Why can't we work with Fiji?

Fiji  - At least Westpac loves themIt has been a while since I blogged about Fiji. Some brain-farts from our Foreign Minister and the his Australian counterpart certainly warrant some comment.

Australian Foreign Minister Stephen Smith and NZ Foreign Minister Murray McCully’s comments after the Forum’s Ministerial Contact Group meeting “broke up” in Auckland recently, (Monday May 31st), haven’t helped in mending bridges with the Fijian Government. The Forum members were invited to visit Fiji by Frank Bainimarama, but the invitation has now been withdrawn because of the attitude of the NZ and Australian Foreign Ministers. Once again they have acted all bellicose, arrogant and misinformed about Fiji.

Murray McCully was asked if there was any move to relax the travel ban placed on leading members of the regime, Mr McCully said: “We have nothing to reward.”

On the other hand we certainly haven’t gone out of our way to try and help Fiji return to democracy. Instead New Zealand and Australia have placed impediments in the way of progress.

Why won’t the NZ and Australian Foreign Ministers admit that the travel bans are not working? They have been in place for nearly 5 years now and it hasn’t altered the Commodore’s stance one bit. Fiji simply doesn’t care anymore what the “rest” of the world thinks and is moving on to fresher, newer pastures – leaving NZ and Australia behind. All the travel ban has done is stop good, capable Fijian civilians from taking up government positions because a lot of them have family and friends in NZ and Australia and want to be able to travel freely – so the Military take on the government positions – someone has to do the job. The travel bans need to be relaxed. If it makes the NZ and Australia governments feel better then keep them on Frank Bainimarama and the Attorney-General Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum – they are probably too busy to come to NZ or Australia in any case. Relaxing the travel bans on civilians (and judges) will mean that instead of working behind the scenes, good and capable Fijian civilians can openly help the Fijian government without fear of reprisal and a travel ban being slapped on them.

In the end, all that the NZ and Australia travel ban stance has done is just hinder and slow the Fiji Road Map progress towards democracy and a one man-one vote democratic election.

I doubt if the Pacific Forum members have actually read the Fiji “People’s Charter”. It’s no wonder Helen Clark went so nasty against Frank Bainimarama and his government – the reference to “God” and “Creation” at the beginning of the “People’s Charter” would have gone down like a  cup of cold sick.

Emeritus professor of the University of the South Pacific, Crosbie Walsh,  has just written a special feature on Fiji, examining beyond the veneer of reportage in a three-part analysis piece. – now published in Pacific Scoop.

Special Feature: Inside Fiji’s shoes and why NZ and Australia need to rethink strategically

1. Bainimarama and McCully: the Way Backwards
2. What Bainimarama May Be Prepared to Do
3. What New Zealand Can Do to Help Resolve the Fiji Political Situation

P Holmes, also, has just been to Fiji staying on an island at a resort called Qamea. Last Sunday he wrote his usual NZ Herald on Sunday column about his present holiday in Fiji. His anecdotal comment on Frank Bainimarama was interesting because he has not been as positive in the past – more neutral to negative. No doubt he learnt first hand about the changes that have been going on in Fiji – from the grass roots people. There are definitely two distinct types of reports emerging from Fiji. One is from the politicians and dignitaries and NGO’s from foreign countries and the other from the Fijian government and the grassroots people who actually live in Fiji.  The question is which one should we believe?

As for Commodore Frank Bainimarama? Well, on the odd occasion when his name has come up, and it hasn’t very often, I hear nothing but good. People seem to feel that he is doing well, rooting out corruption in the army and the police.

There is consternation at the attitude of Australia and New Zealand. Bainimarama has made transport to schools free. This is particularly good for people on outer islands such as this one, where going to school involved a boat ride and then a bus, twice a day. And with us turning up our noses at Bainimarama, the Chinese money is pouring in, wouldn’t you know.

P Holmes is right about Chinese money too. Why would Fiji want to go cap in hand to Australia and New Zealand for aid money when the strings attached to that are onerous when they can get pretty much as much as they want out of China at less than 1% interest, especially for infrastructure related work. There are billions available and if I was the Commodore I would be availing myself of it as much as possible.

Meanwhile our citizens vote with their feet, ignoring the weasely platitudes of our government.

Fiji has recorded the highest number of tourists ever for the month of April with 44,996 visitors compared to last year April record of 39,302.

This was revealed by the Tourism Minister Aiyaz Saiyed-Khaiyum at a press conference yesterday.

Saiyed-Khaiyum said that the increase is good news as this has never been recorded for the month of April, and the last highest number of visitors recorded in the country was in 2006 and this year’s record has surpassed it.

Saiyed-Khaiyum said the government will continue to invest in the main tourist countries Australia and New Zealand.

He said the countries that have recorded a growth are Australia by 19.6%, New Zealand by 11.2% and the US by 26.2%.

Other countries included are China, India and Taiwan

So while our government pursues and signs Free Trade Agreements  with non-democratic nations such as China we seem to be stuck on the idea that if Fiji doesn’t have a democratic government then they must be punished. We don’t see the same media and government scrutiny of China as we do for Fiji.

At least the Government’s bankers still seem to love Fiji.

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As much at home writing editorials as being the subject of them, Cam has won awards, including the Canon Media Award for his work on the Len Brown/Bevan Chuang story. When he’s not creating the news, he tends to be in it, with protagonists using the courts, media and social media to deliver financial as well as death threats.

They say that news is something that someone, somewhere, wants kept quiet. Cam Slater doesn’t do quiet and, as a result, he is a polarising, controversial but highly effective journalist who takes no prisoners.

He is fearless in his pursuit of a story.

Love him or loathe him, you can’t ignore him.

To read Cam’s previous articles click on his name in blue.