Friday, March 30, 2007

Everything, but the Kitchen Sink (Updated)

(Image: Ba Provincial Council chairman and Tui Tavua Ratu Ovini Bokini speaks at the meeting yesterday)

Fiji Times article reports on the call by for an earlier transition to democracy, by an internal vote in Ba Provincial Council, headed by Great Council of Chiefs chair, Ovini Bokini.

This is an excerpt of the Fiji Times article:

Chiefs want early polls

Friday, March 30, 2007

THE chiefs of Ba Province are calling on the interim Government to have a general election as early as possible for the sake of economic growth, especially in the tourism industry.

This was a resolution at the two-day meeting in Lautoka, which ended yesterday. Roko Tui Ba Viliame Seuseu said members of the council agreed it would be best for everyone if the general election was held sooner than 2010.

"We want the general elections scheduled for 2010 to be brought forward," he said. "The sooner we have it, the better". Mr Seuseu said they were concerned with the political situation since the December takeover because it had severely affected tourism.

He said they had every right to be concerned as several major hotels were located in the province. Mr Seuseu said these hotels provided employment for most villagers.

"If that is affected, our people will also suffer," he said. He said some employees of these hotels had been on reduced hours since the military takeover. Mr Seuseu said the resolution was reached after a team from the Information Ministry approached them and presented the interim Government's plans leading up to the general election.

Military spokesman Major Neumi Leweni said the interim administration had put in place a road map that had to be followed.

"The government of the day decides on when the next general election would be held and no one else would," [Leweni] said.

The chiefs also reassured its support for council chairman Tui Tavua Ratu Ovini Bokini. Mr Seuseu said their support for Ratu Ovini as a chairman of the council as well as the Great Council of Chiefs was unmoved. "No amount of allegations or finger pointing would move our support for him," [Seuseu] said.

This perhaps is among the greatest examples of how self-interested personalities of native institutions, have adopted an utterly confusing role in modern Fiji society.

It is also a cruel reminder of the hidden agendas in native institutions, to interfere or influence the role of the central Government. For certain, among these improper uses of protocol, is pre-determining an accelerated time-frame for a democratic process. This is not or should not and never was a function of native governance and learning from earlier examples of ethnonationalism in Fiji, this dangerous course only bears a bitter tasting fruit.

Although, supporters of Bokini have dismissed these allegation, as an attempt to discredit him; it is quite undeniable that, the GCC Chairman and Chairman for Ba Provincial Council is actively blurring that line between democracy and aristocracy, for his self-gain. This arcanum was coroborated by NLTB's Deputy General Manager, Semi Tabakanalagi's interview with Fiji Sun (excerpt below) attesting to the fact that, there are several cases(involving Bokini) pending in tribunal court.

Meanwhile, a Fiji Sun article adds another dimension to the complaints against Bokini, who is accused of over-stepping his traditional authority by several king making tribes from Bokini's own district, in regards to negotiations for a certain development project. Other surfacing allegations are with regards to the issuance of Fishing licences, as reported by a Fiji Village article.

NLTB man denies collusion claims


A senior Native Land Trust Board officer had defended himself against allegations that he was used by Tui Tavua Ratu Ovini Bokini to alter some land leases to landowners. Board deputy general manager operations Semi Tabakanalagi denied the allegations by some members of the chiefly household landowning unit in Tavua that he had been colluding with the Great Council of Chiefs chairman on land leases.

[Tabakanalagi] said he was not working with Ratu Ovini for criminal intent but for working relationships only since he is the chief of the vanua of Bila and is the traditional head of his landowning unit.

"Collusion for criminal intent is an absolute no and is categorically denied," said Mr Tabakanalagi. He said that he only worked with Ratu Ovini on official matters relating to his work."The Tui Tavua is the supreme chief of the vanua of Tavua and is the traditional head of his mataqali Tilivasewa. His views and decisions on land they own is to be respected and is to be considered," said Mr Tabakanalagi.

NLTB is empowered to deal with native land, he said, for the benefit of native owners and basically "this is our benchmark in the decision-making that we make in our business". Members of the chiefly household landowning unit had filed their complaint to the Anti-Corruption Unit at the beginning of this week citing two cases where MrTabakanalagi allegedly altered leases to two of the landowners.

"I am all confident we have made the right decisions in the cases involved," he said. "Two of the cases", Mr Tabakanalagi said, " are still in the tribunal court".

Ratu Ovini did not want to comment and referred all queries to his traditional spokesman.Tavualevu Village spokesman Apisalome Uuisova said they had already called a vanua meeting where the group that had filed complaints to the military is also expected to attend for a resolution.

Using the experience gained from the Monasavu case and Natadola project, it is plausible for back room deals to be hatched, between the NLTB and certain chieftains; resulting in a wholesale disenfrachisement of the majority of other inheritors and stakeholers to this land commons, collectively known in Fijian vernacular as the Vanua.

This recent article by Radio Fiji, points to reverberations among some of the staff employed by Native Lands Trust Board, who have signed a petition to remove the acting General Manager, Joveci Tuinamuana.

It appears that new incumbent has tread on some toes within the institution. Some victims of sore toes are perhaps culpable for surfacing improprieties related to the software contract with Pacific Connex, or are implicated in the allegations of wilful collusion, to defraud landowning units.

Below is an excerpt of the Radio Fiji article:

NLTB staff wants Tuinamuana out
Radio Fiji.
31 Mar 2007 20:31:32

Staff of the Native Lands Trust Board have signed and presented a petition to its Acting General Manager Joveci Tuinamuana calling for his immediate resignation.

The petition was hand delivered to the Military’s representative Captain Esala Teleni, Fijian Affairs Minister Ratu Epeli Ganilau and Tuinamuana yesterday. It’s believed the staff are not happy with his style of leadership especially during this difficult time.

Radio Fiji Gold News has also established that Tuinamuana apologized to two senior executives of the Board, Semi Tabkanalagi and Solo Nata of West Regional Office for his comments on Fiji TV this week. He told viewers that the two had been implicated in an allegation by TAVUA landowners. No comment could be obtained from Captain Teleni.

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Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Icons of Disrepute.

Radio Fiji article covers the press conference by APRIL Development's repesentatives, who are struggling to remove the stigma of misappropriation, levied by the new board of Fiji National Provident Fund. APRIL's website is also interesting, simply because Natadola Marine Resort, is the first ever project undertaken by APRIL, which was addressed by an earlier posting by S.i.F.M, highlighting the relative infancy of APRIL in resort construction. Furthermore, APRIL Development's listed services is as follows:

APRIL Development offers a complete range of development and management services including:

General Management

* Development Brief
* Development Program
* Development Cost
* Revenue Budget
* Finance / Commercial Assessment
* Concept Design
* Conditions of Contract
* Project Co-ordination
* Reporting
* Human Resources

Marketing and Sales Management

* Promotion and Public Relations
* Marketing Strategy and Programs
* Sales Management

Financial Management

* Budgeting
* Cost Evaluation
* Cost Control
* Cash Flow Monitoring

Note: Engineering Project Management is NOT included. Also missing, is the portfolio of other projects which APRIL was previously engaged in, as a verifiable track record of their capacity to handle a project of this magnitude and cost.

This video (below)from Youtube shows the pristine Natadola coastline prior to the ill-fated construction project.

The Natadola Marine Resort Project also demonstrates the underhand negotiations used by Native Lands Trust Board(NLTB) to secure approval from landowners; as well as the lack of adequate compensation given to native landowners, in terms of top soil removal, or address outstanding issues of royalties and consent.

Even NLTB's Deputy General Manager acknowledged in a Fiji TV interview, that disagreements between factions of native landowners, is a fairly common occurence. The NLTB representative did not elaborate or confirm whether the Native Lands Trust Board was actively preying on this division in inter-tribal conflicts, to facilitate or manufacture the consent of landowners, for large projects such as Natadola.

This is an excerpt from a Fiji Sun article:

Tribes fight over FNPF project

By Cheerieann Wilson

Natadola landowners have claimed that Ratu Osea Gavidi does not represent their interests in the Fiji National Provident Fund resort project.Turaga Ni Yavusa Leweitahalulu, Ratu Ilami Nabiau told the Fiji Sun yesterday, the landowners had terminated Ratu Osea’s service as their spokesman in 2000.“He is from the chiefly family in Cuvu. He does not own any strip or piece of land in Natadola,” he said.“As the project progressed we discovered problems because FNPF had released $60 million.

APRIL used $15m of that and landowners have not been paid the full amount of $1m, we are still owed money since the project started two years ago.”However, Ratu Osea maintained last night that he is their representative, as he was traditionally approached with a tabua (whales tooth).“No one has presented me with another tabua to say that I was out.

I have the support of the seven mataqalis and Ratu Ilami is one that does not think of the big picture.“He is one of those that are trying to split up the vanua and he has not attended the meeting here in Suva,” Ratu Osea said.Ratu Ilami said Ratu Osea should have met with the landowners in the village. They should have called for the meeting here in the village.

They should have at least come here and meet with the owners and explain what they want to do, if they wanted us to sign papers or make changes, at least come here to us and explain the allegations that have been made against them.”Ratu Ilami indicated that only three yavusas were represented at the meeting with the Interim Minister for Fijian Affairs Ratu Epeli Ganilau yesterday; yavusa Ketenamasi - Ratu Timoci Kulikata; yavusa Tacini - Napolioni Naloga; yavusa Esiga - Inoke Nainunu.

He claimed that the of the four yavusas of Lewaitahalulu, Nalotawa, Burenitu and Koronani did not attend.Ratu Osea claimed that he has the support of the seven yavusas along with the TuiNahoqo, Ratu Timoci Kolikata.These people take their advise from Apisai Tora and Peniasi Kunatuba who is in jail now.” When contacted Mr Tora said he will make a comment today.Yavusa Esiga member Bati Qainiuri said Ratu Osea came into the picture of the Natadola project site because of his involvement with APRIL.

