Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Timing Is Everything-The Pacific Seabed Claims & Regional Hegemony In Fiji Politics.

In a follow up to SiFM post "Electoral Reform in Fiji-Beta Democracy 3.0" , intersects prominent issues contained in an article published in July 30th issue of Wall Street Journal Asia (WSJ-A), titled "Trouble In Paradise".

The excerpt of WSJ-A article:


Trouble in Paradise
July 30, 2008

In their travels round the globe, U.S. Secretaries of State rarely make it as far as the South Pacific. Yet Condoleezza Rice found herself in Samoa over the weekend, the first Secretary of State to land there since George Shultz paid a visit in 1988. On her agenda: the political strife in the island nation of Fiji.

Fiji has had so many coups recently -- four in the past 20 years -- that's it is better known for its political instability than for its beautiful beaches. Now, the country's military ruler is reneging on his promise to hold elections. In her meeting with Pacific foreign ministers in Samoa Saturday, Ms. Rice called for a return to democracy. "I will try to lend my voice to a very strong regional effort," she said.

Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama took power in a bloodless military coup in 2006 on the pretext of ridding the island of "racism" and "corruption." If only. Since taking over, Mr. Bainimarama has made matters worse by installing military men in powerful government positions and cowing the media. His racial policies, which favor the country's 38% Indian minority, have caused more division than reconciliation.

Fiji's biggest trading partners -- New Zealand and Australia, the U.S. and the European Union -- have responded by withdrawing aid and issuing tourism warnings. Those actions, combined with a slowing global economy, have hit little Fiji hard. The Bureau of Statistics estimates the country's economy shrank by 6.6% in 2007, and 2008 will likely be just as dismal. Since 2006, tourism revenue has dropped more than 20% and sugar production, 30%.

Yet Mr. Bainimarama is still thumbing his nose at the 16-member Pacific Island Forum, which has called for elections since the 2006 coup. Last week, he pushed back elections to March 2010, from his previous promise of 2009. Mr. Bainimarama's military government has no place in an organization whose key pillars are "economic growth, sustainable development, good governance and security."

Still, New Zealand and Australia have kept on talking -- as the locals would say, that's the "Pacific Way." Fiji's interim foreign minister was included in Saturday's huddle in Samoa. The Forum will sit down again with Fiji next month.

Fiji's disarray poses a special problem for Australia and New Zealand, which can't afford such instability on their doorsteps. If Mr. Bainimarama can get away with subverting democracy, then why can't Papua New Guinea, Tuvalu or the Solomon Islands, whose democracies are also shaky?

The longer Fiji drifts, too, the more open it will be to influence from China, which is working to expand its presence in the South Pacific. All the more reason to prod the island nation to make its way back to the league of liberal democracies.

SiFM has taken the liberty to respond to the above article, which is laden with generalizations and muddled with inaccuracies.

The largest inaccuracy of the WSJ Asia "Trouble in Paradise" article was the selective omission, of the details in Fiji's electoral system and the naive perception of the geo-political and geo-strategic dimensions.

It is true that the 2009 elections in Fiji was postponed; however, that very system was did not fit the definitions of a "liberal democracy". If Fiji's race based voting system, were applied in the 2008 US elections; it would mean, Caucasians applying for a Caucasian seat and African Americans voting only for African American candidate and so forth for other minorities.

If that is the ideal concept of true democracy, which Australia and New Zealand want from Fiji, then it is a gross fallacy, making a mockery of the very definition of democracy. Furthermore, Fiji's model, does not square up with their own electoral system (e.g US, Australia, UK), which are devoid of any racial element(s).

Fiji's interim Government had postponed the 2009 elections to 2010, so that electoral reforms can be implemented; reforms that effectively remove the racial component and communal seats, including a boundary change. All of which, are labor and time extensive exercises, which elevate Fiji's electoral system up to par with the real definition of 'liberal democracy'.

Why then are these reforms so distasteful to the interests of the US, Australia and New Zealand?

It seems that this Western 'prodding' to get Fiji to hold 2009 elections (in the first quarter)has much to do with the discomfort of these Trans-Tasman egalitarians and their neo-colonial agendas, plucked straight from George W Bush's imperialistic play book.

US Secretary of State, Condoleeza's Rice recent visit to the region, including a stop in small fry Samoa, underscored that urgency to get the ball rolling in establishing full spectrum dominance of the Pacific, by proxy; simply because the US itself has not ratified the Law of Seas.

The major underlying reason in Fiji's case, is literally that; meaning it has more to do with Pacific seabed claims and according to the U.N International Sea Bed Authority, several Pacific island nations have until May 2009 to claim a part of the sea bed, if proven to be an extension of their own continental shelf. All this jockeying was outlined in an earlier SiFM posting "The Rush To Mine The Pacific Seabed".

