Tuesday, April 29, 2008
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Tuesday, April 22, 2008
The excerpt of Fiji Live article:
New US embassy on track
21 APR 2008
Work on the new United States Embassy in Tamavua (outside the Suva CBD) is expected to be completed in a year from now, United States ambassador to Fiji Larry Dinger says.
He said construction work was on track due largely to the fine weather that Fiji has had in the country’s rainy season.
“It is really going great. I am told that construction is on track. If you pass the site it is bustling. The intention is to finish the project in a year from now and the expectations are that we are going to meet that,” Dinger said at the Fiji-US Chamber of Commerce annual meeting at the Tanoa Plaza last week.
Work on the complex, which is expected to cost around $30 million, started in June last year.
The complex is situated in a 4.3 hectare compound.
It would be a state-of-the-art facility set in a lush garden with both American and local design elements.
In a follow up to an earlier post Stuck in Fiji M.U.D: U.S Embassy tax refund: Double Dipping or Backdoor Financing?
The issue of VAT refunds was debated in a 2006 sitting of Fiji Parliament Senate and the Hansard covers the deliberation.
VALUE ADDED TAX DECREE (DIPLOMATIC MISSIONS -AMENDMENT) BILL, 2006
HON. SENATOR H.D. KHAN.- Mr. President, Sir, the Bill has been cited as the Value Added Tax Decree (Diplomatic Missions - Amendment) Bill, 2006 and is to come into force from 1st October, 2006. The Value Added Tax Decree, 1991 is amended by adding after section 70, the following sections:
"VAT refund for construction of premises for diplomatic mission.
70A (1) Notwithstanding anything contained in this Decree, a Diplomatic Mission (as defined in the Vienna Convention on diplomatic relations) is entitled for Value Added Tax refund in respect of the initial costs of newly constructed premises of its Mission in Fiji."
Subsection (2) is very important, and I quote:
"The entitlement under subsection (1) does not extend to these items:
(a) to any other premises except for premises to be used for the professional diplomatic purposes of the Diplomatic Mission;"
It has been clarified to us, Sir, that the residencies, et cetera, do not come under the ambit of this amendment.
"(b) costs of extensions to, improvements, enlargements or repairs of any existing premises to be used for its mission:
So, only new premises that are to be constructed hereafter, are to be eligible for these exemptions.
"(c) any extensions to, improvements of or enlargements of premises to which the entitlement was provided under subsection (1)."
So, anything that will be added further to any of the existing premises which will be covered by this will not attract these amended concessions.
Mr. President, Sir, it is important to note that the Vienna Convention and diplomatic relations have been mentioned in this amendment. Some confusion may be arising as to why such reference is being made. Amongst other things, Sir, the Vienna Convention recognises that the host country would offer or allocate to guest countries the best it can to facilitate the establishment and running of their embassies. It is expected, Sir, that what is in the best interest of the host country would not necessarily be the same by any other standards of other host countries, but obviously within the means of what the country can afford and it differs from country to country. However, the principal essence of it is that you will offer the best possible facilities to accommodate the guest countries.
It has been noted also, Sir, that some of the embassies that already exist in Fiji have missed out on these provisions now being mooted. For example, Sir, the Australian Embassy which carried out major developments over the last decade did not seek such exemptions and accordingly were not accorded the same. So they have not been beneficiaries to what is now being suggested. The immediate beneficiary, Sir, for which perhaps, this has been brought about and for future embassies as well, but the immediate beneficiary of this amendment will be the US Embassy.
We are advised, Sir, that the new embassy project in Tamavua is to cost around $60 million of which the VAT element is going to be around $8 million. The content and the extent of the project, Sir, will require some local contribution by contractors and suppliers locally, but to a large portion. Sir, the development will see the sourcing of services and supplies largely from the US. The US resident contractors, Sir, will also be registered for VAT and be entitled to claim refund. Both the US Embassy and the non-resident contractors, therefore, will de-register from VAT after completion of the contracts.
Mr. President, Sir, ongoing attempts by Fiji to offer the best host position is nothing new because we have been attempting for many years to woo not only foreign embassies, but also multi-lateral organisations, NGOs and even other multi-national organisations. Firstly, Sir, this is in keeping with our Fijianess (if you will) in that Fiji is always a host country, and the cultural ties that we have with people of other nations in trying to be good citizens of the larger international communities. Fiji is well-known, Sir, in all arenas as good accommodating, host people.
Also, importantly, Sir, the multi-faceted benefits that will accrue from such initiatives bring to Fiji and the region many hosts of good economic benefits and the multiplier effects thereof. Many institutions, which are either here or have direct relationship with Fiji and the region have some form or another of deep-rooted ties with the United States, particularly the mainland US. Naturally, Sir, the broadening of the US presence in Fiji will be of greater comfort, their aspirations for closer affiliation to Fiji and the region.
The US Embassy construction is to commence in January 2007 and is to be completed by 2009. Reportedly, Sir, some 5,000 square metres of development will take place and this is a substantial complex with support facilities. The net cost, as I said earlier, Sir, is going to be $52 million less the VAT element.
Apart from the normal trade partnership with the US, Sir, several hundred Fijians reside and work in the US. Their remittances in recent times have made significant contribution to the balance of payment of this country. It is important to note, Sir, that once this initiative is put into place, other embassies such as the European Union, China and New Zealand may follow suit in developing their embassy properties in this country.
All these countries, Sir, are very important allies and friends of Fiji and in recent times have contributed tremendously to our development as a nation. The European Union, Sir, alone has been one of the largest donors and in the near future, we are expecting to the tune of some $350 million in the sugar industry rehabilitation assistance. Similarly, China has also emerged as a significant provider of assistance to our country.
