Thursday, December 06, 2007

It's time to bite the bullet


Wednesday, December 05, 2007

This time last year the nation was reeling in shock as soldiers removed guns and ammunition from the police armoury as they took over the democratically-elected government led by Laisenia Qarase.

That came a day after soldiers set up a roadblock at Sawani, in Naitasiri, forcing Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase and his wife Leba, who were there to open the provincial council meeting to fly back to Suva by helicopter.

For those who witnessed the turn of events that day it was depressing it was the fourth coup since 1987 and the result of the long stand-off between the Government and the army.

People were rounded up and taken to the military camps while others fled as far as they could, terrified of the reports of interrogation and victimisation by the men in green who had taken over the Government overnight.

If the Prime Minister, chief executive officers and senior members of boards could be threatened in the days that followed 5/12 then no wonder the ordinary person on the street feared for their lives.

Even those who were perceived to be breaking no laws were rounded up and taken to the barracks, returning bruised and injured allegedly while in military custody.

Three people allegedly died in military custody Nimilote Verebasaga, Sakiusa Rabaka and Tevita Malasebe too many for the deaths to be a coincidence.

Some felt the army commander and today's interim Prime Minister, Voreqe Bainimarama had just said too much to withdraw his threats so he had to stage a coup to put his money where his mouth is.

In fact, on noon of December 1 the military had given the Government a list of demands to fully submit to or be removed through a "peaceful transition" it called a "clean up" campaign.

The demands contained the resignation of expatriate Australian Police Commissioner Andrew Hughes and the withdrawal of the three controversial bills.

These bills were the Reconciliation, Tolerance and Unity Bill, the Qoliqoli Bill and the Indigenous Land Claims Tribunal Bill.

Commodore Bainimarama feared the Bills would allow the 2000 coup perpetrators to be pardoned as well as increase division between the races in Fiji.

He wanted all police investigations against him and the army dropped.

These included sedition charges as well as investigation related to the death of the mutinous Counter Revolutionary Warfare Unit soldiers who died in November 2000.

Mr Qarase caved in, suspending the controversial bills pending a legal examination of the legislations to determine their constitutionality.

Earlier in November New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark and her Foreign Minister Winston Peters made arrangements for a meeting in Wellington between the leaders.

But all the assurances from Mr Qarase failed as it emerged he had allegedly for foreign intervention.

Since the takeover, the regime insists it has have done a lot for the country.

Commodore Bainimarama said they had arrested the precipitous decline in the nation's finances.

"We stopped the increase in VAT which was sanctioned by the previous Government and have made steady progress in restoring law and order," he said.

He said the regime's achievements included the creation of FICAC the anti-rot body, dismantling discriminatory race-based policies, return of traditional lands to indigenous owners, identifying areas of neglect in the NLTB and indigenous Fijian administration to ensure better policies and procedures as well as improving accountability in the public service.

Commodore Bainimarama said they had released additional funds to the Fiji Visitors Bureau to help in marketing of the industry, conducted a census, improved the Immigration Department, re-started Vatukoula Gold Mine and initiated a rehabilitation scheme for unemployed miners.

He said they had streamlined board memberships by removing political appointees and those holding dual positions and, among other things, accelerated the pace of reforms in the Department of Water and Sewerage.

On the other hand, Mr Qarase says while the regime thinks it had achieved much, he felt the country was moving backwards.

"A year on, we are living in the same shadows and the country remains unstable politically, economically and socially," he said.

Mr Qarase said before 5/12 the country had a sense of direction and there were growing investors while tourism had been blooming.

He said the multi-racial Cabinet was taking Fiji into a new period of cooperation among the communities but all progress ended when the army used force to oust the elected government.

"On the first anniversary of the ousting of an elected government the people continue to experience stress and suffering.

"Much of this relates to loss of employment, reduced wages, uncertain future, bad policies, lack of openness and accountability by the regime," said Mr Qarase.

Mr Qarase said the coup had been disastrous for the economy.

The economy is forecasted to decline by 3.9 per cent while the SDL had projected a 2 per cent growth.

"The contraction represents a decline of negative 5.9 per cent of Gross Domestic Product.

"Fiji is now at the bottom of a list of economic performers and an economic journalist bracketed Fiji with North Korea, Zimbabwe and Somalia as countries that would experience a contraction," he said.

Mr Qarase said the decline was manifested in all areas.

"Tourism has revised downwards its forecast earnings from $1000-million to $600m. "The mining industry is down with the closure for most of the year of Vatukoula, the fishing and garment industries are struggling like the construction and building industries," he said.

