Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Breach of Trust.

Fiji Village article reports on a presentation by local USP academic, highlighting the increase of Native Lands Trust Board's expenditure rate, as well as identifying some irregularities in accounting standards.

This is an excerpt:

Concerns Raised Over Increasing NLTB Expenditure
By fijivillage
Jul 3, 2007, 15:00

Concerns have been raised on the increasing rate of expenditure by the Native Land Trust Board since 1975.

USP senior lecturer Dr. Mahendra Reddy during his presentation at an Economic Forum at the Marine Lecture Theatre this afternoon highlighted that NLTB's expenditure is increasing by over 32 percent per annum.

Reddy said he has found out that the NLTB is not following proper Accounting Standards. He said the income statement has been misrepresented and the whole accountability of the transactions of the contract with Pacific Connex is not shown.

Reddy said NLTB is also charging rates and not informing its shareholders about dividends. He also said that he doubts that NLTB is registered with registrar of companies.

It seems that more landowners have lost their faith and trust with NLTB, like this group from Vanua Levu who complained about the lack of consent for lease renewals, as reported in a Fiji Times article.
The aspect of NLTB's secret slush fund has been reported in a Fiji Live article, describing NLTB loaning money to the developers of Denarau Resorts in Nadi.

This is the excerpt:

NLTB recovers Denarau debt
Thursday June 26, 2003

The Native Land Trust Board has recovered the outstanding amount from a $2million loan to Denarau Investments Limited.

NLTB general manager Kalivati Bakani said yesterday the $2million loan was made to Denarau Investments Limited from the NLTB's trust funds while under the management of the late Maika Qarikau. The loan was to enable the company to develop the Hilton Hotel on Denarau.

Mr Bakani said the loan was originally scheduled to be repaid by July last year. However, following requests from the company, the board agreed to allow some deferment.

"At the beginning of June we served a demand on the company after which the outstanding amount was repaid in full," Mr Bakani said. The repayment covered interest and other charges.

Mr Bakani said the board was happy with the development because it involved trust funds that belonged to native landowners.

The Daily Post

It seems that NLTB has gone into the money lending business, after skimming funds from transactions from native land owned by poor villagers. It raises some moral questions, of why NLTB could not loan funds to the landowners themselves to assist in developing the land. Sadly, it seems the interests of native landowners has become a tragedy of the commons of sorts.
Serious questions are now being asked of NLTB's financial position, especially after the series of firing from NLTB's executive core, including Kalivati Bakani.

Following up on the post "Fiji Media and Ethical Deviations" Interim Finance Minister responded to the Fiji Times Editorial with a letter.

The following is an excerpt:

Get real

It is interesting that The Fiji Times in its editorial comment titled Get Real Mr Chaudhry (FT 2/7) is doing exactly what it accuses me of doing: shooting the messenger.

Indeed, it has stooped to character assassination rather than responding on issues.

I gave the media a message on Saturday: that continuous distorted and negative reporting by the media was having an adverse effect on investment.

Certain media organisations were not even providing fair and balanced news news doctoring, manipulation, distortion and even prejudice were plainly apparent in the reporting of The Fiji Times and Fiji TV. I did not make wild accusations. I cited a number of examples to back my statement. The Fiji Times should now tell the nation why it chose not to print the examples I gave.

In failing to do so, is it not guilty of selective, doctored news reporting?

Furthermore, I did not take a swipe at the media out of the blue. I spoke in response to a query during the question and answer session on whether negative media reporting was not turning away investors. I spoke in response to this question.

The Fiji Times deliberately chose not to put my statement in its proper context.

In fact, the Fiji Chamber of Commerce also criticised the media but I see no mention of this in The Fiji Times coverage. Again selective reporting?

I reiterate that during the current sensitive phase of our national transition, the media has a responsibility to exercise due caution in its coverage of reports relating to national issues. This is not to say that it must not report news as it happens. All I ask is that the views and explanations of the interim administration, get as fair and balanced coverage as that of the other side.

This does not always happen. It is frustrating when one issues a statement in explanation or responds to an attack, to find that either the statement is ignored, or just one short sentence or a paragraph is used which fails to adequately articulate the view point of the person responding.

I have had several such experiences with The Fiji Times.

This is what is meant by unfair and unbalanced reporting. A case in point: when the PM's office issued a statement in response to certain aspects of Ratu Joni Madraiwiwi's speech in Canberra, The Fiji Times did not bother to run the government reply. On inquiry, a highly abbreviated version appeared some two days later.

It is onerous on the news editor of media organisations to ensure that, on sensitive national issues, at least, both sides get adequate and fair coverage.

In its editorial comment The Fiji Times says: "Any responsible media will not want to mislead or deliberately lie to the people". The operative word here is, of course, responsible. The paper refers to letters in the open column as an indication of public opinion.

We all know a number of these letters are from ghost writers. In any case, we are often told by people that letters they write in support of actions of the interim administration do not get run by The Fiji Times. So much for responsible presentation of viewpoints.

I also refer The Fiji Times to criticisms of bias and unfair reporting leveled against it in 2000 by none other then the former Head of the School of Journalism at USP, David Robie, in an address he gave to a media forum in Brisbane. He held The Fiji Times responsible, in no small measure, for inciting the 2000 crisis.

The Fiji Times should know that I am not in the habit of making wild attacks. If I criticised certain media organisations, it is because I had reason to do so. And I stated my reasons.

Let me make it categorically clear: the media is not entitled to unfettered freedom it is accountable to the people.

Alongside the freedom it enjoys, goes very stringent responsibilities regarding media ethics and national sensibilities.

The Fiji Times takes an unfair advantage by shooting volleys from behind its editorial columns.

I invite it to a public debate on this issue. At least, this will give me the opportunity to present my case fully supported by all the evidence. Let the public then decide on who indeed is shooting the messenger.

Mahendra Chaudhry
Interim Minister for Finance
National Planning and Sugar Industry

Editor's note: Mr Chaudhry feels we have just been reporting negative news. In the main we agree because the news has been negative. That is not our fault and we do not believe we have slanted or doctored it. The Reserve Bank says the economy is in crisis and Mr Chaudhry himself on Saturday said the economy was in a bad shape. We would love to report good news but we need facts and figures, not just words.

(Examples withheld by Fiji Times)

This newspaper has tirelessly campaigned for the good of our nation and will continue to do so that is our job and we take it seriously. We have praised the interim Government on those occasions we have considered it has done something right. We have condemned it when we believed it has been wrong.

We did the same with past governments and we will do the same with future governments. We believe the interim Government needs to get behind tourism. It is the quickest and easiest way to bring in money to this country. Mr Chaudhry's dream of a once again buoyant sugar may happen but not 'overnight' and right now this country needs an 'overnight' solution. Give us the facts and figures to back your good news Mr Chaudhry and we will print it.

Fiji Times website had provided a link to a comments page, discussing the story of Fiji Times unbalanced coverage. This link was then hidden and further comments blocked by the webmaster, to prevent the page from taking on too many comments critical of Fiji Times. An example of double standards of Freedom of Expression, used by the old media.

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