Australia and New Zealand want Fiji to have a claim submitted by a so called 'democratically elected' government (note the time constraints), regardless if the Fiji's electoral system used racial communal seats.

The Trans-Tasman plan, is to just get the Fiji elections out of the way, to feign legitimacy and roll out the demands for seabed negotiations that could cement no bid oil contracts with Trans-Tasman companies. These same companies have financial backing from Wall Street, whose venture capitalists are desperately trying to ring up a profit, after such devastating losses, due to the moral hazards of Mortgage-backed securities, creating the credit-crunch that sent the US banking system into a nose dive.

Fiji's maritime boundaries is extensive and many studies have indicated conclusively that it contains large volumes of oil, natural gas and exotic minerals. Case in point, Fiji Govt has recently issued exploration licenses to three companies (2 Australian, 1 US)for oil extraction in Bligh waters, covered in a Fiji Live article.
The excerpt of the FL article:

Oil companies to explore Fiji waters
23 JUL 2008
Three offshore oil companies have been given licenses to explore large oil reserves found in Fiji’s Bligh Waters, according to the Department of Mineral Resources.

Two of the companies are from Australia and one from the United States.

Department Director Venasio Nasara is confident there is a substantial amount of oil in Fiji‘s territory to allow for rigging. He is hoping that more companies show interest in Fiji’s oil reserves. However, he cautions that all the right steps should be taken to ensure the appropriate policies are in place.

According to Nasara, there have been other sites with oil reserves identified within Fiji waters but no exploration licenses for these sites have been issued yet. The Mineral Resources Department also confirmed that other undersea minerals have been found in Fiji.

“There has been no environmental impact assessment done yet because there has been no need for it. But we will carry one out before the Government decides on mining.” He adds: “We are hoping that if an oil industry is realised, it will not only provide relief to rising fuel prices, but also to employment and foreign reserves.”


It appears that Australia and New Zealand want a piece of that pie before China comes in and outbids their puny capital, especially considering its huge energy appetite. In addition, current world prices of oil has made this Pacific option, a considerably attractive proposal and the icing on the cake, is that the region is far removed from the calamities in the Middle East and East Africa.

Undoubtedly, all this banter about accelerated democracy on specified time horizons, critically hinges upon Fiji's unquestionable obedience to the orders of Australia and New Zealand, both nations acting on instructions issued from way up the chain of command and global pecking order.

An interesting article published in "The Daily Telegraph" sums up this global pecking order, with regards to the seabed claims.

The excerpt:

Oil crisis triggers fevered scramble for the world's seabed

Last Updated: 10:52pm BST 30/05/2008

Record prices drive secret underwater land-grab as old enemies capitalise on colonies. Ambrose Evans-Pritchard reports

A fevered scramble for control of the world's seabed is going on - mostly in secret - at a little known office of the United Nations in New York.

Bemused officials are watching with a mixture of awe and suspicion as Britain and France stake out legal claims to oil and mineral wealth as far as 350 nautical miles around each of their scattered islands across the Atlantic, Pacific, and Indian oceans. It takes chutzpah. Not to be left out, Australia and New Zealand are carving up the Antarctic seas.

Turtles at Clarence Bay at sunrise on the north west side of the Ascension Island and the view from Green Mountain on the Acension Island (image above)

Dusting off the relics: Ascension Island, once known for its turtles, could be vital to the UK's future energy needs if a bid to claim the seabed surrounding it is successful

The latest bombshell to land on the desks of UN's Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf is a stack of confidential documents from the British Government requesting an extension of UK territorial waters around Ascension Island, St Helena and Tristan da Cunha.

The three outposts between them draw big circles in the Mid and South Atlantic, covering unexplored zones that may one day offer deep reserves of crude oil and gas.

A similar request has already been made for eastward expansion from the Falklands and South Georgia - much to the fury of Argentina. "If the British do not change their approach, we shall have to interpret it as aggression," said President Nestor Kirchner, before he handed power to his wife Cristina.

Ascension Island - famed for its enormous green turtles - is a dusty cluster of 44 volcanoes, covered with cinder. It is barely big enough to host America's "Wideawake" airfield and a tracking station for Ariane 5 space rockets. First garrisoned by the British in 1815 to keep an eye on Napoleon, it now boasts 1,100 hardy souls. St Helena - the "Atlantic Alcatraz" - is yet more remote, if greener.

The forgotten relics of the Empire make Britain a player in the marine race. There are the waters off the Falkland Islands and South Georgia, already home to a clutch of oil exploration companies; the Pitcairn Islands in the Pacific; Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean; and a string of outposts such as Montserrat, the Caymans, the British Virgin Islands, the Turks and Caicos, and Bermuda.

