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.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Media7 reruns feed the Fiji political divide

THE RECENT Media7 programme on Fiji has brought the local chooks out of the woodwork since it was rebroadcast on both ABC's On the Mat and Fiji TV's Close Up programmes. Sadly, a handful of the scribes have lined up on race and cultural affiliation grounds rather than reasoned arguments. A couple even made their snap judgments before watching (or hearing) the programme. Some have taken the cue from that fundamentalist politician of the right Mere Samisoni, who fired off a diatribe to Fiji Television:
So literally the power of the majority of the Fijian population who make up 57% of the general population, has been "stolen by gazetted legislation by this IR [illegal regime]" yet this principle was not even touched on by the [Media7] debate or your follow up comments for the illegally removed government and multi-party cabinet which offered legitimacy and hope to a multicultural society.

The debate legitimised the power of the gun and that might is right.
Excuse me? The programme did nothing of the sort. None of the panelists spoke in support of a military regime or against democracy. The case was actually made for more understanding of the Fiji plight, and in support of a more considered and compassionate response politically from New Zealand instead of knee-jerk actions. And also for less media bias. Having worked as a journalist and as a media educator in many countries globally and having also lived in Fiji at the time of the deposed Qarase government, I would have to describe that administration as the most fundamentally racist, corrupt and opportunist I have ever experienced. And yet this is the sort of "democracy" that some media people remain starry eyed over. Fortunately, there have been more comments from Fiji journalists favourable to the Media7 debate and who actually listened or watched.

One example:
I commend you on your unbiased views and opinion on the current situation in Fiji. It was replayed for Fiji viewers on Close Up at Fiji One. Good on you.
And another - at length:
The short-sightedness of the New Zealand/Australian governments will be detrimental for a solution in Fiji. It's been two years - and if confrontational diplomacy hasn't worked so far, it won't in future. It's time for the NZ/Australian media to realise this - and more importantly, make sure that their public do so too. The government will soon follow. And so will progress on getting Fiji back to democracy.

What the region needs right now is a Pacific statesman - Sir Michael Somare is doing his bit but the Samoan PM isn't doing anyone any favours with his outbursts. This is a time when thinking outside the proverbial box is so important.

Fiji is different and will always be different from other Pacific Islands nations. So a different approach and solution is required. If the regional leaders are going to place great hurdles along the way, Fiji will only stumble. Ease the sanctions, allow people with knowledge and experience to help move Fiji forward. I think if Fiji fails to move towards a sustainable democratic process in the next year or so, it will be as much a failure on the part of the Pacific Island leaders, as it will be that of [Voreqe] Bainimarama and his IG.

I was happy to see some of these themes emerge in the discussion from the panelists on the
Media7 programme. Hopefully it has woken up some more journalists and politicians.
Café Pacific wonders why the revealing segment shown at the start of the Media7 item was culled out of both the sanitised On the Mat and Close Up versions. In the case of Close Up, a comment by presenter Russell Brown about Fiji's leaders as sometimes being presented by media as "self-serving and thuggish" was thought too likely to spark off a new round of regime intimidation. So discretion won out.

Media7's Fiji on ABC's On the Mat
Media7's Fiji on Fiji TV's Close Up
Media7's Fiji - uncut!
Media7's blog on Fiji

Tuilaepa's Fiji salvo unleashes the newshounds

"AN EXTRAORDINARY verbal attack on a neighbour," says Fijilive. While it is recycling a Michael Field take on over a widely circulated article by Savali editor Tupuola Terry Tavita, it is all fairly remarkable non "Pacific Way" stuff. It also signals a hardening of polarised positions against Fiji's Voreqe Bainimarama and increasing regional frustration. According to the Savali interview, Samoan PM Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi has slated the military leader for "lying to the Forum" and his "intention of never relinquishing power and returning Fiji to democratic government".