“He will bribe and will take advantage of other landowners that are not educated enough. He is not the owner of the mataqali land. He says that he called a meeting with all landowners last night (Monday night) then how come we were not involved,” he asked.Ratu Osea said if others wanted to say something, they should first seek the mandate of the vanua first.“We are asking for a few more days to allow the mataqali landowners to meet with APRIL and then decide on its future in the project and the Minister has said he will go back and speak with the board.“I blame Felix Anthony for everything that has happened.

I wrote to him on March 9 and 15 to seek his assurance that any decision on Natadola or APRIL should be put on hold until after APRIL met with the landowners.“On March 5, I went to the village with Mosese Nakabea and Jo Sadole who told villagers that another engineer would handle the project. The village community chairman Jonetani Saukuru wrote to Mr Anthony to plead with FNPF not to make any decisions on Natadola or APRIL.“He did not respect the plea from the vanua. He has disrespected the vanua.

I spoke with Mr Anthony on March 15 and he assured me on the phone that no decision would be made yet on Natadola and yet later that day we saw the announcement on TV. He made the announcement that Thursday and flew out of the country for 10 days“We are waiting for him to return.

He has failed to respect the vanua Nahogo.”Meanwhile, APRIL Natadola project director, Keni Dakuidreketi maintained that APRIL is still the manager and developer of the resort.“There has been no legal termination of our contract. There are agreed dispute provisions that are being ignored.

This is very bad for the investment climate,” he said. Mr Dakuidreketi said allegations about construction problems at Natadola were misrepresented. He said the Holmes Consulting Group is a leading NZ firm of structural engineers and had conducted a detailed review of the design of the resort’s InterContinental hotel, now under construction.

“These followed issues that were raised by COTEBA, as the Natadola project manager. “These issues were not raised by HLK Jacob as it claimed. The Holmes review confirmed that the InterContinental design complied with the relevant NZ codes of practice and by reference, to the National Building Code of Fiji.”Mr Dakuidreketi said a specific technical approach had been used to minimise earthquake damage.

(Above image: Artist impression of Natadola project)

(Above image: First phase of earth movement at Natadola)

(Above image: Building structure emerges at Natadola)

This is the excerpt of the Radio Fiji article:

There are claims that the $140 million dollars Natadola Hotel Project is now in jeopardy with most of the work having ground to a halt.

Today Asia Pacific Resort International Limited, APRIL publicly defended itself against pressure from the Fiji National Provident Fund to cancel its contract as project managers.

Early this month Natadola Bay Resort Limited chairman Felix Anthony said they were not satisfied with APRIL’s performance, saying the project was 24-weeks behind schedule and that the project lacked accountability.

But APRIL project manager Keni Dakuidreketi says the Fund’s decisions have been disastrous for the project.

“They have effectively halted most of the work and thrown the project into chaos. The delays caused are adding to costs. Legal arrangements with consultants and contractors have been breached and payments to them are in default. They are not being remunerated in accordance with their contracts.” said Dakuidreketi.

Dakuidreketi says a number of forces and issues are at play in the campaign against them.

“Some of these may be political, others connected to commercial rivalry, ambition and resentment. We repeat APRIL rejects allegations against it. It is a reputable company, committed to properly meeting its responsibilities at Natadola. It abides by its contractual obligations and takes seriously the professional and proper performance of those obligations. We stress we practice accountability in the expenditure of funds.”

It also appears that another director of APRIL Development, Berenado Vunibobo(pictured above[R]) has skeletons in his closet. Vunibobo, a former former Fiji Government Minister was named by former Fiji Public Prosecutor, Peter Ridgeway, in a Radio N.Z article, as being present during a meeting at Fiji Parliament, subsequent to the 2000 coup.

This is the excerpt of Radio NZ article:

Treason trial prosecutor again names prominent Fiji people allegedly involved in 2000 coup

Posted at 23:55 on 09 March, 2003 UTC

The names of prominent Fiji people have again featured in the treason trial of coup accomplices, Josefa Nata and Timoci Silatolu.

The state prosecutor, Perter Ridgeway, named them in his summing up of the trial

He said the lands minister, Ratu Naiqama Lalabalavu, the deputy speaker of parliament Ratu Rakuita Vakalalabure, the high commissioner to Papua New Guinea Ratu Inoke Kubuabloa, the former finance minister Berenado Vunibobo, the former general manager of the Native Lands Trust Board Maika Qarikau as well as George Speight and his father were among those present at a meeting in parliament soon after the coup.

Mr Ridgeway said the meeting assigned Nata to draft decrees and abolish the constitution, assisted by Ratu Inoke Kubuabola who was then the opposition leader.

Mr Ridgeway said Nata had lied and deceived the court when he claimed that he was in parliament to secure the release of the hostages. The prosecutor said video evidence showed Nata looking relaxed and chewing gum as George Speight threatened the lives of the hostages.

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Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Mandate of Corruption.

Article by blog: Maxine covers the news of the 400 cases of corruption reported by the interim Government's new Anti-Corruption unit, superimposed with the remark by Fiji Womens Crisis Centre spokesperson Virisila Buadromo, reported by an article from Radio NZ International.

“The mechanisms created to set it up were illegal and the people don’t fully understand that and it seem like should the current regime be taken to court and then it found to be illegal or the coup that they put in place is illegal then all the institutions and decisions that they made then become null and void.”

This comment is best read along with a remark made by former British P.M , Winston Churchill in the House of Commons on November 11th 1947: "Many forms of governments have been tried or will be tried in this world of sin and woe. No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all wise. Indeed, it has been said that democracy is the worst form of government, except all those other forms that havee been tried from time to time".

Buadromo implies erroneously that, moral virtues should not replace democratic vices. By extension of that logic, corruption should be cordoned in Fiji and should not be singled out or stopped. Since corruption was virtually ignored by the supposedly, democratically elected SDL Government, headed by Laisenia Qarase; the Interim Government should use that same precedence of ignoring white-collar criminals.

Unfortunately, it seems these 400 cases of corruption were not investigated, prior to the 2006 coup and Fiji Women's Crisis Centre's (FWCC)overwhelming silence on the issues of corruption reported by Fiji media, did not help at all in preventing, arresting or investigating this growing cancer.

By implication, FWCC was complicit in the culture of silence, which actively ignored corruption in Fiji. This diabolic silence, effectively led to misappropriations from the state coffers; which FWCC did not object to, at any time. Those squandered state funds, could have otherwise been utilized for empowerment programs, specifically for rural dwelling women; if their rural crisis had ever appeared on the radar screens in FWCC.

The only thing that was "voided" beyond reasonable doubt, was the ability of FWCC to report on the issue of corruption. 400 cases marks the high water level of FWCC's ignorance and questions the oversight ability of institutions, to halt festering corruption in Fiji.
Although, the question of legitimacy was raised by Buadromo regarding the question of legitimacy; the issue of institutionalized corruption and turning a blind eye to the cancer supersedes that petty concern.

Democratic legitimacy has been a myopic concern of FWCC and this concern is diluted by a quote from a U.S President, John Adams, who wrote on April 15, 1814, in a letter to John Taylor: "Remember, democracy never lasts long. It soon wastes, exhausts and murders itself. There never was a democracy yet that did not commit suicide".

Buadromo's pre-text of legitimacy should be more applicable to the undemocratic use of native institutions like Great Council of Chiefs; which actively manufactures consent from the indigenous populace, using a cultural mandate in a democratic arena.
Suffice to say, Buadromo's knowledge of legality is extremely limited; since she is neither a lawyer by profession, nor is FWCC or Buadromo legally contesting the legitimacy of the Interim Government or their decisions, in any Fiji court. Absence of such court rulings on legitimacy; underlines the speculative nature of FWCC's position and their spokesperson.

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Saturday, March 24, 2007

Milestone of Progress Or Status Symbol .

(Above image: Isoa Kaloumaira, right, explains the layout of the Great Council of Chiefs complex to Poseci Bune, Dr Jona Senilagakali and Ratu Epeli Ganilau.

The report of opening of the new Great Council of Chiefs complex is perhaps a stark reminder of the culture of exuberance; sprinkled with self-gratification and seasoned with self-importance. Notwithstanding the rude awakening to squandered resources in Fiji.

This is an excerpt of the Fiji Times article.
Chiefs yet to decide who to open their new complex

Thursday, March 22, 2007

THE Great Council of Chiefs will meet next month to discuss matters including the appointment of the next Vice-President of Fiji. This was confirmed by interim Fijian Affairs Minister Ratu Epeli Ganilau yesterday. He said the meeting would be held at the Raffles Tradewinds Hotel in Lami on April 11-12.

[Ganilau] said the President, Ratu Josefa Iloilo, had already made his nomination for the new Vice-President and the procedure was for the council members to endorse the nomination.

"The nominee's name is contained in an envelope which will be opened at the meeting. It's quite clear the procedures the President has to follow. In this instance, he nominates the Vice-President which will be endorsed by the GCC before it becomes official," Ratu Epeli said.

The next GCC meeting is being convened to announce a Vice-President after the resignation of Ratu Joni Madraiwiwi after the December 5 military takeover. Ratu Epeli said they did not have anyone who would open the $20million GCC complex at Nasova in Suva but the name of a chief guest would be endorsed at the GCC meeting.

Queen Elizabeth II was the first choice for chief guest at the opening but she declined because of other commitments. Ratu Epeli, members of the GCC and interim ministers were yesterday given a tour of the complex which is to be opened next month.

Similar views regarding the subject of GCC of were reflected in by an exceptionally worded letters to Fiji Times Editor. One by U.K resident, the other by a local academic and former politician.