The French "Outre-Mer" is a bigger network - from the Isles Crozet to Saint-Paul and Kerguelen in the southern seas, to Clipperton off western Mexico. They too have been busy at the UN, requesting an extension of their zone off French Guiana and New Caledonia.

All the maritime powers are nibbling gingerly at the edges of Antarctica, though the Antarctic Treaty bans fresh claims on the world's last pristine landmass.

The two-page summary of Britain's submission to the UN gives little away. It merely notes that the UK is providing information on the limits of shelf "beyond 200 nautical miles", adding that there will be further requests. A Foreign Office spokesman said the motive was to "protect the environment".

Greenpeace demurs. "It is a grab for resources. These countries are in a panic about commodity prices and now view the seas as key to their national security," said Charlie Kronick, the group's climate chief.

The Law of the Sea allows the maritime powers to claim 200 miles of waters around their islands. They can win an extension to 350 miles if the geology of the seabed fits a set of complex technical conditions.

The requests are studied by a panel of world experts, and usually granted on a strict scientific basis. This is not conducted like the Eurovision Song Contest, where imperialists score "nul points".

The deadline expires in May 2009, so there is now a rush to stake out claims. If countries waive their right, the area from 200 to 350 miles automatically returns to the world community: claim it now, or lose it forever.

In a sense, the system is deeply unfair. China gets virtually nothing. Poor landlocked countries get absolutely nothing. Yet the old powers - after enjoying the fruit of imperial rule for four centuries - enjoy a second bite of the cherry. "The sea goes to the most powerful states that were able to colonise the remote parts of world. That's the way the law is," said Martin Pratt, head of the international boundaries unit at Durham University.

Nobody has ever explored these regions thoroughly for oil and minerals, although Mr Pratt said there was a burst of interest 20 years ago in "polymetallic nodules" - boulders of manganese, and such, on the sea floor. Commodity prices did not stay high enough to make it worthwhile investing, and the waters were mostly too deep.

That calculus is now changing fast as oil futures contracts for 2016 vault to $135 a barrel. The International Energy Agency warns that world output will fall far short of the estimated 116m barrels per day by 2030 unless there is massive investment.

The technology of deep-water drilling is improving in leaps and bounds. Three-dimensional seismic imaging can look through the salt canopies that cover up reserves and play havoc with exploration.

The ageing North Sea rigs drill to around 3,000ft: the Jack 2 test well, run by a consortium of oil companies, plunges through 7,000ft of water and 20,000ft of sea floor into the entrails of the earth below the Gulf of Mexico. The state-of-the-art fields off Angola may soon be routinely drilling at near 9,000ft. It is no longer far-fetched to imagine rigs drilling as deep as 15,000ft, once oil companies learn to cope with crude gushing out at temperatures of 300C.

Shell and Lasmo explored the Falklands in the 1990s, but gave up when crude prices crashed to $10 a barrel. Nothing much came to light. Desire Petroleum, Rockhopper, Borders & Southern and Falkland Oil and Gas are all probing again. Desire plans to start drilling this year. "A working hydrocarbon system in the North Falkland Basin has been established," it said.

Dr Phil Richards from the British Geological Survey - who helped to prepare the UK's extension claim - doubts stories that the area could hold 60bn barrels of oil (Saudi Arabia purports to have 260bn). "That is not credible. It is based on how much oil the rocks are potentially capable of holding. We won't know how much there is until we actually drill. All we have so far are educated guesses," he said.

Mr Richards denies that the Government is privy to secret discoveries. "There are no vast reserves that we know about. But who knows, it may come good for our grandchildren," he said.

Is it in the interests of mankind to tap deep-sea reserves? We may have no choice. The world has consumed one trillion barrels of oil already. The second trillion is located but not yet tapped, and will take us to 2035 or so. The third trillion eludes us. Any suggestions?

New Zealand which lies to the immediate South of Fiji and has it's own continental shelf claims which impinge upon Fiji's area, that lies adjacent to the Kingdom of Tonga, also facing the same seabed deadline claim, covered in an article in Islands Business. The excerpt of I.B article:

Seven Pacific countries race against time as deadline to claim extra ocean space draws near

Fiji along with Solomon Islands, Kiribati, Palau, the Federated States of Micronesia, Tonga and Papua New Guinea have a credible claim to more than 1.5 million square kilometers of additional space beyond their current 200 mile Exclusive Economic Zone.

Mon, 12 May 2008

SUVA, FIJI ---- Fiji and six other Pacific island countries are beginning to feel the pressure to complete their submissions to the United Nations (UN) to claim extra ocean space, with only one year remaining to the May 2009 deadline.

Fiji along with Solomon Islands, Kiribati, Palau, the Federated States of Micronesia, Tonga and Papua New Guinea have a credible claim to more than 1.5 million square kilometers of additional space beyond their current 200 mile Exclusive Economic Zone.

This is being made possible under Article 76 of the International Law of the Sea.