Mr Qarase said it was time the military directed its clean up campaign on itself as there had been an alarming increase in nepotism, corruption, unethical and morally questionable behaviour.

He said a senior Cabinet minister in the regime consistently evaded payment of taxes with large and had unexplained bank deposits overseas.

Mr Qarase said many in the legal profession felt there were unconstitutional and unacceptable interference with the judiciary while there was a worry the independence of the police as well as the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions were compromised.

But despite all that, he is willing to find a political agreement with Commodore Bainimarama to explore solutions for Fiji, saying time was running out.

He believes it is critically important for dialogue to begin with him and Commodore Bainimarama to, as he says, "we could move forward and arrest problems created by this impasse".

For the sake of the nation Commodore Bainimarama should use this chance to prove his commitment to good governance and accountability.

After all, so many families have truly suffered as a result of 5/12 and they deserve answers.

Qarase: Fiji in shadows

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

THE takeover of the Soqosoqo Duavata ni Lewenivanua/Labour Multi-Party Government at the gunpoint on December 5 last year plunged Fiji into yet another great crisis, says former Prime Minister and party leader Laisenia Qarase.

In a statement yesterday, he said now a year on, we are living in a time of shadows and the crisis continues.

"The interim regime backed by the military says it has achieved much. But if it talks to the public and listens to what is being said, it will know the perception of the majority that Fiji is moving backwards," Mr Qarase said.

He said our country remains unstable, politically, economically and socially.

Mr Qarase said the impact of the military coup has been disastrous for the economy and it was forecasted to decline by 3.9 per cent of GDP in 2007. He said the coup has placed the country among the bottom of a list of economic performers such as Korea, Zimbabwe and Somalia.

"The decline has manifested itself in all areas. The tourism industry, our largest foreign exchange earner, has revised downwards its forecast earnings from $1billion to $600million," Mr Qarase said.

He said the sugar industry, which has been a mainstay of the economy for a long time, was now at a critical stage and sugar production in 2007 was said to be among the worst on record.

Mr Qarase said the Fijian people are confused and very concerned at what they see as measures aimed at undermining their role and position in Fiji.

"Fear and suspicion is still alive in the community, linked to abuse of civil liberties and constitutional rights. There has never been any proper expression of regret or apology for these violations, The threat remains," Mr Qarase said.

Former Opposition leader Mick Beddoes said today was a day he would rather forget, because it was a day of shame.

"It is not a milestone in our history that we should celebrate because it is a day, like the dates of all other coups, that set our entire country back 10 years, it is an event that cost us as a nation several hundreds of millions of dollars in loss income, loss opportunity, and decreased prosperity.

Fiji Women's Crisis Centre co-ordinator Shamima Ali said that nothing had changed in the country since the takeover last year. "The human rights of people are still being violated and the promises made to the people have still not eventuated with nepotism being seen in the interim administration," she said.

Parmesh Chand, the permanent secretary in the Prime Ministers officer, said the interim Government has been in power for the past 11 months since they were sworn in on January 4 this year.

"To comment on the economy, things have to be put into the right context. The interim Government have spent a lot of time, effort and resources to stop the bleeding in the economy," he said.

Regime needs clean-up: Qarase
05 DEC 2007 -

Exactly a year since his removal, Fiji’s ousted Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase says the interim regime should now direct its so-called clean-up campaign on its own operations.

“There is an alarming increase in nepotism and what can only be described as corrupt, unethical and morally questionable behaviour by some of those in Government,” he said.

Qarase said on the first anniversary of the unconstitutional ousting of a legally-elected Government, the people continue to experience great stress and suffering.

Much of this he said, relates to loss of employment, reduced wages, uncertainty about the future, bad policies and lack of openness and accountability by the interim regime.

“The impact of the coup has been disastrous for the economy,” he said.

Fiji’s 2008 Budget which was announced last week by the interim regime is anti-poor and anti-worker, said Qarase.

Qarase said the Budget is dishonest because it does not acknowledge the economic catastrophe caused by the coup.

“It offers no real hope of bringing back the confidence that will create sufficient new jobs and lead to a general increase in wages.

“There is less help and funding for the needy and disadvantaged of all our communities and for deprived rural areas and villages,” he said.

Qarase has said that he wants to lead his party back to power and return as Prime Minister because he has “unfinished business” to do.

