Friday, March 13, 2009

Other side of the Fiji media harassment coin

CROZ WALSH, in his revealing Fiji blog, has embarrassed local media with his probing behind the headlines questions and revelations in recent weeks. For too long some Pacific news groups have been able to routinely hoist the “media freedom” flag over some issues that actually involve questions of professionalism and good practice. In the absence of public scrutiny by robust media accountability and issue programmes – such as Media Watch and Media Report in Australia and Mediawatch and Media7 in New Zealand – it is left to people like Croz Walsh and a handful of civil society critics in Fiji to prick the appropriate balloons.

One posting by Walsh this week exposed the media games playing over the controversial UN/Commonwealth letters leaked to The Fiji Times and Fiji Television, apparently before it reached the regime PM Commodore Voreqe Bainimarama. Other postings put the spotlight on how local reporting of US Ambassador Steven McGann’s speech on American-Muslim relations was so distorted against the regime that it amounted to “propaganda”.

Media reports said the police search warrant at Fiji TV was for a letter from Dr Sitiveni Halapua, director of the Pacific Islands Development Programme, and Dr Robin Nair, director of the Centre for International and Regional Affairs at the University of Fiji, asking Bainimarama for a meeting. Another search warrant was served on the Fiji Times for a copy of the letter written by the United Nations and the Commonwealth. The unsigned letter was a joint statement from the UN and the Commonwealth on their agreement to support the president's political dialogue forum.

Walsh rapped the International Federation of Journalists for its prompt media release, claiming that “crying wolf” too often over regime intimidation undermined IFJ credibility for “when it really matters”. Interestingly, he didn’t mention the PINA-linked Pacific Freedom Forum, which also circulated a media release condemning the search warrant process and intimidation. It quoted American Samoa-based co-chair Monica Miller as claiming:
The latest round of incidents provide a disturbing picture of the level of fear-mongering being blatantly practised by Fiji’s law enforcers against media professionals.
However, Walsh raised the spectre of mail tampering and the fact that police must respond to allegations of theft. In the end, National Federation Party general secretary Pramod Rae came clean and publicly admitted he had had a hand in provoking the “media intimidation” by leaking the letter to the media before PM Bainimarama had received it. NFP columnist Kamal Iyer largely ignored all this in his regular Fiji Times column condemning the "sword of Damocles":
To the ordinary unsuspecting citizen, it would seem that the two media outlets had committed treason, given the clockwork precision with which police performed their duty, not forgetting the rapidity of their action.
But Walsh’s blog provided another side to the story (partially reproduced here):
Wednesday, March 11: The Fiji Times reported ("Police search two news media offices for letters") that police have searched Fiji TV and Fiji Times offices for letters addressed to the interim PM. Police wanted to obtain copies of the letters and know how they had been obtained. Earlier the PM said he had not yet received one of the letters. If this were true, someone was tampering with the mail, and passing it on to others to whom it is not addressed, who then made the letters' contents public. Police must respond to accusations of theft or the publication of letters to which an individual or the media has no legal right.

The very same day, Wednesday, relying entirely on what they had been told from Fiji, the International Federation of Journalists condemned police (and by inference government) action as "harassment of Fiji media"...

Deeper things may be afoot than the IFJ knows. The whole situation may have been staged. For the IFJ to "cry wolf" every time an office is searched could mean they will not be listened to when it really matters.
Walsh also cited the Fiji Times editorial about "Intimidation tactics" that warned about a "new level of intimidation" and protests by the Coalition on Human Rights and the Fiji Women's Rights Movement ... and then:
Friday, March 13 ... and the truth is revealed: "Yes, we released letter, says NFP" in the Fiji Times. National Federation Party general secretary Pramod Rae announced he was the person who gave the media the UN/Commonwealth letter which led, as he must have known it would, to the police questioning, the condemnation of police action - and the interim government - by the International Federation of Journalists, further condemnation of assaults on media freedom by the NGO Coalition on Human Rights, and others ...

[Rae's] point that the letter was not a personal letter addressed exclusively to the PM may well be true (and the action of the police, acting properly on a complaint, may therefore have been unwarranted and excessive). But - and my wording is generous - his actions (in the use of the media and today's late revelation) were transparently "mischievous".
Regime spokesman and Deputy Information Minister Major Neumi Leweni claimed Rae's actions were "irresponsible" and "unprofessional" and undermining attempts to "move the country forward". Ironically, the long-awaited Fiji Media Council independent review (not yet public), while complimenting the council on its media freedom activities, has called on the body to step up its work around media responsibility.

How to stir the pot by Pramod Rae - Crosbie Walsh
Media did distort what Ambassador McGann said - Crosbie Walsh
Rae irresponsible, says Leweni
Intimidation tactics - Fiji Times editorial
My way or highway - Fiji Times
Police search media outlets
Ambassador McGann's speech

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Declassified - the SIS spies and Philippines Solidarity

By Maire Leadbeater

The SIS papers suggest a high level of Security Intelligence Service infiltration and surveillance of the Philippines Solidarity Movement of Aotearoa.