A week long workshop on the preparation on the country’s submission on Extended Continental Shelf (ECS) begins today in Fiji and is coordinated by the Pacific Islands Applied Geoscience Commission (SOPAC) and Geoscience Australia (GA) and the UNEP Shelf Programme.

SOPAC, GA and UNEP would help these countries to complete the activities required to delineate the outer limits of their continental shelf. These countries are currently faced with the costly and complex work of data identification, collection, analysis and submission preparation.

Due to limited technical and financial capacity they may not be able to complete the submission process without considerable external support, both technical and financial

Scientific studies have revealed the access to extended continental shelf could mean more access to mineral rich resources previously outside our EEZ. It’s the first time the pacific region is combining their efforts in its bid to extend their exclusive economic zones.

SOPAC Director Cristelle Pratt, said countries are committed to working together to improve lives in the Pacific.

“Securing greater maritime sovereignty can provide increased revenue for Pacific States and deliver significant economic and social benefits from access to ocean resources that occur on the seabed and within the subsoil.

Ms Pratt said that assessments have identified strong grounds for these Pacific countries to extend sovereignty over their continental shelves.

“These Pacific Island Countries recognise that determining the boundaries of their Exclusive Economic Zone beyond 200 nautical miles is critical to securing exclusive ocean development of potentially rich non-living resources, such as oil, gas, gold and silver, as well as living organisms that live on and beneath the seabed,” Ms Pratt said.

Submissions to claim an extended continental shelf must be based upon sound technical data and meet requirements prescribed within Article 76 of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea 1982 (UNCLOS), to secure an extended Continental Shelf beyond the 200 nautical mile exclusive economic zone.

It is undoubtedly a Machiavellian template, applied by Australia and New Zealand to get the Pacific Island states vis a` vis the Pacific Forum, and pressure Fiji into 2009 elections, indirectly creating divisions among the ranks of island states. The ultimate objective: scooping the seabed treasure, right under their collective noses of Pacific island states, too occupied with petty rivalry and bickering.

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Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Electoral Reform in Fiji- Beta Democracy 3.0

An exceptionally honest opinion article from New Zealand based writer regarding Fiji's political landscape, which was published in a Fiji Times article.
The excerpt:

Are we ready for elections

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

What we learn from history is that we do not learn from history. I have said this before and reiterate that in the case of Fiji our leaders and politicians have short memories.

What we should have learnt from the 2000 attempted coup is that no political interests should be involved in any interim government. Qarase and his motley crowd used the interim period to use and abuse tax-payer resources to trump up their political parties and political career. Fiji paid a heavy price in the Agriculture Scam and a shady government. One would have thought we learnt from our mistakes.

When Frank Bainimarama made his move in December, 2006, one would have thought that he had learnt from the escapades of the SDL Party as interim government.
Therefore, we thought that the interim government of 2006 would be made up of apolitical people who would not aspire for political position or opportunity or abuse their positions to drum up political support and because of this may be placed in a conflict of interest situation. This conflict could arise between what is good for the country and what is good for your political party.

The interim Government has more than one leader and politicians from active political parties and this has given the interim regime some disrespect, disrepute and some actions and decisions that may be deemed to border on political-fertilisation rather than something that is good for the country.

With daily happenings in Fiji now, people like me have become very embarrassed. This is because when Frank took power in 2006, some considered it as God sent, and a saviour who had come to rescue democracy from irresponsible and racist leadership.

People like us in New Zealand went public and supported his actions, attracting a great deal of contempt from friends and relatives. However, the news of military personnel gaining financially from their positions embarrasses people like me who had regarded the military as a saviour. There appears to be a situation that all those who are in power have a habit of putting their fingers in the till.

It appears the military has lost its plot, and the sooner it is put on track the better it is for the nation as a whole, and for people like me to redeem our respect for supporting the initial assault on a so called democracy.

However, despite the antics of military and its political cabinet ministers, there is one thing that I still agree with Bainimarama and the interim Government that Fiji is not yet ready for elections.

I agree we have many problems that need to be sorted out before we can be ready for elections. Calls for early and premature elections in Fiji by the so called bigger brothers (and bullying ones at that) are unreasonable and unwarranted, and undue interference. These countries have achieved their political development and destiny of democratic civilisation without external interference that Fiji is facing from these countries.

Fiji is at a political metamorphosis where Britain was some 600 years ago, USA was some 250 years ago, Australia and New Zealand were some 150 to 200 years ago and India was about 70 years ago.

All these countries have gone through various stages of political development involving wars, civil unrest, partitions, racial wars, penal colonies, massacres and many upheavals before they achieved the democracy that they are proud of and chiding Fiji to emulate.

At least the consolation is that Fiji has been spared the loss of lives that others suffered; nevertheless it has been facing political unrest since its independence some four decades ago.

