Fiji People's Coalition Govt. Issues 287-297
Auditor-General's conduct borders on professional negligence
Issue No: 297 1 December 2000
The Auditor-General's agenda to discredit the People's Coalition government has been exposed by the elected Prime Minister.
In its last report, the Auditor-General had stated that a fund established by the elected Prime Minister for the construction of a meeting hall of Ba Chief, Ratu Sairosi Nagagavoka was against the financial regulations and was abuse of office. He had recommended that the funds in the account, donated by a Taiwanese businessman, be transferred to the Consolidated Fund. He had also informed the media that he was going to question Chaudhry about the fund, and that a full investigation should be carried out into the account.
On Friday, however, the Bank released the money for the purpose it was intended. The Prime Minister, Mahendra Chaudhry presented the cheque of $147,979 to the Tui Ba.
The Auditor was slammed for a less than professional report which bordered on professional negligence. That his recommendation was not followed by the regime itself shows the extent to which he was used by some officials in the regime to discredit the elected government. That he allowed himself to be so used is also indicative of his own lack of maturity.
NLTB in lose-lose situation Issue No: 296 17 December 2000
The Native Lands Trust Board has asked tenants whose leases are expiring to not to dismantle their homes as they may be given residential leases.
According to a report in yesterday's Fiji Sun, the NLTB's Regional Manager Northern, Emosi Toga stated tenants whose leases have expired or are on the verge of expiring would be given residential leases ranging from half an acre to 2 acres depending on the soil type. The paper quoted Toga as saying:
"There's no need to dismantle houses and move to another place because NLTB will be providing residential leases. We haven't forced out any farmer and assure that once the leases of their cane farm expires, there's provision made that tenants be given residential leases".
The changed tune follows the realisation that landlords whose land is being vacated will not be getting any rental income; nor will the NLTB get its share of the poundage from the rent.
1,955 leases are to expire by the end of December this year and another 458 next year. On average, the non-renewal of the 1955 leases this year, comprising about 14,000 ha of land, would mean a loss of rental income of over $1m.
The NLTB's initial plan was to take back the farm land, provide residential leases to the tenants at rental levels fetching the same rental value as what the whole farm land fetched, and then using the tenants as labourers on the farms to cultivate the land for the landowners. In its initial report, which came out in 1995, the NLTB had called this a `win-win' solution.
The report was heavily criticised and the then SVT government downplayed the NLTB plan.
With the Qarase regime coming back to power the NLTB has again begun articulating the plan. Its Northern Manager, Emosi Togo told the Fiji Sun: "These tenants have the expertise and implements and are in a better position than anyone else to be hired, or work as labourers for the landowning units or the incoming tenants".
The residential lease plan of the NLTB will not work because most of the landowners are not so much interested in the farm land as much as the houses. In one case in Ba, a father and son members of the landowning clan fought over who will move into the house once they took over the land with the son setting fire to the house before the lease expired to prevent the father from moving in the house.
Most tenants, however, have been dismantling the houses and taking the materials with them.
This has gotten the NLTB into a lose-lose situation: the landowners, whose appetite was whetted by the NTLB, do not get the house; the landowners do not they get any income; the NLTB does not get its share of the rental income.
Tora angered over Chaudhry Issue No: 295 16 December 2000
Interim regime's Agriculture Minister, Apisai Tora is angry over elected PM and Secretary of NFU, Mahendra Chaudhry's advice to farmers that tenants should seek alternative livelihood because of the insecurity of land leases.
Fuming on last night's Fiji TV news, Tora stated that farmers' leaders, in particular Mahendra Chaudhry, were advising farmers not to accept the regime's $10,000 assistance package, or to resettle in the regime's resettlement schemes, and even not to plant cane. He said that the Indian farmers have nothing to fear about the Native Land Trust Act.
Reacting to Tora's outburst, Chaudhry replied that it was his responsibility to correctly advise the farmers that because of the lack of security of leases, farmers should find alternative sources of earning their livelihood.
