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Fji In Limbo Over 'Financial Mess'

Salesh Kumar and Nazreen Bibi report on the fate of Fiji's media industry training institute. USP's Wansolwara newspaper

SUVA: The future of the media industry backed Fiji Journalism Institute (FJI) is reported to be in limbo in the wake of financial problems.

Last month, the institute was evicted from its office and a scathing Fiji Times editorial called for it to "clean up the mess".

The office that housed the seven-year-old institute in Ma'afu Street in Suva was taken over by the Fijian Affairs Board with the permission of the Public Service Commission.

The Information Ministry said the institute, run by the Fiji Islands Media Association (FIMA), had not been used for more than 12 months.

Funding for the institute has been frozen since 1998 due to failure to provide audited reports.

For more than 18 months, there have been unsuccessful attempts to call a general meeting or provide audited accounts.

Director of Information Eliki Bomani said the ministry was willing to assist the institute, but FIMA needed to come up with a solution to its financial mess.

He added that journalists were quick to point fingers at others but when their own house was under question they aptly "sweep everything under the carpet".

Pacific Islands Broadcasting Association senior journalist Makereta Komai expressed similar concerns, saying: "We should clean our own backyard before speaking about others."

Current FIMA president Rita Narayan defended the association, saying in a letter to the Fiji Times: "I and my able members of a committee which was elected in September 1999 did the only thing we could by putting the financial affairs of FIMA into the hands of the Auditor-General's office since we were unsure and had no evidence of previous records of the organisation's finances".

The auditor-general's report is expected to be released soon.

Current FIMA executives are: Rita Narayan (Radio Fiji), Prakash Narayan (Ministry of Information), Malakai Veisamasama (Radio FM96) and Arthur McCutchan (Fiji Times).

The Fiji Times editorial of October 4 called for FIMA to sort out its affairs before being critical of anyone as long as doubts were hanging over its activities.

"The people responsible for this shocking state of affairs must be found and taken to task," the newspaper said.

"Journalists have a duty to uncover and highlight misdeeds. It is therefore imperative that their house be put in order first."

Some former executives are reportedly under investigation over alleged mismanagement of funds and running of the institute.

Former president Asaeli Lave, chief photographer of the Fiji Times, said he wasn't sure what the people were being investigated for.

He said there was "too much politicising" in the organisation.

"The problem is not the misuse of funds but the fact that no proper audit was done when I came in as president," Mr Lave said.

In 1993, the International Programme for the Development of Communication (IPDC) granted US$45,000 (F$100,000) for the institute.

Mr Lave said when he took office only about $16,000 was left.

He added that previous records were not up-to-date and the accountant was asked to prepare an audit report so that a proposal for an extension of funds by UNESCO could be given.

"We needed to meet the previous president and treasurer since no audit was available, but they never turned up."

UNESCO was given an explanation and it sent an independent person to report on the situation.

The report found:

* A relatively high student drop-out rate (from 1996 to 1997).

* Lack of an official qualification (accreditation) for the FJI certificate.

* Need for further support from the media industry.

* Lack of cooperation between FJI and the regional Journalism Programme at the University of the South Pacific which has produced about 30 degree and diploma graduates since 1996.

UNESCO's regional communications adviser, Tarja Virtanen, told Wansolwara a new project was submitted in 1997, and IPDC approved this in 1998, after it had evaluated the implementation of the first project's objectives.

However, "the director of IPDC suspended the funds because no viable workplan had been submitted by March 2000, with a special emphasis on the sustainability of the institute".

"This naturally covers aspects related to budget and finances," said Ms Virtanen.

Efforts to develop a new workplan for FJI was complicated by the lack of an audit report.

Ms Virtanen said the allotted funds would be contracted upon receipt of an updated workplan.

However, the decision whether to inject further funds into FJI will be taken by the IPDC director.

Two of FJI's former trainers reportedly remain unpaid two years after providing classes for young journalists.

Netani Rika, deputy editor of the Fiji Times and one of the trainers at the institute in 1998, said he was owed $1100.

"I wrote to the FIMA board several times regarding my pay and they informed me that they’ll pay once they had sorted out their financial problem," said Mr Rika.

The Pacific Islands News Association (PINA) assisted FIMA in setting up the institute by developing a funding proposal for UNESCO's IPDC.

"This was designed to help the institute become self-sustainable and organise overseas-based training programmes for the local trainers," said Peter Lomas, PINA's regional training coordinator.



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