So many elections since then have not been able to solve its problems, so what makes them think that election in March 2009 will solve Fiji's problems. These countries need to understand that even in the past elections, real democracy had never been achieved. It had merely been a sham of democracy; in many instances autocratic leaders used their traditional powers and influence to masquerade as democratic leaders.

The international community has to realise and learn that democracy measured by election is not a solution. Despite so many elections, Fiji's problems remain unresolved. Every coup exposes wounds that need to be healed and the deep underlying problems that need to be attended to.

Before Fiji can gain stability and effectively return to some degree of democracy a number of serious issues need to be addressed and resolved.

While Father Kevin Barr, in his earlier writings, has already spoken of them, I wish to repeat them here. Among them is the agenda of the nationalists who want Fiji for Fijians and Fiji as a Christian state. Another issue is the racially explosive mix of fundamentalist religion and extreme nationalism found in Assembly of Christian Churches in Fiji, which has a strong influence on the political and social process.

In addition, the inherent conflicts and tensions within Fijian, chiefly between families and confederacies, are a smouldering volcano, ready to erupt.

There is a need to remove the race-based politics and election and an electoral system and process that gives same weight and importance to every vote. The current system is flawed in this respect.

For example, while Peni in Kadavu is one of the three thousand voters who elect his representative, his cousin Viliame on the other hand is one of the some eighteen thousand voters who elect his Member of Parliament in Nadroga. What this means is that Peni's Kadavu vote is worth some six times more than Viliame's Nadroga vote.

There are numerous other examples of such anomaly, discrepancy and lack of fairness that smacks on the face of democracy which promotes same value for all votes. Therefore, Fiji's elections cannot be really called fair unless this problem is sorted out.

The other lament is influence of chiefs over their voters and conflict of democracy with the ascribed chiefly status.

While some chiefs and their followers have been crying for constitutional rule and rule of law, they did not blink an eyelid to prevent the Charter team free access to deliver information to Fijian villagers. I wonder whether they knew about the constitutional requirements and provisions on freedom of movement and information.

It is essential for Australia and New Zealand to understand how democracy works in poor Third World countries. They need to realise how the leaders in such countries can exploit it for their personal and political gains while showing all the niceties of a democratic government. Does Mugabe come to mind?

Deposed Prime Minister Qarase is already on record that he would bring back the controversial Qoliqoli Bill and other racially biased controversial laws that country like New Zealand has already thrown in their parliamentary trash bin.

What then, will New Zealand rescue Fiji from its democracy that the new government would have got through an unfair electoral system and a racially entrenched ultra-nationalistic slogan?

What then, who or what will then prevent the military from repeating its action and how long will the yoyo coup rule Fiji?

Mere timetables for elections are not permanent solutions to Fiji's problems. What we need is serious consideration and strategies to address the fundamental problems with a view to eradicating the coup culture.

We have gone so far towards looking for a solution that we are at a point of no return. We have suffered more than enough in search of a solution; we shall strive to find it. Fiji should be allowed time to resolve its problems, once and for all, at its own pace and in its own time.

- Thakur Ranjit Singh is an Auckland-based political commentator on Fiji issues, an advocate of good governance and a proponent of democracy that delivers social justice to all its people.


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Monday, July 28, 2008

Australia Takes Policeman's Role in South Pacific [Too Seriously]

MBAMBANAKIRA, Solomon Islands -- Dressed in blue shorts and mirrored sunglasses, Constable Tony Bourne says he's the only Caucasian resident in 80,000 square miles of jungle.Though technically a foreigner, the Australian officer chases local rapists and thieves. And, unlike the local cops who assist him, he can carry a gun.

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Thursday, July 24, 2008

Fiji Media & The Echo Chamber In The Pacific.

It appears that the rumors of the dismissal of Fiji's Interim Finance Minister, Mahendra Chaudhry has finally been laid to rest. However, it has become apparent that the many media organizations in Fiji and abroad, were so overly eager to report a scoop and that resulted in a web of inaccuracies, ricocheting across the Pacific.

Such parroting of gossip and unbridled repetition of inaccurate statements may tend to be the hallmark of some media outlets, that are quantity driven and short in quality.
It also seems that, some of the media outlets were raring at the bit, to unleash a salvo of gloating reports about Chaudhry's sacking, allegedly for his role in taxing the conglomerate of Water exporters, like Fiji Water; that in the process the media outlets, knowingly or unknowingly contributed to the rumor mongering by quoting unnamed sources, that left themselves in an unenviable position of having an egg, plastered on their collective faces.

SiFM has chosen a selection of articles, that provide a comparative analysis of sorts, to the ping-pong of rumors across the Pacific.

On the examination of the Google search of Fiji contains the following stories.
One interesting aspect, was on the Radio Australia article (pictured above) titled "Fiji Minister Chaudhry Facing the Sack".