Chiefs complex

THE interim Minister for Fijian Affairs looked respectable when he and other ministers toured the GCC complex at Nasova.

He is trying to decide on someone distinguished and noble to officiate at the opening. I am of the view that there is no need to make the opening a big event.

It is quite hypocritical, in my view, to organise a big ceremony because this Government trampled, snubbed and humiliated this Fijian institution during the time leading to and after the military coup.

The interim Fijian Affairs Minister is a representative of the military regime and, as such, should not be two-faced while trying to represent noble intentions when dealing with the GCC.

This regime showed during the coup how it views the GCC as an institution whose members should sit and drink home-brew under a mango tree.

James Bolavucu
United Kingdom

What democracy

TWO items of news recently set me thinking.

One concerned the provincial councils squabbling over who should have grants for students, the other concerned the Great Council of Chiefs' meeting and their "election'' of the new Vice President.

Now provincial councils are basically an unelected body who purportedly represent only the 51 per cent of the population who are indigenous Fijians.

In fact they represent a much smaller per cent that are chiefs and of chiefly families. The unelected provincial councils have the powers to raise rates and swallow additional grants from government.

I do know these bodies meet regularly at our expense and spend much time drinking kava. They give us their opinion on various issues of the day. I am not sure how they account for what they do or how they spend our money.

In my days in Parliament in the early 1990s, few submitted accounts or had little transparency in their dealings.

Likewise the GCC, is enshrined in the Constitution. Now the GCC is basically an unelected body purportedly represent only 51 per cent of the population who are indigenous Fijians. In fact they represent a much smaller percent that are chiefs and chiefly families.

The GCC is responsible for choosing the President and Vice President. We now know that these office holders are so powerful that they can overthrow governments if the doctrine of necessity is involved.

The GCC meets regularly over a three-day period at our expense and spend much time drinking kava. The expense can only be judged by those who pass their new meeting place on Queen Elizabeth Drive. They give us their opinion on various issues of the day.

I have been told that the GCC and provincial councils represent Fijian tradition. I don't give much credit to that argument as neither body existed before the colonial era. They were both set up by the British to try and control the ordinary people and it seems that even today that is what they are still trying to do.

Now we have over the last four months had endless people talking about democracy, the man from Mavana, the women from Lami, the man from Wales (closely related to the other two) and the very opinionated foreign ministers of our big island neighbours.

Those who talk the most about democracy have said nothing about either the GCC or provincial councils. One has to wonder whether their opinions are based on a true love of democracy or just a wish to preserve the political domination of a few indigenous Fijians from chiefly families.

Dr Fereti S. Dewa

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Thursday, March 22, 2007

Off Fiji or In Fiji.

The news feed on the Black Hawk crash in Fiji share a wonderful trait of sameness, raising several questions from S.i.F.M, with all due respect to the dearly departed and family.

1.) Do the news feed share the same author?
2.) Are these news agencies owned by a single conglomerate?
3.) Is the official version of the location, really talking points handed out by the Australian Defense Force?

Since the location of the Black Hawk crash: off Fiji. No indication of direction or distance, in relation to major locations in Fiji. Was it related to the fact that indicating the vital position, may actually place the Black Hawk crash well within Fiji waters pointed out by an earlier S.i.F.M posting, perhaps with hostile intent?

Is that to that North, East, South or West of the archipelago?

These are the excerpts of the news feed from Google.

SAS trooper Joshua Porter, who died when his Black Hawk helicopter sank off Fiji, has been farewelled by hundreds of mourners, four months after the ...
Mourners remember SAS trooper Porter
The Age, Australia - 14 hours ago

SAS trooper Joshua Porter, who died when his Black Hawk helicopter sank off Fiji, has been farewelled by hundreds of mourners, four months after the ...
Family, friends farewell SAS soldier killed in Black Hawk crash
ABC Regional Online, Australia - 13 hours ago

SAS trooper Joshua Porter, who died when his Black Hawk helicopter sank off Fiji, has been farewelled by hundreds of mourners, four months after the ...
Mourners remember SAS trooper Porter
Blayney Chronicle, Australia - 13 hours ago

SAS trooper Joshua Porter, who died when his Black Hawk helicopter sank off Fiji, has been farewelled by hundreds of mourners, four months after the ...
Mourners remember SAS trooper Porter
Bendigo Advertiser, Australia - 14 hours ago

SAS trooper Joshua Porter, who died when his Black Hawk helicopter sank off Fiji, has been farewelled by hundreds of mourners, four months after the ...
Mourners remember SAS trooper Porter
Milton Ulladulla Times, Australia - 14 hours ago

SAS trooper Joshua Porter, who died when his Black Hawk helicopter sank off Fiji, has been farewelled by hundreds of mourners, four months after the ...
Mourners remember SAS trooper Porter
Aratat Advertiser, Australia - 14 hours ago

SAS trooper Joshua Porter, who died when his Black Hawk helicopter sank off Fiji, has been farewelled by hundreds of mourners, four months after the ...
Mourners remember SAS trooper Porter
Central Midlands & Coastal Advocate, Australia - 14 hours ago

SAS trooper Joshua Porter, who died when his Black Hawk helicopter sank off Fiji, has been farewelled by hundreds of mourners, four months after the ...
Mourners remember SAS trooper Porter
Bay Post/Moruya Examiner, Australia - 14 hours ago

SAS trooper Joshua Porter, who died when his Black Hawk helicopter sank off Fiji, has been farewelled by hundreds of mourners, four months after the ...
Mourners remember SAS trooper Porter
Kalgoorlie Golden Mail, Australia - 14 hours ago

SAS trooper Joshua Porter, who died when his Black Hawk helicopter sank off Fiji, has been farewelled by hundreds of mourners, four months after the ...
Kanimbla chopper victim finally laid to rest
The Australian, Australia - 5 hours ago

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Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Natadola Project -Grapes of Wrath Or Sour Grapes

The 'landowner' factor has catapulted the Natadola Resort project well under the official spot light for several major inconsistencies, both in Engineering and Financial accountability.

The Natadola Resort project is still simmering in the headlines, by way of a Fiji Times report, which described threats of repossession, made by the landowners of the Natadola real estate. It appears that the landowners were advised by Osea Gavidi, of Viti Levu Resource Owners Association.

This is a micro excerpt of Fiji Times article:
FNPF wrong, say tribes

Fiji Times Wednesday, March 21, 2007

A GROUP of landowners has hit out at the Fiji National Provident Fund for discrediting the work done by Asia Pacific Resort International Ltd developers of the $180million resort at Natadola.

The landowners are from seven yavusa, 12 mataqali and 18 tokatoka of the vanua o Nasoqo in Nadroga who own the land on which the resort is being constructed. Their chief is the Tui Nasoqo Ratu Timoci Kolikata.

Speaking on behalf of the landowners, advisor Ratu Osea Gavidi said a delegation yesterday discussed the matter with interim Fijian Affairs minister Ratu Epeli Ganilau.

He said they had asked the interim minister to intervene and stop the FNPF making unilateral decisions on APRIL and director Gerard Saliot without consulting the landowners.

He said the delegation was shocked at the way in which FNPF was handling the matter because the people held the project dear to their hearts since all the land at Natadola was committed to the project.

"He (Ratu Epeli) has pledged to approach FNPF over the matter as the project spans 1145 acres of Native land. The vanua wants equity in the project," Ratu Osea said.

Ratu Epeli could not be reached for a comment.

The landowners last night met with Mr Saliot and APRIL officials. Ratu Osea said the matter would be further discussed with the Native Lands Trust Board today. NLTB spokesman Semi Tabakanalagi confirmed the land in question belonged to the seven yavusa.

Ironically, it is the same Gavidi, who seemed to be the mouth piece to a fraudulent scheme with the fictional bank O.I.T.C last year, claiming that a certain foreign investor was willing to donate US$6 Billion to establish a indigenous operated banking enterprise in Fiji, which was reported by a Fiji Village article.

This is the excerpt of the FV article:

Media chased from MOU signing
By fijivillage
Mar 3, 2006, 17:57

Members of the media were chased out after the signing of the Memorandum of Understanding between the Office of the International Treasury Control and the Viti Land and Resource Owners today.

The press conference with foreign national Dr. keith Scott who claims to be the Head of Cabinet of OITC was abruptly terminated after specific questions regarding the validity of the 6 billion dollars being offered by the company to set up a commercial bank was brought up.

Questions on when and how the initial 3.8 billion would come through were left half answered by Dr. Scott after front man for the resource owners Masi Kaumaitotoya called for security to escort the media out.

Doctor Scott also revealed at the Bose Ni Turaga earlier this week that he would transfer the first payment of $3.8 billion by yesterday afternoon. However nothing has eventuated since the announcement.

When questioned earlier today on why the transfer was not done, Resource Owners Association President, Ratu Osea Gavidi said there is no bank account in Fiji that can hold $3.8 billion.

In the MOU, 50% is to be funded by the OITC and the other 50% is to be provided by the landowners who are expected to use their land and resources as monetary value.

This afternoon, members of the media who were at the press conference were handed a copy of the MOU which contains a signature under the name Dr. Ray. C. Dam. The document under the OITC header also shows its offices based in Malaysia, Netherlands, USA, Australia and Ecuador, however no information on the company or Dr. Dam is available at this stage.

The MOU states that OITC will provide total 2.805 billion dollars for an acquisition of trucks and timber milling plant and equipment for landowners, development of a Community Aged Center, development of community owned tourist and resort centre construction of modern prisons for Fiji and reforestation programme through Triunion investment Holding company and the resource owners association.

Meanwhile, Fiji Police are now seeking the assistance of their overseas counterparts to try and establish the authenticity of the claims being made by foreign national Dr. Keith Scott and the background of his company called OITC.

