. Radio NZ were wrong to broadcast that a journalist had been given just 8 days notice to leave Fiji when it was 21 days
  3. Radio NZ was wrong to state a Judge who got mugged had publicly criticised a report which upheld the legality of the coup. There was no evidence the Judge had done this, yet alone if it was linked
  4. Radio NZ were wrong to state the Judge’s house was burnt down, when it was not

Radio NZ do not have to broadcast a correction. The publication of the finding is meant to be “punishment” enough. The BSA hasn’t actually got around to putting it up on their website yet despite the decision being made on 28 August 2008.

The proposed Fijian charter

August 8th, 2008 at 7:16 am by David Farrar

No Right turns covers some salient points of the proposed charter.

I beleive the coup was quite unjustified (and illegal), and the military Government has engaged in some nasty thuggish activities. I also doubt the Commodore will even really give up power (I suspect he plans to become President).

But I will say that his proposed charter would be a lot better for Fiji in the long term, than the current racially divisive constitution. Now that does not mean coups are a legitimate way to deliver better Government. They are not – and at this stage the charter is only words. But the charter does represent some light at the end of the tunnel.

Some key aspects:

  • replaces racially divided seats with a one person, one vote system
  • Introduce anti-discrimination laws
  • remove the requirement for all major parties to be offered a place in Government, so that there is a functioning Opposition
  • reduce the voting age to 18 from 21
  • Abolish compulsory voting
  • an independent Commission against Corruption (we need one of those in NZ also)

There are some aspects not so good, such as compulsory military service, and expanding the role of the military. They claim these are to stop the coup culture. I think it may be too late for that.

The current electoral system is not just racist but a gerrymander. One seat has 3,340 registered voters and another has 19,044. A voter in the first seat has six times the effect of a voter in the second seat. If the Commodore does get a truly democratic electoral system in place, he will be doing a good thing.

Fiji Elections

July 17th, 2008 at 8:00 am by David Farrar

Back in March I blogged:

When I read that Foreign Ministers could not get an election timetable out of Fiji, but are hopeful there will be one next month, I am reminded of Charlie Brown trying to kick the football. Each time he goes for it, Commodore Lucy pulls it away!

This is still happening. There is no chance there will be elections by March 2009. In fact there is no chance of any free elections. Already the Commodore is talking of banning the former governing party, or members from it anyway.

Fiji election timetable

March 27th, 2008 at 6:32 am by David Farrar

When I read that Foreign Ministers could not get an election timetable out of Fiji, but are hopeful there will be one next month, I am reminded of Charlie Brown trying to kick the football. Each time he goes for it, Commodore Lucy pulls it away!

Talking of Fiji, The Press reports a complaint from Fiji Solicitor-General Christopher Pryde regarding a recent interview on Radio NZ regarding Fiji. While I am far from a fan of the Fiji administration, I would not assume their complaint is without merit. I understand there were a reasonable number of straight out factual inaccuracies in the interview.