When the article is clicked, the title and content has been quietly changed to this new article (pictured below).

Sydney Morning Herald article:

Signs of rift between Fiji leader, arm

July 24, 2008 - 6:21PM

Fresh signs are emerging of a damaging rift between Fiji's coup leader and his closest military supporters who have shored up his government.

Commodore Frank Bainimarama has been forced to deny that he met on Thursday with his most trusted military advisers to discuss demands that he sack his right-hand man, Finance Minister Mahendra Chaudhry.

Chaudhry has acted as chief political ally to Bainimarama since the commodore led a bloodless military coup in 2006.

Chaudhry's Fiji Labour Party was the only major political party to back the putsch, which the international community has condemned.

Speculation has been mounting that Bainimarama might allow Chaudhry to take over from him as prime minister, and that Bainimarama could take over the presidency.

Such a move could afford Bainimarama immunity from prosecution over the coup and allow him to remain influential in Fiji's affairs. But any such plans could come unstuck of Bainimarama loses the support of his military commanders.

New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark this week said Bainimarama could be planning the next stage of his coup.

Asked about the possibility of him becoming president, Prime Minister Helen Clark noted there was already someone in that role, and "perhaps that is the next stage of the coup".

Media reports in Fiji on Thursday said a senior member of Bainimarama's interim government had been told to quit.

Former prime minister Laisenia Qarase, who was ousted by Bainimarama, said he believed the military council had demanded Chaudhry go.

"It could be the start of a very serious split between the council and the interim prime minister," Qarase said.

"This is not the first time that they have differed."

Chaudhry's falling out with senior military figures has been linked to the introduction of new taxes that this week forced the shut down of Fiji Water, whose exports are a big earner for the country.

The taxes, which forced the company to send about 500 workers home, have since been scrapped.

Bainimarama on Thursday held separate meetings with the military council and with Chaudhry about the Fiji Water situation. He denied Chaudhry had been sacked, or that he intervened to save his ally's skin.

Chaudhry also denied the military council had tried to force him out. "I was never asked to step down from my position as finance minister," he told the Fiji Times.
"Who orchestrated the speculations? This was done by my critics and the western and international countries."

But Chaudhry reportedly said late on Thursday that his job in taking Fiji's economy forward was almost complete, and he could soon consider resigning to prepare for elections.

Bainimarama has previously said interim cabinet ministers must resign if they are planing to run.

© 2008 AAP

A podcast from Radio NZ interviews Legend FM's news director, Vijay Narayan in attempt to flesh out the truth, from the speculation and innuendo as featured in a Radio Australia news article that, quoted from New Zealand's Prime Minister Helen Clark, regarding the intentions of Fiji's Interim P.M in seeking the Presidential office.

The excerpt of the Radio Australia online article:

NZ PM says Fiji's Bainimarama may seek presidency

Updated Tue Jul 22, 2008 7:16pm AEST

New Zealand's prime minister, Helen Clark, says Commodore Frank Bainimarama could be looking for an exit strategy because he is guilty of treason. [AFP/Reuters]

NZ PM says Fiji's Bainimarama may seek presidency

New Zealand's prime minister, Helen Clark, says Commodore Frank Bainimarama could be looking for an exit strategy because he is guilty of treason. [AFP/Reuters]

The New Zealand prime minister, Helen Clark, says Fiji coup leader and interim prime minister, Frank Bainimarama, may seek to become the country's president.

Our New Zealand correspondent, Kerri Ritchie, says rumours about such a move have been circulating in Fiji for some time. Ms Clark says she had her doubts when Commodore Bainimarama made his promise last year to hold elections by March 2009.

"I must say I wasn't convinced by the assurances he gave the Forum leaders, so I wrote everything down," she said.

Ms Clark says Commodore Bainimarama could be looking for an exit strategy because he is guilty of treason. She says it is possible he may try to seize the presidency. "There's someone in that position at the moment, perhaps that is the next stage of the coup," she said.

Rumours have been circulating that Commodore Bainimarama could re-appoint Mahendra Chaudhry, currently the finance minister, as the country's prime minister.

An article in Pacific magazine by Ricardo Morris, attempts to sum up the day and justify the source of confusion. The excerpt of Morris' article:

Suva Thursday: A Day Of Leaks, Machinations, "Secret" Meetings And Speculation

By Ricardo Morris in Suva
Friday: July 25, 2008

For weeks it was clear all was not well on the “fourth floor” of the Home Affairs Building — the offices of Fiji’s military chief and interim Prime Minister Commodore Voreqe Bainimarama.

But what exactly was wrong?

On Thursday, Fiji’s interim regime could not contain the leaks from within its own ranks and the resulting rumor turned it into one of those dreaded Suva days when people wondered if more political unrest loomed.