Director CID Joe Rasiga has confirmed with Legend FM news that a weeks search for information on Dr. Scott and OITC has been fruitless and now Interpol has been called in.

The issue of landowners choosing which company as their preferred project managers, for a construction site on their land is nothing more than obstructive hair splitting.

Although, the land rightfully belongs to Natadola; the concerns of the project financiers (FNPF) supersedes those petty issues of land ownership. Once the approval was given by the Natadola landowners for this particular project, it is counter-productive for the landowners to choose which building contractor or project manager is more favorable. To micro-manage which crane operator or which Electrician should take their job because another does not meet their liking is a complete mockery of indigenous affairs. Those decisions are well out of their jurisdiction of landowners; once their approval for the project is given.

FNPF's subsequent decision would be crucial, because it does not want the construction quality to be compromised, furthermore it wants a fair return for their investment, by ensuring those engineering standards remain as, a degree of excellence.

Gavidi, appears to be riding on the band wagon of cultural insensitivity; that inextricably could frustrate the project's major financier. Gavidi's ignorance of the fundamentals of Engineering standards and the contractual aspects from FNPF's standpoint could accelerate that level of frustration.

FNPF could respond by withdrawing financial backing and terminating the project altogether, if the threats by landowners are taken seriously. Without capital drawn from Fiji National Provident Fund (FNPF), Natadola would only be a well-frequented beach. Money changes those perceptions, as rapidly as a blink of an eye.

APRIL claims rival company raided office

Fiji Live-Monday March 19, 2007
Sacked project managers of the multi million-dollar Natadola Project, Asia Pacific Resort International Limited (APRIL) are claiming their replacements tried to forcibly remove documents from the company's offices.

APRIL's project director Keni Dakuidreketi alleges that representatives from local engineering consultants HLK Jacob "tried to remove files" on the Natadola Project but were told leave by APRIL staff.

However, HLK Jacob director Brian Jacob has categorically denied any involvement by his staff saying it was not his company's responsibility to remove documents from APRIL. He said it was not his staff but members of the Natadola Bay Resort Ltd (NBRL) that tried to enter APRIL's offices.

Jacob said the Natadola Project is currently under investigations and the only people that can have access to the documents are the fraud investigators and his company was in no way involved.

Dakuidreketi said no one would be allowed to enter APRIL premises without a court order. He also said APRIL was concerned about the alleged "close relationship" between HLK Jacob and Northern Projects Fiji, which is the building contractor for the first phase of the Natadola Project.

Northern Projects Fiji representatives referred all questions to the NBRL that last week fired APRIL and Natadola's construction managers COTEBA citing non-performance.
NBRL chairman Felix Anthony said last week that while $60 million of the projected $140 million has been spent on Natadola to date, only 10 per cent of work has been completed with the project late by 24 weeks.

He said that since they were hired in mid-2004, NBRL has paid APRIL $8 million in management frees to oversee the project, but have been unsatisfied with the results.

One niggling matter to comprehend is that, how was APRIL Development awarded the role as construction project manager in the first place, especially when the main representative of APRIL-Messr Keni Dakuidreketi is not qualified as a Civil Engineer nor does he or APRIL have any experience whatsover in structural design or in major building construction.

By virtue of these facts, it is mind boggling how APRIL could have the knowledge or experience as a construction project manager (a specialized field in Civil Engineering) to justify the exorbitant management fees it charged.

This is Dakuidreketi's CV posted on the website for Yaqara Group Ltd .

Keni Dakuidreketi
B App Sc (Prop Mgmt) Aust.

As Managing Director and founder of Rolle Hillier Parker - Fiji since 1990 (world wide associated with Hillier Parker & ONCOR Group of Companies), Keni has had extensive property experience with coordination and financing large scale property developments in Fiji. From 1984 - 1987 he was the Estate Officer with the Fiji Native Land Trust Board and worked as Director of Valuation for Harrison Grierson Consultants for 3 years.

He is Chairman of Fiji Rugby Union, Chairman of the Lands Transport Authority, a Board Member of the Housing Trust Authority, the Native Lands Trust Board and Natadola Marine Resort Ltd and sits on a number of other high profile community boards and organisations. Keni was a member of the Interim Civilian Administration and was appointed Minister of Youth, Sports and Employment Opportunities. Keni is a principal and runs a successful business in real estate management and consultancy as well as a management consultancy company.

Consulting Engineers appointed by FNPF have accused the former Natadola Resort project manager of substandard work and that the existing building designs within Natadola project; do to meet the New Zealand building code, which Fiji had adopted.

Threat to stop FNPF project-
Firm defends contract amid landowner demands

Fiji Sun.

Natadola landowners yesterday warned the Fiji National Provident Fund that they would terminate leases in the multi-million-dollar hotel project if it fails to reinstate sacked project manager, Asia Pacific Resorts International. Viti Landowners and Resource Owners Association interim president Ratu Osea Gavidi said 18 landowning clans of Natadola met last night to discuss the removal of APRIL, which had breached an earlier agreement with the initial developers. He said members of the tokatoka would not allow any company appointed to replace APRIL into Natadola.

FNPF board member Daniel Urai said APRIL was removed by legislation. “The issue of APRIL's termination is not determined by the FNPF. FTIB (Fiji Trades and Investment Board) cancelled APRIL's licence because it failed to declare previous bankruptcy and fraudulent convictions. APRIL was removed through legislation,” he said last night.

APRIL's replacement, HLK Jacob Limited, yesterday revealed that APRIL had approved its appointment by former construction manager COTEBA last August for supervisory structural services for the project. “We were appointed to this with APRIL’s approval from a shortlist of four local engineers on the basis of our track record in major projects. Obviously, APRIL had no objection at that stage, including independence issues, otherwise we would not have been appointed,” it said in a statement.

HLK Jacob stated that it uncovered a lot of discrepancies in the structural design in regards to the compliance with Fiji and New Zealand building codes.
“COTEBA and APRIL were notified of this issue in October last year – we have records of all these correspondences. We were strongly of the opinion that the structures were not designed to the NZ code as required under the Fiji Building Code,” it added.

HLK Jacob stated that no action was taken until January this year when engineer, Holmes Group, was appointed on behalf of the project structural engineer to review the design. Holmes Group agreed the design was not in full compliance with the NZ Earthquake Code and recommended a number of remedial works.

Holmes Group also recommended that any major deviations from earthquake codes could be handled if NBRL accepted an alternative design solution. Holmes Group, however, would not take any responsibility for any of its recommendations. HLK Jacob then resigned on January 23, this year, because it did not believe that the approach taken by APRIL and COTEBA to downplay the matter was in the best interest of FNPF and NBRL. “We were approached three days later by the FNPF board asking reasons for our sudden resignation. And we outlined our reasons to them,” it said.

HLK Jacob, in a letter to COTEBA Limited in January, stated that it was left with no choice but to resign as structural engineer because:

Structural design codes for the project had not been addressed by the structure engineers; and It has been over three months since the issue was raised but work continued without any resolution.

FNPF engaged HLK Jacob to act as its representative and technical adviser. “Our commission was to look in the technical affairs of the project. A series of correspondence were sent to APRIL/ COTEBA/ NPF for their response to the delays, cost variations, lack of progress and other critical issues,” the company said. “We received the responses and this was presented to the FNPF board and management.

Our brief was to put forward all the facts and opinion on cause. We, at no time, recommended their removal. “Our appointment as project/ construction managers is only an interim one at this stage until NBRL resolves how it intends to move forward.”

HLK Jacob director Sanjay Kaba last night denied claims by APRIL project director Keni Dakuidreketi that its representatives tried to enter the offices of APRIL at Natadola.“We understand that they tried to remove files. Our staff said HLK Jacob Ltd had tried to forcibly enter the offices of APRIL at Natadola,” Mr Dakuidreketi said.

Mr Kaba said the matter was between the FNPF and the landowners. Mr Dakuidreketi said in a television interview that FNPF did not consult with APRIL but instead obtained an opinion of the progress of the project from a contractor. He revealed that FNPF met APRIL and had said that it would need to review the MOU that had earlier been agreed to. However, APRIL was caught by surprise hours later when FNPF announced that it had been fired.

Efforts by APRIL Developments to stop the deluge of negative publicity with repeated media appearances was mediocre at best and could not distract the public from serious allegations of malpractice, recently publicized by the new board of Fiji National Provident Fund (FNPF)-the project's major financial backer.

Dakuidreketi responded in a Fiji Times article:

Mr Dakuidreketi said the Holmes Consulting Group, a leading New Zealand firm of structural engineers, had conducted a detailed review of the design of the resort's InterContinental hotel. This followed issues raised by COTEBA as the Natadola project construction manager. The issues were not raised by HLK Jacob as claimed, said Mr Dakuidreketi.

The Holmes review confirmed that the InterContinental design complied with the relevant New Zealand codes of practice and by reference, to the National Building Code of Fiji, [Dakuidreketi] said.

"A specific technical approach had been used to minimise earthquake damage as a few minor modifications were suggested by Holmes Consulting to lessen the risk of damage," Mr Dakuidreketi said.

"The cost of these was expected to be small and well worth the investment. These modifications only apply to work that is still to be done. It is not necessary to demolish large parts of work already completed as proposed by HLK Jacob."

Burchill VDM Pty Ltd, the consulting engineer for the hotel, has also endorsed the construction. Mr Dakuidreketi said. Burchill VDM is a leading Australia-based urban development consultancy and has worked on many major tourism projects.

Mr Dakuidreketi said HLK Jacobs favoured a much more expensive and unnecessary option to deal with the minor modifications required. "That, in itself, raises questions about HLK Jacob's approach. It is quite misleading to suggest there were major design flaws. This is not the case," he said.

