After a brief homecoming stopover in Fiji - thanks to Air Pacific - David was thrust back into the complex post-coup issues that cast a shadow over the Pacific. First the PINA media flop last week and now the Cairns "free trade" jackup prelude to the Pacific Islands Forum. Good to see the recent Mark Davis Dateline interview with Commodore Voreqe Bainimarama, which included some pithy insights into the "one person, one vote" mantra to repel three decades of a racist and corrupt so-called democracy.
It is also worth sharing this recent dispatch from NZ-based German journalist Ulli Weissbach. He doesn't run his own blog, so here's his personal perspective (abridged) directed to "friends and foes" alike following a three-week research trip:
Part of my job in Fiji was to prepare the ground for a German TV foreign affairs programme on Fiji. I had a chat with government spokesperson Lt Col Neumi Leweni, who assured me there would be absolutely no problem for the German TV crew entering Fiji and interviewing the "evil dictator".Pictures: Top: Newspapers in San Francisco; Middle: A Bora Bora pareo; a Tagata Pasifika crew in Pape'ete. Photos: David Robie
Experience 1: I actually saw him once, entering the lobby of the Holiday Inn hotel in Suva. No heavily armed bodyguards around him, just a guy in a plain suit. If a waitress at the bar hadn't pointed him out to me "Look, there's Frank", I wouldn't have noticed him. Now, dear friends and foes, do you think an evil dictator, who is hated by half of the country, would dare to walk into the public arena without bodyguards?
Experience 2: I talked to an Indian girl working at a Denarau Hotel and asked her how she feels under Frank's dictatorship. She said she actually feels better, because she can now safely walk the streets of Nadi at night. The crime rate has come down considerably since Frank took over, which is backed by official statistics as well.
Experience 3: I circumnavigated the whole of Viti Levu without seing one military checkpoint, except for Nadi airport. Dear colleague Barbara Dreaver, can you please stop peppering your Fiji reports with outdated checkpoint footage from TVNZ's archive?
Experience 4: Along the road I saw a lot of Methodist Church gatherings, where priests thundered through loudspeakers to their congregation. I can't prove it but it all sounded too familiar to me and reminded me of the time when I worked in Fiji at the end of the 1980s. Back then, a Reverend called Lasaro was the chief ideologist of the fundamentalist Methodist Church and incited indigenous Fijians to burn down Hindu temples and mosques. He's still the chief mullah of the Methodist Church and it makes perfect sense to me that Frank is trying to constrain him and his other mullahs. The Methodist Church was behind all the coups before Frank, it is a highly politicised organisation with close ties to the ultra-nationalistic and racist Taukei movement. I call them the Fiji Nazis.
Experience 5: The tourism industry is doing rather well, due to a lot of Australians and Kiwis ignoring their countries' negative travel advisories. But still they are hurting and hotels are cutting jobs, which proves, that sanctions only hurt the little people, not the government they are aimed at. Same with the sugar cane industry, where EU sanctions and the cutting of subsidies will hurt the little people - ie. Indo-Fijian farmers.
Experience 6: Yes, newspapers and other media are constrained and intimidated and no journalist can agree with that. Yet many of them are Australian-owned and follow their own agenda. NZ journalists who are banned from Fiji, like "Pacific commentator" Mike Field and TVNZ reporter Barbara Dreaver, have only themselves to blame. Mike Field has been found guilty of inaccurate comments about Fiji by the BSA (Broadcasting Standards Authority). And Barbara Dreaver filed a report about poverty in the goldmine town of Vatukoula, which was highly inaccurate...
If that's the quality of NZ journos reporting about Fiji, who can blame the Fiji government for wanting to keep them away?
Experience 7: During my Fiji trip, Commodore Bainimarama held a widely publicised speech to the nation about his Strategic Framework for Change, which outlined his envisaged roadmap to elections and democracy. It reflected many of the goals of his proposed People's Charter for building a better Fiji, which has been rubbished repeatedly by Mike Field and consorts as an "idealistic" document.
Idealistic - yes, it's in the nature of constitutions that they promise a better future for their people. But criticising it from a country that doesn't have a constitution and a fair non-racial electoral law is a bit rich. None of these commentators and journalists has bothered to properly inform New Zealanders about the constitutional process in Fiji. Read the People's Charter and make your own judgment. Some of it's principles would suit NZ as well - like equal voting rights for every citizen no matter what his ethnicity is.
Conclusion: We can judge Bainimarama in 2014, when his promised elections will be held. It took my own home country Germany four years to develop and agree to a truly democratic constitution after WW2. And guess who forced it to do so - the military government of the occupying forces (USA, GB and France)?
So please: GIVE FIJI A BREAK!
Fiji People's Charter
PINA summit fails to stand up for media freedom
Perfectly Frank interview [transcript]
Perfectly Frank [video 20m 09s]