In his breach of diplomacy interview, Tuilaepa says on Australian and NZ travel bans on those linked to the regime:
Only Bainimarama and his guns control the road to democracy in Fiji. Only Bainimarama controls Fiji's return to democratic rule, not the travel bans.
On his "backpay" of F$200,000 in arrears:
That's public money. And yet he has been telling everybody that he needs to clean up Fiji.
On aid funding for Fiji:
The last time I looked, neither the United Nations nor the Commonwealth have a fund to prop up unelected dictators and coup-installed military regimes. Because that's exactly where any air money will go in Fiji - to propping up Bainimarama and his cronies' military junta, not the common people who need it the most.
About putting military personnel in plum civilian government posts:
That's what madmen who appoint themselves to office do. They appoint other madmen to positions of power.
On the gagging of the media and suppression of "dissenting voices":
It's a sign of inexperience. A sign of weakness. Every good government needs alternative views to discern its policies. Those actions are reminiscent of Stalin, Mussolini and Hitler. Well, where are they now? And how are they remembered?
On the need for the military - the South Pacific's largest force:
Perhaps Bainimarama fears a combined canoe attack from Tuvalu and Kiribati, its closest neighbours. That must be it.
Croz Walsh's critical and informed Fiji blog responded to the "inflammatory" Savali interview by touching on Pacific hypocrisy. He pointed out the Samoan leader's own criticised role in eroding customary land tenure and other highly questionable policies in recent years.

In New Zealand, Gerald McGhie, a former diplomat who now chairs the local branch of the global anti-corruption agency Transparency International, is the latest commentator who has publicly criticised NZ policies over Fiji. Writing in the Listener in an article entitled "Fiji's Gordian knot", he warns "strident" NZ against blind faith in elections.
Elections have so far failed to untangle the complex colonial legacy Fiji inherited, and our sometimes strident attitude is not helping the country reach a solution.
What Fiji TV viewers didn't see: The recent Media7 programme on Fiji - but minus the crucial "missed Fiji news" item at the beginning - was rebroadcast on ABC's On the Mat programme on Friday and on Fiji Television's Close Up last night.
While both programmes featured the debate with David Robie, Barbara Dreaver and Robert Khan, a significant contextual component was denied viewers. Exactly the sort of problem with partisan media raised by Media7 in the first place. The missing clip can be viewed here.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Journos, media educators rally behind Jose Belo

PACIFIC MEDIA WATCH has filed an item about journalists, media educators, lawyers and NGO advocates being up in arms about the outrageous criminal libel case against respected East Timorese editor and publisher José Belo. The Timorese government is under increasing international pressure to drop this case. What an irony - José risks being imprisoned in the very jail where the Indonesian oppressors tormented him before independence. José has been charged followed publication of an article in his impoverished newspaper and online publication, Tempo Semanal, making allegations of corruption over the issuing of government tenders against Justice Minister Lucia Lobato.

According to PMW, the open protest letter, under the umbrella of the Sydney-based Australian Centre for Independent Journalism (ACIJ), has been signed by 85 media industry, legal and academic people ranging from the ACIJ’s Professor Wendy Bacon to ABC Four Corners investigative journalist Liz Jackson, SBS Dateline’s Mark Davis and British-based filmmaker and author John Pilger. Pacific Media Centre director Associate Professor David Robie and PMW co-founder Peter Cronau are also among the signatories. The letter is being sent to President José Ramos-Horta, in New Zealand this week on his first official visit abroad since being wounded in a rebel attack a year ago, and Prime Minister Xanana Gusmao.

The Timor-Leste government has passed a new penal code that decriminalises defamation but the President hasn't yet promulgated this. José Belo is charged under the old Indonesian law, a hangover from the Jakarta colonial era.

The open letter says:
While making no comment on the merits of [José Belo’s] allegations, we are disturbed by the application of criminal defamation laws against one of East Timor's bravest and most respected journalists.

Belo's role in documenting the atrocities of the Indonesian occupation and disseminating that information to the international media is well known.
Since self‐government, José has emerged as one of the most productive, disciplined and independent journalists that East Timor has produced. He has become a key figure in the attempt to build a democratic media in your country.

To be imprisoned by your government would be a great injustice to José and more importantly, a terrible precedent for all media in East Timor. Such laws criminalise and suppress good journalism, they help cloak corrupt and questionable behaviour of public officials and they diminish the reputation and international standing of the nations that apply them.

We note that the laws under which José Belo has been charged are left over from the old Indonesian regime, and understand that new laws more suited to a democratic society have been drafted but have not been placed before your Parliament.

We pledge our support to José Belo and all East Timorese journalists who may face imprisonment for the practice of their profession. We urge you to take all actions within your power to bring about the dropping of this charge and the removal of criminal defamation laws in East Timor.
The full list of signatories is at PMW. And a good backgrounder is Mark Colvin's PM programme on ABC Radio. We're with you, José!

