Friday, March 30, 2007

Time To Get Back to Democratic Rule & Fast

It’s time to change the tide

Three months after the removal of the democratically elected Laisenia Qarase-led Soqosoqo Duavata ni Lewenivanua multi party Government; the economic and financial crisis facing the nation has to be addressed. In his 2007 Budget address Interim Minister of Finance Mahendra Chaudhry admitted the Interim Government’s main challenge was to tackle the financial and economic situation. He said: “We are at a juncture where we either sink or swim as a nation. I intend to make sure that we swim. To do this, we will have to make some sacrifices. We will need to address these challenges now. If we leave these to continue they will spell doom for the country and our economy.” To make things worse, the country has suffered millions of dollars worth of damage from the recent floods. Also, much of the expected development aid funds are now on hold and this is really affecting the nation.
It is time to change the tide for a better Fiji. For this to happen we must be united with the Interim Government in preparing a road map for an early return to democratic rule. We must take heed of Australia’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Alexander Downer’s joint press conference with his counterpart in NZ, Winston Peters where he said: “We’d like to see Fiji return to democracy as quickly as possible and they clearly need a roadmap, but not a roadmap that’s four years long or three and half years long. I think they need to get back to democracy very quickly - that’s not just because countries like Australia and NZ believe very passionately in democracy - but because that’s important to the broader economic and social development of Fiji. Having the country run by the military isn’t going to be much of an option for the country over a period of years. So the quicker they can hand over to a civil democratic government the better.” We have all to accept the fact that the ousted Qarase government will never return.
However, we will all agree that we all want a democratically elected government to run the country. So we would like to see a roadmap that will see the nation return to democratic rule. Because of the events in Fiji, government major aid donors are witholding funds for developments. The Asian Developmet Bank has shelved 15 projects worth $221 million. ADB regional diretor Sirpa Jarvenpasa said they shelved the projects because of the illegal removal of the Qarase government. She said the illegal takeover had affected the work of the ADB. What the ADB wants is for the Government to restore a good investor environment. The Government had received a loan from the ADB for the Alternative Livelihoods Project. A component of the project is Agricultural Diversification, which includes improving quarantine-related market access for Fijian agricultural exports. The project is scheduled to be implemented for six years (2005- 2011). The project, approved by ADB in March 2005, targets about 8,000 sugarcane farmers, as well as cutters, mill workers, landowners, and indigenous Fijians including women in the sugarcane belt areas and nearby rural and peri-urban areas of the Western and Northern divisions on the main islands of Viti Levu and Vanua Levu.
Ms Jarvenpaa indicated that “the project will support viable alternatives to improve income by promoting agricultural diversification, strengthening agricultural services, and developing effective public-private sector partnerships in commercial agriculture.” In addition, it will improve about 600 kilometres of farm roads to provide farming communities access to markets. The goal of the project is to protect and improve the standard of living of rural people put at risk because of the restructuring of the sugar industry. The purpose of the project is to increase sustainable livelihoods, on- and off-farm, to at least replace those lost during the course of sugar industry restructuring. To achieve this, the project seeks to:
(i) maintain a healthy agriculture sector with viable alternatives to sugarcane farming,
(ii) generate sustainable off-farm and self-employment opportunities for people exiting the sugar sector and for other rural poor,
(iii) provide access to savings and credit services in rural communities to facilitate livelihood activities and improve the quality of life, and
(iv) provide critical farm access infrastructure for rural communities.
The project has four components:
(i) promoting agricultural diversification, strengthening agricultural services, and developing effective public-private sector partnerships in commercial agriculture;
(ii) encouraging people to engage in off-farm livelihoods to create income-generating capacity in rural areas by strengthening public and private sector vocational training and advisory capacity;
(iii) strengthening rural financial services offered by micro finance institutions (MFIs) and promoting sustainable MFIs in areas poorly served by commercial banks; and
(iv) project coordination.

The ADB projects now on hold affect the lives of the people who had participated in the 2006 general elections. Another major funding agency for developments in the country is the European Union. The EU has also agreed to give funds for the ALP. However, the EU now awaits a delegation from Fiji to report on the developments in the country and also on the alleged abuses of human rights since the military takeover. The change in tide the country needs is a new roadmap for a quick return to democracy. We should be thankful to the Commodore Voreqe Bainimarama-led Interim Government for the roadmap it has already prepared. But it is a fact that it is not accepted by the international community and also funding institutions. Our international friends should be mindful of the fact that the roadmap to democratic rule prepared by the Interim Government has promised fair and free election for the voters in Fiji.
They had come out with big plans and also at a very huge cost. l A population census will be convened from March 2007-June 2008, at a cost of $6.5 million. The costs will include collation and culling of data. l Census night will be on 24 July 2007, and head count for that day would cost around $1 million. l Under the proposed roadmap, electoral boundaries will be configured and new boundaries drawn. This is likely to cost $1 million, and work is expected to begin in the latter part of 2008. l A new electronic voter registration system will be introduced at a cost of $10 million. The new system will include the registration of voters, compilation of electoral roll and public scrutiny of the rolls. l The awareness campaigns to educate the populace of the new electoral system will cost the interim government $5 million
l National elections planned for June 2010 will cost $30 million.
Our international friends now need to be in the Interim Government’s shoes to know why it has decided for the general elections to be held in 2010. They have to know that the Interim Government will not bow to international pressures. For the tide to change, they must offer financial help and support the roadmap or better still give funds for an early election. It is a fact that we want an early return to democracy and 2010 is far too long. We all want a change in tide for the betterment of the nation and its people. We all support the changes but it must come from the people, as it will affect them. I know the Interim Government has been criticised for its roadmap but be reminded they are in power and they decide on policies.
I will end with this quote from Hermann Goering: “Naturally, the common people don’t want war, but after all, it is the leaders of a country who determine the policy, and it is always a simple matter to drag people along whether it is a democracy, or a fascist dictatorship, or a parliament, or a communist dictatorship. Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. This is easy. All you have to do is to tell them that they are being attacked, and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same in every country:”

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