FOR ME, the most disturbing material in my recently declassified NZ Security Intelligence Service (SIS) file is that relating to my involvement in the Philippines Solidarity Movement in the latter half of the 1980s and the early 1990s. The documents, taken with others such as those released to my brother Keith Locke, Green MP, and former Philippines Solidarity Network national coordinator, suggest a high level of SIS infiltration and surveillance of the movement.

The New Zealand Philippines Solidarity Network was launched at a highly successful Conference on Philippine Concerns in August 1984. A key driving force behind the initiative was the late Father John Curnow, a visionary leader in the Catholic Commission for Evangelisation, Justice and Peace, who had visited the Philippines many times since 1971. From the start, the network had roots in the union movement and support from the Labour Party hierarchy, but many key activists were drawn from the ranks of the (since disbanded) Workers Communist League (WCL).

Why were we a magnet for SIS attention?
The 1988-89 Peace Brigade was perhaps the most ambitious project of the Philippines Solidarity Network in that time, and arguably one of the most effective. There were many other New Zealand delegations visiting the Philippines and important tours of prominent Filipinos to this country which also interested the spies, but the Brigade serves as a good case example to help understand why we were the focus of such close attention.

Keith drew the short straw back then – he organised our 17 strong team and journalist David Robie to accompany us, but then stayed back to handle the media response in New Zealand. I made my first unforgettable visit to the Philippines as the leader of the team. The Peace Brigade (or Peace Caravan as it was dubbed in the Philippines) was designed to offer international guests from 18 countries an “exposure” experience to learn more about the struggle against foreign military bases and other linked campaigns for human rights, labour rights and land reform. The programme culminated with the Asia-Pacific Peoples Conference on Peace and Development and a two-day peace caravan to protest at two major US bases: Subic Naval Base and Clark Air Force Base.

Earlier in 1988, Ministry of Foreign Affairs officials warned Keith of the safety problems of organising visits to the Philippines and the Labour government’s Associate Foreign Affairs Minister, Fran Wilde, even suggested that such visits could amount to “foreign intervention in domestic affairs”.[1] It is fair to assume that there was a two-way flow of information and intelligence between the two governments concerning our activities.

To the casual observer we must have seemed an unlikely combination of people: some of our group were peace activists of long standing but many in the group were quite new to political activity and our ages ranged from 17 to 73. No matter, we were subjected to Red scare propaganda even before we arrived. A letter from the Philippines Embassy’s Consul-General, Apolinaria Cancio, received by tour organiser, Keith Locke, just prior to our departure advised that if we violated any of the terms of our visas we would be arrested and deported. We were specifically warned not to take part in any “teach-ins”, not to contact any leaders of the banned Communist Party of the Philippines, or to incite people to commit sedition. Unlike the delegations from other countries, we were all searched at Manila Airport and some of our newsletters and documents were seized.

Not long after our arrival in the country, the Manila newspapers carried stories alleging that the Peace Brigade was interfering in the country’s affairs. The Chief of the Philippines Constabulary, General Montana, said we would “be treated like common criminals and paedophiles” if we stepped out of line. But, I think the threats merely served to ensure that we were especially determined to participate to the full in the Brigade programme and wear with pride the “Peacenik” name the Philippine media conferred on us.

The international delegates were allocated to small teams for local exposure missions, each with its own Filipino guide. Our guide was Del Abcede (who later became a member of PSN in New Zealand). Journalist David Robie was also attached to our team. Our group went to militarised Mindanao. We spent the first few days in Cagayan de Oro, where we took part in peace rallies and seminars, but left for Bukidnon after military police came knocking on the door of our guest house. In Bukidnon, we stayed in the simple dwellings of the families inadvertently in the front line of a counter-insurgency war. One night we camped out with a large group of displaced people – they had been forced off their land by military operations and were trying to get the local authorities to take some responsibility, but in the meantime their children were succumbing to sickness and their food was running out.

Embarrassing governments in Philippines and NZ
I had asked to visit Bukidnon, Mindanao, because it was the site of New Zealand’s major aid project to the Philippines at the time, the Bukidnon Industrial Tree Plantation. The project had attracted criticism locally on account of the failure of the project managers to consult effectively with the local Lumad tribal people, the impact of the project on ancestral land claims and the likelihood that the forestry infrastructure would be used by the military to tighten their grip in the area. Our hosts arranged meetings for us from the local Governor, barrio captains, tribal leaders and local householders. Our visit stirred controversy in the Philippines and anger back home - especially from then Associate Minister of Foreign Affairs, Fran Wilde, who later tried to discredit two Lumad tribal leaders while they were making a speaking tour of New Zealand.