It is very easy, Sir, to become emotionally charged and relate the $8 million to be foregone by the VAT exemption to what immediate relief or benefit it could bring to our own social obligations, which could be better met by these funds. However, Fiji, as a small developing island nation cannot live in isolation of the larger players in the world today from points of view of security, trade, aid assistance, nor Sir can we deny the emergence of Fiji as a key player in the regional, social, political and economic playgrounds. We have to continue to foster such measures, which accord us positive mileage in the region and international arena and capitalise on direct and indirect reciprocal benefits and values.
Speaking of direct reciprocity, Sir, there is a strong possibility that Fiji may be able to get reciprocal benefits from the US and other countries, which would be beneficiaries of the tax exemption mooted by the amended Bill here. From a small economy point of view, these incentives collectively, Sir, may be more meaningful for Fiji in the long run.
Lastly, Sir, one must not forget that we are a small island nation and as such we are vulnerable to many calamities and other vagaries. Some examples, Sir, obviously that one comes to mind right now are cyclones, earthquakes, tsunamis, floods, droughts, et cetera. It is at times when such God-forbidden calamities come about or natural disasters happen that the goodwill we extend by such initiatives (as being mooted here, Sir), big brother nations pay huge dividends.
Sir, with those words, I commend the Bill to the House.
MR. PRESIDENT.- Honourable Senators, I intend to adjourn the House until tomorrow morning as the Business Committee will need to meet as we rise. Therefore, the debate on the Bill before the House will commence tomorrow. The Business Committee will meet in my Chambers when we rise. The House now stands adjourned until 9.30 a.m. Wednesday, 4th October, 2006.
The House is now adjourned.
The House adjourned at 11.25 a.m.
It would seem rather ironic that, Dinger, who had disparaged the efforts of Fiji's Interim Government to improve the existing electoral system by reforming the racial dimensions of the ballot box; now has some image reforming of his own to deal with.
Radio NZ International article quoted from the US Ambassador. The excerpt RNZ article:
US ambassador urges Fiji to return to "rule of law’ principles
Posted at 22:22 on 16 April, 2008 UTC
The outgoing US ambassador to Fiji, Larry Dinger, has criticised the interim government’s actions against prominent foreign investors, including Fiji Water, which he says have hightened concerns about a level playing field for commerce.
Speaking at the Fiji-US Chamber of Commerce annual meeting yesterday, Mr Dinger said potential investors have become reluctant to put their money into Fiji, "where, he said, "rule by decree does not include normal constitutional checks and balances and thus endangers ’rule of law’ principles".
The ambasasador told his audience "In today’s gloablised world, investors have options, and they want a solid predictable ’rule of law’ environment"
He urged them to encourage a return to normal governance, via free and fair elections, as soon as possible.
In a Fiji Times article Dinger urged Fiji Interim Government to accelerate the passage to elections.
Hold poll quickly, outgoing envoy says
Friday, April 18, 2008
US envoy Larry Dinger at the Tanoa Plaza yesterday
OUTGOING United States of America Ambassador, Larry Dinger has urged the interim Government to return the country to fair and free elections as soon as possible.
"When I first came in 1996 and saw the 1997 Constitution in place, there was a beam of hope in Fiji," he said.
[Dinger] said he thought Fiji was the way the world should be with the enthusiasm of the people and the rule of law prevailing in the country at that time.
But when he left in 1999, and the 2000 coup happened, that changed the course for Fiji. Mr Dinger came back in 2005, and saw that the coup in 2000 brought disarray.
"It was a disaster when I came back to serve for a second time in Fiji and the Pacific," he said.
He said both the elections in 1999 and 2006 were fair and free.
Mr Dinger said what the interim Government was doing was like operating as a government chosen by the people.
"The interim Government is playing a broad governance role, but they don't have the constitutional mandate to do that.
"And now we have the People's Charter," he said.
Mr Dinger said the US was committed to providing resources to ensure Fiji went back to a general election in 2009.
"Commodore Voreqe Bainimarama has pledged for free and fair elections in 2009 and the military will accept the results as he had promised at the Pacific Islands Forum in Tonga," he said.
Mr Dinger was sharing some of thoughts on Fiji's political and economic situation in addressing the Fiji-US Chamber of Commerce in Suva.
In a Fiji TV article, Dinger is quoted as saying, Fiji is not seen as a "dot in Foreign Policy" in Washington D.C.
The excerpt of Fiji TV web article:
US Government on Fiji situation
17 Apr 2008 03:34:33
The United States says the Interim Government will be held to its promises made at the Forum meeting Tonga last year.
US Ambassador to Fiji Larry Dinger says while they are only hearing of possible electoral changes through the media, he adds the international community wont take lightly any diversion from earlier undertakings that next elections in Fiji will be held in accordance with the 1997 constitution.
Also in a statement the U-S State Department says if the people of Fiji come to prefer some other form of democratic governance, the key would be that decisions be made transparently, inclusively, and legally, adding the Interim Government and the National Council for Building a Better Fiji lack such transparency, inclusiveness, and legality.
While United States Ambassador to Fiji Larry Dinger did not attend yesterdays diplomatic briefing, he did send an embassy representative on his behalf.
Whatever unfolded there is now being scrutinised in Washington .
While One National News yesterday reported possible challenges by the Electoral Commission in keeping to the March 2009 election time line, last night the US ambassador said thats not what the diplomatic community have been told.
The US ambassador says the undertaking made at the last Forum Meeting in Tonga by the Interim Prime Minister is not being taken lightly by the international community.
While we might literally be a dot on US foreign policy...Dinger says they dont quite see it that way back in Washington .
Dinger will end his second term in Fiji in a few months.
Although the US State Department had highlighted Human Rights infringements in Fiji, according to 2007 Fiji Report; the contents of the report was repudiated by the head of Fiji's own Human Rights Commission, as the US did not have clean hands to measure or highlight violations, according to an article in South-Asian Post.