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Media7 bares all on Fiji

THANKS to Russell Brown and Media7, the digital channel TVNZ7's programme featuring Fiji media freedom and politics is finally on YouTube. Media7's own YouTube channel has a technical hitch which has temporarily stopped updates, so Russell kindly made available made a copy for uploading to the Pacific Media Centre's own channel. It's there now (three parts) so take a peek - especially those around the Pacific who have complained that they couldn't see the programme on TVNZ's on demand link. The programme features David Robie, Barbara Dreaver and Robert Khan. Ranjit Singh filed his own impressions on the PMC's blog.

TV debate on media coverage of Fiji - ABC's On The Mat Feb 20
Media7's on PMC YouTube
Fiji programme (part 1)
Fiji programme (part 2)
Fiji programme (part 3)
Ranjit Singh's review

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Cook Islands News fires up over offshore banking

COOK ISLANDS NEWS editor John Woods has featured a caustic editorial blast in response to an attack on the paper over a recent story about offshore banking and the impact of an impending new finance amendment law. The News reported that the government's plan to "abolish the offshore banking industry ruffled lots of feathers". Trustees Companies Association president Brian Mason claimed "irresponsible journalism". He was particularly irked over Woods' final paragraph saying that behind a screen of privacy and protection, offshore banks were able to get away with corrupt practices such as money laundering and providing funds for terrorism. Mason issued a statement claiming the comment was disgraceful coming from a newspaper editor. “If the offshore banks in the Cook Islands are involved in providing funds for terrorism, then all of [the regulatory] agencies are either complicit in it or are not doing their jobs.”

But Woods rejected the sweeping interpretation by Mason and replied in his editorial:
Emotive, exaggerated and vacuous slanging of the kind dished out by Brian Mason is self-serving tripe. I am referring to his [front page] media statement casting aspersions and drawing wild conclusions on our story about the offshore banking industry.
Our story was very clear that the new law will abolish just the offshore banking industry. It explicitly stated that the law change will not affect the remainder of the offshore sector, and specifically said that international trusts and companies are not involved.
We accept that some people may not distinguish between offshore banks and offshore trusts, but that is not our doing. Everything else Mr Mason says about our story is wrong.
Woods added that ironically it was the very secrecy afforded to this industry under Section 227 of the International Companies Act 1981-82 that prevented the News from publishing the evidence that Mason suggested - wrongly - the paper did not have. The News said it had been investigating claims of corruption and terrorism financing by one offshore bank for the past three years.

Undoubtedly the issue will start hotting up. Already, over at Tgif Edition winebox papers investigative journo and author Ian Wishart was also breaking the story - in much greater depth, especially with the NZ connections:
A global business conglomerate tied to international money laundering and linked by Indian police, the CIA and MI6 to one of the world’s most wanted criminals and terrorists, is trying to get listed on the New Zealand Stock Exchange by leveraging its connections to a couple of senior NZ politicians.
Meanwhile, onetime student editor and media commentator and campaigner Murray Horton and his four decades of activism have been profiled by The Press in a two-page feature: "The last radical". As Horton, now nearing 60, jokes, "they've been kind enough to write my obituary without me having to go through the bother of dying first."

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

NZ's spy agency SIS 'a law unto itself'

GREEN MP Keith Locke, spokesman on Pacific and international affairs and social justice champion of the underdog, has been the latest revelation on New Zealand's "spy on our citizens" controversy. The Security Intelligence Agency's stocks have sunk to a new low after it was revealed that Keith had been spied on since he was 11 - and for at least four years since he was elected a Member of Parliament in 1999. As he pointed out in the House what an "offence to democracy" it is that the SIS - not even upholding their own legislation which requires them to be watching people "involved in treason, espionage and terrorism" - should be devoting much of its efforts to spying on civil society dissenters. So far not much has emerged on similar spying against dissenting journalists (if it indeed happens). But watch this space. Keith's reflections in his parliamentary address-in-reply on Feb 10 are recorded here by Hansard:
KEITH LOCKE (Green): I would like to begin my speech by complimenting the Director of the New Zealand Security Intelligence Service, Dr Warren Tucker, for the new spirit of openness that he has conveyed since he took over a year or so ago. It is very good that he is allowing under the Privacy Act people like myself and others who have been involved in various progressive issue movements to look at their files, because what they show are some very bad practices in the history of the SIS in targeting dissenters. In my case it concerned my involvement in the anti-Viet Nam war movement, the peace movement against nuclear weapons, the anti-apartheid movement, and movements for human rights in Latin America, the Philippines, and elsewhere.

