October 31, 2011

Claim union leader arrested in Fiji

Now is probably not the best of times for the illegal and treasonous military regime to start victimizing union officials.

With the Commonwealth Heads of Governments remaining firm in their resolve on Fiji, the EU (despite the Fiji Sun's typical spin on the matter), is dangling carrots to keep Fiji's feet to the fire and Air Pacific's  financial issues will be the least of their worries.
Last updated 19:59 30/10/2011

A Fijian union leader has been seized by the country’s military regime and is being held in custody in an unknown location, trade unionists claim.

Fiji Trade Union Congress president Daniel Urai Manufolau was believed to have been arrested at Nadi International Airport after returning from a Commonwealth meeting in Perth, Australian Council of Trade Unions president Ged Kearney said.

Urai may have then been taken to Suva for further questioning and his current whereabouts were unknown, Kearney said.

Fiji’s military regime, which seized power in a 2006 coup, recently imposed a tough anti-union decree.

"If these reports of Mr Urai’s arrest are correct, then the repression of human and trade union rights has sunk to a new low when a union leader is arrested simply for telling the world about what is happening in his own country,” Kearney said.

The Fijian government was becoming increasingly arrogant in its persecution of the union and opposition leaders, despite growing international condemnation, she said.

“It appears the intimidation of workers and their representatives in Fiji has entered a dangerous new phase,” Kearney said.

New Zealand Council of Trade Unions secretary Peter Conway called for the immediate release of Urai.

“This is a further breach of human rights in Fiji and yet another example of the intimidation of unions,” he said.

“This is in the context of union opposition to the military dictatorship imposing decrees which drastically remove fundamental worker and trade union rights.”

Conway said that he was concerned about Urai’s welfare given the beatings that some union officials have received while in custody.

“New Zealanders need to consider these issues when planning holidays to Fiji. It is a military dictatorship that routinely breaches human rights”.

Fiji’s heavily censored media has not reported the arrest and the Fiji Ministry of Information did not respond to requests for comment.

- Fairfax NZ 

October 27, 2011

Dr Wadan Narsey: FNPF bakes pie-in-the-sky

Two recent media releases indicate that the FNPF Board and Management (at the instigation of the Military Regime) are digging the hole deeper for FNPF, with no accountability to the owners of FNPF, and media censorship stopping all public discussions.

The first is the bad restructuring of the $303 million loan by FNPF to Natadola Bay Resort Limited (NBRL); and the second is the massively risky $200 million loan to help Air Pacific buy 3 Airbuses in 2013, completely contradicting the most recent advice by recent consultants (Promontory) on sound investment policy for FNPF.

Why interest free indefinite loan to NRBL?
The 2011 FNPF Report states that the $303 million loan to NBRL is being restructured so that while $100 million will draw an interest of 8% pa, the remaining $203 million will become an indefinite loan, and interest free.

FNPF will effectively in its accounts, give a $16 million subsidy annually to NBRL- some 40% of the total value of all the pensions currently being paid annually.

This is terrible accounting practice for three reasons.

First, any decent accountant or economist would advise that all transactions between a parent company and a subsidiary should be done at “arms length” with subsidiaries being charged the same interest rate that other borrowers are being charged.

To convert $203 millions into an interest free loan will artificially increase the apparent profitability of the subsidiary (NBRL), while reducing the apparent performance of the rest of FNPF.

Second, by not charging interest on the large loan, NBRL is being given no incentive to repay the loan as soon as possible- especially when it is “indefinite”.

Third, if in future, this Military Regime’s forced takeover of private assets at Natadola and vested in NBRL by Military Decree is legally and successfully challenged, then the assets of NBRL will become logical targets for litigants.

The books for NBRL should therefore show its true worth- not artificially inflated through interest rate subsidies given by FNPF, which may then be claimed in future by legitimate litigants.

Which financial institution in the world, gives an interest-free indefinite loan like this? Who dreamt up this scheme?  Who in FNPF management agreed to go along with this? Why would the unelected, illegal FNPF Board Members agree to this subterfuge to show the NBRL in a better light. Is it to allow more “write-backs” on asset value of this bad investment?

Pie-in-the-sky loan to Air Pacific
Another far more dismaying media announcement has been the $200 million loan by FNPF to Air Pacific. 

If the current management at Air Pacific know what they are doing this loan may turn out OK for FNPF.

But for FNPF owners who are already facing a massive cut to their pensions, there are many dismaying aspects to this incredibly risky loan.

First, the FNPF Management and Board have no capability to assess whether this proposed investment of more than a billion dollars by Air Pacific will be a sound investment, in an incredibly complex and competitive aviation market, in which Air Pacific is just a minor player, already floundering.

If Air Pacific’s future is so good, why has Qantas been wanting to sell its more than 40% shares in Air Pacific?

David Pflieger is surely talking with tongue in cheek when he says he had to work hard to convince FNPF of the soundness of the loan.

He is surely talking with tongue in cheek that he had to give a premium interest to FNPF in order to secure the loan.  Really?

Why then were the Fiji commercial banks, which are also flush with money, not convinced by the premium interest?

Because, like any sensible business-person, they know that the presumably higher interest rate paid for a few years, is not good enough if the borrower goes bust and a large part of the principal is not repaid.

Second, no commercial banks have as yet agreed to lend the money and the FNPF  loan is instead being used as a “deposit” or “collateral” in order to facilitate loans from European credit agencies.  This is terrible business practice for FNPF.

It should be the other way round: If they were to give a loan at all, FNPF should wait until the private commercial lending agencies, who are financially far more astute in lending to airlines than FNPF management and Board, have put in their $800 million, on which FNPF could  then piggy-back with $200 millions.

For FNPF to fork out the initial $200 millions as deposit or collateral, would suggest that the European credit companies were not prepared to trust Air Pacific’s own financial projections on the viability of their billion dollar purchase.

Would the European credit companies trust FNPF’s judgment of the viability of the proposed Air Pacific purchase, enough to give a billion dollar loan? Of course not.

So why may European credit companies be more inclined to give the $800 million loan if FNPF throws in $200 million which is only 20 percent of the total purchase price of the three planes?  There are at least three reasons.

First, in the global aircraft manufacturing market, the biggest rivalry is between Airbus (backed solidly by Europe), and Boeing (backed solidly by United States). Of course, European credit companies (with prodding from their governments) will try to facilitate any loan to purchase the three Airbuses.

Second, they would know that once FNPF is hooked into the loan, our “cash cow” (which annually receives  16% of the total wages and salary bill of the country), can be called on for more funds to be thrown down the well should Air Pacific not be able to repay the loan.

Third, they also may have an understanding that the illegal Military Regime will pledge Fiji taxpayers’ money to under-write Air Pacific’s borrowings.

Why else would the illegal Attorney General (Khaiyum) be making statements on Air Pacific’s behalf?

Notice that no statements are being made by the Chairman of the Air Pacific Board (Mr Nalin Patel) who is smart enough to stay out of sight while Khaiyum prances around in the limelight. Or is it that Nalin may have been backing Boeing?

It is not reassuring to FNPF Members to hear the voluminous spin that is coming out of the leading players in this deal.

The CEO of Air Pacific declares that this purchase would be a “milestone” for the Fiji public (let us not think about “millstone”). He also declares that the Airbus would be especially “designed” to showcase Fiji.  Oh, really?

I hope he is only talking about the colours on the inside and outside the planes, and a few fittings. The only possible real Fijian influence on the structural design of the Airbus, would be to convert the Airbus into a sluggish takia sailing against the wind or a water-logged bilibili., which would well reflect the current state of Air Pacific’s finances.

The Airbus Vice President is reported to be advising us: the Airbus is the “best plane” for Fijian passengers to fly in. What else could this glorified saleswoman say, just having sold three incredibly expensive planes to a financially troubled airline whose management has absolutely no accountability to its real owners? We simple natives can forget all the other comfortable planes that we have been flying in for decades.