The regime has stopped any more resettlement grants. The People's Coalition was providing leaseholders the option of resettling on alternative plots of land provided by the state, or taking a $28,000 resettlement grant and fending for themselves. The Qarase regime has instead stopped this program, and has made assistance, which is to be in kind, available only to those who accept the regime's resettlement plan. The resettlement is on remote and low quality land.
The regime has also decided to take native land out of the purview of the Agricultural Landlords and Tenants Act, and place it under the Native Land Trust Act. The latter provides no mention of a minimum lease term, or any rent fixing formula. In addition, the regime has decided to transfer state owned land to the NLTB, and is providing financial assistance to ethnic Fijians to purchase freehold land.
Tora is the Minster responsible for ALTA. He lost the 1999 national elections and since then began campaigning to depose the elected government. He has been under investigation for his role in terrorist activities.
Farmers call for Land rights Issue No: 294 16 December 2000
Farmers in Fiji have called for rights to access to land.
In its submission the Commonwealth's Special envoy to Fiji, Justice Pius Langa, The National Farmers Union stated that access to land is the foundation of all human rights. It told Justice Langa that the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights, as well as the Commonwealth's creed is based on universal and non-discriminatory access to land. Without this, human rights do not have any foundation. In Fiji, the NFU stated, basic human rights have continued to be violated. The NFU said:
"Individual and group rights, rights to nationality, and rights to property ownership all are based on the fundamental legal foundation of access to land. Without access to land, no community can have food, shelter, education, or even a humane livelihood. Legal access to land without discrimination is the foundation for a modern society. Access to land is the foundation to peace and stability. One can not have a right to nationality without the right of access to land - to build shelter, to find food, to get water, and to get a living out of it.
"In Fiji, the fundamental problem has to do with the systematic denial of access to land to about a half of its citizens. For much of Fiji's recent history, this has been done through political compromise on ownership of land.
"Particularly since independence, the compromise was reached with very clear mutual benefits: that the ethnic Indians would not question the ownership of land in return for guaranteed access to it through legislation. The compromise worked until 1997. Landowners and tenants both had their interests served by the Agricultural Landlords and Tenants Act. This maintained some sort of social and industrial harmony in Fiji.
"The expiring leases under the ALTA, and the lack of any successor legislation now brings into question the basis of the compromise which was made by ethnic Indians in the country."
The Union further stated:
"We would not question ownership . if there was a good legislation allowing access to land. The tenants do not wish to own land for the sake of it. All that the tenant community desires is access to a livelihood without harassment, intimidation, violence, and on terms which do not condemn the tenants to servitude.
"But the situation now is precisely that unless this matter is addressed, once and for all, the next step will see the servitude of an entire ethnic community.
The submission informed the Envoy that the regime was trying to ensure that the ethnic Indian community would be permanently denied of any land rights or rights to fishing grounds, and underground drinking water.
It called on the Envoy to ensure that there be a fair solution to the land problem as soon as possible.
". the international community can, and must put pressure on the regime to provide a fair solution immediately. But if the regime would not listen, then it becomes necessary for an international solution to this problem.
"There are only about 180,000 people or about 33,000 families who need to be resettled."
The Union said that it is the responsibility of the Commonwealth and its members countries - the UK, Australia and India - to find a solution to the land problem in Fiji.
The full submission is found at: http://www.pcgov.org.fj/docs_o/nfu_submission_envoy_13dec.htm
Australian trade deal criticised by Aust unions, opposition Issue No: 293 15 December 2000
The Australian government's decision to provide a successor agreement to the import credit scheme for Fiji has been criticised by the Australian opposition and Australian trade unions.
The Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs Laurie Brereton stated that the Australian government should have heeded the advise of the elected Prime Minister Mahendra Chaudhry on this matter and not begun negotiations on the successor agreement until democracy was restored in Fiji.