The horrific thing about that file is that it shows that the SIS had infiltrators pretending to be fellow campaigners who reported on everyone who was present at the meetings—public and private—and who was doing what, who was carrying the banners, who was going out, and even trivial details such as at 0900 hours so-and-so went out to buy a Sunday paper, and very detailed stuff. In my own case, my movements around the country, around the world, what car I was driving, romantic attachments etc were noted—all completely unjustified in terms of the law of the SIS, and in terms of any concept of fair play, whatsoever.

The records in my case go from when I was aged 11 in 1955, and the file [has] been updated and continued since I have been in Parliament, not only with news clippings but also with monitoring of my private conversations with constituents in the Sri Lankan-Tamil community back in 2003, before I went off on a peace monitoring trip to Sri Lanka. It is good that the
Campaign Against Foreign Control of Aotearoa (CAFCA), and other groups have also got their files, which show a similar pattern over the years of the SIS of not upholding their own legislation—where they should only be watching people involved in treason, espionage, and terrorism and the like, but countering the activities of campaigners in the interests of the Government of the day.

In my case that countering meant trying to stop me from getting jobs, and conspiring directly with employers. It is recorded that I supported someone for permanent residence in New Zealand, and it was reported back to the SIS, which probably stopped that person from getting permanent residence because of my personal SIS personal file. So it had concrete effects, it was not just about being watched; it hindered the careers of myself and probably many, many others.

It is good that [Prime Minister] John Key has responded by asking the Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security, Paul Neazor, to look at the way in which files are set up, maintained, and closed. It is good that John Key says that I, and, hopefully, others who have received their files showing a similar pattern can cooperate with the inspector-general to really get to the bottom of this issue.

We need a much broader inquiry, but that is a good start. The surveillance of the SIS itself, or what might be called accountability measures or oversight, are very weak. In Parliament today my colleague Kennedy Graham tabled what he received from the official sources as the current membership of the Intelligence and Security Committee. It still lists the members of the previous Parliament, including Winston Peters. There has been no new committee set up over the past few months of this Parliament. When I have written questions in the past I have found that the committee meets only about an hour a year, enough time to hear a little report from the director of intelligence, and perhaps have a cup of coffee. It is not an oversight body, and that is why that over the years that the SIS has been able to be, effectively, a law unto itself, even spying on members of Parliament.

Under this MMP Parliament we represent a much wider range of views than was the case when we had a Labour-National monopoly, and the Green Party, in particular, represents movements outside of Parliament of people fighting for social change, environmental issues, and international social justice issues like I was involved in. It is a sad logic that if they are spying on all these movements for social change, and international solidarity movements that they are spying on MPs. It is an offence to democracy in this country, and, particularly, parliamentary democracy and the independence of Parliament from the executive, and that is why it must be opposed.

Meanwhile, strategic intelligence commentator and academic Dr Paul Buchanan (on leave from Auckland University and now visiting associate professor of political science at the National University of Singapore), has profiled the SIS head in a Scoop article, "The curious case of [Dr] Tucker". He reminds us that Dr Tucker:
Assumed leadership of the SIS in November 2006. At the time the agency was under heavy public scrutiny due to its mishandling of the [Algerian theologian and politician] Ahmed Zaoui request for political refuge (where it manipulated intelligence data to manufacture a case against Zaoui, only to have it discredited and eventually withdrawn under legal challenge).
Since Tucker's appointment at the helm of the SIS, he has promised "more transparency and public accountability" in the spy agency's operations. But Buchanan notes that the SIS sems to have a recent fixation on human rights cam,paigners, environmental and indigenous rights activists and critics of the government and the SIS itself: "It's disturbing because many of those recently targeted by the SIS domestic espionage programme post no threat to NZ's national security."

Stuff reported on March 17, Green MP Keith Locke was unlikely to be the only person spied on by the SIS after entering Parliament - a practice a government watchdog says should now be scrapped. Prime Minister John Key asked SIS head Dr Warren Tucker to deactivate files on sitting MPs and consider a system to allow surveillance only when deemed necessary with consent from the Speaker. Pictured: MP Keith Locke at a rally in support of the people of Gaza in Auckland last month. Photo: David Robie

Sunday, February 8, 2009

News Ltd innovator to take helm at Fiji Times

ANNE FUSSELL is taking over as publisher and managing director at the Fiji Times. This is good news for the champions of a better gender deal in the local media - she will be the first woman at the helm of the country's major daily newspaper and arguably most influential news organisation. But she is also both an innovator and well-experienced as a sub on a variety of publications, having worked with Britain's Daily Star and The Sun. Back in Brisbane her career included the Courier-Mail and picking up a Walkley Award (1992) for best use of the newspaper medium for journalism with the special report "Creating the future". Her most recent News Ltd executive role has been as group intellectual property manager.