Khaiyum proudly declares that FNPF putting a $200 million down-payment on a very risky billion dollar purchase by an airline that has gone into a loss-making situation is just like Singapore’s pension fund which invested in Singapore infrastructure, proving that “Fijians can think outside the box”.  Yeah!  Just before the Fijians fall into that coffin box.

Aiyaz Khaiyum’s astonishing slick vacuous spin goes on day after day, on subject after subject, while he and Bainimarama play Russian Roulette with FNPF and Fiji people’s lives.

FNPF not learning from mistakes
Despite all the spin coming from Aisake Taito and his management colleagues, they are not learning from their past mistakes. They are not thinking about what FNPF can do if the borrowers are not able to repay the loans.

Fiji’s commercial banks, will quite sensibly not lend a penny to the loss-making Fiji Sugar Corporation Limited, or to  the loss-making Air Pacific, for a very good reason: should these shaky borrowers fail to repay the loans, the lender would be stuck with collateral which they cannot re-convert back into cash.

Nor would the banks want to take over these enterprises and run them back into profitability, as that is not their business, even if they had the skills.

FNPF has already made huge mistakes with loans to FSC, which it cannot conceivably take over even if the loans are never repaid.

It has also made huge mistakes at the Natadola project which was taken over after the 2006 coup, and large amounts of good money was thrown after bad money by Regime/FNPF appointees such as Felix Anthony and Daniel Urai (now suddenly heroes for the democracy movement).

FNPF Board and Management now plan to repeat their mistakes with a huge loan to Air Pacific.

If Air Pacific fails to become as profitable as they need to be to repay the billion dollar loan they envisage, FNPF will be in no position to take over the Airline business.

You can also be sure that the European credit companies will ensure first rights over the collateral should Air Pacific go bust.

Pflieger and his mates will walk away from the mess having made their money, just as many other Military Regime appointees have done from a whole range of public enterprises in Fiji, since this unaccountable Bainimarama Regime seized power.

Nobody will be held accountable.

Continuing FNPF Board and Management Unaccountability
FNPF recently paid huge consultancy fees to Promontory to advise on how to run the FNPF.  Promontory said what I have been saying for a long time:  FNPF investments and loans must be managed solely in the interests of the contributors and pensioners of FNPF.

FNPF is not there to try and solve the development problems of Fiji (as Khaiyum thinks) nor to be a cash cow for the government of the day (Military Regime currently).

FNPF has no business going into risky investments like loans to financially troubled enterprises like FSC or Air Pacific, especially when the collateral will  not cover the loan if there is default.

The fact that the FNPF Board and Management continue to make these risky loans clearly proves that all their rhetoric about FNPF reform etc is just hot air, spin, lies.

The FNPF management continue, on a daily basis, to make outrageous policy statements which only the Chairman of the FNPF Board should make (even if he is illegally appointed).

The “employees” of the FNPF, have become the bosses, defiantly telling the owners how they, the employees, are going to restructure the fund, allegedly in the owners’ interests, regardless of what the owners say or think.

The FNPF Board and Management completely thumb their nose at the Fiji judiciary which is supposed to be hearing the Burness case in February 2012, by making statements that are surely sub-judice.

And why is the judiciary hearing to be in February 2012?  Of course, that will give another four months to Khaiyum and the FNPF Board to get their FNPF Military decree signed by the illegal President, thereby preventing the judiciary from hearing the case.

Will any of these FNPF Board members’ personal assets be at risk if  FNPF makes losses on the  Air Pacific loan?  Of course not.

No FNPF Board Member or Military Regime member has taken personal responsibility for the mess at Natadola.

They will also walk away from the current mess, just as Bainimarama, his Military Council, and Khaiyum, who are really behind all these FNPF Board and Management decisions, will walk away from the mess they are creating in Fiji.

As always, the FNPF contributors and pensioners, and taxpayers, will be left to pick up the pieces.  Whatever is left.

Winston Thompson backs the illegal and treasonous regime lock, stock and barrell

Fiji Explores Its Options
By Eddie Walsh
October 26, 2011

Over the next few months, The Diplomat will be running a series of interviews with Washington DC-based ambassadors on defence, diplomacy, and trade in the Asia-Pacific region. In the second of these interviews, conducted by Washington correspondent Eddie Walsh, Ambassador Winston Thompson of the Republic of Fiji discusses the opportunities and challenges facing his government following the 2006 military coup.

The CIA World Factbook states: ‘Commodore Bainimarama has neutralized his opponents, crippled Fiji's democratic institutions, and refused to hold elections.’ As the country's representative to the United States, how do you respond to this position by the US government?

We still consider ourselves a democratically-based country. The reason that we have gone off-track for the moment is because the democratic system that we had in place was not in fact fulfilling the long-term interests of Fiji. Various acts were undertaken by the previous government that were causing polarization within the community. Ethno-nationalistic policies were being followed which the military said shouldn’t be pursued. But the democratic government insisted on carrying on with it, which is why it was removed.

Since it has been in place, the objective of the current government has been to remove ethnic considerations out of the body politic. They will appoint a committee to review the Constitution and carry through this non-racial aspect. They have also embarked upon establishing a developmental programme within Fiji that’s addressing those areas which haven’t been well serviced in the past, such as putting in roads, bridges, and shipping. They’ve been concentrating on that and making development more uniform across the country, and reforming the government system to remove elements of patronage. Finally, there’s the issue of corruption, which the military felt was getting out of hand. One of the reasons given for staging the coup was to get rid of corruption. If you look back on the record, the current government very quickly adopted and ratified the UN Convention Against Corruption and set up the Fiji Independence Commission Against Corruption that has gone into addressing the corruption issue in a vigorous way.

Because the population is made up of two big components, ethnic Fijians and ethnic Indians, you need policies in the government system that bring them to a common position, which the government that was overthrown wasn’t doing. It was processing legislation that would in fact give over the seas and reefs as outright ownership to the land owners – 90 percent of whom are ethnically Fijian. That wasn’t seen as unifying. They were also processing legislation which would have given amnesty to those that had staged the coup in 2000, including releasing those who were imprisoned and being prosecuted. The military said that wasn’t good for the country.

Do you believe that the preconditions existed for democratic governance at the time of Fijian independence? Or do you think that the history of the coups illustrates that those preconditions didn’t exist, or that they must be restored prior to the restoration of democracy?

Those preconditions clearly existed because we were a multiracial society. I think it was hoped that the way the 1970 constitution was framed would provide sufficient time for the communities to develop a more common identity and get on better. In the fullness of time, they then could amend the constitution to better reflect the situation. Unfortunately, this didn’t happen. We had the first coup in 1987, and it dislocated the whole dialogue between the two main races. This was being exacerbated by the government, which was overthrown in 2006. Rather than finding ways to bring the communities together, they were driving them apart. This gave rise to the unhappiness of the military over what was happening, which is ironic given that the majority of the military are ethnic Fijians.

Do you therefore perceive the military as the safeguard for stable government in an otherwise cleaved society?

They certainly perceive themselves in that way. Perhaps the circumstances that we are in, they are needed to maintain a national stability.

Despite significant emigration, Indians still represent almost 40percent of the population. From your perspective, are tensions between the Indian and Melanesian population in Fiji dissipating under the current government? What is the current government doing to address such tensions?

I think before the coup, it’s true to say that the Indians were very unhappy and migrating in very large numbers. Since then, they are happy that the conditions in Fiji aren’t against them and they are more prepared to stay and contribute. Also, those that migrated are being encouraged to return. They can also vote in the upcoming election abroad, and the government has moved to allow for dual citizenship for the migrants.

When do you foresee free and fair elections returning to Fiji? Will the Constitution be reinstated at that time?

The government has set out a very clear timetable for the return to elections. In 2013, the constitutional review will take place. By 2014, you’ll have the basis for the elections to take place under a non-racial constitution. Beginning next year, there will be electronic voter registration. This will put in place the proper process to proceed. International monitoring of the elections hasn’t been discussed, but I am sure that will be part of it.

In its short history as an independent country, Fiji has experienced more than its fair share of coups. Why do you think such political turmoil has been an endemic feature of the political system in Fiji?