While in Bukidnon we also interviewed a number of people about a secret base believed by NZ peace researcher Owen Wilkes to be a “scorekeeper” base designed to detect and record nuclear explosions. We were not able to visit the heavily guarded base but later at the Manila Conference the claims about this base caused a major media stir.

After the exposure we all took part in the Manila Conference, and then in a two-day caravan or convoy which ran the gauntlet of heavily armed military barricades and checkpoints to protest at the giant US Subic Naval Base and Clark Air Base. We never quite made it to Subic, but took part in an all night vigil and concert outside Clark. It would be hard to understate the strategic significance of the Clark and Subic, they were sited to ensure US control over the choke points between the Indian and Pacific Oceans, and served respectively as headquarters for the US 13th Air Force and a key port for the US 7th Fleet. The bases had served as springboards to intervention in South East Asia (Vietnam, Korea and Thailand) and further afield to Iran and Yemen. At the time their role was seen as essential to preserving strategic superiority over the former Soviet Union in the region.

For me the brigade was a life changing event, perhaps because it was the first time I experienced at first hand the power of a mass peoples’ movement of resistance. The comprehensive network of “cause oriented” groups such as Gabriela and Nuclear Free and Independent Philippines, the workers, peasants and student coalitions worked in unison to ensure the success of all our activities. When I look back on it must have been some kind of miracle that we achieved all that we did, making it through eight military checkpoints to take up position outside the Clark base. As we prepared to depart we international delegates took part in a media conference where we condemned the military repression we had witnessed.

The US bases not only placed the Philippines as a future flashpoint for nuclear conflict, but they also represented US intervention in the wider sense. The US declared the Philippines independent in 1946, but the presence of the bases was seen as a strong signal that colonial control had not ended. Getting rid of the bases was seen as an essential part of regaining Filipino sovereignty over an economy dominated by US transnationals.

It was all a Communist plot, apparently
The Cold War was still very much intact and in the Philippines, the dictator Marcos had fallen but his successor, Cory Aquino, presided over a military-backed government with only a thin veneer of democracy. Those calling for genuine social change, land reform, labour rights and an end to human rights abuses lived daily under threat of arbitrary arrest or worse, and “Red-baiting” was an essential tool in the regime’s armoury.

On the other hand the civil war between the Government backed by vigilante squads and the Communist New Peoples’ Army (NPA) was ongoing in the rural areas of most provinces, and in some quarters the possibility of a full-scale revolution, or another “Vietnam” was contemplated. The Philippines was in the sights of extreme Rightwing groups such as the World Anti-Communist League (WACL) and it was widely reported that the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) was supporting covert actions against the NPA. The US was determined to retain its bases in the Philippines, beyond the lease expiry date of September 1991, as an essential element of its ability to project its power into the Indian Ocean and the Persian Gulf.

If you were around in the 1980s when New Zealand’s nuclear free stand was under vociferous attack, you would remember that there was a plethora of Rightwing think tanks, foundations and anti-Communist organisations that worked closely together. Their agenda was to sow fear of the dire consequences of the “ANZUS crisis” which could leave us open to “Soviet political manipulation”. Naturally these institutions, like the Hoover Institute and Heritage Foundation focused on the Communist threat in the Philippines, and so it was to be expected that this anti-Communist hysteria would not spare New Zealand-Philippines links. In December 1988, not long before our tour began, New Zealand’s Ambassador in the Philippines had to defend a simple aid project about sewing machines because the charity funded, Samakana, had a connection to the women’s organisation Gabriela, declared by some to be Communist affiliated.[2]

Red-baiting NZ media cooperated with SIS
There had also been some rather lurid headlines in the New Zealand Sunday papers about New Zealanders spending time with the NPA during their solidarity visits to the Philippines: “Guerrilla Thrill Trips: Kiwis pay to join Filipino jungle fighters” [3]. When we returned from the Philippines, journalist Bernard Moran, who was becoming a regular at Rightwing conferences on the Communist threat, gained some new ammunition to use in vitriolic articles in the former Catholic paper New Zealand Tablet. He had previously written of a Communist conspiracy that was driving church aid projects in the Philippines. The piece he wrote about our Auckland meeting to report back on the Brigade was a distorted account that zeroed in on the presence of “Trotskyites” and their subversive literature in the sacred confines of the St Benedict’s Church crypt.[4]

It is clear from the SIS documents that the late John Kennedy, the editor of the Tablet, passed information to the SIS. One such report included detailed information about the finances, and the political affiliations of Philippine Solidarity Group (PSG) members in Auckland and Wellington.[5] Bernard Moran also submitted an article in early 1987 to the Washington-based journal National Interest in which he wrote (not very accurately) about me. Flatteringly he dubbed me a “pivotal person in the NZ peace movement”.[6] Fortunately, the “Red-baiting” articles were far outweighed by key articles by David Robie who was then working freelance and had many Philippines articles accepted by the mainstream media (nationally and regionally). He continued to cover the Philippines political situation, human rights issues and the bases debate over the next few years.