He said as project managers, APRIL had presented all technical reports to the Boards of Natadola Bay Resort Limited and FNPF Investment Limited (FIL). APRIL's attempts to convene a meeting of all the technical consultants involved in the project have been rejected, he said.

Louis Gerard Saliot quit last week when confronted with details of his previous convictions, said Natadola Bay Resort Limited chairman, Felix Anthony yesterday.

Although, Burchill VDM Pty Ltd is a reputable company in Construction Management; arguably one would point out that, HLK Jacob would be more appraised about New Zealand's building code than Burchill, since it is a New Zealand company and has completed more projects in New Zealand than Burchill.

One wonders how APRIL became the middle-man in this million dollar project at Natadola. APRIL's use of consultancy Engineers, Burchill is equally an issue, since APRIL branded itself as project manager in construction; albeit with no qualified Engineers in their employment, nor experience to justify their excessive management fees.

It seems abundantly clear that, APRIL conveniently sub-contracted out Engineering consultancy to Burchill, but kept the lions share of the fees. This raises more questions like:

1. Why didn't Burchill itself become the principal project manager, rather than APRIL?

2. Did APRIL get the million dollar project, because Dakuidreketi was also a Board member of Native Lands Trust Board?

As the major funder for the project Fiji National Provident Fund(FNPF) was well within their rights to ask for an independent evaluation of the project. It is nothing short of prudent financial reasoning, for FNPF to get 3rd party analysis ensuring that works rendered, were made according to engineering specifications, entailed under New Zealand's building code.

HLK Jacob, a New Zealand company with major projects under its wing, was then acquired by FNPF to review the project and found some major discrepancies within the design and issued a work stoppage order.

Those discrepancies is disputed by APRIL Development's point man:

"Mr Dakuidreketi said HLK Jacobs favoured a much more expensive and unnecessary option to deal with the minor modifications required. "That, in itself, raises questions about HLK Jacob's approach. It is quite misleading to suggest there were major design flaws. This is not the case," [Dakuidreketi] said".

Of course, Dakuidreketi was ill qualified and out of his depth to make that crucial call. HLK Jacob was exceedingly knowledgable about those concerns, since a structural failure would damage the mechanical integrity of the entire project, as well as their own repuatation as Consultant Engineers.

It well appears, as project managers APRIL (via Dakuidreketi's rationale) may have tried to minimize further costs incurring; by avoiding the structural recommendations made by HLK Jacob, without any concern for damages on the building or their reputation, since they are known merely as property managers and not construction experts.

Club Em Designs

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Saturday, March 17, 2007

Kick-Back Inc.

Blog-Invest in Fiji reviews the general procedures for approving foreign investors; an issue that was brought dramatically to the fore-front, in the wake of discrepancies within Fiji National Provident Fund (FNPF). Subsequent accounting trails pointed to the alleged misappropriations in their flagship investment project at Natadola.

APRIL Development Project Manager, Keni Dakuidreketi was interviewed by Fiji TV and defended their involvement with the Natadola project. In the Fiji TV interview, Dakuidreketi was adamant that the FNPF Board of Directors was kept appraised of the construction by mile-stone reports and any delay was due to disruptions made by the construction company.

During the Fiji TV interview, Dakuidreketi assumed that, APRIL devlopment's transactional agreement made with FNPF would remain intact, eventhough a Director on the Board of APRIL Development had not fully disclosed his criminal record in Monaco. Dakuidreketi also attempted to clarify the amount of management fees paid to APRIL Development in a Radio Fiji article.

This is the excerpt of the Radio Fiji article:

Dakuidreketi Denies

Radio Fiji-16 Mar 2007 08:15:43

Project manager for April Keni Dakuidreketi has described the eight million dollars in management fees claimed that FNPF paid to his company for the Natadola Hotel Project is far fetched.

Dakuidreketi says his records show they’ve been paid only 4.3 million dollars. Yesterday Natadola Bay Resort Limited chairman Felix Anthony says the Fiji National Provident Fund has paid 8 million dollars to APRIL as management fees to oversee the Natadola Hotel Project.

Felix said, “The board is also been concerned or very concerned at the cost of which April was first hired to oversee the management of the project. Ever since the project has started in 2005, FNPF to date has paid them $8m just in management fees alone which we believe and the new board believe is far excessive of what really should be paid and our intention as the new board is to ensure that we minimize any wastage and not only that, but work within the budget to ensure that the project is completed.”

However April Development manager Keni Dakuidreketi said the 8 million dollars mentioned is double the figure shown in their records.

Keni said, “I’d just like to mention here is totally out of whack. My records will show that its 4.3 in total…that’s from 2004 when the project for that particular the issue that relates to that particular part they reported on which is Natadola Bay Resort Ltd, which is what the issue is about…I think the records will show that its about 4.3 million dollars.”

Dakuidreketi adds discussions with FNPF are ongoing.

Fiji Village article reports that APRIL had signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with FNPF and that the representatives of APRIL were still in the dark, regarding FNPF's subsequent decision to terminate their relationship with APRIL Development.

Dakuidreketi was unrelenting in his interview with Fiji TV and almost forgot about the issue of conflict of interest on that particular project, which had prompted the native owners of the land to raise red flags. These concerns was also featured in a posting by S.i.F.M, regarding Dakuidreketi's membership on the Board of Directors for Native Lands Trust Board (NLTB), as well as being a representative of APRIL developments.

This is the excerpt of the Fiji Times article:

Landowners query board loyalty
Fiji Times Monday, July 24, 2006

THE Native Lands Trust Board was last week required to provide landowners of one of the country's largest tourism developments the reassurance that they are committed to protecting landowners' interests.

NLTB's Deputy General Manager Operations, Semi Tabakanalagi was swamped with concerns regarding the loyalty of the board during a meeting with landowners from Sanasana Village in Sigatoka.

Seven landowning units from the village own the land on which the Natadola Marine Resort project is currently being developed. A delegation led by Mr Tabakanalagi traveled to the village on Thursday to address grievances raised by landowners.

However, during the meeting Mr Tabakanalagi and his team were bombarded with claims that the board was working more with the project developers and either ignoring or sacrificing landowners' interests.

Landowners' spokesman, former cabinet minister and senator, Apisai Tora said the four units he was representing were concerned about their rights and interests being sacrificed to ensure the project continued. Mr Tora said a major concern of landowners was Keni Dakuidreketi's position with NLTB while being the main developer for the project.

"This is a clear case of conflict of interest and this has raised a lot of eyebrows within the landowning units of Sanasana. Since Mr Dakuidreketi is the main developer, we are concerned that all decisions made by the board would be made to see that the project went ahead regardless of whether our rights were sacrificed," [Tora] said.

"Even though NLTB is our trustee, it seems that it is pushing the company's interests," said Mr Tora.

"We have some grievances with several works that the developers are carrying out so how do you expect us to trust that the board will address our concerns when the developer is sitting on the board," Mr Tora asked.

Attempts to contact Mr Dakuidreketi yesterday were unsuccessful.

But Mr Tabakanalagi said there was nothing to worry about because the board always fought for the rights and interests of landowners. He promised that no decision would be made in favor of the developers because Mr Dakuidreketi was a member of the board.

"You do not have to worry about Mr Dakuidreketi because that is our job to see that he carries out his duties properly. NLTB is always for the landowners and your rights and interests are always our priority," Mr Tabakanalagi said.

Although, in an interview by Fiji TV, former Public Service Commission C.E.O, Anare Jale had staked his reputation on the Natadola project and volunteered to take full responsibility for any criminal activity found within it; his interview raised more questions than answers. These revelations on APRIL Development and Natadola project, points out the magnitude of kick-backs from these dubious deals and the murky relationships between several statuary agencies within Fiji.

Club Em Designs

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Friday, March 16, 2007

The Coalition of Client States.

Given that the subject of Fiji's democracy has been deliberated by the Pacific Forum recently, the final abattoir of that transition lies with the Interim Government.

Despite the veiled threats reported by Newstalk article, made by NZ Foreign Minister while pushing Fiji to comply with the Pacific Forum's communique; the question of the road map and its accelerated time-tables (proposed by Fiji's neighbors) was also addressed and dismissed by an opinion article written by the Archbishop of Fiji, Petero Mataca.

This is the excerpt:

Now is the time for charting a gracious new Fiji

Saturday, March 17, 2007

There is a story that I would like to begin this reflection with. A minister of the United Church of Canada, who ran a drop-in centre for homeless people in downtown Toronto, Canada, had planned to raise enough money to keep the centre running.

His dilemma was how could he raise the money he needed to do that? He later shared his problem, not intentionally though, with one of the regulars to the drop-in centre.

As the minister recalled, to his amazement and humility, the homeless man emptied his pockets of all sorts of rubbish until he found and gave his only dollar coin to start off the fundraising.

I am sure we could recall many such instances in our own experiences.

In the story about the widow's offering (Mark 12:41-44; Luke 21:1-4), Jesus made the observation that the woman, with the little she had, gave everything while those who have and could have given more, only gave from the surplus of their riches.

By Jewish law, each person is required to give and in that respect, by law, the wealthy people did their religious duty.

But the main point of the story is not about the rich and the poor, although it is a theme. Rather, it is about recognising that giving and sharing what one has is a necessary part of our human dignity.

The giving of the rich people in the story is nothing more than a legal requirement and means little to their dignity, whereas, the widow's giving means much more to her dignity as a human being. There is a detail in the Jewish law that specifies that even a person dependent on charity must give charity.

On the face of it, the rule is absurd. Why give enough money to one poor person so that he or she can give to another poor person?

It would be much more logical and efficient if the money is given directly to the second poor person.

But, the Jewish Rabbis, by making this law, understood correctly, in my view, that giving is an essential part of our human dignity.