Since 1987, we’ve had a coup culture. But once we have a constitutional framework that will give a more balanced and universal representation for people in the political system, it will be overcome. Many countries have gone through these cycles, so there’s no reason we can’t get out of it.

What has been the diplomatic impact of the coup and your country's suspension from participation in the Pacific Islands Forum (PIF) and Commonwealth of Nations?

As far as we’re concerned, we have a timetable for elections and they have delivered on the path they have promised. Unfortunately, Australia and New Zealand in particular have said that they don’t believe that the elections will be held in 2014. If you take that approach, it’s very difficult. They refuse to acknowledge that steps are already underway for the elections, development is going on, and people are very happy with the progress. Fiji is also still a member of the Melanesian Spearhead Group (MSG), which is in terms of representation of the Pacific Islands Forum 90 percent of the population, and serves as its chairman. The MSG met before the PIF and its leaders pledged support for Fiji. In fact, they said that they’d move to have Fiji reinstated at the PIF meeting, but only the President of Kiribati was brave enough to come out and say that.

Do you see any opportunity for the strengthening of the multilateral relations between the small island nations of the South Pacific in the future? Could a new security architecture emerge?

There has always been a strong feeling of the South Pacific Islands peoples being together. There was more intercourse between the islands before the European colonization than after. There’s an identity as a South Pacific people. That feeling has strengthened in the last 10 years. Since Fiji was excluded from the PIF, there has been established in the United Nations the Pacific Small Island Developing States. They meet on a regular basis and have more to do with what goes on in the UN than the PIF, which hardly gets a look in anymore. Australia isn’t a South Pacific island – they are a donor country and a post-colonial influence. But, in terms of self-identity, they don’t view Australia and New Zealand as part of the common identity.

As the United States reasserts itself in the Pacific region, how has it affected progress for Fiji and have you seen the relationship between the US and Fiji improve?

Until recently, the US has looked to Australia and New Zealand to call the shots with respect to the relationship with Fiji. But recently, the relationship has improved. They must have realized that after five years of this sort of stand from Australia and New Zealand, it hasn’t made any difference, and there must be a different approach if you want to have any impact or influence on what goes on in Fiji. The other thing is that many others have come to cooperate with Fiji. We have more countries in a friendly relationship with Fiji than ever before.

What is Fiji's perception of US hegemony in Asia-Pacific? Will the US continue to serve as an unrivalled security guarantor, and do you see its military dominance enduring for at least the next 30-40 years?

Given the recent developments in geopolitics and global economic development, that isn’t as clear as it used to be. There’s going to be more geo-political competition. Our area could be faced with a lot more issues than we have faced in the past.

Are small island nations in the region hedging against US hegemony by looking to other powers?

That’s already happening in the case of Fiji because we were ostracized by our traditional allies and we have had to look elsewhere. That is a fact of life.

The increased diplomatic assertiveness of China in the South Pacific has garnered the attention of many experts and diplomats. Many believe this was the trigger for the large American delegation being sent to the Pacific Islands Forum this year. What do you think China's motivation is for engagement in the Pacific, and do you see China trying to promote long-term peace and stability in the Pacific?

China has been in Fiji for a long time. They were one of the first to come in when we achieved independence. This isn’t something new. I don’t know why people are interpreting this as something suddenly happening. They have been in the region for 40 years as a development partner. I think their intentions are development oriented. They want to benefit from trade and development possibilities from the economic zone – the exploitation of the seas around us and the mineral resources on land. Their requirements for these are growing all the time. Taiwan also is in Fiji, not in a diplomatic capacity but as a trade partner.

When Kurt Campbell from the US State Department spoke at CSIS a few weeks ago, he was critical of the type of foreign aid that China was providing in the South Pacific and voiced his government's willingness to work with China to ensure that its aid better met the long-term needs of the region. Do you agree with his assessment? What can China and other foreign countries do better with respect to foreign aid in the South Pacific?

I don’t think that is true at all. The aid that China has been giving for infrastructure development in Fiji has been one of the central requirements for the development of the country. One of the pre-requisites of development in the remote areas is to put in roads, and that’s what they have done. Just because it is an area that other countries haven’t looked at, why should they criticize it as not contributing to long-term development? Trade access is something that should be facilitated by all countries. There should be some concessions provided for small countries to gain access to markets. We find the US has strict quality standards for food imports that it’s very difficult for countries such as ours to meet. It’s something we have to work on and a place where countries with greater capabilities could help.

How are Fiji's bilateral relations with Australia and New Zealand today? Where are there opportunities for improvement or concern in the relationship?

The relationship isn’t very good at the moment because of the stand that they take. Fortunately, they haven’t disrupted the trade between the two countries. Business relationships are continuing with their counterparts. From that point of view, it’s good. We depend a lot on them for markets for tourism. Fortunately, over the last five years, the number of visitors from Australia and New Zealand have continued to rise. They’ve seen nothing to dissuade them from coming from the domestic situation. Things could have been much better though if they hadn’t taken this very difficult stand.

As ASEAN deepens ties, there is the consideration that it also should broaden. This could be achieved through an extension of relationships to South Pacific countries such as Fiji. Do you see an interest in ASEAN playing a more concrete role in your economic development? What about India?

We would hope ASEAN will play a more concrete role. We are moving to get observer status with the ASEAN countries so they can play a more tangible role. As countries develop, they want to extend their influence to potential markets and areas that could be involved in an economic relationship with them. We are part of their geographic area. With respect to India, economic relations are good. India is part of the Commonwealth stand on Fiji, so military cooperation isn’t something that they are exploring. I think that India’s interests moving forward, though, means that they’ll want to have a greater presence. We want to develop relations with a wide array of countries. In the past, we’ve been influenced to a large extent by Western powers and restricted in our relations by the Commonwealth. What we are realizing is that the world is opening up and we want to take advantage of it by looking more widely than in the past to take advantage of any opportunities that there might be to promote our own interests. This should have happened either way, but being pushed out of the Commonwealth forced us to do this more seriously than we would have otherwise.

Fiji is fortunate not to be party to any major international disputes. Aside from governance, what then are the major traditional and non-traditional security issues facing Fijians today?

We don’t have any serious security issues. We have no arguments with anybody that could lead to war. Since 1978, we’ve contributed troops to UN peace keeping operations in theatres around the world. We are also a member of the South Pacific Tuna Treaty. That’s a vulnerable resource, and there has to be careful management of it. But I think there’s enough interest in international conventions that manage this on a diplomatic basis so that it isn’t a military issue.

Many countries in the Asia-Pacific are undergoing serious military modernization. Fiji is seriously limited in its capacity to modernize – both from a budget and human resources standpoint. In your opinion, does Fiji need to pursue more aggressive military modernization in the years ahead, or will you stay the course?

Generally, we don’t see ourselves being faced with any serious security threats that require major modernization of our military capabilities. We would need to modernize our military capabilities though to just do the job we currently are doing in peace keeping operations on a proper basis, because military equipment is evolving all the time and we need to keep up with the technology.

At the time of the coup, some analysts worried that domestic instability could undermine Fiji’s role as the transport hub of the South Pacific. Do you see any long-term effect of the coup on Fiji’s role as a hub in the region?

Fiji has played a central role for a couple of hundred years because of its geographic position. The undersea cables, shipping lines, airline routes make it a central location. We have a very well developed infrastructure that can handle an entrepĂ´t function. If we were going to have serious political instability, it could affect this, but I don’t see that happening. I don’t see other countries hedging against us playing this role either.

Tourism remains a driver of economic growth. Given the volatility in the international markets (especially energy), are you concerned that Fiji must urgently diversify its sources of foreign exchange, and what is the government doing to promote foreign investment?

The government is trying to promote diversification as much as possible. It’s encouraging the agriculture and resource sectors. We have bauxite, gold, and manganese in our mines. We have resources within our exclusive economic zone (EEZ), including manganese nodules. Tourism is moving on its own – it’s experiencing a very satisfactory increase.