Island Business opinion article also points out that the US does not appear in its own State Department report. The excerpt of I.B article:
We Say: HUMAN RIGHTS REPORT NOTHING NEW
‘Much of the Human Rights report is based on the day-to-day events recorded by the Fourth Estate. So it is not hard to see why many political dispensations find the media an inconvenient quantity to deal with.'
The State Department of the United States of America released the 2007 Human Rights Report last month. Every year, the U.S. Congress mandates these reports on the human rights situation in some 194 countries –the whole world for the most part, including China.
The notable exception of course is itself: the United States of America is excluded from the report, completely invisible to its own scanner as it were –something nations whose human rights record it has severely criticised are only keen to point out.
Unlike other global reports of this kind, such as the United Nation’s Human Development Index (HDI) report, it does not quote copious statistics, restricting itself to short paragraphs of observations that seem to be based for a large part on media reports.
In actual fact, the report is little more than a handy reference compendium on human rights issues across the world packed with a range of details and commentary that can all be found in one single document –making it a researcher’s delight. Or for that matter an activist’s. And in that convenience alone lies the sheer value of the document.
Most Pacific Islands nations are included in the main report and the reports for each individual country take note of any human rights issues and violations that may have occurred and reported during the year, based on a number of parameters that have a bearing on human rights as enshrined in the Bill of Rights.
But it reveals nothing new –at least in the context of the countries of our region. Whatever is contained in them are facts and events that are only too well known as have been reported widely by the region’s media over a period of several years –except, perhaps, in the case of Fiji, where developments since December 2006 have been catalogued in a fair amount of detail.
While the reports of most countries in the South Pacific region have not much to write home about in terms of human rights violations that may be of any real concern, the two largest and most populous Pacific Islands economies, Papua New Guinea and Fiji have several observations that go against them –again, none of them that we have not heard of before.
Many of the violations reported and commented upon in the two island nations’ context have to do with the two larger issues that directly impact the human rights charter: governance --broadly, corruption, bribery, transparency and the rule of law-- and those that are greatly influenced by cultural and social mores like civil liberties and, more particularly, the rights of women and children.
PNG’s poor record in addressing corruption at all levels of government and administration, its poor implementation of the rule of law particularly in the rural regions of the country, the worsening climate in regard to issues relating to women and children have all been highlighted in the latest report.
The near zero representation of women in parliament as well as other important administrative positions has been commented upon and the growing instances of violence against both women and children as well as cases of illegal trafficking in them –mostly for sexual exploitation-- have been detailed with at least a couple of examples each.
That indeed cuts a worryingly sorry picture of the region’s star economic performer that has been clocking GDP growth rates far higher than the rest of the Pacific Island countries.
Unfortunately, though, the roots of most of these problems lie deep in societal traditions and have so far defied solutions offered by external agencies and huge amounts of aid money. Successive elected governments too have failed to address these complexly intertwined issues. The report, of course, is a mere catalogue of observations and offers nothing by way of suggestions for any solutions.
In the case of Fiji, the custody deaths of individuals following the December 2006 action by military leader Frank Bainimarama as well as repeated instances of the abuse of power by security forces in subsequent months directed mostly at those who were vocal in opposing the military regime have been highlighted in the report. Like in the case of PNG, the report has alluded to cases of the exploitation of women and children and of their trafficking for sex tourism in Fiji as well.
Most significantly, the report highlights the Fiji Human Rights Commission’s controversial hiring of “a foreign NGO official with minimal media experience to undertake an assessment of the country's media.” This move and the subsequent report that was filed by the foreign official have come in for scathing criticism by media outlets in Fiji without exception. The report has been denounced as being built on baseless premises and even of being unabashedly racist.
Some of its recommendations can be clearly construed as being in contravention of the spirit of the egalitarian clauses enshrined in the nation’s constitution as well as the Bill of Rights. As such, its recommendations would be hard for anyone --most of all the country’s topmost human rights body-- to justify. By all counts, it is hard to imagine that some of the report’s recommendations have actually been made in this day and age –and that, too, by an individual who has been recommended by the nation’s apex human rights body.
Which indeed brings us to the crux of the matter.
Much of the Human Rights Report is undoubtedly based on the day-to-day events recorded by the Fourth Estate, the metaphorical watchdog in any regime –democratic or otherwise. So it is not hard to see why many political dispensations –especially of the suspect variety-- find the media an inconvenient quantity to deal with and are perpetually scheming ways and means of making things difficult for them.
Given its widely condemned recommendations, the recent report on Fiji media smacks of this ulterior agenda no matter how the powers that be, or those who ordered the report, soft-pedal it.
It is therefore the need of the hour for not just the Fiji media, but the entire region’s media as a whole to raise the bar and muster all the pressure they can bring to bear on regimes to keep them from infringing on human rights –especially on the rights of free speech and expression— with reportage and news analyses that is well researched, accurate, unbiased and purely in the interest of the public weal. All without fear or favour.
An article in New York Times (NYT) April 20th 2008 issue, dropped a 'bunker buster' on the the US global image, irreparably damaging the integrity of the US Government. Online responses to the New York Times article were scathing.
This NYT expose on the Pentagon's puppeteering, inextricably widens the Pacific door to the wooing calls from Asia Tigers: China, India, Taiwan; as well as placing a scarlet letter on US Foreign Policy and its diplomats worldwide.
Video of the Penatagon spin masters appeared in Youtube and is posted below.
In an article from Japan Focus, the issue of "cheque diplomacy" was raised and the article alluded that the Pacific Island States have been wooed by China and Taiwan.
The excerpt of Japan Focus article:
Wooing the Islands: China and Taiwan High Stakes Bid for Pacific Island Support
Mario Katosang, Palau’s minister of education, is no stranger to foreign travel. His ministry forged close cooperation with Japan. He is also regularly flown to Taipei and his ministry received a total amount of $1 million in 2006 and 2007 for infrastructure improvements to government-run schools. The government of Taiwan gives generous scholarships to the students of Palau and recently it began supplying the small Pacific Island nation’s schools with brand new PCs.