The insistence that we provide the poor and the needy with enough money so that they themselves can give is a profound insight into the human condition we are not only capable of being greedy and selfish, which we must always guard against, but equally capable of giving, sharing and caring for one another.

In this Lenten season, I invite all Catholic priests, religious, lay people and women and men of good will to reflect upon this theme. Whatever one wishes to sacrifice or wishes to do better during this season of Lent, these resolutions must and need to be done with a spirit of giving and sharing.

When we give up or share what is most precious to us, our experiences become meaningful and beneficial to ourselves and to those we live with and to our respective communities.

When we wish to do better in some things that we had neglected in the past, and which requires the sacrifice of our time and energy to other non-essential things, our experience will mean something to us and those whom we love and care about.

Giving and sharing is an essential part of our dignity as human beings.

To give and to share is to go beyond the care of the self-centred self. This is the message that I wish to share with all Catholic priests, religious and lay people and women and men of good will in this Lenten season.

Furthermore, in the spirit of sharing and giving, I wish to offer the following reflections on some of our important national issues.

The poor must be looked after. As the above stories show, the poor and the needy among us are the ones who can teach us about giving and sharing.

In my New Year message, I designated, after consultation, that this year is a "year of solidarity with the disadvantaged, the poor and the stranger" for the Archdiocese.

We repeatedly read and heard from our local leaders that the poor are the most affected by the coup's impact on the economy.

Unfortunately, as in such cases, it is true, and in this regard, we must stand in solidarity with them.

But we must stand in solidarity with them as they are the key to our moving forward. How is this possible?

This is because knowing what they know about living in poverty, their demand on the rest of us to move forward and find ways to cushion the impacts has a far greater moral claim on our resources.

I challenge us all civil society, business organisations, religious and cultural institutions to find ways of highlighting the demand of the poor for the nation to move forward and find creative ways of helping each other.

Not to be in solidarity with the call of the poor to move forward creatively would be to invite consequences that our fragile social fabric may not be able to hold.

Resolution of legal issues

There is a need to seek clarity and closure on some of our significant outstanding constitutional and legal issues. Some of these concern the suspension of the Chief Justice and the subsequent appointment of an Acting Chief Justice, the independence of the judiciary, and the ousting of the Qarase-led Government.

The resolution of these constitutional and legal matters is crucial to rebuilding our sense of respect for and confidence in the rule of law and public order, and in the Constitution and its central place in our public life. The church, therefore, calls on the Interim Government to ensure that these legal concerns are independently and transparently acted upon.

Respect for human life

Respect for human life is a deeply rooted value in all our religious and cultural traditions. Two lives were lost, allegedly, as a result of military beatings during their time in detention. Again, I wish to reiterate the absoluteness of this principle. If we allow the two to become three and more, we will be in danger of reducing the value of human life from being absolute to relative and when that happens, everything of real value and essential to our living together, such as tolerance and respect, are in danger of being lost as well. In this regard, the church wishes to again remind the military and those in leadership positions to do everything possible to prevent a third loss of life during their tenure in power.

Heed the need for justice

Following from the above, I urge those who are responsible for the administration of justice to deal with the allegations surrounding the deaths of the two men while in custody or as a result of the alleged beatings while in detention. This is to be done truthfully and credibly. Forgiveness will not be possible until the truth is told about these events. The families and relatives of these men will not be fully free to move forward with their lives without having a sense that justice has been done to absolve them of their anger and hatred.

Therefore, the church urges the Interim Government to properly investigate the allegations made and bring to trial those who perpetrated these crimes.

Foreign interventions

At least, in Fiji, most of us know that the coup was illegal and that the Interim Government didn't have our consent to rule.

At least by now, all of us in Fiji know that there is a "road map" to general elections, and, while we may differ on the timeframe, at least, we know that until then, we will do whatever we can to hold the Interim Regime accountable to the fundamental principles of human decency.

The incessant and condescending calls for Fiji to hold general elections within a year or two from the governments of New Zealand, Australia and, lately, the US, from the point of view of convention, is understandable but shallow and lacking proper contextual assessment.

I say this for two good reasons. Firstly, as Andrew Murray (2007:3), a political scientist at the Catholic Institute in Sydney recently observed, "In a country, where local communities are run by chiefs, a less democratic form of government is not as troubling as it would be elsewhere" at least while we rectify and strengthen our democratic institutions and processes.

Secondly, we have had more than 30 years of democratic experience, and imposing overnight democracy in the form of holding general elections within a year after coups is a fundamental lesson that we must not repeat this time.

At least three years is time enough to rectify and put in place meaningful democratic processes.

Perhaps Fiji should begin writing on the sand while the governments of New Zealand, Australia and the US decide among themselves who is to throw the first stone.

I wish to end this reflection by repeating something that I had shared some time ago. To those of us who believe that our situation is essentially tragic simply because some supposedly foreign experts and western governments say so, the Fiji condition will show itself as a series of tragedies.

To those who believe that we can rewrite the script of our democratic history in order to ensure a genuine democratic future, history will reveal itself as a series of slow, faltering but compassionate steps to a more gracious nation. I call upon all people of goodwill to give and share with each other the resources that each one lacks.

I call upon all Catholics to strengthen your networks of helping the poor and the needy in your parishes and communities.

I request that we stand in solidarity with the call of the poor for us to work and move forward together by sharing what we have with each other and highlighting their call in our parishes and communities.

God bless.

Archbishop Petero Mataca is head of the Catholic Church in Fiji

The subject of Fiji's electoral system is in the lime-light, prompting an objective and informative opinion article by a local member of Citizens Constitutional Forum (CCF).

This is the excerpt.

Avoiding further disasters with a new electoral system

Saturday, March 17, 2007

IN the much talked about need for a "roadmap" back to democracy, the endpoint seems to be the holding of elections under the requirements of the 1997 Constitution (namely the Alternative Vote, a certain ratio of Communal and Open seats, etc).

Elections completed, Fiji is "back to democracy" and all is well again with the outside world.

With the outside world, perhaps. But not within Fiji itself.

It is simplistic to equate democracy with elections. Deep consideration needs to be given to what sort of democracy we want after any elections. For true democracy, elections need to genuinely reflect the people's view. None of the three elections held so far under Fiji's current voting system have done this.

The people's views have been greatly distorted, resulting in insufficiently representative parliaments. The present electoral system is itself the cause of many of Fiji's democratic woes.

Electoral experts agree that the former First-Past-the-Post (FPP) system would not have served Fiji much better than the Alternative Vote (AV). They would also agree, on the whole, that what Fiji needs is a form of Proportional Representation (PR).

I do not intend to present again here the many unjust results brought about by the AV system, nor the various arguments for PR.

What I wish to emphasise is that the time to make the change to PR is now. To plan electoral reform now for application after the next elections is most unsatisfactory. Fiji needs a truly representative parliament if it is to establish a more viable democracy and extricate itself from the coup culture. This in turn requires an immediate change of electoral system to PR.

Only after holding elections under a suitable new system does Fiji reach "democracy".

An immediate objection that will be raised is that AV and certain other requirements are mandated in the 1997 Constitution, so to change the electoral system now means contravening that Constitution. But the question must be asked: do we want genuine democracy, or don't we?

It may well be true that by having a coup, Fiji has simply jumped out of the frying pan into the fire. But it is no solution to suggest that Fiji now jumps out of the fire, back into the frying pan! We need to jump clear of both to employ new, just arrangements. The unfair AV system and the bipolar ethnically-based political scenarios it generated are not something that Fiji wants to relive. The AV system has not just been controversial in the Fiji context; it has been disastrous.

In the 1999 election we had the great unfairness that, although the FLP-led coalition had only one and a third times the first preferences of the SVT-led coalition, the AV system gave them more than five times as many seats. Such a wildly unjust result set the stage for the coup of 2000.

While many court cases have (rightly) been brought against the culprits, not at all enough blame has been attached to the AV system itself, which without any shadow of doubt contributed in a major way to the coup and all that has happened since.

In the 2001 election the AV system, which according to the Reeves Commission was supposed to encourage moderation, managed to reduce the so-called 'moderates' to the barest handful. In fact it can be cogently argued that, as well as wiping out the middle and setting up two major ethnically-based parties at loggerheads, it even managed to hand victory to the wrong party! Certainly by Fiji's former FPP system or by a PR system, the FLP would have been the major party and would probably have been able to form the government. As it was, the manipulation of people's choices provided by the above-the-line voting in AV, worked against the FLP this time (whereas it had worked for them in 1999).

In the 2006 election we again had results that were most undesirable, and a complete contradiction of what the Reeves Commission had wanted the AV system to achieve. Instead of encouraging multi-ethnic parties and inter-ethnic cooperation, the AV system provided us with the situation where all ethnic Fijian Communal seats and all Open seats with a clear ethnic Fijian majority were won by one party (the SDL), all Indo-Fijian Communal seats and all Opens seats with a clear Indo-Fijian majority were won by another party (the FLP), all General seats bar one (that of Robin Irwin) were won by another party (the UPP), and the single Rotuman seat was won by a different party again (an Independent, in fact).

Apart from Robin Irwin's and the Rotuman seat, the only seats where there was any real contest were the few Open seats where the ethnic ratio between ethnic Fijians and Indo-Fijians was quite close. For by far the greater number of seats the outcome was predictable, and the exercise of voting for thousands of voters was a rather meaningless formality. That is hardly the way voting should be.

With this evidence from the three past elections confronting us, is it not madness to suggest we go back and have elections again under the AV system?

The voting system is supposed to provide us with a House of Representatives, yet it is clear that major segments of our society have not had fair representation at all. The most outrageous case is surely that of the NFP, who held almost a third of the Indo-Fijian vote in 1999, a quarter in 2001, a seventh in 2006, but received no representation in any of the three elections.