She replaces Rex Gardner, who was kicked out by the military-backed regime last month in fallout from the contempt affair. Two other Australian executives were deported last year - the Fiji Sun's Russell Hunter in February and the Fiji Times' Evan Hannah in May. News Ltd chairman and chief executive John Hartigan pledged his company's commitment to the Fiji Times group: "[The papers] will remain free and independent publications." But not everybody in Fiji agrees with the move. Some are questioning the need for expat publishers in the first place. Laminar-Flow's Stuck in Fiji M.u.d blog had this to say in a scathing posting (mostly about the Pacific Islands Forum circus in Port Moresby):

The question of how and why - despite 120 years of existence - the Fiji Times still can't produce or employ any local publisher, comic strip series or independent columnist, or separate Sport/ Editorial/Opinion is now an alarming question, considering the circumstances. Such are questions that have been avoided, by the local media's coverage of the deportation of foreign citizens. One of the most poignant questions asked among local journalists: Aren't Fiji citizens capable or qualified enough to be employed as the Fiji Times publisher?

It is quite alarming that
Fiji Times [has] had an alarming over reliance on foreign citizens, employed as publishers, taking the job away from any local prospect. An outrageous policy that equates with, a distinct non-compliance of localisation of vacant positions. If there were rules for local content in published comic strips, most print publication in Fiji would be audited as a complete and abject failure ...

Or was the omni-presence of Australian citizens employed in the local media
agencies throughout the Pacific region, an extension of these reoccurring themes
of embedded journalist/intelligence agent programs?

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Fiji press freedom and a fresh Kiwi angle

MEDIA7 last night had a crack at Fiji press freedom and coverage in the New Zealand media - and it wasn't too flattering. A news intro covered the expulsion of three publishers in a year and deportation of two New Zealand-based journalists: Fairfax's Michael Field and TVNZ's Kiribati-born Barbara Dreaver, the channel's Pacific affairs correspondent. The intro also raised criticisms of lack of balance and depth in NZ media coverage and highlighted former University of the South Pacific's professor Croz Walsh and his scathing comments in a new blog focused on Fiji affairs. Presenter Russell Brown raised wide-ranging questions with his panel - Café Pacific's David Robie (AUT Pacific Media Centre director), Barbara Dreaver and Radio Tarana's managing director Robert Khan. The general mood was that Fiji deserved a fairer hearing, more support for finding a solution - and "there's only one thing worse than a coup and that's a failed coup".

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Fiji needs lasting solutions and compassionate neighbours

By Thakur Ranjit Singh

IF THERE are any lessons to be learnt from the previous coups, hurriedly-prepared elections and token changes to rules do not usher in real democracy. As New Zealand Air Force Boeing 757 descended on Port Moresby on the night of 26 January 2009, carrying New Zealand Prime Minister John Key to attend the Pacific Islands Forum (PIF) meeting, we had hoped his first trip to the Pacific since coming to power would make a difference.

However the outcome of the PIF meeting was a big disappointment. We had expected and hoped for some change with a new bloke in control. But it appears that despite his right arm in plaster, John Key was still using the other arm to cling on to Helen Clark’s petticoat when it came to determining his stance about Fiji. He still appeared to be doing that in Port Moresby as he met the Pacific leaders and gave an undiplomatic and paternalistic grilling to Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum, Fiji’s Interim Attorney General, who represented Commodore Frank Bainimarama. Key even went to the extent of suggesting Khaiyum should be tried for his crimes.
For those of you who are unaware, New Zealand Prime Minister John Key suffered multiple arm fractures after a fall at Auckland’s Greenlane ASB Showgrounds to mark the Chinese New Year on January 17, just over two weeks before the PIF meeting. He attributed his tripping and falling down the small flight of stairs to a "momentary lapse in concentration - I was looking out instead of looking down".

While we are sorry to see this happen, at least some thought that there was a brighter side to this unfortunate incident - with one arm already preoccupied, he would be less tempted to snatch at Labour’s petticoat. There are indications that the National Party was still copying and pasting the non-compromising foreign policy of Labour Party and its former leader Helen Clark who is reported to be National’s de facto adviser on Fiji matters.

