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Qarase Men Suspects; Qarase Not Worried

Qarase Men Suspects; Qarase Not Worried

Issue No: 120; 16 October 2000

Interim regime Prime Minister is not worried that two of his cabinet members are to be questioned by the police for their involvement in the terrorist activities in the country.

The police department announced last week that it will question all those who are suspected of being behind terrorist George Speight. According to the Police Department, Apisai Tora, the Agriculture Minister in the Qarase regime, and Ratu Inoke Kubuabola, the Information Minister, will be questioned this week. Both are on the list of persons who can not travel to Australia, New Zealand, the US, and UK.

Answering questions to Fiji TV's evening news tonight (16 Oct) on whether he was worried about the questioning, Qarase laughed the question off and said he was not worried.

It is understood that both Tora and Kubuabola have been vocal in the Qarase cabinet to order the release of Speight and his band of terrorists. Qarase himself was on the list of ministers in Speight's cabinet when Speight was in control of the Parliament Complex. Whether Qarase will also be questioned is not clear.


Constitution Deadline "Restrictive" - Qarase

Issue No: 119; 16 October 2000

Interim regime Prime Minister says that the March deadline for the report of his Constitution Commission is restrictive.

According to a Fiji Times report of 14 October, Qarase met Commission Chairperson, Asesela Ravuvu last week to discuss the timeframe of the report.

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Ravuvu is quoted by the newspaper as saying: "We were in agreement that the March deadline was quite prohibitive".

The terms of reference of the Commission, which the regime has not released to the public as yet, seems to require the Commission to consult widely with all the provincial and tikina councils. At least this is what Qarase has informed the Council of Chiefs.

This recent twist indicates that Qarase and his regime are not sincere either to the wide consultation requirement or to their "plan" for an 18 month period for a new election under a new constitution. Or they are not sincere to both. In an official statement earlier, the Minister for Foreign Affairs stated that his ministry had informed Fiji's diplomatic offices abroad that their time frame was between 2 to 3 years.

The Peoples Coalition believes that the 18-month time-frame which Qarase has proposed is only to placate the international community. Once the international community accepts the Qarase plan, then the life of the regime will be extended further to cover the remaining 4 years of the Peoples Coalition government term of office.


$5000 for terror victims

Issue No: 118; 16 October 2000

The interim regime has decided to give upto $5000 per family in the Muaniweni and Dawasamu areas to farmers whose houses and farms were destroyed by terrorists. A total of $240,000 has been allocated for this package. Another $14,000 has been allocated for food relief comprising rice, flour, sugar, tinned fish, milk, dhal, and cooking oil.

There are certain conditions attached to the assistance.

First, the family must already be resident on its farm. If they are not staying there, then they must return to the area first.

Second, it is not an outright grant. The scheme is a "partnership arrangement between the respective landowners and farmers under the supervision and guidance" of the regime. This means that the funds will be allocated to the partnership - meaning that these could be used by the regime towards reconciliation exercises, which often involves grog drinking and feasting.

Third, the assistance is upto a maximum of $5,000. This means that it may be well below the limit.

A majority of the residents in the Mauniweni and Dawasamu areas has left these areas. Most, currently staying at the Refugee Camp in Lautoka, refuse to go back to these areas for continuing fear of further violence.

The terrorists responsible for the violence have still not all been charged. One chief charged for terrorising the families and jailed for one year was released within a week to "help in the reconciliation process". Others, including a police officer stationed in one of the affected areas, are still not charged.

The families staying at the Refugee Camp have declined the regime's offer of "peanuts" for their "life's work", and canned fish and flour. One refugee told the Peoples Coalition that the regime was "rubbing salt" to their wounds. Most farmers have lost their entire homes, farms, and farming equipment.

The regime's relief package of $254,000 for the hundreds of farmers compares with the $9.5m of subsidised assistance to the business community. The businessmen's package comprises subsidised interest loans, with the subsidy component working to about $0.5m.


Lauans next victims - Mara

Issue No: 117; 16 October 2000

The Constitutionally appointed President of Fiji Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara believes that Lauans and other islanders would be forced to leave if ethnic Indians are forced to leave.

Today's Daily Post reports that addressing the Lau Provincial Council meeting on Ono-I-Lau island, Mara stated that some Lauans were part of the coup. He reminded to delegates that if ethnic Indians "are forced to leave Fiji, the next group of people will be islanders who have made a living in Viti Levu". He stated that hatred for ethnic Indians was not the reason for the coup.

:He also asked for an investigation of the real cause of the coup. He stated:

"I am concerned that if the real cause of the coup is not identified and solved it will again create instability in the future. The reconciliation process that has been undertaken today will be worthless if investigations into the coup do not reveal the truth behind its staging".

Mara also called for the 14 provinces of the ethnic Fijian community to unite first if national reconciliation is to be achieved.


Support Qarase - Businessman

Issue No: 116; 16 October 2000

Some businessmen have expressed support for the Qarase regime. Natwarlal Vagh, the President of the Lautoka Chamber of Commerce told his members that they should support the Qarase regime.

Giving his annual report to the Chamber's AGM on Saturday, Vagh stated: "The course for us to follow is to lend support and advice to the interim administration in whatever way possible to reach a solution which was fair to everyone". He further stated: "The nature and shape of things may be changing but commerce must continue". He acknowledged that economic development of a nation depended on a "free and fair system of democracy where the fundamental rights of an individual are not only guaranteed but protected". But, he stated, the national goals must be addressed first. "[A]ddressing other problems first will only [hold] us down forever with recriminations and meaningless counterattacks".

