Monday, October 08, 2007

Fiji Suffers Yet Again

EU cancels aid after Fiji fails to honour deal


Wednesday October 03, 2007

Europe has stepped up its response to the suspension of democracy in Fiji, cancelling an aid allocation for this year and putting on hold more than $112 million worth of future aid.

In separate statements yesterday, the European Union said it was willing to continue to work with Fiji - whose government was overthrown by a military coup in December - but because some commitments Fiji made in April had not been carried out, measures would be taken. It said aid being allocated to Fiji to restructure the country's sugar industry had been scrapped for 2007 and about €60 million ($113 million) of future aid had been put on hold.

"The sugar allocation for 2008 and 2009 will be released as and when Fiji meets certain agreed commitments leading to elections and installation of a legitimate government," the statement said.

It also said money from a development fund would be provided to Fiji only if the country respected commitments made with regards to human rights and the rule of law.

"If there is a slowing down, breakdown or reversal in the implementation by the interim government of the commitments it has made, the EU reserves the right to adjust the appropriate measures."

In April, representatives of Fiji's interim government made a deal with the EU to guarantee an aid package.

Under that deal, F$400 million ($342 million) in aid payments were made conditional on Fiji moving towards democracy, including ending the state of emergency imposed after the December coup.

Fiji lifted martial law on May 31 but re-imposed the public emergency regulations on September 6, saying they would be in force for only 30 days.

Fiji authorities also agreed to hold elections before February 28, 2009, but military leader Frank Bainimarama has reportedly since said the country will not hold an election for the sake of it.

In April, Fiji also gave the EU commitments with respect to the rule of law, human rights and "fundamental freedoms" but has since launched a crackdown on people posting or reading internet weblogs.

The EU said the full range of measures would be explained to Fiji authorities before being made public. Sugar is an important part of Fiji's economy, constituting 5-6 per cent of its GDP, employing 12 per cent of its workforce and accounting for 20 per cent of its exports.


Global troubleshooter holding fire on Fiji


5:00AM Wednesday October 03, 2007
By Carroll du Chateau

In his careful, measured, academic language, Dr Yash Ghai, makes it clear that he is not entirely against the rule of Commodore Frank Bainimarama in Fiji.

"An election would probably not solve the basic problem," says the constitutional expert. "It would just re-ignite the cycle: dissatisfaction, disagreement, perhaps another coup."

But, given the worldwide opposition to Bainimarama's regime - and the many who cannot stomach the idea of a regime based on the snatching of power by force - what is the realistic hope for Fiji in the near future?

Possibly, Ghai suggests gently, simple population shifts will take care of a problem which is, at heart, race-based. "The Indian population is now 38-40 per cent and decreasing. That takes some of the heat out of Fijian politics."

Ghai, here to deliver a series of three Douglas Robb lectures at the University of Auckland, is well qualified to have an opinion.

Over the past 30 years the constitutional law expert has moved around the world's political hotspots, listening, talking and helping where he can. They call him the constitutional "fix-it man" and it is easy to understand how even the most hardened find Ghai, with his grey hair, mild manner and comfortable shoes, reassuring and easy to work with.

Now in his late sixties, he listens carefully, takes time to explain various points of view on the complex issues surrounding human rights - especially in developing countries - and comes out with some surprisingly unpredictable opinions.

A Kenyan by birth, of Indian ethnicity, he rose to the top of his complicated speciality at a relatively young age, prodded by the constitutional problems surrounding the country of his birth. His early aversion to colonial rule and interest in race relations was examined in his 1971 book Asians in East Africa; portrait of a minority. Since then he has travelled the world advising nations, including Fiji, Samoa, Bougainville, Papua New Guinea, Cambodia, Iraq, Afghanistan and Sri Lanka, troubled by ethnic and other conflicts.

Ghai, who has spent much time in Fiji over the past decades advising various administrations, stopped there for a few days on his way to Auckland from Nepal, where he is now part of a United Nations programme assisting in the peace and constitution-making process.

He wanted to gauge the political mood in the country. And although he did not talk to Bainimarama, and had no plans to, given that the commodore was on his way to New York to address the UN General Assembly, he remembers him clearly from the coup of 2000.

"At the time Bainimarama was chief of the army," Ghai says. "He provided for new elections and they were held. So he did show commitment to the constitution.

"I do think that a lot of people who are condemning the coup don't conceive that there was something near corruption and nepotism [going on in Fiji under the government of the time]. But does that justify the coup? So that's a hard question."

He does, however, see serious opposition to Bainimarama's rule - not just from outside countries including New Zealand, Australia, Britain and the US but from within Fiji itself.

"The difficulty is that some important groups have opposed Bainimarama's ideas and said they will not be participating," Ghai says.

Those groups he talks about are influential. The Soqosoqo Duavata ni Lewenivanua (SDL) party is against Bainimarama's regime, as is the Methodist church which represents around 70 to 80 per cent of indigenous Fijians.

"So far the credibility of this process is undermined by this," Ghai says. "But there is one thing I want to say, [one] person I spoke to said Bainimarama's vision for the country was visionary, even awe-inspiring, but he was so opposed to the coup he didn't want to participate in it."

The main plank of Bainimarama's grand plan, explains Ghai, is to eliminate Fiji's race-based political system. "As you know, Fiji has racial electorates in addition to a certain number of seats chosen on a common electorate. He wants to move to a completely non-racial electorate ... He has stated that the new constitutional arrangement would be based on a more vibrant democracy, people's participation and a totally non-racial approach to government."

Within a week, says Ghai, "on Fiji's national day, the process for the preparation of a Peoples' Charter for Change and Progress will be initiated under the guidance of a National Council for Building a Better Fiji".

"The council is drawn from both the interim Government (13 members) and from civil society (35 members). Its task will be to prepare a blueprint for the political and economic restructuring of Fiji, based on an accountable and transparent system of governance, racial harmony and social justice.

"The blueprint will be submitted to a national summit for approval and implementation."

And does he believe this is a legitimate plan rather than part of a stalling process?

"I believe a good deal of it," says Ghai. "He is committed to some radical change."

Constitutional problems like this are what Ghai's life has been about. Sometimes he wins the often race-based arguments, often he doesn't. Occasionally, as in Cambodia, he is threatened with being run out of town. A return to his homeland in Kenya, after serving 16 years as Public Law Professor in Hong Kong, ended with his resignation after President Mwai Kibaki delayed Ghai's new constitution. Ghai moved to Nepal where he is working for the UN. Now, he says calmly, he wants to go back home "to see how it's going".

With all their worldly belongings in Nairobi, he and his wife, lawyer Jill Cottrell, are looking forward to a home base. "I have sisters in Britain and Canada and a brother in Geneva, but I still have family in Nairobi. The plan is now to stop full-time work in Nepal, probably in March, and commute between there and Kenya."

"The work is very stressful and you sometimes fail," Ghai says. "What you do is promote discussion, write papers and facilitate discussion between different groups."

As the Auckland Law Society's Professor Bill Williams says, "Competing considerations, such as ethnicity, sovereignty, human rights, power sharing and protection of minorities are never easy to reconcile - and Yash does it better than most."

* Dr Yash Ghai will present his two remaining Robb lectures on Ethnicity, human rights and democracy at 7pm tomorrow and next Monday at the University of Auckland's B28 lecture theatre, library building, 5 Alfred St.

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