“We were given 100 Windows-based computers by Taiwan,” recalls Katosang. “The education sector uses predominately Apple Macintosh computers, so I mentioned that we may also need software. Taiwan immediately delivered 100 brand new copies of Windows XP, and offered to train our computer technicians.”
Recognizing Taiwan, which calls itself the Republic of China, translates into investment, aid, and an air link that brings a regular flow of tourists from Taipei. Palau may be the richest of the Pacific Island Nations, but a substantial part of its “income” still comes in the form of aid from Japan, Taiwan, and other countries. This assistance also includes “compact money” from the United States. If asked to do so, Palau is willing to accept U.S. military bases, a willingness that is generously rewarded by Washington.
"Taiwan sees diplomatic recognition by Pacific Island states as an important political weapon in its difficult relationship with China,” explains Prof. Stuart Harris, a leading specialist in Chinese foreign policy at Australian National University. “China similarly seeks to persuade states recognizing Taiwan to change their diplomatic recognition to the People’s Republic of China (PRC). It does not cost a lot financially to persuade government leaders in many of these states to see the advantage to them of changing their state's recognition from China to Taiwan and vice versa.”
“The context in which this competition plays out is a region largely of states that are weak in economic and governance terms, with governments that are often basically unstable,” Harris continues. “Aid dependency is widespread and so is corruption. The impact of the competition between Taiwan and China, usually in the form of financial aid, undermines the considerable efforts made in a number of these states, such as the Solomon Islands and in Nauru, to improve regional governance."
In the Pacific, foreign aid games, often called “checkbook diplomacy,” are becoming extremely dangerous. They deepen dependency syndrome, a curse that is literally immobilizing Pacific Island Nations. This competition for influence fuels corruption and inflames racism. It also indirectly supports the status quo by strengthening the oppressive feudal and religious systems that still rule over a great majority of the nations in the region.
The Highest Bidder
Several Pacific Island nation governments are willing to “go with anybody” as long as it is lucrative. Selling votes at the United Nations is a common occurrence. Micronesian nations, as well as many Polynesian and Melanesian ones, regularly support virtually any resolutions proposed by the United States. Francis Hazel, director of The Micronesian Seminar, remembers how one day a television crew from Israel besieged his office in the capital of the Federated States of Micronesia (FSM), Pohnpei. "I wondered what they were doing in this city, which hardly appears on any world maps. Then I understood: the Israeli public was curious about this country which keeps joining the U.S., voting against all UN resolutions condemning Israeli actions in the Middle East."
But China and Taiwan are the biggest players in this game. They have been jockeying for position in the region with their willingness to work with any government in the region, no matter how corrupt or undemocratic, and to shower such friends with aid and grandiose gifts. China is, for instance, closely cooperating with the military government in Fiji. Government officials in the Pacific are being pampered and their incomes are boosted by countless lucrative trips to Taipei and Beijing, helping to support what is often described as a “per-diem mentality.” Kessai Note, president of the Marshall Islands, arrived in Taipei in June 2007 for a five-day visit (his sixth in the past five years), meeting Taiwan President Chen Shui-bian for a few hours, after which “the rest of his trip was private,” according to a report filed by the Asia Pulse news service.
Both Taiwan and China have erected disproportionately huge buildings for use by local governments, including the parliamentary complex in Vanuatu and the government offices in Samoa. For the convention center in Majuro, Marshall Islands, where the 2nd Taiwan-Pacific Allies Summit took place last October, Taiwan spent approximately $5 million.
RMI Convention Center in the Marshall Islands, Taiwan's biggest individual gift to a Pacific island, valued at approximately $5 million.
China, which calls Taiwan a “renegade province,” almost automatically breaks diplomatic relations with countries that back Taipei’s drive for independence, especially those like Palau that trumpet their support. Last year Palau’s president delivered a decisive, if (according to his own staff) rather embarrassing, speech at the General Assembly of the UN, demanding immediate acceptance of Taiwan as a full member.
For Palau, close friendship with Taiwan pays, and in the Pacific, that often seems to be all that matters. Although there is no official data available, Taiwan has probably donated around $100 million to Palau since establishing diplomatic ties in 1999, which works out to approximately $5,000 per capita. Of this sum, $3 million dollars has been spent on construction of a conference center, $15 million on airport expansion, and $2 million on the National Museum, with one section trying to show that Taiwan’s indigenous people and Micronesians are genetically linked. Taiwan also lent $20 million for the construction of a new capital city, Melekeok, locally referred to as "Washington Jr." for its architectural resemblance to Capitol Hill. It is one of the most ludicrous and wasteful construction projects in the history of the Pacific.
A building in Melekeok, Palau. Taiwan lent $20 million to Palau for construction of the city.
The Pacific Island Forum has an official relationship with China, yet six of its 16 members officially recognize Taiwan. At present count, Samoa, Kingdom of Tonga, Cook Islands, Niue, Fiji, Vanuatu, FSM, and PNG "go with China," together with two regional powers, Australia and New Zealand, while Palau, the Marshall Islands (RMI), Kiribati, the Solomon Islands, Nauru, and Tuvalu "are with Taiwan." Several Pacific Islands are "swinging" — switching sides in a bid to maximize profits. Everything is out in the open. After "switching from China to Taiwan," According to government sources, Mr. Tong, president of Kiribati, responded to his vocal critics with disarming honesty: "Well, what can we do? We need to work with the nation that can support us!"
Similar approaches can be found all over the Pacific, in the countries that “go with Taiwan,” or “are with China.” Senator Tony de Brum of the RMI, a determined critic of the U.S. military bases in his country, claimed before the elections that once his party returned to power — it has now done so — he would try to close down the U.S. Army's Ronald Reagan Ballistic Missile Defense Test Site on Kwajalein Atoll. But he is also a man who forged cooperation with Taiwan and effectively withdrew his country from the sphere of Chinese influence.
