Friday, August 10, 2007

The Real Survivor Fiji – If It Walks Like A Duck …

STRIKING members of the Fiji Nursing Association will report to work from 6am tomorrow. Kuini Lutua talks to the media at a press conference at the FNA headquarters in Suva. "I think one of the main reasons we've decided to go this way (withdraw strike) is due to the non-negotiation done by the interim government from the beginning; meaning when they wanted to reduce the pay by 5 per cent we were not called in to be consulted. Image Credit: Fiji Times

The Real Survivor Fiji – If It Walks Like A Duck …

The biggest problem that confronts Fiji at this time is the lack of intervention by law abiding, democratic countries that know this coup is wrong and should be put down as soon as possible.

A recent article in the Fiji Times shows how this wait and see approach will only empower Commodore Frank and his position as he slowly, very slowly drags Fiji into extreme economic despair.


This from Fiji Times –

Fiji: Like a duck treading water
BRIJ V LAL - Saturday, August 11, 2007

Fiji today is like a duck treading water, a Fijian political operative told me the other day.

'All calm on the surface, but unknown currents churning beneath.' As a description of the current state of affairs in Fiji, the imagery is pretty apt.

From various government quarters, the talk of change and improvement is optimistic. The so-called 'clean up campaign' is proceeding apace, we are told, the economy is on the mend, the country is at peace, and the people are 'moving on.' That is the official line: nonchalance in some circles, assertive self-confidence, arrogance even, in others.

It is true that the country has not descended into the kind of civil strife some feared when the coup took place and people in all walks of life are muddling along, coping as best they can with what they have. But there is a palpable sense of fragility in the air, the sense that things could go wrong at any time.

Mr Taniela Tabu's experience is a case in point. With the Public Emergency Regulations suspended, Mr Tabu thought he was entitled to his freedom of speech guaranteed under the constitution.

He believed the interim administration was in charge of the country. But arrested and taken to the barracks, he was, he has told the country and the international community, physically humiliated and his life threatened if he continued to speak up. The military council was apparently still in place and in control, very much so. There were the predictable denials from the QEB, but Mr Tabu's account was credible, his injured outrage believable.

The extreme touchiness of the interim administration and the military to any criticism of its action is evident. It instills fear and fosters self-censorship in the populace. To be issued death threats for calling for the resignation of a minister from government says a great deal about the state of affairs in Fiji today.
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The interim administration's optimistic claims about the economy go against the assessments of virtually all the leading businessmen with whom I have spoken.

Contraction is the order of the day, they tell me, in some sectors by as much as 30-40 percent. There is no new investment, and many projects with huge investment and employment potential have been frozen.
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What, I ask, will it take to kick-start the economy?

Firm commitment to returning the country to parliamentary democracy, the businessmen tell me. They place much hope on the interim administration's undertaking given to the European Union that the next general election will be held by March 2009. Without that, the country is looking down at the barrel of the gun, so to speak.

The question is: will general election be held within the time frame stipulated by the EU?

There are those who are optimistic, but I have deep doubts. The Fiji Labour Party has stated that holding general election should not be the country's priority; getting the essential electoral infrastructure right should be: conducting a census, drawing up electoral boundaries, educating the voters. Accomplishing these before 2009 may not be feasible.

The interim Prime Minister has said on various occasions that the timing of the next general election is a matter for Fiji to decide, not for the international community to dictate.
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If the Fijian community continues to feel marginalised and excluded from power, its cherished institutions symbolically humiliated and sidelined, there will be Qarases galore in the future. And they could well be less mindful of multi-ethnic sensitivities and the need for multi-ethnic accommodation than Mr Qarase and other politicians of his vintage.

Talking to Fijians on the streets in Suva, admittedly a small sample, I get the definite sense of frustrated silence in the Fijian community. They feel helpless, hobbled and humiliated. 'What can we do,' a man says to me. 'The guns are there.' There is a silent but definite hardening of race relations. The signs are everywhere.

Every issue, every challenge, is viewed through the prism of race. Predominantly Indian trade unions struck an early deal with the interim administration while predominantly Fijian ones struck, I am told. It is not as simple as that, for support for or against the interim administration is divided across the communities. Not all Indians support the coup, nor all Fijians oppose it. But perceptions, right or wrong, do matter. And the omens do not look good.
The government's handling of the strike has left a bitter taste in many mouths. Its rigid and even vindictive approach to industrial relations, its unwillingness to go to arbitration, its determination to frustrate and break up the trade union movement not willing to succumb to its pressure, all done ironically with the support of some compliant trade union leaders, leaves a sad legacy. The government says its coffers are empty, but then spends funds on purchasing vehicles and paying private attorneys to fight its cases. Somewhere, the priorities have gone wrong.
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Preoccupied with its own survival amidst unrelenting international pressure unlikely to end any time soon, it has adopted an ad-hoc, fire-containing, approach to the challenges facing it: an enquiry here, a raid there, a plea for aid and assistance and skilled personnel from this country or that.

All this points to one inescapable truth: Fiji is a part of the international community; it is an island, yes, but an island in the physical sense alone. We cannot afford to thumb our noses at the international community and then expect to escape retribution. Sooner rather than later, the larger challenges of the proper way to build a multi-ethnic nation will return to haunt the nation.
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Commodore Frank Bainimarama will continue to waddle his way into perpetual power through military rule while the former democratic nation of Fiji suffers.

This "Coup Culture" is Quakers!


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