SIS spies in meetings in all main centres
Hardened activist that I am, I confess to being shocked to discover the extent to which there were “sources”or SIS spies present at many of the meetings of the Philippines Solidarity Groups in Christchurch, Wellington and Auckland. Bear in mind the context that these were generally small, relatively informal meetings held frequently in the homes of activists. National meetings which were often held in a relaxed marae setting are also reported on in detail.

This of course raises the question about the extent to which our SIS was passing on information to counterparts in the Philippines, and perhaps using information gained from the Philippines to refine their surveillance of us. There is no direct proof of this as communications from or to other intelligence agencies have all been excluded from the released information. Every broad social justice movement, such as the anti-nuclear movement or the anti-apartheid movement, has participants from a range of Left parties. Most of us are glad to harness everyone’s energy for the common cause but that is not how the SIS sees the situation!

The Left affiliations of those present at meetings and seminars were all carefully recorded. Tellingly, John Curnow is recorded as warning at a Christchurch Philippines Solidarity meeting that people should not make jokes about supporting the New Peoples Army. “He, himself, had been interviewed a couple of times by the SIS, who tried to tell him he was being hoodwinked by the WCL”. [7]

Tracking visitors to both countries
The SIS also did its best to monitor all visits of New Zealanders to the Philippines – listing all the full names and dates of birth of members of the Peace Brigade after they had obtained their visas.[8] My return flight times are also included in a much later handwritten note[9] with the comment: “There is no trace of any travel during 1990”. SIS Headquarters also supplied a list of Filipino visitors to New Zealand since 1984. The names on the list have been withheld but the rationale is interesting:
It is as comprehensive as our records will allow. It was compiled because of the frequency of such travel, the number of visitors with National Democratic Front (NDF*) or New People's Army (NPA) traces, and, lastly because of the growing links between anti-nuclear groups and indigenous peoples of both countries. We had hoped to carry out a similar study of New Zealanders travelling to the Philippines but owing to the volume of travel and the difficulty of keeping track of their movements, this has not proved to be feasible. Instead we have concentrated on a few individuals who have established good links with the Philippines and who appear to be regarded as valuable contacts by the Filipinos themselves. [10]
Sometimes the sources were rebuffed: “We were unfortunately unable to have source coverage of the PSNA hui on 27-28 September 86”. So the SIS mounted surveillance to record some of the comings and goings but only three vehicles were seen to enter the venue and one female cyclist “aged about 35 with black hair”. The only other thing to note was that one of the participants came out on Sunday morning at 0900 hours “to purchase a newspaper from the local dairy and walk around the block for about 15 mins”. This man was “sporting a full beard and has had his hair permed. He was accompanied on his perambulations by a male aged about 25-30, dark hair, pale complexion”. [11] By the time of the 1990 Lumad tribal and Touching the Bases tours (six Filipinos participated in the latter), it seems that SIS interest was waning, as reporting is sparse.

The lessons? I don’t think any of this covert activity had an adverse effect on the powerful international anti-nuclear campaign for the US bases in the Philippines to be closed. In 1991 the Philippines Senate voted against a treaty allowing the United States forces to remain for a further 10 years. The Mount Pinatubo volcanic eruption that year effectively ended the life of the Clark Air Force Base and in March 1992 the last carrier group pulled out of Subic Bay.

The Philippines solidarity movement in this country declined in strength for a few years, until Murray Horton (who was also a Peace Brigade stalwart) and the Christchurch group took over the national coordination task. Now, it is good to see that the network is growing again and focusing on the new US “integrated global presence and basing strategy” as well as on the appalling human rights and poverty situation.

Lessons for future security in our movements?
Of course we should not forget the possibility that any movement for social change can be infiltrated whether by the SIS or possibly the police. But it would be counterproductive to let this get in the way of free communication or make us less welcoming to new members. The publicity around the release of SIS files to many veteran activists has given a new opportunity for a campaign against all spying on social justice and political activists of all stripes. The United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights guarantees to all of us the right to “freedom of opinion and expression … and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers”.

1 Dominion Post, 8/5/88
2 Dominion Sunday Times, 21/2/88
3 Sunday Star, 8/5/88
4 Metro, July 1989, “Bernard Moran and Communist Conspiracy”
5 SIS District Office Southern District to Headquarters, 27/5/86, Keith Locke file
6 SIS District Office Northern District, Original on Bernard Andrew Moran 27/4/87, extracted/copied by (name withheld), on 28/5/87, Maire Leadbeater file
7 NSIS District Office Southern District to Headquarters, 8/6/90, Maire Leadbeater file
8 NZSIS 9/1/89, Maire Leadbeater file
9 NZSIS 7/12/90, Maire Leadbeater file
10 Headquarters (Counter-Subversion) to District Office Northern District & District Office Southern District 10/8/88, Keith Locke file
11 NZSIS District Office Southern District to Headquarters, 9/10/86, Maire Leadbeater file

* The National Democratic Front is the political coalition of underground groups waging the armed struggle, including both the Communist Party of the Philippines and the New People’s Army.