It has been reported that Fiji would push for the South Pacific Stock Exchange emerging as a regional exchange. Why hasn’t this occurred, and do you see renewed interest in pushing this ahead?

It’s still moving in the direction of a regional stock exchange. We have Fiji TV listed on the stock exchange, which has holdings in Papua New Guinea (PNG). Bank South Pacific South Pacific of PNG has bought one of the banks in Fiji and is moving to be listed on the South Pacific Stock Exchange. So, I think that with time it will be able to gradually interest others.

Fiji participated in the Shanghai World Expo in 2010. How important is cultural diplomacy to advancing your countries national interests abroad? What countries are the main focus of such outreach?

We aren’t doing too much in public diplomacy. We do have regular attendance at such expos, a military band that travels, a festival of arts held in the South Pacific, and shows like Pacific Night in Washington, DC and elsewhere . However, I don’t know if there’s a systematic plan to exploit this area on the world stage. It is just not being thought of – we don’t have the resources to do much about it. It has nothing to do with our present government status. I think it’s increasingly realized that we need to get a brand though. The fact that Fiji Water is such a recognizable brand matters. We now are launching Fiji Pure Mahogany as a brand. The government is increasingly realizing it needs a systematic approach to building a brand. The government is going to have to take the initiative and spearhead building a brand. It will need to put resources into it and get input from agencies in other countries.

For a small country, Fiji nonetheless is a major force in international rugby union. Unfortunately, the country had a poor showing at this year's World Cup. What impact will this have on the local economy and what is Fiji doing to ensure that the team is more competitive in the future?

Our sevens team is a better brand for our country than the 15-man competition, and we have won the World Cup twice with the sevens. If we had done well in this World Cup, it would have had an impact. But almost the entire team that played at the World Cup plays their professional rugby full-time overseas. The fact that they are all playing overseas and they have good reputations in the places they play, especially Europe, Australia, and New Zealand – that has an economic impact. So, more Fijian players are being encouraged to go play abroad. There’s a lot of economic benefit that comes from the recognition of Fijians’ ability to play rugby.

October 26, 2011

Air Pacific bailed out by taxpayers pension fund

Even as the news of Air Pac's shady bailout by superannuation fund, Fiji National Provident Fund (FNPF) makes the news, questions abound as to the hush-hush and unexpected way this deal has come about.

While Air Pacific aka Air Treason vehemently pledges [just like they pledged their non-involvement in the union muzzling decree], to make good on FNPF's investment via "healthy premiums", the mere fact that Air Pacific could not even scrape together the deposit in which to purchase these 3 new aircrafts lends weight to deeper questions behind their self-propogated fluff attempts to hide the hemorrhaging within the national airlines.

What also remains unsaid is why the airline, as a commercial entity, did not seek a commercial loan that most corporations do in acquisitions of this nature so that the risk is not borne by unwitting pensioners, particulary as Dave Pfielger's has hyped up their ability to pay back a "healthy premium".

While Air Pacific has (thanks to the CEO Dave Pfielger's benefactor Aiyaz Sayed Khaiyum) for the moment managed to calm down uproar from exporters and freight agents responding to Air Pacific's unilateral decision to downsize the frequency of their flights, this is the commercial world after all where healthy competition and true customer satisfaction reigns supreme.

The FNPF would do well to rethink their reforms particularly as this bailout has not gone unnoticed and will certainly not go unchallenged either.
Airline set to pay 'healthy premium'
Elenoa Baselala
Wednesday, October 26, 2011

CLOSE to $200million was borrowed by Air Pacific from the Fiji National Provident Fund (FNPF) for the purchase of three new aircraft costing about $1.06billion.

The FNPF funding was announced by the Attorney-General and Civil Aviation Minister Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum yesterday.

The minister said acquiring local funding was positive.

BUT Air Pacific chief executive and managing director Dave Pflieger said getting the loan approved was tough as the FNPF tried to establish whether the airline had the capability of repaying the loan.

He said the airline would pay a healthy premium to the FNPF for the loan.

The FNPF loan was used as a deposit for the new planes.

The other financiers are European credit agencies.

The airline in recent times had to undergo a restructure to return to profitability as well as place itself in a better footing to meet competition.

While the airline is not out of the "hot water", Mr Pflieger said the company had a lot more to do.

Apart from the reforms, which included the fleet change, the company was also able to improve its operations.

Mr Pflieger said the airline improved its on-time performance and beating other airlines such as Jet Star and Virgin Air.

Meanwhile, the new aircraft is expected to dramatically improve the appeal and effectiveness of Fiji's national carrier in achieving its goal of becoming the airline of choice in the South Pacific. Mr Pflieger said once the new planes were operational, he expected their superior range and payload.

October 21, 2011

RNZI: Fiji chief censor studies information policies in China

Posted at 01:38 on 20 October, 2011 UTC

Fiji’s chief censor has flown to China to learn how to disseminate information that is accurate and balanced.

Sharon Smith-Johns, who is the Ministry of Information’s permanent secretary, is attending workshops for officials representing information ministries from developing countries.

She says developing countries can learn from each other to develop new ideas to ensure information is not distorted, inaccurate or unbalanced when it reaches the general public.

The Fiji regime introduced a media decree last year but then failed to make good on its earlier promise to lift its emergency rules that also censor the media.

October 20, 2011

The military regime's ever expanding circle of FRENEMIES

Definition of Frenemies.
Reference id: aka Wikileaks id #119789  ? 
Subject: Fiji Update 8/24/07: Nervousness In The Streets; Eu Approach To Aid; Election Preparations; Telecomms Opening
Origin: Embassy Suva (Fiji)
Cable time: Thu, 23 Aug 2007 16:29 UTC
Classification: CONFIDENTIAL
Source: http://wikileaks.org/cable/2007/08/07SUVA420.html
References: 07SUVA416
Referenced by: 07SUVA425
History: First published on Thu, 1 Sep 2011 23:24 UTC

DE RUEHSV #0420/01 2351629
P 231629Z AUG 07

C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 03 SUVA 000420

SIPDIS E.O. 12958: DECL: 08/23/2017 TAGS: PREL [External Political Relations], PGOV [Internal Governmental Affairs], MARR [Military and Defense Arrangements], ASEC [Security], ECON [Economic Conditions], CASC [Assistance to Citizens], FJ [Fiji] 



Classified By: Amb. Dinger. Sec. 1.4 (B,D).

1. (C) Contacts are increasingly nervous that ethnic-Fijian unhappiness with Commodore Bainimarama's interim government (IG) could erupt. The surface remains calm. Media report a draft EU decision document re sugar-reform aid would keep pressure on the IG to hold credible elections by early 2009. The IG's search for a Supervisor of Elections is now orienting abroad, including to PNG. Fiji Human Rights Commission Director Shameem continues to behave oddly. She has told some journalists she and Bainimarama are driving IG policy. The IG has chosen an interesting group of chiefs to propose reforms to the Great Council of Chiefs (GCC). Another military officer has formally taken a senior civilian position: PermSec for Justice. The IG appears to be opening the free-to-air TV and mobile-phone sectors to competition. End summary.

Stirrings among ethnic-Fijians
2. (C) A variety of well-connected contacts in Suva are increasingly nervous about the state of play in the ethnic-Fijian community. As we have reported, Commodore Bainimarama's removal of the Qarase Government, just six months after ethnic-Fijians voted overwhelmingly for that Government contrary to the vocal recommendation of Bainimarama, has left large numbers of ethnic-Fijians disgruntled. The surface has appeared calm, but many have reported deep unease underneath. A savvy ethnic-Fijian newspaper editor told us this week that, if an election were held today or probably within the foreseeable future, 85% or more of ethnic-Fijians would back Qarase's SDL party. Another editor said he believes "blood in the streets" is inevitable unless Bainimarama steps aside, which nobody sees happening. Some have noticed that an annual Methodist conference in Suva this week has attracted an unusual concentration of high chiefs. There are rumors that some former military officers, who have stayed dormant til now, are stirring toward action. Comment: It is impossible to know if an eruption will actually occur. We remain watchful.