In an interview with Asiana Press Agency, de Brum explains: “In the past, we abandoned Taiwan and went with China and until 1998 we stayed with it. But then we felt under financial pressure, as we were going through some tough negotiations with the U.S. regarding the Compact. And we felt that we couldn’t beg the U.S. for money while negotiating about defense and finances with it. China’s aid to the Marshall Islands at that time was negligible. That is when we decided to go back to Taiwan, which was offering substantial financial assistance.”
“Switching from China to Taiwan was a pragmatic and good move,” explains Jiff Johnson, an American journalist based in the Marshall Islands and working for the Marshall Islands Journal. “Chinese people are not well liked here. Those who arrive in RMI don’t always respect local culture and natives see them as competition. China didn’t care too much about this part of the world, until Kiribati flipped out in 2003, going with Taiwan. China had to leave, taking with it its satellite monitoring station. It was a big blow. The U.S. has a monitoring station in the Marshall Islands — in Kwajelain. Kiribati and Kwajelain — whose geographic location is well suited for monitoring satellite launches. Learning the lesson in 2003, China became much more active: it began showering our neighbor, the Federated States of Micronesia, with money, which by then was already surrounded by pro-Taiwanese Palau, RMI, and Nauru."
Taiwanese businesses can now be found all over Majuro, the main island of the Marshall Islands. There are “Fermosa” food stores, even cafes selling authentic Taiwanese food. But the symbol of Taiwan’s involvement in this country is the lavish International Convention Center fully funded by Taiwan. It opened right before the 2nd Taiwan-Pacific Allies Summit held in October 2007. Even before the summit, critics were lamenting that the poor and small Marshall Islands would hardly be able to maintain a structure of such magnitude. At that summit Taiwanese President Chen Shui-bian praised the "consistency and courage" of Taiwan's six Pacific Island allies in backing his administration's bid to join the UN under the name of "Taiwan", instead of the nation's official title, as well as their "lack of fear" of a hostile response by the People's Republic of China. Such courage merits high level support.
China is increasingly active in supporting those countries that remain in its camp. It has learned that in the Pacific, allegiance goes to the highest bidder. "Taiwan used to approach the previous government of Fiji. Fiji is with China, but Taiwan was offering many scholarships in Taipei," recalls Joseph Veramu, a leading Fijian writer and head of the Lautoka Campus of the University of South Pacific. “Their strategy was simple: to shape future leaders of the Pacific, make them pro-Taiwan. Only recently they realized that they can’t compete with China, which began pumping large funds into the country.”
China built or improved sports complexes for the South Pacific Games in both Fiji and Samoa. It constructed government residences, a Tuna Commission Building and gymnasium in Phonopei, the capital city of the FSM. While Taiwan erected an impressive (and probably unnecessary) government building in the tiny nation of Tuvalu, China constructed a much larger one in the Samoan capital of Apia.
The government building in Tuvalu.
The commemorative stone at the government building in Tuvalu. Taiwan erected the building for the tiny island nation.
Foreign aid, scholarships, and construction of new buildings help to secure votes at the UN for both Taiwan and China, but do not seem to buy friendship. Most Pacific Island nations are known for their extreme nationalism and Christian zeal. No matter what overtures China or Taiwan make, their involvement continues to be viewed with suspicion. In recent years, there have been several popular backlashes.
In April 2006, Chinese became the main target of the protest riots triggered by rumors that Taiwan had paid for the election of unpopular Snyder Rini as prime minister. Not distinguishing between Taiwanese and Chinese, the crowd was screaming “waku,” which means Asian or Chinese. The Chinatown in the country's capital of Honiara was nearly leveled following looting and arson attacks. The Solomon Islands have no diplomatic relations with the PRC, as it recognizes Taiwan. Ironically, the victims were immigrants from Mainland China, some having lived in the Solomon Islands for several generations.
The Tongan capital went up in flames in November 2006. Although the main target was supposed to be the corrupt and feudal system of the country, rioters devastated almost all Chinese businesses in the capital.
Aftermath of the riot in Nukualofa, Tonga.
“I hate to say it, but the riots we saw in Tonga in November 2006 were mostly ignited by racism,” explains Kalala Unu, principal of Tonga High School, an elite institution with 1,400 students, which educated both government officials as well as leaders of the pro-democracy movement. “Eighty percent of the downtown area was destroyed, but the original targets were Chinese businesses. This country is receiving substantial help from the People's Republic of China. Even my school was built with Chinese funds. Several Chinese lecturers were teaching here. But there is envy toward hard-working Chinese immigrants. Right after the riots there was talk that several local businessmen paid young kids money to destroy Chinese shops."
Unu’s comments coincide with views broadly held in her country and abroad (and reflected in various media reports), summarized by journalist Graeme Dobell in a July 2007 Australia Network article: “A pro-democracy rally in Tonga turns into a rage of arson and looting, and the main targets are Chinese shops and stores … In 2006, the new Chinese Diaspora in the South Pacific smelt of burning buildings and the China–Taiwan diplomatic tango was a dance through flames.”
Anger is brewing all over the Pacific. Even the opposition in Palau seems to be dissatisfied with its Taiwanese sponsor. Leaders of the opposition are claiming that if they win in 2008, they will switch to China. The Tongan opposition is grumbling about the 20-year, $59 million loan their country signed recently with China. The money is supposed to go to reconstruction of the capital, devastated by last year’s riots, but critics say that China will use its own companies and workers.
After winning elections in November 2007 in the Marshall Islands, the Aelon Kein Ad Party leadership is already suggesting a switch to China. One of the election issues was whether to switch recognition from Taiwan, with the opposition favoring recognizing the PRC. However, Aelon Kein Ad turned its back on its own promises on November 28, declaring they would not end ties with Taiwan if they won the election, adding to speculations that Taipei’s checkbook diplomacy was working behind closed doors.