The decision has also been condemned by the Australian Transport Workers Union. A statement from the union stated that the "decision by the Howard Government to reinstate and extend tariff benefits to Fijian businesses operating in support of the current undemocratic administration, through the Import Credit Scheme is a disgrace and a slap in the face for those fighting for the restoration of Fijian Democracy says the TWU."
The union's Secretary Tony Sheldon said, "The Federal Government's decision does nothing to help the Fijian people in their fight for the restoration of democracy under the 1997 Constitution". He continued:
"In fact, exactly the opposite is the case. By reinstating tariff benefits to Fijian companies operating within the current climate trading with Australia, all Mr Downer is doing is rewarding companies who support the current undemocratic administration and further reinforcing their support for the status quo."
"In reality, this is nothing short of tacit support for the denial of democracy to the people of Fiji and their families. It is an outrageous decision by the Howard Government, conferring a benefit on some of the very thugs and terrorists responsible for the coup earlier this year who are still actively denying Fijian workers their right to collective representation".
"What makes the Government¹s decision even more disappointing is that it comes at a time when a recent decision of the Fijian High Court has declared the interim administration has no legal basis. How can the Howard Government deal with an administration with no legal authority? Worse still, how it enters into legally binding agreements and financial transaction with an administration which by right shouldn't exist?"
"In making it's decision, the Government is risking releasing all the pressure and undoing all the hard work of those fighting for the democracy over the last few months."
The union called on the Government "to immediately review its decision and give its full support to the fight for Fijian Democracy through the restoration of the 1997 constitution".
Magistrate orders release of witness identities to terrorists Issue No: 292 15 December 2000
The Chief Magistrate, Salesi Temo today ordered that the prosecution will have to provide a full list of identities of the 144 prosecution witnesses to the terrorists facing treason charges.
The prosecution earlier had stated that it will provide only the statements and not reveal the identities because of its concern at the security of the witnesses. The lawyers for the terrorists argued that for them to prepare their defence more effectively, the identities of the witnesses were important.
The decision has raised concerns throughout the nation, as it is strongly believed that the safety and security of the witnesses is now at stake.
Temo's handling of the case involving the terrorists has been riddled with controversy (see, for example, http://www.pcgov.org.fj/archive/2000-10/no76.htm; http://www.pcgov.org.fj/archive/2000-10/no88.htm, and http://www.pcgov.org.fj/archive/2000-10/no109.htm)
It is believed that the prosecution will appeal the Temo decision.
END 15 December 2000
Curfew lifted Issue No: 291 15 December 2000
The night curfew in the capital city Suva has been lifted from today.
The military announced yesterday that it was convinced that stability has returned to Fiji. But the Military Commander Commodore Frank Bainimarama told the media that the lifting of the curfew must not be construed to mean that the army is scaling down its operations. He stated that the military was now embarking on "smart security", which means that while the road blocks and check points will be lifted, the military will continue to place surprise checkpoints all over the nation. Com. Bainimarama stated that this operation is aimed at achieving the military's objectives "more effectively than the current operations in the present situation".
Bainimarama stated: "We believe that enough progress has been made and we have decided to change the concept of operations to a more proactive stance, and moving away from a static presence to a mobile one."
The military also stated that the Emergency Security Decree would continue to remain in place until the national crisis was "settled".
There are still numerous military issued weapons with the terrorists. The military has placed the number of weapons unaccounted for at 19. It is, however, believed that there are much more weapons than 19 in the hands of the terrorists.
It is understood that the military had earlier decided to lift the curfew effective 3 November. But this was changed when the terrorists attempted another coup on 2 November.
The military's decision to lift the curfew has been criticised by the Suva Retailers Association.
It is understood that the decision to lift the curfew came after pressure from the reinstated Police Commissioner Isikia Savua who wanted to take control of internal security in Fiji.