EU funding dependent on electoral progress?
3. (C) Suva media spotted a draft decision document regarding Fiji on the EU's website. The document, prepared for consideration at a future meeting of the European Commission, recommends a careful process of releasing EU sugar-assistance funding to Fiji over the coming years. The EU has already agreed to release about US$5 million from a 2006 pre-coup allocation. The document recommends no additional funding for 2007, an allocation for 2008 only if there is evidence of credible and timely preparation for elections, and an allocation for 2009 if a legitimate government is in place. If a legitimate government continues thereafter, funding would continue to flow, totaling up to US$165 million for the period to 2014. Interim Finance Minister Chaudhry, who had previously suggested publicly to his cane-grower constituents that large amounts of EU sugar money were imminent, now has acknowledged publicly that no EU sugar finding is expected for 2007, except for the soon-to-be-accessed 2006 funding. Chaudhry suggested "caveats" in the interim government (IG) commitments to the EU could allow a delay of elections without a cut of EU funding. Comment: We are aware from EU reps here that the intention is to hold back the bulk of sugar assistance until after the proposed early 2009 elections, keeping the IG's feet to the fire.

Search for Elections Supervisor continues
4. (C) A second effort by the IG Public Service Commission (PSC) to recruit a Supervisor of Elections locally has failed to produce an acceptable candidate, according to interim Attorney General Sayed-Khaiyum. The IG will now search abroad. The IG promised the EU to have a Supervisor of Elections in place by September 2007. Sayed-Khaiyum said the IG may seek to advertise the job via the EU. Comment: The failure to produce a name could be an effort to slow the election-preparation process, though Sayed-Khaiyum blames the problem on Australia, New Zealand, and others who have visa sanctions in place. Some others in the region will seek to ensure a suitable Supervisor becomes rapidly available. We understand that PNG PM Somare recommended two PNG citizens to interim FM Nailatikau. The New Zealanders have heard positive reports on one of them: former PNG Electoral Commissioner Henry Veretau.

FHRC's Shameem claims to play a lead role in IG
--------------------------------------------- --
5. (C) Fiji Human Rights Commission (FHRC) Director Shaista Shameem has threatened to sue the Fiji Times and Fiji Sun newspapers over their "harassment" of James Anthony, the person leading the FHRC's inquiry into media freedom. The Times responded by editorial on 8/23 proposing that if anyone should be sued it is Shameem for threatening the free press that is guaranteed under the Constitution. Comment: We are told that when Shameem visited the Fiji Post newspaper six weeks ago she told the editors not to bother observing the interim Cabinet or the NGO community, since Shameem and Bainimarama are the ones driving IG policy. The editor of the Post was startled at the statement, even if it was said "off the record." As Director of the FHRC and recently named Ombudsman, Shameem is supposed to be studiously neutral in her approach, working purely to protect human rights. We are certain Shameem and Bainimarama consult, but we expect Shameem was greatly exaggerating her influence over IG policy.

GCC reform committee selected
6. (C) Fijian Affairs Minister Ganilau has named six high chiefs to a committee to review the Great Council of Chiefs (GCC). The leader of the review is Ratu Tu'uakitau (Tuki) Cokanauto, younger brother of interim Foreign Minister Nailatikau, whom the GCC declined to endorse as Vice President in April. Ratu Tuki has been quiet since the coup. He has an independent streak. Several on the committee reportedly have relatively solid reputations. One member is high chief for PM Qarase's home village Mavana. Qarase is a commoner. Ratu Tuki suggested the mandate for the committee is to seek ways the GCC can be better organized to do its job more effectively. Comment: Any formal changes to the Fijian Affairs Act or the Constitution, the sources of the GCC's powers, should require action by Parliament, though Ganilau has suggested he can implement reforms via Presidential decree.

Military PermSec for Justice
7. (U) The Public Service Commission, with interim PM Bainimarama's blessing, has named three more Permanent Secretaries. Army LtCol. Pio Tikoduadua has become PermSec SIPDIS for Justice. He has acted in that role since the coup. He has a graduate diploma in "Strategy in Defense Studies," but has no legal training. Savenaca Kaunisela is PermSec for Provincial Development and Multi-Ethnic Affairs. He is a 30-year civil servant and most recently has run government operations in Fiji's West. Malakai Tadulala is PermSec for Agriculture. He is a 28-year civil servant and most recently has been Deputy Secretary in the interim PM's office.

Opening up Telecomms
8. (SBU) The interim Minister for Commerce, Taito Waradi, is taking his telecommunications-reform portfolio seriously. In a sector that has been mostly government-dominated monopolies, he has granted licenses in recent weeks to four firms that want to compete with Fiji TV in the free-to-air television market. In late July, the IG called for tenders on licenses to operate mobile phone services, until now an exclusive franchise of Vodafone. One other company, Pacific Connex, received a tentative license from the Qarase Government before the coup but its owner became a target of post-coup investigations and has not followed through. Connex this week launched a court case to block the granting of more licenses. Comment: It seems certain that Fiji's small market cannot support five TV stations or three mobile-phone companies. On the other hand, the way to sort out winners and losers is to let them compete. Waradi may deserve kudos for attempting just that, though it remains to be seen how viably-resourced some of the new licensees are. The government-affiliated monopolies have long said they will welcome competition, so long as their investors are appropriately compensated. It does not appear the IG has solved that part of the equation yet. Lawsuits may follow.


Aiyaz Sayed Khaiyum doesn't want Elections

Don't be fooled by the illegal and treasonous Aiyaz Sayed Khaiyum's latest public posturing on the regime's "overwhelming popularity", nor Khaiyum's pitiful grandstanding aimed at pushing for institiutional systems that will take us to the polls in 2014:
Electronic voter registration machine supplier to be known in November
Publish date/time: 18/10/2011 [17:09]

In just about two weeks from now, the government will announce the successful applicant that will supply the Electronic Voter Registration machines.

Acting Prime Minister and Attorney General, Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum gave this update to Switzerland’s Ambassador to Fiji Marion Krupski upon her visit to Fiji.

Sayed-Khaiyum said expressions of interest to undertake the registration of voters through the electronic machines closed on the 7th of this month and the announcement on the confirmed supplier of the machines will be made on November 1st.

He said the timeframe for the electoral system will be contained in the new constitution.

Sayed-Khaiyum has told the Swiss envoy that consultation on the new constitution will begin in September next year and the constitution will be implemented by September 2013.

He said he expects the Swiss Ambassador left satisfied with the level of progress the government is achieving on behalf of Fijians.

During the meeting Ambassador Krupski asked Sayed-Khaiyum about the recent poll by Lowy Institute and the popularity of Commodore Bainimarama which she found interesting.

The Acting Prime Minister said the Bainimarama government has been making strides in numerous areas like access to technology, social welfare and elections, all of which would naturally result in popularity.

Story by: Vijay Narayan

We know now (thanks to Wikileaks) that US officials had from 2008 sussed out Khaiyum's personal ambitions that are still very much at play to this day and which law abiding citizens and taxpayers of Fiji continue to endure:
Reference id: 08SUVA474 aka Wikileaks id #184183
Subject: Fiji: Bainimarama Firmly In Charge; No Path Yet To Elections
Origin: Embassy Suva (Fiji)
Cable time: Mon, 22 Dec 2008 02:47 UTC
Classification: SECRET
Source: http://wikileaks.org/cable/2008/12/08SUVA474.html
References: 08SUVA315, 08SUVA400, 08SUVA432
History: First published on Thu, 1 Sep 2011 23:24 UTC

R 220247Z DEC 08

S E C R E T SUVA 000474


E.O. 12958: DECL: 12/22/2018
TAGS: PGOV [Internal Governmental Affairs], PHUM [Human Rights], FJ [Fiji]

REF: A. 08 SUVA 315
     B. 08 SUVA 400
     C. 08 SUVA 432

Classified By: Ambassador McGann for reasons 1.4(b) and (d)

1. (SBU) Summary. Bainimarama remains firmly in control of Fiji,s government. While he originally intended the President,s Political Dialogue Forum as a mechanism to further delay elections, the process has taken on a life of its own. While some within the Interim Government remain opposed to near-term elections, opposition political parties appear to recognize the necessity of reaching a political compromise. The IG has begun efforts to reach out to Fiji,s traditional chiefs in an effort to counter strong and largely unified opposition to the IG by Fiji,s indigenous population. In January in Port Moresby, the PIF is faced with a tough decision whether to suspend Fiji prior to an attempt at dialogue by its political leadership. Such an action might prove counter-productive and play into the IG,s hands. The Embassy believes we might be able to play a useful role in the early months of 2009 by publicly urging all parties to seek a workable compromise to return to democracy. End summary.