Taiwan is rapidly losing its popularity among citizens in the Marshall Islands. A lawsuit, filed in Majuro, claims that a National RMI police officer led a group of prisoners in taking down five plywood billboards erected on private properties during the 2nd Taiwan-Pacific Allies Summit. The signs all bore the same message, "Taiwan, Welcome, But Not in Our Internal Affairs."
The U.S. Role
The role of the United States in this political tango is ambiguous. In theory, the United States does not recognize the existence of Taiwan as an independent country. But Senator de Brum of the RMI and his colleagues erupted in laughter when asked how their country can recognize a nation not recognized by its closest ally, the United States. “The United States does not recognize Taiwan,” they commented, “but it encourages it.”
Dependency syndrome is one of the main obstacles to the development of Pacific Island Nations. Countries all over the Pacific now prefer to sell fishing licenses to Taiwan, Japan, and other Asian nations instead of fishing themselves. Entire generations have been raised on imported junk food, shortening lifespans and causing obesity in numbers unseen anywhere else in the world. The euphoria following independence was short-lived. The dependency that ensued was often as restraining as when Polynesian, Melanesian, and Micronesian nations were outright colonies of Western and Asian powers.
Thousands of young men from all corners of the Pacific are now serving in the U.S. Army in far-away places like Iraq and Afghanistan. UN votes are being sold to the highest bidder. Although the anger felt toward Taiwan and China is often irrational, it is an authentic expression of frustration and disgust at Pacific Islanders’ own impotence and dependency.
The decision by Pacific Island nations to break this vicious cycle should be followed by launching open discussions on the China-Taiwan issue. A more open process of determining diplomatic relations won’t solve all of the extant issues confronting the Island Nations, but it would certainly be a big step in the right direction. Removing the influence of money is crucial in this process. Basing diplomatic relations on the fees offered by a given country has profoundly negative effects on the island nations. The situation tends to deepen national stagnation, and abets political cynicism. The money paid often only supports the political elites, who benefit directly (through business deals, contracts and official trips) and indirectly. Both Taiwan and China waste large sums on showpiece structures like government buildings and disproportionately large stadiums, rather than spending their funds to foster sustainable development projects.
This is a slightly revised and abbreviated version of a report that appeared at Foreign Policy in Focus on January 15, 2008.
Andre Vltchek is a novelist, journalist, filmmaker, playwright, editorial director of Asiana Press Agency, cofounder of Mainstay Press, and a senior Fellow at The Oakland Institute. A contributor to Foreign Policy In Focus, he is presently living and working in Asia and South Pacific and can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
A Japan Focus associate, he wrote this article for Japan Focus. Posted on April 20, 2008.
Friday, April 18, 2008
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Tuesday, April 15, 2008
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Friday, April 11, 2008
Thursday, April 10, 2008
It appears that News Corp's local representative, The Fiji Times has adopted the corporate green shenanigan of reducing their carbon footprint.
This 1 degree campaign in Fiji has very little to do with reducing carbon emissions in Fiji, but more to do with the News Corp's corporate carbon trading credits.
Particularly when there is no independent verifier to measure the magnitude of Fiji Times' carbon reduction. This fleeting fiasco is similar to Fiji Water's carbon trading program, which the earlier SiFM post commented on.
Recently Fiji Water came up with their own website called Fiji Green and blog. Treehugger online magazine published a 2007 article that calculated the true cost of Fiji Water, prompting Fiji Water LLC to release their own calculations, hence the news, as covered by a recent Market wire article.
Tree Hugger also reviews Fiji Water's released calculations in a April 4th 2008 article.
The excerpt of Tree Hugger article:
FIJI Water Leads Bottled Water Industry In Looking Green(er)
by Collin Dunn, Corvallis, OR, USA on 04. 9.08
Science & Technology
From the "That's one way to handle it" files: today, FIJI Water announced that they've done a lot of research and ready to fully disclose the carbon footprint of its products. They've joined the Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP) Supply Chain Leadership Collaboration, and launched a new website at Fijigreen.com in support of their efforts to become carbon negative. That's right: following the notion that measurement is the first key step to managing emissions, a bottled water company is branding itself green.
But, as we've seen time and again, bottled water is not green, from the humongous carbon footprint to the tremendous amount of unnecessary waste it creates to the world of reasons not to drink it. Even if there are pharmaceuticals in your water, its not a better choice. So what is FIJI Water trying to pull?
It's sort of a new brand of greenwashing, or at least a fresh take from the bottled water industry. They're right; measuring your carbon footprint is the first step to managing emissions, but can they account for being in a "business that is fundamentally, inherently and inalterably unconscionable," according to Michael Brune of the Rainforest Action Network. TreeHugger Llloyd called it out and out greenwashing when they announced their carbon negative goals in late 2007, but, as several commenters noted, it was still a step in the right direction.
Today's press release cites some interesting stats in an attempt to show this last point, that they are making steps in the right direction, but it comes off in a "see, not all our fault or our problem" sort of way. They note that the company, "calculated its carbon emissions across every stage in the product lifecycle," and that "this comprehensive, supply chain view is important because approximately 75% of FIJI Water’s emissions result from the operations of supply chain partners, e.g. raw materials suppliers, rather than from the company’s own operations." You can take this one of two ways: that the company isn't all at fault, or that the bottled water industry, with its transportation, raw materials inputs, packaging waste, etc., is a filthy, landfill-choking, carbon-emitting mess. Either way, it doesn't really look very good for them.
As part of its greening strategy, which includes reducing actual greenhouse gas emissions 25% by 2010 by reducing packaging 20%, supplying at least 50% of the energy used at its bottling facility with renewable energy and optimizing logistics to take advantage of more carbon efficient modes of transportation, the company has partnered up with Conservation International to create carbon offsets through reforestation of Yaqara Valley, Viti Levu, Fiji. That work wouldn't necessarily get done without FIJI Water's involvement, so it's nice that they're doing it -- let's face it, the planet needs all the help it can get -- but it's not so nice that it's at the behest of a bottled water company. It's pretty tough for us to get past that.