This article was written for Kapatiran, the newsletter of the Philippines Solidarity Network of Aotearoa, under the title "The SIS and the Philippines Solidarity Movement". At the time of these events, human rights author Maire Leadbeater was a leader of PSNA and she is now a spokesperson for the Indonesia Human Rights Committee. This article is republished with her permission. The photo of Maire and Café Pacific publisher David Robie is by Del Abcede.

Anzac stranglehold on the 'free' Forum

By Dr Roman Grynberg

"Is the Pacific Islands Forum a place where free nations can exchange their views openly which is what the founding fathers wanted when they broke away from SPC? Freedom, as the Americans quite rightly remind us, is not free. The increasing power and domination of the islands by Australia and New Zealand is the real price the islands nations pay for Australia and New Zealand financial support."

IN THE early 1970s recently independent Pacific island leaders balked at their enforced silence in what was then the South Pacific Commission where they were unable to discuss French nuclear testing because of the opposition of the French government.

They decided as a group to create a new forum where independent nations would be free to talk. At the time Pacific island leaders were divided over whether the new 'Forum' should include Australia and New Zealand or not.

Ostensibly because of the huge resources these two countries could bring to the table they were grudgingly included.

Initially the Forum and its secretariat, then called the South Pacific Economic Community (SPEC), was there to provide technical assistance to the islands, hand out small bits of cash for training and workshops and to service the annual meetings of leaders.

However, the Pacific Islands Forum (PIF) quickly grew to become the region's paramount political organisation where all major issues of the day are discussed.

It has replaced the Secretariat of the Pacific Community which now performs an essentially technical role. The two organisations co-exist but the highly contentious political issues are largely handled at the Forum.

By the late 1990s the Forum, under pressure from Australia and New Zealand, began to evolve as a policy making body rather than a technical body assisting the islands.

Regrettably the change in the function of the Forum was never accompanied by an increase in its capacity to set the policy.

At the beginning of the current decade this role as a policy making body became even more important when the 'ethnic tensions' occurred in the Solomon Islands.

'Regional cover'
The very important and beneficial Australian lead intervention to save the Solomon Islands from the possibility of civil war and total collapse meant Australia needed what is called 'regional cover' from the Forum for the Regional Assistance Mission to the Solomon Islands.

This sort of intervention could not be done bilaterally and needed the support of other island states through the Forum.

But whereas RAMSI started as a truly positive intervention to save the Solomon Islands it has evolved into creeping control of economic policy by the young Australian 'babycrats' as they have dubbed in Honiara.

Some of the commercial policies they have advocated and implemented will directly benefit Australia.

The wags in Honiara now say the RAMSI mission will continue for many years and will only ever come to an end once the last overpaid 'babycrat' in Honiara pays his last mortgage installment in Australia.

If the Forum is a policy body then who establishes the policy? These decisions over policy are made by ministers on advice from officials.

Ministers then seek endorsement from leaders.

But where does the actual policy come from? The answer is very simple. In theory it is the technical people at the Forum secretariat who prepare the papers and the advice.

In reality, however, there is simply no capacity within the Forum secretariat to establish independent policy on most economic issues.

Aid 'thank you'
The policy either comes directly or indirectly from Canberra and Wellington or through its 'multilateral cover', that is the IMF, the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank.

If you look at almost every study undertaken in the region by the international financial institutions you will find a thank you on page 2 or 3 for the funding provided by AusAID or NZAID.

These organisations have Australian and New Zealand staff seconded to them and Canberra vigorously and jealously controls their trust accounts.

Only very occasionally do any of these institutions dare give advice that Canberra and Wellington explicitly disapprove of. This did occur recently with the World Bank's courageous and successful push to get Australia and New Zealand to open up their horticultural labour markets to Pacific island temporary workers.

Who sets the Forum agenda? In the Forum as in all international bodies, a draft agenda for every meeting is sent out to all members and they must all agree.

In reality in most cases only Australia and New Zealand have the capacity to review these documents and make substantive comments and hence they very largely set the Forum's agenda.

Not one Pacific island country, even PNG, the largest, has one dedicated official whose sole job it is to work only on Pacific island affairs.

Australia and New Zealand have scores of officials and desk officers in Canberra and Wellington with experts on each Forum island country.

Pacific island officials work on so many areas they have to be a 'jack of all trades' but because they are so busy they rarely even have time to read the meeting papers prior to an international meeting.

As a result they are almost invariably outgunned by their Australian and New Zealand counterparts at any meeting.

So if the Forum's policy and the agenda are by and large set in Canberra and Wellington why do Pacific island officials, ministers and leaders continue to accept it?

The answer to this is fairly complex. The first reason is that some of the advice provided by Australia and New Zealand is basically sound.