Even in 2006 when they did least well, they held over 49,000 first preferences. They nevertheless got no seats even though the UPP party, with well under 7,000 first preferences, picked up two!

Surely in a country that prides itself on its concern for all groups, this sort of nonsense cannot be allowed to continue not even once more.

A further reason for changing the electoral system immediately is that, if such reform were to be implemented only after the next general election held under AV, there would be a huge waste of resources, which Fiji cannot afford. Modifications would have to be made to the AV system, new constituency boundaries drawn up, and comprehensive voter education programs undertaken. Yet all this work would have to be repeated if a new electoral system were to be used later rather than immediately.

Sufficient time, of course, must be given to prepare for a new electoral system. But it should still be possible to have it in place by 2010. It did not take very long to get the AV system into place (proposed by the Reeves Commission in 1996, used in the elections of 1999).

What needs to happen is for the Interim Government to call together the various political groupings for a meeting to change the electoral system.

This time of uncertainty, when the political allegiances of the people are less predictable, is quite a good time to propose a change to PR. PR gives to each party the percentage of seats corresponding to its percentage of voter support.

When parties are unsure of their ground, that is the time when they are most likely to support PR, as they realise it is eminently fair, and will ensure that everybody, including themselves, gets fair representation. They prefer to get less than they might, rather than risk missing out altogether.

It is only when some parties become clearly the major power blocks that they may try to steer away from PR, realising that certain other voting systems (such as AV) will exaggerate their dominance, eviscerating rivals or eliminating them altogether.

If the political groupings can agree on a change to a better voting system, we are in a good position to move forward and adopt it immediately. If they cannot agree, then there would need to be analysis of the areas of disagreement and the reasons for it.

If the matters are minor (for example, the details of the PR system to be used) or if only one party disagrees or seems bent on being a 'spoiler', the Interim Government may nevertheless be able to proceed. If, however, the disagreements are more substantial, it would need to be more circumspect.

But what needs to be done, needs to be done! We are faced by a 'doctrine of necessity' type situation. A change of electoral system is urgently needed. If the constitutional path is followed, the delay in making the change is too long, plus the fact that those with the power to make the change may very well not do so (from self-interest).

One of the big problems in changing the electoral system in any democracy is that the people empowered to change it are the very people who have just been elected by it. They usually have a vested interest in leaving the electoral system much as it is. It is important, therefore, to change the electoral system while Fiji is in the process of re-setting its course.

Undoubtedly, the coup of 2006 and its aftermath are highly controversial. The legalities (and clear illegalities) of a lot of what has taken place will be long discussed, analysed, and litigated.

But life must go on. We must deal with Fiji as it is, not as we might like it to be. If a referendum was held on some matter of national importance, would it be regarded as invalid merely because it took place during the reign of an illegal regime? Surely not. Provided it was conducted fairly, such a referendum would be accepted as a valid expression of the people's will. I am not, however, suggesting a referendum regarding the electoral system. The issues are too detailed and unfamiliar to the public to do that at this stage. If, however, a good cross-section of political interests could agree on changing the electoral system to one clearly more appropriate, why should this be treated much differently to a referendum? Surely in the crisis situation Fiji finds itself in, a certain flexibility is required.

There may not be much opposition to such a change even from outside countries. Foreigners with any understanding of Fiji at all, know that our AV voting system has not been successful. The European Union Electoral Observation Mission forthrightly questioned whether AV was suitable for Fiji. Off the record, a number of them spoke even more strongly, and recommended a PR system. Fiji has been criticised for some time over its high proportion of Communal seats, with recommendations that they be reduced over time to be ultimately done away with.

If, then, there is agreement that PR is fairer and more suitable to Fiji; and if Communal seats are done away with (the interests of ethnic communities being well enough protected by PR itself), opponents will look rather silly if they continue to claim that AV must be used because it is in the Constitution.

The Constitution was made for Fiji, not Fiji for the Constitution.

Although Fiji is still some time away from the elections proposed for 2010, suggestions, discussions and decisions towards adopting a form of PR need to be made, so that the necessary ground work for a change to PR (the particular form of PR, different electoral boundaries, training of electoral officials, voter education, etc.) can be completed by the 2010 deadline. The time to start work on this is now.

Father David Arms is a member of the Citizens Constitutional Forum. The opinions expressed here, however, are his own and not those of the CCF.

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Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Comparable Worth

Fiji Daily Post Editorial of March 14th, highlights inaccuracies pointed out by the flash-in-the-pan blog: Intellgentsiya and their reported story, which snowballed into a mountain of half-truths by the conventional media agencies both in Fiji and overseas.

This is the excerpt of the Daily Post Editorial:

New media, freedom of expression and responsibility

IN the past week, the Interim Government has been raising its concerns over the contents of an online journal or blog.

Apparently, some news-hungry journalists spiced up the soup regarding the death of a fourth person allegedly at the hands of the military as reported on the site,

What irked the Interim Government, and certainly would worry a responsible media is the fact that reports on this blog had been irresponsibly regurgitated and sensationalised in conventional media. Some servings of the soup even ending up in the international media, further exacerbating Fiji’s strained relations with its regional big brothers Australia and New Zealand and adding more bullet points to their travel advisories.

While the debate rages on, what is evident is that the spread of the Internet and modern information communications technologies (ICTs) in Fiji is revolutionising the manner in which individuals express their opinions and thoughts on events and issues of national importance.

New media is emerging in Fiji as an alternative to traditional media and is challenging long-held rules of news reporting.

And this is why the Interim Government is so concerned and it is justified in doing so, considering Fiji’s ever growing new generation of young, socially mobile and liberal cyber-democrats.

A text-based online environment that includes blogs, online discussion forums and internet chat rooms is changing not only the way opinions are expressed, these are also challenging long-held notions where the author decides what you read.
People can now easily air their views from the comfort of their personal computer, participate in discussion boards and receive or send emails on topical issues like democracy, human rights and governance.

There are also opportunities to send anonymous opinions to web blogs such as These new media have a new rule “the author is dead, long live the reader”. It’s the nature of the Internet as a kind of virtual ‘black hole’ in which anonymous people and their opinions appear and disappear instantaneously. There are no editors, no style and very little or no rules.

While the Internet provides a forum where individuals and groups can experience a renewed sense of democracy, it necessitates a greater sense of responsibility. Web sites and blogs are not only used for democratic expressions and productive ends. They have also become literary havens and propaganda machineries for terrorist groups, bomb makers, neo-Nazis and dictatorships.

The Internet is also home to pedophiles and others with evil intentions. In short, the Internet harbours both the good and the evil. For Fiji, we are beginning to experience the digital revolution and the impact of new media on our society.

The Internet has opened up opportunities and taken away customary restrictions and is challenging our post-colonial culture of silence.

The power and political clout of the Fiji’s post-colonial institutions that have dominated the social and political scene for so long is being undermined by our new generation of liberalised cyber-democrats.

In political terms, democratic governance, mass participation and mobilisation is being enhanced by the use of the Internet and other modern ICTs.

An this becomes more pronounced in our post-coup situation as people express their opinion against the coup in conventional media have come under the attention of the military regime.

Individuals are being forced to write blogs or report to Internet sites because their rights to express their opinions in conventional media is under constant threat.
While the concerns of the Interim Government does carry weight - after all writing anonymous opinions for public consumption is against the rule - we now live in world dominated by new media technology that occasionally blurs the line between truth and fiction.

Interestingly China has banned the opening of new cybercafés this year citing the rising influence of the Internet on its people.

Sydney Morning Herald's article has updated the story talking points; stating that the source-Intellgentsiya had issued a correction, minus the Mea Culpa disclaimer.

Apparently Intelligensiya's seductive dismemberment of the truth, while creating a lot of attention, has also motivated other bloggers on Fiji. Here are several new blogs:

1. Discombobulated Bubu.
2. Hearts and Minds.
3. Free My Fiji.
4. Loyal Fijian.

While the Daily Post Editorial has rightfully pointed out, the apparent dangers of misreporting the facts by online citizen journalists; it is not a true reflection of all Fiji blogs. To lump all blogs in one basket of incompetence, is an unfair characterization; especially coming from main stream media who believe they have a monopoly on all news and editorials. Blogs provide a much needed fact-checking ability, which the Fiji public needs.

For starters, facts have been mis-represented by the conventional media as well; Daily Post being the leader of such practices, followed closely by the Fiji Sun's Political Editor.

The following is an excerpt of one such article from Fiji Sun's Political Editor:

Let us have an early election

Political Editor

We need to go to the polls quickly so that we can be accepted back into the global family.We cannot wait for 2010 or longer.International pressure is mounting for Fiji to quickly return to democratic rule. The question is: Will the Interim Prime Minister bow to this pressure?

Commonwealth secretary general Don McKinnon last week called on the international community to continue putting pressure on the Interim Government to return Fiji to democratic rule.

The United States of America has urged the Interim Government to take rapid and decisive steps to return Fiji to democratic rule and to adhere to the rule of law.

Fiji will benefit from a quick return to democratic rule. The USA is willing to ease some of its policy restrictions put in place since December 5. Already the USA has contacted its allies from East Asia and Europe in regard to the situation in Fiji and they all support a quick return to democratic rule.

Mr McKinnon says there are no signs Fiji will soon return to parliamentary democracy. In fact, Interim Minister for Justice Aiyaz Sayed Khaiyum said there was a possibility the next elections would not take place in 2010. The reason given is that the roadmap gives only six months for the Constitutional Boundaries Commission to draw up the boundaries. But this can only be done after the census is taken and will take longer than six months.The Interim Government has already set a road map for the return to parliamentary democracy. Let us revisit that road map.