Meanwhile in a total about-turn, Savua has announced the termination of the 35 special constables with criminal records he had recruited into the special constabulary after the terrorist takeover of the Parliament Complex. Just days before Savua was defending the recruits.
Regime tried to sabotage NFU's submission to Envoy Issue No: 290 14 December 2000
The Qarase regime tried to prevent the national Farmers Union from presenting its submission to the Commonwealth of Nations' Special Envoy, Justice Langa.
The NFU's states that it called the Ministry of Foreign Affairs number given in its advertisement on Friday 8 December at 9am "soon after reading the advertisement". Spokesman, Subhash Verma said that when he called around 9am, the Chief Protocol Officer was out, but
"his secretary took the NFU's appointment and noted our time for 10am on Thursday 13 December. She said she will discuss the time with the Chief Protocol Officer one Mr. Bogi and call me back. They didn't return the call. I called again on Monday. Mr.Bogi was again out. I took his mobile phone number and called him on that. He then said that because of time constraint the Envoy will not be able to hear our submissions and that we should wait till early next year when he will return. I then reminded him that we may have been the first group to call his office after the advertisement. He then said that he will pass the message to Michelle Law. Neither Mr. Bogi nor Ms. Law called after this. When I followed up with Ms. Law, she said that Mr. Bogi did not pass her any message on this. She was very upset at this."
Verma says that the Envoy's team gladly accommodated the NFU and heard their submission on Thursday evening in Nadi.
The underhanded manner in which the regime tried to manipulate the Envoy's program, and the overt acts to deny the NFU, the largest farmers union in Fiji, is deplorable. It just goes to show the extent to which the regime will go towards sabotaging moves to re-establish democracy in Fiji.
Fundamentals of reconciliation missing - Priest
Issue No: 289 14 December 2000
The fundamentals of reconciliation are missing from the regime's reconciliation moves.
So says a former Fiji teacher and now a student of Jesuit priesthood, Arthur Leger.
Leger wrote an article in today's Fiji Times where he states:
"Unfortunately the fundamental antecedents of any reconciliation body are absent: getting to the truth; strengthening the law; that the process be democratic and verifiable; the redress and reparation for the victims".
Leger says that the regime "must try to get to the truth of what really happened during the violence". He also quotes the substantive President Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara who stated: "The reconciliation that has been undertaken today will be worthless if investigations into the coup do not reveal the truth behind the staging".
Leger also cautions against hasty acts of reconciliation, and advices that the process should be open to scrutiny of both the national and international community.
The regime has stated that the investigations into the terrorists' activities are a hinderance to reconciliation. Many terrorists have since been released with either minor fines, or suspended sentences. Even those convicted and jailed have been freed within days on compulsory supervision orders.
Many in Fiji have questioned the sincerity of the regime in its calls for reconciliation. The ethnic Indian community largely believes that Qarase is dishonest when he calls for reconciliation because he is calling for the victims of the terrorists and the regime's policies to make the first moves to reconcile. This is interpreted as threats rather than reconciliation.
FLP, Newspaper question Savua's suitability Issue No: 288 14 December 2000
The state owned newspaper, Daily Post, has questioned the suitability of Isikia Savua to continue to head the Police Force.
In its editorials which it ran yesterday and today, the Post stated: "It is a fact that at this point in time, people have more confidence in the military than the police". The editorial was in response to the possibility that the police may take-over the security of the nation from the military from this week.
This possibility has also been criticised by the Fiji Labour Party. Party President, Jokapeci Koroi states that Savua is not fit to lead the Police Force. She says that Savua's reputation has been "seriously tainted in the discharge of his duties", and more recently in hiring convicted criminals in the special constabulary.
On the recruitment being revealed, Savua ordered that the convicted criminals he hired be given certificates of rehabilitation. This is gross abuse of process and powers.
Koroi called for the military to continue to look after the security of the nation, and for Savua to step down.