Bainimarama Firmly in Charge
2. (SBU) Two years after the December 5, 2006 coup, Bainimarama,s handle on the government remains firmly entrenched. Recent obvious miscues with New Zealand demonstrated his sense of confidence and ongoing need to show the military council that he is willing to stand up to Australia and New Zealand. Bainimarama,s frequent overseas travel also underscores his confidence in his position.

The President,s Political Dialogue Forum
3. (SBU) Work is ongoing preparatory to a meeting of the proposed President,s Political Dialogue Forum (PPDF) sometime early 2009. Most observers believe that Bainimarama originally intended for the PPDF to be a way to delay the election process because no one believed that it would be embraced by the opposition parties. However, the PPDF has now taken on a life of its own. During a November 16 meeting, deposed prime minister Laisenia Qarase told the Ambassador he would do whatever possible to make the PPDF work, despite earlier nay-saying by SDL spokesmen. Qarase said that he believes the time has come for compromise and if necessary he would be willing to step aside if Bainimarama would agree to relinquish administration of the government. Qarase was referencing a compromise following the 2000 coup when Ratu Jope Seniloli was given the vice presidency, a largely ceremonial but influential position.

4. (SBU) Qarase also noted that he would be willing to consider various formulae for returning democracy including reinstating the current parliament with a transition prime minister that would complete the two years left in this parliamentary session. These two years could be spent preparing for elections and implementing those acceptable ideas contained in the Peoples, Charter. Qarase said that whatever the final arrangement some compromise could be reached by March if all of the political leaders were just locked in a room together for a couple of weeks.

5. (SBU) At present, Robin Nair and Sitiveni Halapua are preparing proposed terms of reference for the PPDF. Presumably, a second meeting of political party leaders will convene early 2009 to agree on terms of reference for the PPDF. No date has been set for either meeting. The IG continues to wait for a response from the United Nations and/or Commonwealth as to what role each might play and whether either organization might nominate someone to chair the PPDF process.

6. (SBU) There is a clear need to give the PPDF greater structure, thereby limiting avenues by which the IG can avoid progress. Australian High Commissioner James Bately continues to express interest in funding a secretariat for the PPDF to help give it structure. This would enable Robin Nair and Sitiveni Halapua to not just be rapporteurs but also facilitate the PPDF process. All international partners recognize the need to ensure that the PPDF is a close-ended process.

John Samy and the NCBBF Process
7. (SBU) The National Council for Building a Better Fiji (NCBBF) completed nation-wide &consultations8 on the draft Peoples, Charter this month and presented their report to the president on December 15. The NCBBF claimed to have consulted approximately 425,000 people, with more than 370,000 completing response forms, 92 percent of which reportedly fully endorsed the Charter. As reported reftels B and C, the consultation process involved a wide range of coercion and is perceived as having very little legitimacy. Opponents continue to question why, if the public truly supports the Charter, the IG remains unwilling to hold a public referendum on the document as originally promised. Meanwhile, the role the Peoples, Charter will play in Fiji,s future and how its aspirational goals will become political realities remains a mystery.

8. (C) In a recent lunch meeting, the architect of the Peoples, Charter, John Samy, told the Ambassador that that he undertook the process thinking it would be helpful to Fiji. As political events have unfolded since the Charter,s launch in August, Samy has lost enthusiasm for the direction of the IG. He expressed disappointment about the intimidation used to get people to endorse the Charter. Samy understands now that the aspirational goals of the Charter ) some of which are necessary to take Fiji away from race-based politics ) will not be met without returning to the 1997 Constitution and Parliament. Ultimately, it might require a deal among all the parties and it is too soon to tell whether the PPDF can achieve this. Samy said he was looking forward to his return to New Zealand.

Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum and the Politics of Delay
9. (C) Some of Samy,s frustration at the direction the IG has taken undoubtedly stems from encounters with attorney general Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum, who remains close to Bainimarama and is strongly opposed to holding elections in the near term. Fiji,s highest ranking civil servant, Parmesh Chand, reached out to the Ambassador to express concern, both his own and on behalf of others within the IG seeking elections in 2009, about the AG,s influence with Bainimarama. Chand,s view, that the AG has captured the ear of Bainimarama in a negative way, is widely held in Fiji.

10. (C) While ideology undoubtedly plays a role, Sayed-Khaiyum,s personal ambition and political isolation likely fuel his opposition to near-term elections. The AG is not affiliated with any major political party, has limited contacts outside the IG, and would face an uncertain future should he lose his position. He was in default on several property loans to one of Fiji,s largest banks for much of the past two years; the bank unwilling to foreclose for (the entirely reasonable) fear that its expatriate managers would be deported should they do so. He recently resolved the delinquencies by selling the properties to law firms he dishes out IG work to, for prices well above fair market value.

11. (C) For the time being, Sayed-Khaiyum seems firmly ensconced, having time and again proven himself as Bainimarma,s go-to guy, resolving a number of political and economic problems created by other IG ministers.

Courting the Chiefs
12. (SBU) Bainimarama,s recent efforts to mend fences with Fiji,s traditional chiefs have shown mixed reviews. The IG invited 285 chiefs of all ranks to a traditional meeting (called a Bose ni Turaga) on December 16-17. About 123 turned out, largely lower ranking, primarily from the village and district levels. Notably absent were Fiji,s powerful provincial and confederate level chiefs, some of whom served in the SDL government, many bitterly opposed to the IG.

13. (SBU) Because the Bose ni Turaga lacks legal status (unlike the Great Council of Chiefs) and was not sanctioned by Fiji,s most powerful chiefs, the IG wisely refrained from pursuing any pro-Peoples, Charter resolutions. However, President Iloilo and Bainimarama both pleaded for support. The chiefs were asked to tell their people about the IG,s progress in making Fiji a better place. The IG may be seeking to siphon away some of the lower level chiefs who attended the meeting and their provincial and confederacy heads who did not. Although Bainimarama insisted upon this chief,s meeting, it seems he has taken a step away from trying to undermine the Great Council of Chiefs. Whether this is acknowledgment that he cannot put forward his agenda without the chiefs remains to be seen.

14. (SBU) The PIF special session on January 27 in Port Moresby is scheduled to discuss suspending Fiji if the IG does not announce a clear path to elections. Bainimarama is not wont to do so until after the PPDF concludes, which entails a series of meetings, the first of which will likely start in February. The PIF is faced with a dilemma. To suspend Fiji prior to an attempt at dialogue by its political leadership would be counter-productive. At the same time, the PIF has not yet endorsed the PPDF process as a recognized mechanism to return Fiji to democracy. The PIF could be seen as backtracking rather than being assertive if it gives the IG yet another pass. The views of Australia, New Zealand and Papua New Guinea will be critical to the stance the PIF eventually takes.

15. (SBU) Bainimarama would see a decision by the PIF to hold off Fiji,s suspension as a clear victory. Despite the widespread belief in Fiji and the region that there is enough time for elections to be held in 2009, any compromise that emerges from the PPDF could play into the IG,s insistence that elections would take another 12-15 months.

