Monday, January 12, 2009

Time to take off the blinkers about Fiji

CROZ WALSH fired Café Pacific a copy of his letter in the latest Listener. He takes a potshot or two at Kiwi politicians, diplomats and journalists who "wittingly or unwittingly continue to misrepresent the Fiji situation". Like Croz, I am no defender of this military regime, but many in New Zealand (and Oz) need to take off their blinkers and not be so naive about Fiji post-coup realities. The indiscriminate application of NZ's travel ban is a farce and does little to contribute to a return to democracy. Fairly fundamental changes are needed in Fiji (including the electoral system requiring all MPs to gain cross-cultural support), and trying to bulldoze Fiji down a path towards the so-called BB (before Bainimarama) "democracy" - such as the regime presided over by Laisenia Qarase - is futile and would be disastrous. Croz Walsh, a respected former leading University of the South Pacific academic and now adjunct professor, writes:

I’m not an avid supporter of the Fiji 2006 military takeover or the far-from-democratic regime it displaced. I’m even less a supporter of New Zealand politicians, diplomats and journalists who wittingly or unwittingly continue to misrepresent the Fiji situation. My credentials? Fifty years of study, research and writing; 16 years of work and residence in the Pacific, eight of them in Fiji.

The current diplomatic crisis should cause us to ask what our Government still hopes to achieve, two years after the military takeover, by the indiscriminate application of its travel ban? The young goalkeeper whose fiancé was the daughter an army officer was not closely linked to the regime. Neither is the daughter of the former Permanent Secretary of Health, or the son of the Permanent Secretary to the President. No one questions the President’s legitimacy and his secretary is a career public servant appointed in 2004, two years before the military takeover.

The Fiji Interim Government was not asking that the travel ban be removed, as the New Zealand public has been informed; only that it not be applied indiscriminately. Our High Commissioner was expelled for more than the travel bans: Wellington allowed her to engage freely with the regime opponents but not in any meaningful way with the Interim Government. Similar reasons explain TV reporter Barbara Dreaver’s expulsion. Her Fiji interviews have been very one-sided. And TV’s continuing use of two-year-old film footage of armed soldiers patrolling Suva’s streets is a little more than innocently deceptive.

It is the responsibility of the media to be informed and fair-minded. They should report that the Interim Government intends to end widespread corruption, check extreme Fijian nationalism and religious fundamentalism, counter laws and practices which discriminate against non-Fijians, check alleged election irregularities, and devise an election system which guarantees these undemocratic practices will not be repeated. And we should be told what its opponents say about these claims. It is reported that the Interim Government has taken no steps towards parliamentary elections. This is not true. We should be informed of these steps, and left to decide for ourselves whether they are genuine or not.

More of the same will not help resolve the Fiji crisis. Fiji is a deeply fractured society with “goodies” and “baddies” in each of its many camps. Its leaders must resolve the situation in the Pacific way, by dialogue and, hopefully, consensus. We can assist this process by adopting a critical but even-handed manner, and demonstrate that we do indeed have some idea of Pacific ways, or we can continue to demonstrate what some see as arrogance and others as an abysmal ignorance of Pacific mores.

I would urge the new government to discard our former PM’s ideological blinkers, and take a new look at what we can do to assist Fiji along the path towards a more inclusive democracy.

Crosbie Walsh
Adjunct Professor
University of the South Pacific


We do indeed need a fairer and more balanced media coverage of Fiji - and far more rigorous criticism of the NZ Government's handling of policies.

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