The Boundaries Commission will be asked to draw up new open seat constituency boundaries and to ensure that the number of voters is, as far as reasonably practicable, the same. This will entail the holding of a population census in 2007 to ensure that the commission works with the correct figures, in a geographical location, before determining the constituencies and their boundaries.

The Bureau of Statistics will take 12-15 months to complete a census report before the commission can gainfully use it. This process will take place in 2007 and 2008.The Boundaries Commission will need six months to prepare the new constituency boundaries to be used in the next election.

The preparation of the new boundaries is likely to be completed in 2009.The Elections Office will need up to 12 months to prepare for a general election. The preparatory work will be done between 2008 and 2009.

There will also need to be a new system of polling, voting, vote counting and declaration of results, which would take 9-12 months to complete.Under the road map, the return to parliamentary democracy for Fiji may become possible after three years.

Within that time frame, all the required tasks to be performed by the Interim Government would have been successfully completed, as part of the requirements of the Presidential mandate. After three years, the country’s economy and government finance would have recovered fully, to be able to fund and sustain the required cost of a general election in Fiji. The road map will be subject to a mid-term review in late 2009. However, taking into account Mr Khaiyum’s announcement, the election may be later than 2010.

Fiji has already been condemned worldwide because of the illegal removal of a democratically elected government by the military. Surely we will expect more sanctions because of the new the timeframe. Fiji is a small country and we depend mainly on donor agencies and imports. We have not really felt the impact of the coup because there are no trade sanctions. Let us pray that this state of affairs will continue.There can be trade sanctions and other bans put in place against Fiji if the Government does not adhere to international pressure.

Surely the census cannot be an excuse used especially when a general election in a democratic country like Fiji can happen at any time, like a government losing to a vote of no confidence in parliament. We know the Interim Government is working in accordance to a mandate issued by President Ratu Josefa Iloilo. But the Government cannot function well without the support its international allies.

They are willing to help Fiji to return to democratic rule but the Interim Government needs to take the first step. The Interim Government wants the next general election to be free and fair.

The Interim Prime Minister said: “For Fiji’s next general elections to be free and fair there are several important requirements that must be fulfilled, including the holding of a national census, determination of new constituency boundaries, new voter registration system as well as a comprehensive programme of voter awareness and education on the electoral system and voting rights.”

Does this mean the 2006 general election was not free and fair? The international observers invited to observe the 2006 general election agreed that the election was fair and free. The Pacific Forum’s Eminent Persons Group (EPG) in its report wants the country to return to the polls in 18 to 24 months’ time. Fiji is in isolation because of the undemocratic nature of its government.It had been suspended from the councils of the Commonwealth.

We all want Fiji to be back in the Commonwealth and the global fold generally but I must admit this is very unlikely in the near future.We should be glad that the Commonwealth wants to help Fiji to quickly return to democratic rule.

However, here in Fiji the Interim Government is taking its own time. Interim Prime Minister Commodore Bainimarama said the global family must understand the situation in Fiji.

We are glad of the assurance from the Interim Prime Minister of the country returning to democratic rule. However, it is the timing that needs to be looked at.

If the 2000 Interim Administration can return the country to democratic rule in less than one year, why can’t this Interim Government?

No one can rule forever and in a democratic country, the people decide on the leadership. It is a fact that they had no say in the recent change of leadership.It is a fact that we are slowly walking the road to democracy.

It is slow because we are following the Interim Government’s pace. With the Interim Government’s strong stance, there is no short cut to our return to democratic rule. In the final analysis, we have to bear with them even if we move forward at a snail’s pace.

Accordingly, S.i.F.M affords readers with a counter-point to the Fiji Sun article.

The article by Fiji Sun Political Editor, Maika Bolatiki which called for early elections, only invites a stern and factual correct rebuttal.

Bolatiki opens the article with such absurd uses of the word “we”. Categorically, it infers that the Political Editor speaks for all voters in Fiji, while demanding an earlier transition to democracy.

Bolatiki's insinuations further escalate, by equating the international community's objectives of returning Fiji to democracy, with the aspect of timing.

Although, the United States State Department had remarked that Fiji should return to democracy and Fiji could accelerate the process of electoral reform; what the State Department did not address, given Fiji's perilous financial position is that; the velocity which Fiji should undertake this process, is directly proportional to the resources available to the island nation.

What the official from U.S State Department could not do, is put money where their proverbial mouth is. By not offering any under employed American experts in electoral reform, the call by the US for a speedy return to democratic rule remains embarrassingly hollow.

Bolatiki points out that, Fiji will benefit with the quick return to democratic rule. Nobody disputes that. It appears that 'benefit' is the Political Editor's only motivation for returning the nation to democracy. One major point that needs to be established beforehand is that, democratically rule may require some analysis of the definition.

If US State Department, Commonwealth Group, the E.U, Australia or New Zealand demands Fiji to return to a democracy that overwhelmingly uses race based seats, then effectively that type of democracy they want in Fiji is intellectually flawed.

If that democracy, which Bolatiki strives for involves turning a blind eye towards the ingrained culture of corruption in Fiji, then that model of democracy is not for Fiji. For democracy demands equal representation, a functioning and vigilant criminal justice system. Democracy does not endorse two tracks of rules. One specifically for people with chiefly status, the other for everyone else.

Bolatiki presented a question, "If the 2000 Interim Administration can return the country to democratic rule in less than one year, why can’t this Interim Government?"
The answer lies simply in Fiji's existing electoral system.

In 2001 Elections, as well as the 2006 one, the ballot system used race defined seats, as well as outdated boundaries. The electoral reform which the Interim Government unveiled, pointed out structural changes that, require labour intensive surveys and logistical projects, which Bolatiki overlooks.

Even if Don McKinnon, the Commonwealth Secretary General had called on the international community to pressure Fiji's interim Government to return to democratic rule, then perhaps it is prudent to re-examine and re-evaluate the Commonwealth's template of democracy for Fiji.

Obviously the definition of democratic rule which the Fiji Sun Political Editor subscribes to, is basically the system of racial based voting. Since Bolatiki is concerned with the hurried return to an electoral system, which race plays an overwhelming part; without examining the deficiencies within it, perhaps Bolatiki himself should deserve neither civil liberties nor voting rights.

“Surely we will expect more sanctions because of the new the time frame. Fiji is a small country and we depend mainly on donor agencies and imports. We have not really felt the impact of the coup because there are no trade sanctions. Let us pray that this state of affairs will continue.There can be trade sanctions and other bans put in place against Fiji if the Government does not adhere to international pressure”.

If timing was such a big issue for the international community, as Bolatiki obliquely portrays, the international communities would understand that such demands must be reinforced with assistance. It is easy for the international community to call for a rapid transition to democracy, without ensuring that the institutions responsible are logistically ready, in terms of staff, facilities and equipment. For it is Fiji, who will be engaged in the exercise of conducting a national census, creating new political boundaries and so forth. Not the international community. As many political pundits understand, all politics is local.

It seems that the Fiji Sun Political Editor had accepted an irresponsible default position, which advocates cutting corners of liberal democracy and presenting an error laden picture of the Interim Government's intentions.

Bolatiki also appears to be the cheering on the international community, to place more sanctions simply because Fiji could not operate within a time frame demanded by foreign nations. Or is it really because, the Interim Government is hell-bent of removing the racial components within Fiji's politics. A component which has served the SDL Government extremely well, including Fiji Sun's Political Editor.

It appears that the quality of Fiji's electoral system had escaped the attention of the international community. While they had called for rapid elections in Fiji, they also neglect that, the existing voting system uses race rolls. It is nothing short of farcical to call for rapid democracy, while ignoring the structural inadequacies within it.

“Does this mean the 2006 general election was not free and fair? The international observers invited to observe the 2006 general election agreed that the election was fair and free.The Pacific Forum’s Eminent Persons Group (EPG) in its report wants the country to return to the polls in 18 to 24 months’ time. Fiji is in isolation because of the undemocratic nature of its government. It had been suspended from the councils of the Commonwealth”.

Fiji Sun's Political Editor also prejudges the 2006 elections as free and fair, since it was certified as such by the International Observer Group. However, Bolatiki ignores the fact that, no one had any idea of how many voters there were in 2006; as a percentile of the overall population. In addition, the individual boundaries were decades old and were not updated with migration statistics, both local and international.

By not having an accurate baseine number of voters; undoubtedly opens the election process to more assumptions and thus errors. In other words, the Election office could have the ability to print extra ballot papers; since the number of voters (registered or not) could not have been feasibly determined, without a national census. The security of these extra ballots, was questionable and inlight of numerous complaints, casted looming shadows of doubt over the entire electoral process.

Having a ballot take place without empirical data confirming the nations population number, opens the result to interpretation and this inaccuracy also undermines the entire electoral process.

Bolatiki further adds, “Surely the census cannot be an excuse used especially when a general election in a democratic country like Fiji can happen at any time, like a government losing to a vote of no confidence in parliament”.

If the census are constitutionally required every 10 years, why aren't those basic steps being followed?
Census allows statistician to get an accurate population baseline, the data gained is also used in calculations for infrastructure development in Fiji. It allows statisticians to get a better idea of what the resources the nation has, with respect to the population growth. Those projections allow civil servants to plan for the future and by implementing socially responsible policies, improves the lifestyle of the national populace. Apparently, Bolatiki opposes those fundamentals of democracy.

To glossover the importance of holding a timely national census; is merely a convenient way to obfuscate the greater meaning of democratic institutions and under rate their interface with transparency and good governance. To propose accelerated time-tables of the road map, effectively surrenders to the follies of a fool; after all they do rush into action without forethought.

A hurried approach to the altars of democracy, risks jilting the bride of oversight. A rush, suggests cutting the corners of progressive ideals like multi racialism and equal representation. A rush earns Fiji no medals, but guarantees more errors.

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