So, perhaps the best way to sum this one up is: TreeHugger is glad to see that FIJI Water is paying attention to their carbon emissions -- because there are a lot of companies, in the bottled water industry and elsewhere, that are not -- but not very glad to see that they're using the opportunity to sell more bottled water. It's smart marketing and we suspect more bottled water companies will follow in their footsteps, but that still doesn't make it very green.
Wednesday, April 09, 2008
The way forward for Qarase
Tuesday, April 08, 2008
Laisenia Qarase believes the interim Government has conveniently forgotten that Fiji has a genuine and legal Peoples Charter
Agreat deal of money, effort and resources are being poured into the work of the National Council for Building a Better Fiji (NCBBF) and drafting of the proposed People's Charter.
At a time when the country is in the middle of a constitutional, political and economic crisis, which is causing great suffering among the people, the interim Government is devoting most of its energy to the NCBBF and the charter.
Everything seems to be secondary while conditions in the country continue to deteriorate. Never mind that the NCBBF and the charter concept are being rejected by large sections of the population and will, therefore, lack popular legitimacy, without wide public approval, the charter is doomed.
The interim Government has conveniently forgotten that Fiji has a genuine and legal People's Charter. It is called the Fiji Government's Strategic Development Plan (SDP) which covers the period from 2007 to 2011.
The plan is still in existence.
The charter proposed by the interim Government is, therefore, redundant and a huge waste of public funds. The NCBBF is duplicating work already carried out for the drafting and implementation of the SDP.
The SDP was the product of a democratically elected government.
It represents the combined vision and ideas of many people and organisations that took part in the extensive consultation and drafting which led to the preparation of the final document.
The process was a true and legitimate exercise in democracy built on a partnership between the community and Government.
The plan was endorsed at a national economic summit at the end of September 2006 and was given approval by Cabinet and Parliament.
It has special significance because it expresses the united views of the SDL Party and the Fiji Labour Party, through the multi-party government formed after the May 2006 election.
It draws extensively on the manifesto of both parties and consensus reached with the Labour party on issues of national importance for the achievement of a vision of a peaceful and prosperous Fiji.
The plan includes policies and goals covering the national spectrum, including national unity and identity, constitutional changes, social, cultural and economic reform and good governance.
Its scope is broad enough to include consideration of important issues such as changes to the electoral system.
" In trying to reinvent the wheel, the interim Government is ignoring what already exists and is creating further division in an already polarised community."
A key governance aim is to improve Fiji's ranking in Transparency International's corruption index perception index. We were focussed on moving Fiji upward from its 55th position among a survey that covered 159 countries.
A report by the Commonwealth business council has classified Fiji as one of the best five performers in 2005 for introducing measures to reduce and eliminate corruption.
The assessment was based on a survey of 32 Commonwealth countries.
Fiji was rated number 4 for the level with New Zealand for having balanced and effective business regulation.
Fiji also did well in ratings for government-business relations, free media, effective government, efficient administration and future outlook.
The SDP would have accelerated Fiji's progress in the crucial areas of national life administration. The emergence after the election of 2006 of co-operative multi-ethnic government and the public goodwill it generated, positioned Fiji for an epoch of positive change.
This would have consolidated and built on the considerable progress we had made in rebuilding Fiji after the crisis of 2000. We started the restoration of damaged relationships and achieved significant economic growth.
The workforce was expanding and wages were increasing.
The SDP, as the joint initiative of the SDL and the Fiji Labour Party in Cabinet is the vehicle to help take us further along the road of development and growth which would narrow the social and economic gaps between our communities.
The SDP stresses that achieving peace and security is a long-term commitment that must be vigorously pursued through building understanding among leaders and communities at all levels. It emphasises the Government's responsibility of achieving prosperity for Fiji's poorest, most disadvantaged and vulnerable citizens.
The strategies in the plan for higher and sustainable economic growth will create additional jobs and increasing income urgently needed to help us lift more people out of poverty.
This growth will produce additional revenue for the Government which could be channelled into development and amenities and services such as roads, water, electricity and health centres.
The plan proposes measures to boost investment.
It recognises that without this, Fiji will not be able to provide enough employment for young people and those who are without work.
The plan includes Fiji's first integrated export strategy directed toward increasing foreign earnings which would sustain growth. It has proposals for lifting efficiency, enhancing ethical values and professional standards and cutting costs in the public service and public sector. This would have raised accountability and transparency at all levels and created a cost-effective investor-friendly and service oriented environment.
The SDP is underpinned by the compact chapter of the Constitution that lays out principles for the conduct of government. These principles rate, among other things to individual community and groups rights, equality, politics, free and fair elections, formation of governments, conflict resolution and affirmative action and social justice for all disadvantaged citizens or groups.
It calls for equitable sharing of political, economic and commercial power to ensure that all communities fully benefit from the nation's economic progress.
In trying to reinvent the wheel, the interim Government is ignoring what already exists and is creating further division in an already polarised community. The best way forward is for a process of political dialogue to take place between the main political parties and the interim Government.
The purpose of this would be to find common ground for the country to return to democracy and parliamentary rule. And there has to be solutions for some of the other problems which must be addressed if we are to secure peace, certainty and stability in this nation of ours and for our future generations.
A rebuttal of Qarase's opinion article was also published in the Fiji Times, Thurs. April 10th 2008 issue. The excerpt:
Charters for the people
LORINE TEVI, DESMOND WHITESIDE and JOLAME LEWANAVANUA
Thursday, April 10, 2008
At the centre of the debate ... the people of this country
The article by the former Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase titled "Fiji Already Has A People's Charter" argues there is no need for another "People's Charter" because his Government had already produced one. Qarase refers to the "Strategic Development Plan 2007-2011" as the so-called "Charter". There are a number of points raised in Qarase's article that we must challenge:
- [Qarase] says "a great deal of money is being poured into the work of the NCBBF and it is being wasted".