16. (SBU) The Embassy notes that any compromise emerging from the PPDF would not likely take form until March at the earliest. Although many believe that elections can be held in late 2009, it is likely that whatever the outcome, Bainimarama will try to hold to the 12-15 month timetable he set starting from the day the Electoral Commission begins work but only after the PPDF agrees on electoral reform. Embassy believes that by publicly urging all parties to seek a clear path to return to democracy, we might be able to nudge Fiji,s parties to a yet-to-be-determined compromise.


October 19, 2011

Air Pacific glosses over delayed LA flight mess

Tourism operators in Nadi were sent into a tailspin as Air Pacific's sudden delayed LA flight last night sent them all into a frenzy of accomodation bookings for all passengers who were grounded.

In what looks to be growing inefficiencies within "Air Treason", the illegal and treasonous CEO Dave Pfielger propped up by his new propaganda person no less, takes it upon himself to spin the gloss about a new aircraft arrival with no mention at all of the disgruntled passengers who were greatly inconvenienced by the delay of their flight to LA.

It is understood that the delayed flight will now depart this morning while many tourism operators of hotels and transport revelled in the sudden spike to business, inflated naturally by hiked prices at Air Pacific's cost.
New Air Pacific plane arrives
Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Air Pacific’s latest aircraft arrived into the country earlier this afternoon.

The airline last bought a new aircraft in 2003.

Air Pacific CEO Dave Pflieger says buying the Boeing 737-800 aeroplane is part of the changes the company is trying to implement.

“Its a very cost effective solutiuon in addition to our fleet and particular with respect to fuel burn."

Acting Prime Minister and Minister for Civil Aviation Aiyaz Sayed- Khaiyum says these changes are being made at Air Pacific for the betterment of the airline.

“As Dave has said there are a number of changes that have taken plane at Air Pacific the Bainimarama Government is extremely supportive of the change that are taking place because we have a long term view and long term vision as to how Fiji needs to position itself”.

The aircraft has been named after the Mamanuca Islands and was manufactured in June last year.

Report by: Christopher Chand

October 18, 2011

Who killed the "Presidential Political Dialogue Forum" (PPDF) exercise?

Since all the dramatic overtures of the illegal and treasonous military regime have fizzled out, followed by the quick and dirty exits of former regime supporters such as John Samy and Robin Nair, it is very helpful to try and piece together all the various agendas and blockages from within the regime itself.

And no where can this be made as plain as day than Wikileaks.

Aiyaz did it. Aiyaz is calling the shots, and Aiyaz yanks the mindless Bainimarama around by the nose.
Reference id: aka Wikileaks id #175021
Subject: Dialogue Opens Rift In Fiji"s Governing Circle
Origin: Embassy Suva (Fiji)
Cable time: Fri, 24 Oct 2008 03:36 UTC
Classification: CONFIDENTIAL
Source: http://wikileaks.org/cable/2008/10/08SUVA401.html
References: 08SUVA400
History    First published on Thu, 1 Sep 2011 23:24 UTC


DE RUEHSV #0401/01 2980336
P 240336Z OCT 08

C O N F I D E N T I A L SUVA 000401


E.O. 12958: DECL: 10/24/2018 TAGS:
PGOV [Internal Governmental Affairs], PREL [External Political Relations], FJ [Fiji]


Classified By: Charge d'Affaires, a.i. Richard K. Pruett; Reasons 1,4 (B), (D). ¶

1. (C) Summary. The move by Fiji's interim Prime Minister Commodore Voreqe Bainimarama to convene a "Presidential Political Dialogue Forum" (PPDF) to facilitate the conducting of a general election "as soon as practically possible" has opened a schism within the inner circles of the interim government (IG) between those in favor and those opposed to the forum. The rift could cause the departure of Bainimarama's close advisor John Samy as early as October 27. It also throws into further doubt the IG's commitment to the PPDF process. End summary.

¶2. (C) Dr. Sitiveni "Steven" Halapua, an eminent Tongan professor at the East-West Center in Honolulu who is also the "People's Representative" to Tonga's Constitutional and Electoral Commission, discussed with Embassy officers on October 23 his understanding of events leading to his selection by the IG as a "co-interlocutor" of the PPDF. (Retired Australian Foreign Service officer Robin Nair, an ethnic Indo-Fijian, is the other co-interlocutor.) Halapua revealed that John Samy, a key advisor to Bainimarama, had persuaded Bainimarama to proceed with the PPDF despite collective opposition to the dialogue within the IG. According to Halapua, intramural criticism of the PPDF initiative so affected Samy that he is now drafting a memorandum of understanding governing his future relations with the IG, and if the IG does not accept his terms by the date of the PPDF's opening on October 27, then he is prepared to resign immediately from the government.

¶3. (C) Halapua disclosed that interim Attorney General Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum had rallied the entire Military Council of the Republic of Fiji Military Forces (RFMF) in opposition to the PPDF initiative. According to Halapua, he had to terminate a meeting with Samy on October 21 when Bainimarama suddenly called Samy away to a meeting with Sayed-Khaiyum and the Military Council. Halapua shared with us Samy's later account of the meeting. Sayed-Khaiyum reportedly excoriated the PPDF as an ill-conceived idea coming at the wrong time. Asked in which way Sayed-Khayum thought the PPDF ill-conceived, Halapua replied that the interim attorney general seemed to think that the October 9 high court ruling dismissing the main legal challenge to the 2006 coup had given the IG a sort of carte blanche that obviated the need for any conciliatory measures for the present. Sayed-Khaiyum also reportedly criticized Halapua and Nair as representing the interests of the international community -- by implication, in opposition to Fiji's national interests.

¶4. (C) Samy passionately argued in favor of allowing the PPDF to go forward. Halapua did not elaborate much on Samy's arguments, except to say that Samy had warned Bainimarama that he would lose all credibility with respect to any future appeal for dialogue if he now aborted the PPDF process. It had to have been a tour de force on Samy's part, because his argument carried the day against the articulate and persuasive attorney general.

¶5. (C) Sayed-Khaiyum's challenge before the Military Council reportedly still rankled Samy during a subsequent budget meeting he attended at which Sayed-Khaiyum was Chair. Afterward, Samy informed Bainimarama that he would no longer attend budget meetings if they are chaired by Sayed-Khaiyum. Bainimarama apparently told Sayed-Khaiyum of Samy's feelings, prompting the interim attorney general to ask Samy (perhaps patronizingly) "are you alright?" Samy reportedly replied that by attacking Halapua and Nair, Sayed-Khaiyum had impugned Samy by association. Halapua did not provide more details about Samy's spat with Sayed-Khaiyum, but he noted that Samy is an accomplished economist who had earlier turned down Bainimarama's offer to head Fiji's Ministry of Finance. Said Halapua, Samy's threat to boycott budget meetings is magnified by the fact that he possesses most of the financial credentials to be found in the committee.

¶6. (C) Samy's pique apparently did not end with Sayed-Khaiyum. According to Halapua, Samy still feels so hurt for being mistrusted that he is now drafting a memorandum of understanding to govern his future relations with the IG and is prepared to resign from the interim government if the IG does not accept his terms by October 27. In the course of advocating for the PPDF, Samy reportedly concluded that the IG had never been very serious about instituting a dialogue with the opposition. Bainimarama had often blamed deposed Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase for not being willing to hold genuine talks, but Samy now feels that Bainimarama was simply projecting onto the opposition his own reluctance. Halapua claimed that Samy now feels appalled that despite his work with the IG for over a year, during which time he was the principal architect of the draft People's Charter for Change, Peace and Progress, or blueprint for reforming Fiji's political culture, those in Fiji's ruling circle still don't have a vision for how to get there.

¶7. (C) Halapua mentioned his surprise in learning that John Samy is not as some portray him: a Rasputin-like eminence grise manipulating Bainimarama from behind the scenes. He is, instead, as Nair has characterized him: the moderate in Bainimarama's inner circle. (Comment: Nair had earlier told embassy officers that Samy alone had been truly receptive to his proposals. Nair is himself a moderate but does not share Samy's access to Bainimarama. The only other moderate in Bainimarama's circle seems to be Permanent Secretary Parmesh Chand. Chand does not seem as close to Bainimarama as Samy or Sayed-Khaiyum and appears seldom to take an advocacy role on policy issues. End comment.)