Last week, Bainimarama’s “right-hand man,” his Permanent Secretary Parmesh Chand resigned in controversial circumstances.

This week, the bottled water industry was plunged into crisis as a 20-cents-per-liter tax on locally-bottled water took its toll. Water companies pleaded for the regime to reconsider the tax on both exports and local sales but to no avail. A week after the tax was imposed on July 1, the 10 companies collectively agreed to halt production.

But it wasn’t until Natural Waters of Viti Limited, the bottlers of world-famous Fiji Water, shut down its plant at Yaqara on Wednesday and sent more than 500 workers home, that Bainimarama decided to act.

The man accused of precipitating both the incidents is interim Finance Minister Mahendra Chaudhry.

Fiji Labor Party leader Chaudhry and respected civil servant Chand do not see eye-to-eye, according to a Pacific Magazine source who spoke to Chand several times well before his resignation last week.

Chand has persistently refused to talk about why he quit but the Fiji Times reported it was allegedly over “meddling senior interim Cabinet ministers and broken lines of communication.”

On Thursday, Chaudhry’s fate appeared to hang in the balance for his handling of the bottled water issue. The night before Bainimarama had resolved it by repealing the tax imposed by Chaudhry.

This came after Interim Attorney-General Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum and members of Bainimarama’s Military Council — not Chaudhry — met with the water industry representatives on Wednesday night.

By Thursday morning, rumours were rife — on Fiji’s political blogosphere, among NGOs and on the streets — that the Military Council wanted Chaudhry to be sacked. First Bainimarama and then Chaudhry went on air to deny that a sacking or resignation was imminent.

Explaining Chaudhry’s sidelining, Bainimarama told Legend FM News he was not able to get in touch with Chaudhry on Wednesday afternoon since his mobile phone was turned off. He added that he wanted Sayed-Khaiyum to meet the industry representatives because he was neutral.

Compounding the impression that Chaudhry is in an embattled position, Parmesh Chand Thursday agreed to return to office, in what the Public Service Commission chairman Rishi Ram described as a “unanimous decision” between Chand and the commission.

Throughout the day, a flurry of meetings was taking place starting with Chaudhry meeting Army Chief-of-Staff Colonel Mohammed Aziz first thing in the morning. According to Chaudhry it was only a briefing on what had transpired in the meeting with the bottled water industry the night before.

After that Chaudhry and Bainimarama — who is ill — met at the commander’s residence but they both denied Chaudhry’s resignation was discussed.

Immediately after Chaudhry had left, Bainimarama’s Military Council and Sayed-Khaiyum went up to his Flagstaff residence.

The Military Council included Chief-of-Staff Colonel Mohammed Aziz, Immigration Director Commander Viliame Naupoto, military third-in-command Lieutenant-Colonel Ratu Tevita Roko Ului Mara and Police Commissioner Commodore Esala Teleni.

It is not clear what the meeting was about and officials would not comment.

A press conference had been announced at which Aziz was to have addressed the media but this was cancelled without explanation after the meeting with Bainimarama.

In a press conference late on Thursday Chaudhry reiterated there was “no question” about his position in the interim Cabinet and denied the issue involving Parmesh Chand was discussed with Bainimarama.

“I’m sorry to disappoint you,” Chaudhry told journalists. He also laughed off questions about an alleged deal he struck with Bainimarama to leave office in a month.

Earlier in the day, Chaudhry claimed to Legend FM News the rumors of his alleged resignation were orchestrated by sections of the media “vested interests.”

He defended the decision to impose the tax on bottled water, saying it was a collective Cabinet decision. An emergency Cabinet session will take place on Friday morning at which Chaudhry says he will gauge the ministers’ reaction to the repealing before making a final decision.

Chaudhry also suggested to Legend FM he may quit soon, although not because of problems within Cabinet but because his work in rebuilding the economy was almost complete.

He said once he was satisfied the economy was on track he would resign and begin prepare to contest the general election, the date of which is still uncertain. All this comes as doubt grows over whether Bainimarama will keep his promise to hold elections in March 2009.

The regime has insisted electoral reforms and its People’s Charter for Change, Peace and Progress must be in place before the country goes to the polls. Last week Bainimarama said the target of early 2009 was unachievable telling Radio Fiji News “there will be no elections next year.”

However, the international community has been putting pressure on the regime to keep its word. The European Union reiterated its stand this month that it will not release aid money if the regime fails to hold elections early next year. Most of the aid is earmarked to help prop up Fiji’s struggling sugar industry.

While Fiji’s interim regime is at pains to project a united front, Thursday’s events — the leaks and the public contradictions of the protagonists — showed that that front may be bulging at the seams.

While Ricardo Morris mentions that the story was on the blogosphere on Thursday morning:

By Thursday morning, rumours were rife — on Fiji’s political blogosphere, among NGOs and on the streets — that the Military Council wanted Chaudhry to be sacked.

