January 21, 2009

A regional storm brews

While Fiji slowly recovers from its recent devastating rainstorms, the nimbus clouds from the 4 winds of the South Pacific region are gathering for another spate of storms headed our way.

Yesterday’s international publicity over Bainimarama’s Radio Tarana heart-to-heart on Monday and subsequent cover-up domestically on Tuesday afternoon, have led to this brewing storm. Today, the IIG mouthpiece Neumi Leweni attempts to downplay the unpopular decision by suddenly becoming a HR expert on "leadership styles".

The reactions are to be expected. The current Chair of the Forum is disappointed, New Zealand is keen to see more sanctions on us in place, Papua New Guinea despite being Frank’s Melanesian-when-convenient ally has some questions for Bainimarama, while Australia's views remain consistent.

Unfortunately Bainimarama cannot yank other leaders chains anymore and they will proceed to have the party without the neighborhood pest. Clearly this is an ominous sign of what the meeting outcomes will look like. What happens inside the 4 walls of the Crowne Plaza hotel room could be a contrast to the recent statements from Tonga, Samoa and even PNG, as Kevin Rudd’s frank radio interview after Niue last year clearly shows.

This is politics at the regional level after all.

Unsurprisingly an unknown, unelected, minority political group, some outfit called the People’s Movement for Political Reform (PEMPOR), that has no constitutional power dares to pose thinly veiled threats against sovereign and democratic Forum States with visa bans, and trade embargoes should leaders discuss Fiji (and possible expulsion). It is incredulous that such a group believes they actually speak on behalf of sane people they are in a position to be threatening the region.

Fiji’s immediate lifeline at this juncture is foreign AID and lots of it. The pockets of every individual, entity and organisation in this country are simply not deep enough to cough up the estimated FJD$54mill that is required to get us back to decent normalcy.

There are requests to the IIG by the day to assist in the disaster rehabilitation more/faster/better. Most vociferous of the voices are the commercial retailers with their rehabilitation costs despite the fact that when in business, having reserves and insurance for unforeseen circumstances (especially natural disasters in the tropics), should be second nature-- just like ringing the cash register.

Having dismissed Pacific leaders who can provide that lifeline once we are truly on the road to elections, it is no wonder Bainimarama is now begging commercial banks for help. Commercial banks are not charities. Banks are in this business to make profits, and hand-outs will never be part of their organisational goals. Whatever objectives this initiative hopes to achieve, the IIG appears to be ignoring the ever increasing gap in budget revenue for successive years. While the national coffer guardians announce today an abrupt revenue surplus, we remain light-years away from jumping out of the red because of the recent disaster. The IIG is merely delaying the inevitable and the tax-payers will pick up the bill one way or another, without being consulted.

Anyhow. Despite the gloom in this part of the world, we take a moment to also applaud the United States of America’s 44th President Barack Obama.

We too hold firm to the dream that Fiji can also usher in Change, in the not too distant future.

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