Minister to exit Cabinet

Last updated 12/5/2007 -

An interim Cabinet minister has admitted before the official announcement that he is among those to go in a reshuffle.While those to follow are silent on the issue or simply unaware their names are on the list, interim Health Minister Dr Jona Senilagakali confirmed he had been told of the decision two weeks ago.“I am on my way out but the appointment will remain until the end of the month. People think it’s sad but it’s not. Life must go on,” he said.Dr Senilagakali said he had been holding two offices since his appointment as minister.“I was called to serve as Prime Minister then as Minster for Health. And it must be realised that I have been running two offices – the office of the Minister for Health and the medical centre at the Queen Elizabeth Barracks. So when I leave, I’ll continue with my other office at QEB,” he said.Asked if he was satisfied with his achievements during his term as minister, Dr Senilagakali said he had done his best and had continuously advised his staff they were there to serve people and bound by ethics.“I have told them that just because we are civil servants it does not mean we spend money left, right and centre. We are there to serve the people and we must do that,” he said. Dr Senilagakali said he was aware of his replacement. He, however, said he would wait for interim Prime Minister Commodore Voreqe Bainimarama to make the official announcement. Dr Senilagakali implied the next minister did not have medical experience. “I would feel satisfied if a person with experience in the medical profession should take up the position. The portfolio requires someone who knows what it is to be in the medical profession,” he said. Dr Senilagakali said the decision to make public the reasons for the Cabinet reshuffle was the prerogative of Cdre Bainimarama. “It is the Prime Minister’s prerogative. He hasn’t given a reason but he had said it is to reduce the numbers in Cabinet and as a cost-cutting measure.” When contacted last night, Cdre Bainimarama could not confirm when he would make an official announcement of the reshuffle. He said he would make an announcement when he was ready. In his initial announcement of the reshuffle, Cdre Bainimarama had said he would make an announcement on December 1. However there has been no announcement to date. Cdre Bainimarama had said the overall goal of the reshuffle was to remove overlaps and conflicts, balance the workloads and responsibilities, and enhance synergies. He had also admitted he was unhappy with the performance of some ministers

1 YEAR TODAY - BAINIMARAMA’S COUP - December 5, 2007

Last updated 12/5/2007

Former Finance Minister Ratu Jone Kubuabola maintained his stand that the December 5 coup was illegal.
Today, being the first anniversary of the military takeover led by Commodore and now interim Prime Minister Voreqe Bainimarama, Mr Kubuabola said there was not much change in Fiji’s situation.
“All I can say is that it was still an illegal takeover and one year after the coup, Fiji has not still come out of the difficult situation it was subjected to then. It was the same then and it is now,” Mr Kubuabola said.
He said there seems to be no light at the end of the tunnel.
“There has been a slight encouragement with the announcement of the general election to be held in 2009 but it has been 12 months already and the economy is going down and there is clear signs that people will face more hardships,” said Mr Kubuabola.
However, he hopes that the within the next 12 months, Fiji would pull out of its difficult situation.
“We have a long way to go but let’s hope that in the next 12 months will be brighter,” Mr Kubuabola said.

Mere Samisoni, former parliamentarian in the Qarase Government

Former SDL parliamentarian and businesswomen Mere Samisoni also believes that the interim regime has not proven anything since taking up office.
“What progress have they made or how have they improved the standard of living in the country. They simply have done nothing because they are there illegally,” said Ms Samisoni.
She stressed that the overthrow of the previous government was wrong and illegally which doesn’t serve any purpose at all.
“The previous government has much more qualified people in Cabinet. What qualification does this interim regime have? That’s why they haven’t made much progress since taking up office,” said Ms Samisoni.
The former senator strongly stood by her comments stating that nothing will change the fact that the overthrow of the Qarase led government was illegal.

Former Labour Minister Kenneth Zinck

After one year since the December 5 takeover, former Labour Minister in the ousted Laisenia Qarase government Kenneth Zinck described the coup as “no good”
He said the coup has made the country suffer and divided the people.
“We have been divided and the coup has even hurt the country and the people. We are depressed and have been oppressed in the last 12 months,” said Mr Zink.
He said the coup and many decisions made after the illegal takeover like the removal of chief executive officers in government and the appointment of Anthony Gates as acting Chief Justice created division in the judiciary.
“We’re crying out for hope and justice. We’re very much inclined for reconciliation. Fiji’s situation should be compared to a book called Animal Farm, like the moral of the story, the coup has separated us and was unjust for the people of Fiji,” said Mr Zinck.
Announcement that the election will be held in 2009 is the only positive progress so far. “The only commitment from Frank so far is the 2009 election, even the clean up campaign hasn’t done anything for the country” Mr Zinck said.

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