Mr Qarase has not given a comparative figure on how much it cost to produce his Governments' Strategic Plan. Was it cheaper? The budget of the NCBBF is $2.4 million which is about 0.16% of the interim Government's 2008 budget, an insignificant amount for a national undertaking. It is said that the General Election that Mr Qarase is demanding to have will cost about $35 million;
- We could spend this much on a general election and it will be a waste if the coup cycle does not end after that election. The NCBBF and the People's Charter wants to ensure there is no repeat of December 2006. It has the support of the RFMF for a new way of government under a People's Charter based on national consensus. What is the SDL alternative beyond the Elections?;
-Qarase's so called "Charter" was merely an outcome of the on-going development planning process of Government.
Fiji governments have produced similar documents every five years since independence. SDL produced one in 2000 and another one in 2006. It is nothing new. It is a document that tends to be narrowly economistic and rather "dry". So our PCCPP will be "wet". Very few people from outside government were involved in its consultation process. Qarase's Strategic Plan did not excite many to read it, it being yet another "development plan". For him to call it a "People's Charter" is a joke;
- Contrary to what Qarase says, the NCBBF is not trying to reinvent the wheel.
The State of the Nation and Economy Report, out of which the People's Charter will be drawn, is a very different process from the production of the Qarase Government's Strategic Plan document. The intensity, depth, quality and the participatory process and the sincerity and commitment of the people involve now is no comparison.
"his government's record was disastrous, with public debt cumulatively rising from $1.44 billion in 2000 to $2.9 billion in 2006. Within a period of six years, the Qarase government doubled public debt. Added to this, is his vote buying promise to pay public servants $300 million in 2007 and his $19 million agriculture assistance scam that helped the SDL win the 2001 Election. The Qarase government was taking Fiji towards bankruptcy, had it not been removed"
For example, the involvement of over two hundred participants representing all sections of the community in the nine Working Groups. Some members of the NCBBF and Working Groups had also been involved in the work on the SDL Government's Strategic Plan. That includes us, and we say that the Qarase Government SDP process was narrow in its consultation base and focus of diagnosis and recommendations. It does not remotely compare with the People's Charter process;
- The public consultation process of the NCBBF and PCCPP is broader, and more democratic than that of the Qarase Government.
Hardly anybody knew about the SDL Strategic Plan whereas the NCBBF's work is well publicised and aims to stimulate real discussion and debate so the people of Fiji can contribute to the SNE Report and the People's Charter formulation. It is very open and anybody can participate by attending consultative meetings, sending the Secretariat written submissions or posting their views on the website.
- The consultation on the SNE Report and the People's Charter involves people in communities at the grass roots level.
It is therefore a "People's Plan" not the "Strategic Plan" of government bureaucrats. Most politicians in the SDL would not have read it, leave alone ordinary people. So what good had the two Strategic Plans of Qarase done for the people of Fiji in the time they were in power?;
- Qarase tried to paint a rosy picture of his period in office (2000 2006).
In terms of public debt alone, his government's record was disastrous, with public debt cumulatively rising from $1.44 billion in 2000 to $2.9 billion in 2006. Within a period of six years, the Qarase government doubled public debt. Added to this, is his vote buying promise to pay public servants $300 million in 2007 and his $19 million agriculture assistance scam that helped the SDL win the 2001 Election. The Qarase government was taking Fiji towards bankruptcy, had it not been removed;
- It is also clear from this SDL Plan that there was no commitment at all to find real solutions to the expiring land leases problem that had got steadily worse under his leadership. These are only a few examples of the disastrous policies of the Qarase government. Many of these policies were ethnically divisive;
- In his article Qarase also claims the SDL Strategic Plan had drawn extensively from the Election manifesto of the SDL and FLP, but there is no evidence of this in the document.
He even claims that electoral reforms could have been embraced by his Strategic Plan and that "national unity and identity, constitutional changes, social cultural reforms and good governance" were in his plan. We have again carefully reviewed the document and have not read anything about these issues in the SDL Strategic Plan. It would appear that Qarase in desperation, is "plagiarising" the key elements of the PCCPP work and its contents now underway;
- Qarase's claim that the People's Charter is being "rejected" by large sections of our community has no substance.
Our outreach teams that have been visiting rural and urban settlements for the last six months have mainly reported receptiveness to the idea of a People's Charter. They say it is a different approach from politicians who visit only at Elections time and are never seen again for five years. It is different because people are being asked for their views. The consultative process of the NCBBF informs and empowers people to contribute to the determination of their own destiny. The People's Charter will capture the hopes and aspirations of all of Fiji's people;
- In his "opinion article" at the end Qarase calls for political dialogue to take place between the political parties as the way forward.
The days of politicians meeting and negotiating behind closed doors on the presumption they represent ordinary people's views and interests are now gone. That is what the SDL used to do in its "Talanoa Sessions" with the Fiji Labour Party and they never came to any agreement that could have been implemented;
- Any dialogue between the interim Government and political parties has to take place within the framework of the NCBBF and the work on the People's Charter.
It cannot take place separately at another level. Qarase and his colleagues must listen to the voices and learn from the people of Fiji, change their ways and follow "the New Way" of the People's Charter by listening to the people. Qarase's underlying message is that he really regrets that during his leadership, he had not thought about tackling the range of our deep seated national problems that are now being addressed by the NCBBF. Even though the NCBBF was initiated by the interim Government, it is being run as an autonomous process and we once again urge Qarase to be part of it.
The invitation of his Excellency the President to Qarase and the SDL Party to join the NCBBF remains open.
Together we can draw up a better national development plan based on real national consensus and serious commitment. We hope Qarase will reconsider and not be left behind as we move steadfastly towards the General Election.
- The writers are members of the NCBBF.