Perhaps the blogs Morris is referring to, are the postings on the blogs: Solivakasama and Rawfiji news, both of which hardly fit the description of accurate and reliable sources of information.

Such particular use of quotes from unnamed sources were instrumental in the W.M.D facade leading up to the Iraq invasion, as described in an article: "Second Time Around" appearing in the American Journalism Review.

Disappointingly, these flaws have reared their ugly head in the South West Pacific, and as such when reporters attribute their stories to an unnamed source, they are oblivious to the fact that, such reports are erroneous.
News outlets down line, which quote the erroneous stories fall into the same trap and their end product is rumors and speculation dressed up as fact, undeniably the case in this coverage.

By all accounts, the story of Chaudhry's dismissal or sacking, embarrassingly fails the basic test on accuracy- one of the pillars of quality journalism. I wonder if any media outlet would have the testicular fortitude to issue an apology for distributing such maligned reports? Or should the injured party, ponder about taking legal action against these media outlets?

A Canada Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) website outlines some guidelines when attributing to unnamed sources and it is highly advisable for journalists (print and broadcast)in the Pacific region, to start studying up on these guidelines, to prevent a repeat occurrence of 'echo chamber' reporting and drive-by journalism.

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Monday, July 21, 2008

Fiji Development Bank- A Crisis In Confidence?

Fiji Development Bank is currently undergoing a management change, after the apparent dismissal of its C.E.O, Tukana Bovoro according to a Fiji Live article. Fiji Sun article quotes from the Bank Chairman and the former C.E.O.

Board explains Bovoro’s sacking

Former Fiji Development Bank chief executive officer Tukana Bovoro was dismissed because of differences with the board.

Board chairman Taito Waradi said one of the main issues regarding his dismissal was irreconcilable differences over management philosophy between Mr Bovoro and the board.

But Mr Bovoro said yesterday he did not have any differences with the board. "I really want to know what the philosophical differences are because nothing to that effect was stated in the termination letter," he said.
"I think it is totally unfair that he should be doing this in public when he should have at least informed me first."

Mr Waradi said Mr Bovoro had been given the opportunity to respond to the board's concerns.Mr Bovoro confirmed that he had replied to the board.

"The board had fully addressed Mr Bovoro's response to its decision to relieve him of his duties,'' said Mr Taito. "Full and proper procedures leading to his termination have been followed."

In the meantime the board has appointed Mr Waradi as executive chairman to carry out the executive functions of the CEO, as well as those of chairman until a new CEO is in place.

Mr Waradi also announced a reorganisation of the bank's senior management structure as part of a new direction in its lending policies. The number of general managers has been reduced from six to four.

Under a new mandate from the government and in line with its Strategic Development Plan 2009 to 2011, the bank's aim is to create greater and stronger economic activity in sectors such as agriculture, forestry and fishing.

"The reorganization includes the creation of a new position, General Manager North in response to the need for greater business development in the Northern division and better contract and communication with the community. The new post is now being advertised."

He said the position of CEO is being advertised locally and an appointment is expected in a month or two.

One interesting intersection of the Fiji Development Bank story is an article from Fiji Village, which alludes to a Fiji Development Bank loan and a looming court case.
The excerpt of the FV article:

Court Battle Looms On Businessman Loan
Publish date/time: 22/07/2008 [10:53]

A court battle looms in light of information surfacing that a top businessman took a major loan from the Fiji Development Bank and gave the Native Land Trust Board's name as the guarantor of the loan.

Fijivillage had received information that the money borrowed from the FDB by the businessman amounted to more than a million dollars.

It is not known at this stage who signed off the Native Land Trust Board (NLTB) guarantee for the private loan taken by the businessman as the NLTB or the native landowners did not benefit at all through the loan.

When we contacted senior officials at the Native Land Trust Board. They refused to make any comments. They only said that the information had surfaced and the NLTB had taken the stand that it did not guarantee the loan.

Fijivillage had also been informed that the matter is likely to end up in court. It is also not known at this stage whether the businessman is still making repayments for the loan, as the Native Land Trust Board would be ask to pay the amount if the borrower had defaulted.

The FDB loan for the businessman with the NLTB guarantee for the loan was approved and paid out before the December 5th takeover in 2006.

It appears that the loan exceeding $F3 million was approved, on the understanding that the Native Lands Trust Board (NLTB) was the guarantor. Questions are bound to rise, regarding the removal of the C.E.O and if that had anything to do with this particular loan. Another interesting point that should be cleared is, Was the former C.E.O aware of such loan application?

An article from Mai Life online magazine, covers the subject of loans issued by Fiji Development Banka and quotes from the former head of Fiji Development Bank and deposed Fiji P.M, Laisenia Qarase.

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