Whether it is democracy and the rule of law or the liberalisation of telecommunication and air transport few Pacific islanders would doubt that the advice provided by Canberra and Wellington either directly or through their regional or international surrogates has done anything other than benefit the people of the region.

However, there are many glaring examples in the past of policy advice which Canberra and Wellington would not be so proud of.

But this is not the point really. I have witnessed Pacific island officials and ministers sit there and agree to policy they know is not in their country's interest.

You will often hear outsiders ask why they remain silent? The usual response is a cultural explanation. Many Pacific island cultures, though by no means all, have no tradition of engaging in the sort of direct confrontation needed to achieve their foreign policy objectives.

I don't like this explanation because it portrays Pacific islanders as victims and I have seen another type of more subtle calculus occurring.

Many Pacific islanders remain silent for what are often good self interested reasons.

Courageous questions
It takes a courageous official to question Canberra and Wellington when Australia and New Zealand provide two-thirds of the income of the Forum Secretariat and a very large part of their national aid budget. Careers of officials can be terminated. Prime Ministers will receive letters of complaint about recalcitrant ministers and pressure can be brought to remove governments where they are too strident. All this is part of the normal use of power to retain effective control of countries in Australia and New Zealand's lake.

But in the final analysis what buys the silence of the islands in Forum meetings stems from the 'original sin' of the Forum leaders who included the aid donors as members and created a Forum where the poor and vulnerable are better off remaining silent.

There is an ancient proverb that goes, more or less 'He who eats the food of others shall grow weak in the mouth and he who takes the goods of others shall grow weak in the arms'.

This I believe explains much of the silence that is observed at forum meetings.

Whenever a Pacific island leader or minister sits there and accepts policy that is not in their national interests they know that speaking up too loudly may risk the aid flows to their country.

There is, however, even a dirtier secret about the Forum that all ministers and leaders know.

They can sit there at Forum meetings and nod silently to a policy which they have no intention of implementing when they go home and there is no-one to force them to do so.

So what happens are an endless cycle of meetings with quiescent ministers who agree silently to things because they know it will cost them too much to object publicly or they have no intention of implementing when they get home.

Implementation of decisions has simply never been a great priority for the Forum.

So if the purpose of creating the Forum 35 years ago was to have a place where free and independent countries could speak freely then the silence of island ministers means that the Forum is really no longer fit for its purpose - because of the disproportionate power and wealth of Australia and New Zealand.

'Original sin'
There are some Pacific islanders who dream of reversing the 'original sin' of the forum's founding fathers.

The Forum Secretariat with its six figures incomes, manicured lawns and its cycle of largely fruitless meetings (which provide very profitable daily subsistence allowances) will not change and Pacific islanders are never likely to throw Australia and New Zealand out of the Forum. International organisation do not change - they simply become irrelevant or less relevant, witness the UN over 60 years.

More to the point, Pacific islanders irrespective of how they feel about the Forum still need a place to talk to their neighbours Australia and New Zealand.

But is the Forum a place where free nations can exchange their views openly which is what the founding fathers wanted when they broke away from SPC? Freedom, as the Americans quite rightly remind us, is not free. The increasing power and domination of the islands by Australia and New Zealand is the real price the islands nations pay for Australia and New Zealand financial support.

For the larger Melanesian states which constitute 85% of the Pacific island population there is the realisation that if they want independent and unbiased advice then they have to form their own secretariat.

Hence with Chinese and possibly EU funding the Melanesians are creating a Melanesian Spearhead Group secretariat in Vanuatu.

The Melanesians want the freedom to get independent advice but they want the Chinese and the Europeans to pay.

This will also probably not work in the longer term but at least for the moment Chinese and EU interests in the region are profoundly different from that of Australia and New Zealand and will give the Melanesian states much greater policy space.

Things will only change with the circumstances. In the last generation it was France which silenced the islands. The present culture of silence in the Forum stems from the nature of the relationship with Australia and New Zealand. It is perverse and will never lead to a healthy relationship. There may yet come a generation of Pacific island leaders who have a genuine vision and intestinal fortitude to lead their countries and the region. I do not see it yet but I wish the Pacific islands, the region that has been my home for 25 years the very best in raising them.

Dr Roman Grynberg was - until last week - Director of Economic Governance at the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat. This article was originally published in The Fiji Times under the title "Who owns the Forum?" and reproduced on Café Pacific with the author's permission.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Moala reflects on 'Black Thursday' in new book

IRONICALLY, just as a trial of six people accused of sedition at the time of the 2006 "Black Thursday" riot in Tonga is running its course, one of the Pacific's most respected newspaper publishers, Kalafi Moala, has a new book being launched next week addressing the topic. In Search of the Friendly Islands is a sequel to his Island Kingdom Strikes Back and it explores many of the major cultural, philosophical, political and social dilemmas facing the kingdom today.