Yesterday's Daily Post called Savua to answer numerous questions. The Post asked:
"1. Where were you exactly on 19th May 2000, before and during the height of crisis?.
1.. Why was not the riot squad called in to help? Where was the riot bus and where was the riot gear, before, during and after the troubles? 2.. If things were beyond the control of Police, why was not Military called in to assist? 3.. Who was in charge of the force at the height of crisis on 19th May 2000? 4.. Do you deny that a contingent of senior police office, reportedly numbering some 80. had volunteered to assist but they were not allowed to act? 5.. What was not Suva cordoned off after the protest march on 19th Mary 2000? 6.. Why were members of the public allowed into the Parliament? Why was not Parliamentary Complex sealed off for security reasons? 7.. What is your response to People's Coalition's concern about you r action and (lack of_) suitability for the top security job? 8.. What is your rationale in reinstating criminal elements into the Mobile Force when Acting Commissioner Moses Driver had terminated them? Do you know that sone of them are rapist[s] and killers? Savua has not answered these questions.
Meanwhile according to today's Fiji Sun, Savua told them to call him up after New Year as this was the Christmas holidays.
Newspaper hostile towards elected govt - Academic Issue No: 287 14 December 2000
The Fiji Times remained hostile towards the elected People's Coalition Government, says academic and veteran journalist David Robie.
In a paper he delivered at the Journalism Education Association Conference in Australia last week, Robie, who heads the University of the South Pacific's Journalism Program, examined the reporting of the May putsch and reporting leading up to the terrorist take-over of the Parliament.
Robie states that while there is "no evidence that the [Chaudhry] administration developed a clear media strategy to develop positive relationships with journalists and to use modern "spin" techniques to get the message about its planned and actual reforms across to the public", the media was clearly hostile to the Chaudhry Government. He states:
"Over the next few months [since its election in May 1999], The Fiji Times appeared to wage a relentless campaign against the fledgling Government, both through its editorials and "slanted" news columns".
Robie also quotes veteran journalist, Michael Field as stating that the election result was "remarkably clear but the media, or elements of it, were reluctant to accept it". There was a section which was "arrogantly anti-democratic, practising a we-know-best approach to democracy". Robie writes:
"Much of the journalistic decision-making was personal. Seeing the media in action in which everybody has a wider part in the community, it was apparent that writing and editorial stances were frequently based on the journalist's race and own political views."
Michael Field is further quoted as saying:
".I left [Fiji, after two months, and the longest-serving foreign reporter] wondering how much of the coup and its twists and turns was the product of the media itself".
The paper refers to Fiji Times reporter Margaret Wise for particular mention: It states:
"Reporting by The Fiji Times was spearheaded by a journalist with close ties with the opposition and radical indigenous nationalists. The journalist, Margaret Wise, was also responsible for reporting about Chaudhry's personal affairs. She had links with the SVT party and with the Permanent Secretary at the Prime Minister's Office, Joji Kotobalavu, who was apparently often the source of inside information for her, even when former coup leader Sitiveni Rabuka was Prime Minister."
The hard-hitting analysis is the first ever independent analysis of the role the media played in the destruction of democracy in Fiji and the events leading to it.
The paper has been attacked by the Pacific Island News Association (PINA) online. The attack has threatened the links which the Journalism school has with the media. Pina President, William Parkinson states: "The media in Fiji needs to work with the journalism school at USP and comments like this don't help fulfil this cause".
A former journalist, Subhash Verma says that the journalists in Fiji will not report fairly on the analysis because they fear "reprisals from the mafia". He further stated that the PINA criticism of the Robie Paper is deplorable: "The commercial threat to gag independent analysis of media is deplorable". Verma, together with the Daily Post where he was employed, was charged with malicious publication in 1990 for reporting on protests against the 1990 Constitution.
Robie's paper is found on: http://www.uq.edu.au/jrn/jea/full-program.htm
End 14 December 2000