So much has already been written as to why an election alone would not solve Fiji’s problems. New Zealand and Kevin Rudd’s obsession with elections is merely an escape valve to show to the world that these big Anglo-Saxon brothers still rule the Pacific. The only problem is that these two countries are bereft of any brotherly love. They have always gained from Fiji both in terms of trade imbalance and the well-trained English speaking professionals, businessmen and qualified blue collar workers who do the jobs that need to dirty the hands. The biggest beneficiaries of the coups and instability in the Pacific have been these two big brothers who saved millions, if not billions in not having to train migrants who were already trained by the Fiji government, its taxpayers, its work ethics and its stable family environment.

I am one of them.

Fiji has had elections since its independence in 1970, but these elections were a mere shadow of democracy. John Key and Rudd need to understand that even in past Fiji elections, real democracy was never been achieved. It had merely been a sham of democracy; in many instances autocratic leaders used their traditional powers and influence to manipulate democracy and masquerade as democratic leaders.

In my past writings, I have already enumerated the fundamental problems with Fiji, but today, the biggest problem for an election is an unfair electoral system and arrangement that hits at the heart of democracy.

There is a need to remove the race-based politics and election and have an electoral system and process that gives same weight and importance to every vote. The current system is flawed in this respect where some provinces with only 6000 people have a seat while others with three times more people still have one seat. Fewer rural population have greater number of seats while urbanites miss out.

The United Nations and internationally recognised principles of democracy dictate that each person's vote is to be of equal importance; hence Fiji’s electoral system is in breach of these. In addition, some 20 percent of voters in 2006 either did not vote because of a rigged and ineffective system with many names not on the roll, or had their votes declared invalid because the system is too complicated for many to understand.

Is John Key aware of this major flaw in Fiji’s electoral system? Are other Forum leaders aware of this? Would they tolerate this in their countries?
The adage that age brings maturity was aptly displayed by the host of PIF meeting, Sir Michael Somare. Despite their economic richness and advancement, Key and Rudd were rendered mere dwarfs by the sensitivity, reason, humility, compassion and generosity flowing from this eminent person.

It is hoped Australian and New Zealand bureaucrats in the Beehive in Wellington can teach this lesson to their leaders that I have been echoing for years now. Sir Michael summed it very aptly:
“If there are any lessons to be learnt from the previous coups, hurriedly- prepared elections and token changes to rules do not usher in real democracy.”
In true Pacific way, Papua New Guinea gave NZ and Australia a lesson in diplomacy, neighbourly love and maturity in pleading that the Forum owed it to the people of Fiji not to commit the same mistakes of the past. He suggested that a roadmap be drawn up with realistic timelines to return Fiji to a durable democracy. Sir Michael promised financial and logistic support, and volunteered to provide all the assistance that Fiji required to carry it towards path to a long-lasting democracy, based on equality and justice. Perhaps the developed-country (read Australia and NZ) leadership in PIF countries need to learn from the supposedly backward Pacific countries which have a heart for their neighbours in trouble. It has become obvious that the two strong and rich Pacific neighbours do not understand and appreciate the true meaning of the Pacific Way.

Sir Michael’s pronouncement should echo for a long time and reverberate in future Forum meetings:
"Forum leadership is not about imposing our will, but about listening and extending a helping hand in ways that bring about long term solutions.”
New Zealand can continue to ignore the advice of migrants like me and others, but they need to heed the advice of their own former diplomat who suggested that a team of experts should be sent to Suva to establish the broad outlines of new constitutional requirements. He cautioned that tone and style would be important and New Zealand needs to stop acting ethnocentrically.
His advice to his own government was to reflect on the observation: There's only one thing worse than a coup, and that's a failed coup.

On that fateful day when John Key stumbled and fell in Auckland, he blamed it on a momentary lapse in concentration as he was looking out instead of looking down.

John Key needs to learn from his experience. He once again stumbled and fell in Port Moresby and further fractured the relations that NZ Labour Party had failed to mend. He needs to learn from the elder Sir Michael Somare, and he needs to free his non-plastered hand from the previous government’s policy and develop his own foreign policy towards Fiji with advice from seasoned leaders with a heart - like Sir Michael.

My advice to John Key is to start looking down and closely at Fiji before looking out at far away countries, to avoid future falls, like his stumble in Auckland followed by the one in Port Moresby.
He may end up being the fall guy of NZ Labour Government’s failed and non-compromising foreign policy on Fiji.

He may, hence end up copping the blame for a failed coup and the resulting dictatorship in Fiji!

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