Only one chapter actually deals with that fateful day that shook his nation to the core on 16 November 2006 - just days before Fiji's fourth coup - and left eight people dead and a trail of destruction through the heart of the capital of Nuku'alofa. But Moala seeks to dissect what went wrong for the kingdom and what are the lessons for the future.

Jailed unconstitutionally in 1996 for alleged contempt of Parliament - and then set free - the turning point of his campaign for democracy and social justice came eight years later in October 2004 when he won a court case overturning a government ban on his newspaper Taimi 'o Tonga.

This book reflects on his long crusade. The message is inspirational and positive but is also tempered by the warning that while Tonga is becoming much "friendlier", the campaign for "system reform" alone is not enough for real change to come.
The solutions to Tonga's problems are going to involve more than just a system reform. As is evident in many of our island neighbours, reforming into a democracy does not solve problems of poverty, crime, and social injustice. There’s much more to be done than just a change to the system.

There is more to Tonga than just government, economics, and media; more cultural depth and breadth, more history and complexity. What do our past and our present reveal to us about our culture and social structure – and us as a people?

Are there things in our culture that can offer us guidance for our future? Can there be solutions embedded in our social structure that we can dig out and apply to problems that perplex our modern minds? What can journalism’s mission to enlighten offer us as answers in this regard? With 19 years of trying to provide piecemeal snippets on a weekly basis in
Taimi ‘o Tonga, and decades of life as a Tongan, both in Tonga and overseas, I have stories – and some insights – which may add to our collective wisdom as a people.

It is often said that you can only discover what is really best in a culture when you also make provision to look at what may be its worst aspects. This notion is what has characterised my search for the Friendly Islands.
Writing as a Tongan and as a journalist, Moala examines recent events in Tonga and the future in the context of his own experiences and insights. A fascinating and insightful read. Many lessons too for the rest of the Pacific.

Picture of Kalafi Moala at the PIMA 2008 conference in Auckland. Photo by Alan Koon.

Tonga: In Search of the Friendly Islands, by Kalafi Moala; published by the Pasifika Foundation Hawai'i (ISBN 978-0-9823511-0-9) and in NZ by AUT University's Pacific Media Centre (ISBN 978-1-877314-75-9). NZ price: $34.95.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

NZ spooks exposed by Asia-Pacific campaigners

ASIA-PACIFIC civil society and activist movements have been among targets of New Zealand’s spook organisation for more than four decades and the media has failed to ask the tough questions, say campaigners. Murray Horton, secretary of the influential Campaign Against Foreign Control of Aotearoa (CAFCA) and described as “the last radical” in a Christchurch Press profile, gave a devastating critique of the so-called “SIS files” at a packed Pacific Media Centre seminar this week.

Maire Leadbeater, spokesperson for the Auckland-based Indonesian Human Rights Committee and long a leading peace activist, described the infiltration of the Philippine Solidarity Network by informers leaking information to the NZ Security Intelligence Service (SIS). She also spoke about the problems caused by this espionage to a multinational “peace brigade” which travelled to the Philippines in 1989 during the post-Marcos period. The seminar followed recent revelations which showed the SIS had been spying on peaceful citizen groups ever since the Cold War. In Maire’s case, she had been spied on since she was aged 10. Her brother Keith Locke, Green MP and spokesperson on international and Pacific affairs, has also been spied on - since he was elected to Parliament.

The extent of this espionage was exposed when several people in the activist movements requested access to their supposed files – reportedly bound for the archives – in a new period of “transparency” opened up by the Director of Security Dr Warren Tucker.

Murray Horton was particularly scathing about the non-role of the Fourth Estate over the SIS papers, although once the issue became highlighted by the Press, many other journalists jumped to the task. It is also unclear whether selected journalists themselves might have been targets of the SIS: Says Horton:
We basically stumbled upon this ourselves – why weren’t journos asking these questions?
The seminar included Burmese, Indonesian and Filipino activists and journalists, some relating their experiences under surveillance by the SIS or other secret services. Many made the point that while the waste of resources by the SIS (its 2006 budget topped $23 million) was something of a joke in the NZ context, it had sinister and deadly overtones in many developing and totalitarian countries. Said Murray Horton:
It’s happening today and it’s costing lives. In a country like the Philippines, if you’re on the list, expect to disappear any minute.
The previous night, Murray Horton was wearing another CAFCA hat as organiser of the Roger Award for the worst transnational in New Zealand (25% or more foreign owned) – the judges conferred the 2008 prize (an ungainly and sinister looking contraption that has an uncanny resemblance to its namesake, Sir Roger Douglas) on British American Tobacco NZ Ltd. The judges' statement (from a team headed by Victoria University economist Geoff Bertram) declares: “Its product kills 5000 people every year and ruins the lives of tens of thousands.”

Ash (Action on Smoking and Health) director Ben Youdan – who “accepted” the dishonourable award on behalf of shamed BAT – says New Zealand is “waking up” to the sustained public relations campaigns by the tobacco industry. In his Stuff blog Frontline, John Minto quoted the judges saying: "[BAT] perennially refuses to take responsibility for the social and economic consequences of its activity, while maintaining a major public relations effort to subvert the efforts of the New Zealand government to reduce cigarette consumption in the community."

