Wednesday, February 28, 2007

The Real Survivor Fiji – Military, And The Human Toll

Japanese tourists from left Nanako Ota, Megumi Fukaya and Matko Yamazaki enjoy their stay in Nadi yesterday. Tourism in Fiji is far from normal, warns stakeholders. Image Credit: Fiji Times Limited

The Real Survivor Fiji – Military, And The Human Toll

Let’s see, what are the positives of the coup? Increased military checkpoints equal reduced crime – that’s good for tourism, right?

The large tourist developments that congregate around the airport are isolated from the rest of the civilian life activity – that hides some of the ugly side of running a military rule country, right?

Most of the touring world located in Europe and North America haven’t plugged into the political issues that are stifling the island nation – so ignorance is bliss, right?

Well in a country the military has taken over since December 5th, things are grinding to a halt and it doesn’t look good for future either. The human toll under the present set of circumstances is increasing and it doesn’t look like it will get any better soon. After all, the innocent citizens of Fiji will not even be able to have a say (vote) until 2010 if the Commodore is to continue to have his way.

Excerpts from the New Zealand’s National Business Review -

Commodore country
By Nevile Gibson, Editor-In-Cheif – National Business Review (NZ) 1-Mar-2007

The holiday conundrum: Fiji Island resorts allow you to get away from the everyday environment of work, household duties, telephones, television, even newspapers.

Yet since the December 5 coup, Fiji’s resort holiday business has nosedived. And personal experience over the past weekend indicates nothing has changed for the holidaymaker.
Patrols concentrate on gatherings of young people, who are leading suspects for street crime, burglaries and drug abuse. A new crime in the
statistics, threats and swearing at military officers, has boosted the number of arrests to 1200 from Dec 5 to February 15.
Monday’s editions of both papers this week led with the story of the death of a 19-year-old, who had been assaulted by soldiers and police a month ago when taken into custody. The Times
reported this was the second such death and the story is attracting international attention.

The Times also
reports an unnamed organisation has documented 200 cases of official human rights abuse while the Fiji Human Rights Commission has 20.

No doubt some heavy-handed treatment is being handed out but the media reporting, particularly in the just-mentioned report, shows a heartening degree of robustness.

Fiji has a five-star holiday industry grafted on to a third world economy.
The main source of tourists is Australia and New Zealand, where news of the coup has been widely reported and where the governments have imposed travel bans.

But elsewhere in the world, I was told, the news has not filtered through, mainly because little of note has occurred and perhaps there is a greater tolerance of these tourists to hot country politics.
But the industry is far from healthy and it will fall well short of its aim this year to exceed $F1 billion in turnover. Hotels Association president Dixon Seeto was quoted at the weekend as
saying, “We have to face the reality here that things are not normal.”
The effects on employment are palpable, as full time workers were still on reduced hours and casual staff are jobless.
A costly coup

While the day-to-day impact of the coup is largely invisible to visitors, the
economic impact is already considerable, if not as bad as previous ones.
Latest Fiji Reserve Bank forecasts show negative economic growth of 2-4 per cent in 2007, mainly from the decline in tourism. RBF governor Savenaca Narube also confirmed in his
latest statement that the key industries of sugar, fishing, forestry, agriculture and mining were also faring badly.

budgets are being shrunk and each day brings news of sackings from the public sector. But the finance minister, Mahendra Chaudry, who was himself overthrown as PM in a previous coup, is using the crisis to create a new future for Fiji based on an open economy.

At the weekend, he
revealed a programme to remove all state business monopolies, notably in aviation, electricity, telecommunications and television. The companies affected are Telecom Fiji, Fiji Electricity Authority, Fiji Television and Air Pacific.

Quoting from the Rogernomics textbook, he promised a better deal for consumers from greater competition and choice. This is radical stuff for a nation in the Pacific, where land ownership remains largely communal and therefore is unlikely to attract the kind of investment or productivity that can take agricultural output to its full potential.
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