Reacting to Vagh's statements, the President of the Lautoka Retailers Association, Senator Dalpat Rathod said that the Lautoka Chamber of Commerce is a constituent body of the Fiji Chamber of Commerce of which Vagh is the President. "The Fiji Chamber of Commerce is a party to the Fiji BLUES and a signatory to the BLUES constituting aims. As such, the official position of the Lautoka Chamber remains that the 1997 Constitution be reinstated and a Government of National Unity be formed".

Vagh's views are seen as his personal position emerging from his close commercial relation with the banking community of which Qarase is a member. That Vagh may be a direct or indirect beneficiary of the Fiji Development Bank's loan under the Qarase reign may also explain his support for the Qarase regime.

A Lautoka City Councillor stated that Vagh's anger is directed at the Lautoka City Council because the Council, during the National Federation Party's rule, had changed the flow of traffic in the city which Vagh opposed. Vagh has consistently tried to get the traffic system changed. Some members of the Lautoka Chamber even approached terrorist, Apisai Tora after Tora became a Qarase cabinet member to get a directive to the City Council to reverse the traffic change. This is despite the views of the traffic police and the government's own traffic experts. The City Council is now fully composed of Peoples Coalition members.


Unemployment Rising; divestment continuing; economic improvement under Qarase Impossible

Issue No: 115; 15 October 2000

The economy is sinking deeper under the Qarase regime. This is the message which all participants to economic growth are providing loudly and clearly.

Recent trends are most worrying:

a.. household incomes have been reduced significantly b.. private consumer demand has fallen to an all time low in Fiji a.. business confidence has plummeted b.. new construction has ceased c.. utility charges - electricity, phones, insurance - are prohibitively high d.. tourist expenditure has taken a nose-dive e.. unemployment rates are astronomical f.. state expenditure is geared towards conspicuous consumption g.. tax revenue is declining h.. foreign aid is drying up i.. prices of essential commodities are rising.

These are features of an economy in serious trouble. They signal the onslaught of a long period of sustained decline and stagnation. If there is anything which Fiji has going now, it is the healthy foreign reserve position which was obtained by the Peoples Coalition Government. The bumper sugar crop, another result of the confidence which the Coalition Government provided the sugar industry, is expected to sustain the reserve position a little while longer.

But with the massive decline in confidence in the sugar industry, added with the expected decline in sugar prices next year, and the projected depressed tourism market, the regime ought to be seriously worried if it is concerned about the economic health of the nation.

The Fiji Trade and Investment Board (FTIB) revealed at a private seminar last week that investors have taken a "wait and see" attitude. This is a vast understatement. The fact is that there are no investors even waiting. The FTIB figures reveal all. From 19 May to mid-October, there were only 26 new inquiries with the FTIB. Most of these are not even formal proposals. The average of 5 inquiries per month, of which given the best scenario, there may be 3 proposals per month, compares much worse than post-1987 coup decade of decline when new proposals received averaged 11 per month. Between 1988 and 1997, for example, an average of 140 project proposals were received by the FTIB annually. Of this actual implementation were at best, a low 46 per year. The post 1987 period had seen an unprecedented change in economic policies, like the tax-free factory schemes and the World Bank and IMF sponsored privatisation and other incentive schemes. There is no such new scheme left for Qarase to piggyback on. Those schemes have fully exhausted their potential.

Fiji had experienced the lowest gross investment rate in its pre-Peoples Coalition history in 1992 of 9% of GDP. Net investment, at $47m, was a mere 2% of GDP. The economy had remained depressed with massive unemployment for the whole of the period until the election of the Peoples Coalition Government in May 1999. From May 1999 to May 2000, growth and government revenue performance was much better than forecast. Even the Amalgamated Telecom Holdings Ltd explicitly acknowledged the exceptionally good economic performance to May 2000 as the reason for their good profit position.

The FTIB figures show investment inquiries valued at most $10m per year. Most investors, while showing provisions for depreciation, are not investing at the same rate in replacing their capital stock. The net investment in the economy during the post-19 May period will almost certainly be negative. Divestment from Fiji is fast becoming the Qarase legacy. This is the most serious indictment of the Qarase regime.

Indeed, Qarase has no new or innovative policies. He has reversed those very policies, introduced by the Peoples Coalition Government, which were at the cornerstone of creating sustained confidence in the economy. All these will lead to further loss of transparency and will continue to create an uneven playing field. No doubt there will be lobbyists from the private sector, including those from the business consultancy professions and bankers, who will try to take advantage of the current situation to get in place policies which will result in short term financial gains for selected private companies. And Qarase drowning as he is, is grasping at the proverbial straw.

Given the tight corner in which he is, Qarase has been railroaded into continuing with massive concessions and favours to potential investors, a hallmark of the Rabuka regime. The post 1987 record shows that such policies do not create an environment for sustaining investment and growth in the long term.

The only option left for Qarase is to re-look at the natural resources sector - particularly the forestry and the mining sectors - for growth. But with the trashing of the Sustainable Development Bill, unmitigated exploitation of the forestry and the minerals in the country will lead to long term ruin and destroy the very livelihood and structure of the indigenous Fijians society which Qarase seems to be championing.

The Qarase regime is taking Fiji deeper into the whirlpool and drowning the nation with them.


15 October 2000.

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