¶8. (SBU) Halapua and Nair are only now beginning to formulate their roles in the upcoming dialogue forum. Halapua had little idea yet of the modalities for the meeting, except that it would be held at the parliament complex in Suva and would include all 16 of Fiji's registered parties. Each of the parties will be represented by principals plus one. The IG will be represented by Sayed-Khaiyum as principal, accompanied by Samy. Bainimarama will chair the meeting. The meeting will be aimed at achieving an agenda and terms of reference for the PPDF sessions to follow.

¶9. (C) In light of Bainimarama's recent unhelpful stipulations that none of the parties come to the forum with demands, including any insistence on holding the IG to its earlier promise of elections by March 2009, Embassy officers suggested to Halapua that he and Nair try to impress upon Bainimarama the value in his taking a light approach to chairing the session, presiding over, but not necessarily running, the meetings. As interlocutors, Halapua and Nair would foreshadow the role Sir Paul Reeves or his substitute would play in facilitating any future sessions. They could play an important role in shaping the context of discussions in order to promote genuine dialogue, so careful focus now on establishing ground rules and processes could pay big dividends for this and any future meetings. Halapua seized on the word 'process' and began to think aloud about seating and other arrangements. He toyed with the idea of flanking Bainimarama with himself and Nair. He was especially pleased with the thought that Sayed-Khaiyum would not be able to pass notes directly to Bainimarama but would instead need to go through Samy. (According to Halapua, Samy had originally sought to distance himself from the PPDF for fear his participation in it might somehow muddle his promotion of the draft Peoples Charter, but Samy later changed his mind because his participation might help to neutralize Sayed-Khaiyum's baleful influence.) Halapua added that he and Nair are in the process of writing out some ground rules for the proceedings.

¶10. (SBU) The idea of a presidentially-sanctioned political dialogue seems to have originated out of the April meeting of the National Council For Building a Better Fiji (NCBBF) in which it called for a forum of all parties, convened by the president, to discuss electoral reform. (The IG established the NCBBF to promote the adoption of the draft People's Charter.) Subsequently, Fiji's major parties, including Qarase's Soqosoqo Duavata ni Lewenivanua (SDL) party, agreed to participate on the condition that the forum discuss more than just electoral reform. The idea for the Forum languished when Bainimarama made it clear he would not accept Fiji constitutional law expert Sir Paul Reeves of New Zealand as its chair, despite Reeves' endorsement for the position by the Commonwealth's secretary general. The IG had suggested three other names, feeling that Reeves was already too wedded to Fiji's present political system, which he had helped to codify as the chair of the Fiji Constitution Review Commission from 1995 to 1997. The Commonwealth's secretary general persisted in supporting Reeves for the role. Reeves reportedly believed that elections could be held in March 2009 as Bainimarama had originally promised the PIF leadership at its 2007 summit in Tonga. Reeves also reportedly wanted the Forum broadened to include more than issues of electoral reform (e.g., a date certain for elections), whereas Bainimarama was adamant that its discussions be limited to electoral reform. Bainimarama effectively sidelined Reeves by saying he would only accept him as an advisor or facilitator, and not as Chair, to which Reeves did not assent. Later statements by Bainimarama and the NCBBF then seemed to delay the convening of the Forum indefinitely by making it contingent upon prior acceptance of the Peoples Charter.

¶11. (SBU) Halapua and East-West Center President Charles Morrison visited Fiji in September to push their idea of a "talanoa" consultative process to bring the IG together with Qarase and other major opposition figures. They explained their ideas to Bainimarama, Qarase, Samy, Fiji Labour Party leader Mahendra Chaudhry, resident heads of diplomatic missions, and virtually every other major political figure in Fiji, with the exception of oppositionist Mick Beddoes of the United People's Party, who was unavailable. They found most parties generally receptive to the idea but very distrustful of the other participants. Subsequently, Robin Nair, in his capacity as a member of the so-called Independent Monitoring Group (IMG), which was ostensibly established by President Iloilo to provide independent oversight of the preparation process for the People's Charter, made his own attempt at promoting dialogue. He attempted to persuade Bainimarama to de-link the PPDF from progress on the People's Charter. He also tried to sell the IG on the idea of using a well-known conflict resolution group to lead the PPDF as a way to mediate an end to Fiji,s political impasse. Nair was disappointed by Bainimarama's cool response to his proposals; the commodore promised only to take Nair's idea under advisement for later discussion with Republic of Fiji Military Forces' Military Council.

¶12. (SBU) Further impetus to the idea of a political forum came with generally supportive statements by New Zealand and Australia. Helpful, too, was the announcement by Opposition Leader Mick Beddoes that he had dropped his earlier insistence on first establishing terms of reference and was now willing to participate in a proposed Presidential Dialogue Forum even without an agenda. According to Beddoes, the IG and the representatives of the various parties could establish rules of engagement and an agenda at their first meeting or two and just go on from there. Beddoes' statement echoed earlier, more equivocal statements of support by both Qarase and Chaudhry. The October 9 High Court ruling dismissing Qarase's legal challenge to the 2006 coup clearly threw the opposition off-balance. These developments seem to have emboldened Samy to propose to Bainimarama a serious push with the PPDF.

¶13. (C) Sayed-Khaiyum's argument against holding the Presidential Political Dialogue Forum at this time was at least half-right -- it is indeed ill-conceived, in the sense that the IG has given little thought to its preparation. Sayed-Khaiyum and other elements of the IG clearly seem to see little personal value in dialogue. They had surely weighed against the idea when Nair had first broached the idea of a PPDF de-linked from the Charter process. Bainimarama only seemed to have agreed to the PPDF on an impulse under Samy's suasion. He apparently had even signed the invitation letters to the forum before consulting with Sayed-Khaiyum and the Military Council. (On a conscious or unconscious level, this appears to have been deliberate, as though Bainimarama wanted to force the issue.) He apparently caved in to their criticism of the dialogue initiative before calling Samy in to defend the proposal. Bainimarama appears to have given little real thought to how a dialogue should be constructed or to what ends. Even Halapua and Nair, both intelligent men and major proponents of dialogue, were caught somewhat flat-footed by Samy's success in persuading Bainimarama to let the forum to go forward.

¶14. (C) By inviting even new and obscure parties to the dialogue forum, Bainimarama is able to mitigate some of the influence of the real opposition heavy-weights arrayed against him -- viz., Qarase, Chaudhry, and to a lesser extent Beddoes. He also ingratiates himself somewhat with the smaller parties. After suffering the opposition's slings and arrows, Bainimarama--especially if he resists the temptation to resort to his usual blustering--might conceivably even emerge as a sort of compromise figure if Qarase and Chaudhry eventually turn their rhetorical firepower on each other. Another, more cynical possibility is that some or all of the new parties are bogus and created by the IG in order to pack the deck at the forum.

¶15. (C) The likelihood is that Bainimarama will not succeed in playing a statesman but will resort to form by attempting instead to bully the opposition to accept the draft Peoples Charter as Fiji's vision statement. If the first session adjourns with a date for a second, it will be no small victory and would bode well for Fiji's ability to demonstrate progress at the December meeting of the PIF in Papua New Guinea. If the dialogue fails, the recriminations likely will fly fast and furious. The chances for the dialogue to survive the first meeting are probably less than even, but if the parties ever do settle down to a genuine give and take, they may find common areas for agreement on important issues related to election reform and confirmation of some form of amnesty for Bainimarama and his people. Perhaps most optimistically, the parties represented in the 2006 parliament could agree to a choreographed session by a reassembled parliament at which the draft People's Charter could be ratified or referred to a referendum or early consideration by a newly-elected parliament -- similar to the historic compromise between Federalists and Anti-Federalists that led to the adoption of our own Bill of Rights by the First U.S. Congress. As Dr. Halapua put it to Embassy officers, dialogue may be painful, but in light of the alternatives, it still remains the preferred "soft option."

End comment.