Picture of CAFCA's Murray Horton at the Pacific Media Centre by Alan Koon.

Friday, February 27, 2009

French cockerel crows again with Welsh triumph

A BREAK from Pacific media and politics for a moment to celebrate France's awesome 21-16 rugby win over defending Six Nations champions Wales in Paris against all the odds. Coach Marc Lièvremont who has been under mounting pressure, defied the critics and chose a centre as a makeshift flyhalf, a 20-year-old novice at centre and a non-specialist kicker to take the team's shots at goal - yet the gamble paid off with a stunning triumph for Les Bleus. A special word of praise for a young 110 kilo centre, Mathieu Bastareaud, who plays with a certain rugged Pacific style (another Lomu?). In fact, he was born in Paris and has West Indies heritage (Gaudeloupe). He made several characteristic breaks and looks to have a bright international future ahead of him.

In this mood, have a look at some of the great French tries in recent years - including Serge Blanco's classic against Australia in the inaugural World Cup and the devastating touchdowns by Christophe Dominici, Richard Dourthe and Phillipe Bernard-Salles that knocked New Zealand out of the 1999 World Cup.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

US spotlight on East Timorese human rights

UNSURPRISINGLY, public safety and security have come under fire in Timor-Leste with the latest US State Department report on human rights. While acknowledging the "free and fair" elections in mid-2007, the report details the attempted assassination of President José Ramos-Horta in February 2008 and "serious problems" over "discipline and accountability" during the past year. These problems include:
  • Police use of excessive force and abuse of authority
  • Perception of impunity
  • Arbitrary arrest and detention
  • An inefficient and understaffed judiciary that deprived citizens of due process and an expeditious and fair trial
  • Conditions in camps for internally displaced persons (IDPs) that endangered health, security,
  • education, and women's and children's rights.
  • Domestic violence, rape and sexual abuse.
The report briefly sums up the events of last February thus:
In an exchange of gunfire with armed rebels on February 11, President Ramos-Horta was wounded seriously and PM Kay Rala Xanana Gusmão was unhurt. As provided for in the constitution, the government imposed a state of emergency from February through May. International security forces in the country included the UN Police (UNPOL) within the UN Integrated Mission in Timor-Leste (UNMIT) and the International Stabilisation Force (ISF), neither of which was under the direct control of the government. The national security forces are the National Police (PNTL) and Defence Forces (F-FDTL). While the government generally maintained control over these forces, there were problems with discipline and accountability.
The report says there were "no politically motivated killings during the year".
However, on February 11, F-FDTL guards shot and killed Major Alfredo Reinado and one of his followers when a band of rebels led by Reinado gained entry to the presidential compound; President Ramos-Horta was severely wounded. A separate group of Reinado's followers attacked the convoy of PM Xanana Gusmão. Gusmão was unhurt. The government formed a joint PNTL/F-FDTL command to apprehend the attackers, and Parliament declared a state of siege that imposed a curfew, relaxed legal requirements for searches and arrests, and restricted demonstrations. The application of the state of siege was modified as a state of emergency and extended on several occasions until Reinado's second in command, Lieutenant Gastao Salsinha, and 11 others surrendered to the authorities on April 29.
Other incidents cited by the report included:
  • On April 5, in Bobonaro District, an F-FDTL member shot and killed a civilian who reportedly threatened the F-FDTL member with a machete. The authorities investigated the case and forwarded it to the prosecutor general for further action.
  • Legal proceedings were ongoing against Luis da Silva, an off duty officer accused of shooting a member of then candidate Xanana Gusmao's security detail at a political rally in Viqueque in June 2007.
  • There were no developments in the inquiry into the August 2007 case of a PNTL unit firing into a crowd in Viqueque, killing two.
  • The four F-FDTL soldiers sentenced to 12 years, 11 years, and 10 years for the 2006 killing of eight unarmed PNTL personnel were serving their sentences at the military prison at F-FDTL headquarters in Dili. A local human rights nongovernmental organisation (NGO) and government contacts expressed concern that there was no civilian oversight of the prison.
The report also says there were no developments in the following 2006 cases:
  • The January killing of three men by Border Patrol Unit personnel.
  • The May mob killing of a police officer in Ermera District; and
  • The May killing of six people in a house set on fire by a mob.
Investigations into other cases stemming from the April-May 2006 violence continued. Some individuals identified for investigation in the 2006 UN Commission of Inquiry Report were subpoenaed to testify regarding their role in illegal arms distribution.

In May, 2008 President Ramos-Horta granted pardons to a number of persons including former interior minister Rogerio Lobato sentenced for illegally distributing weapons during the 2006 violence and Joni Marques, a pro-Indonesia militia leader, sentenced for multiple killings in 1999.

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