Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Fiji needs to be part of Forum Working Group

Fiji needs to be part of Forum Working Group
Maika Bolatiki - www.sun.com.fj - 6/23/2008
The suspension of talks between the Forum-Fiji Joint Working Group (FFJWG) was expected.
We all know of the attack on the group by Interim Prime Minister Commodore Voreqe Bainimarama on June 19.

The FFJWG was informed that while the government was participating in the FFJWG on a genuine basis, the position of the FFJWG and in particular that of Australia and NZ, was insincere, hypocritical, unconstructive and obstructionist in moving Fiji forward.

FFJWG chair Peter Eafeare just a day before the interim government gave the suspension notice had urged the PM Bainimarama-led interim government to continue dialogue with it.

Mr Eafeare said since its establishment the Working Group has been instrumental in supporting Fiji in its preparations to hold democratic elections including commissioning two key reports relating to arrangements for the elections, and establishing a process to facilitate and coordinate donor assistance to Fiji. The group has also discussed a range of matters beyond the elections, in line with a set of agreed standing issues.

Government made this decision as a direct attack on NZ and Australia. Interim Attorney-General Aiyaz Saiyed- Khaiyum said it was apparent that the foreign policies of Australia and NZ had an unhealthy influence on the working group. "The Government believes that the foreign policies of Australia and NZ in respect of Fiji are counterproductive to any meaningful dialogue and discourse on providing long term solutions to the challenges of and in Fiji,'' Mr Sayed-Khaiyum said.

The working group is made up of senior government officials of Australia, Federated States of Micronesia, Fiji, Kiribati, NZ, PNG, Republic of the Marshall Islands and Tuvalu.

I must admit the decision to suspend talks with the FFJWG is not helpful for the nation.

United People's Party leader Mick Beddoes described the decision as disappointing but expected.

"Obviously the junta lacks the strength of character, moral integrity and resolve necessary to stay the course in tough negotiations such as these and because they are not getting their own way with the international community, it seems they have opted to throw in the towel and blame Australia and NZ for everything that's going wrong with Fiji," he said.

This decision seemed to support the theory that it was just one of the delaying tactics employed by the interim government to hold elections next March, Mr Beddoes said. NFP general secretary Pramod Rae viewed the decision as bad for the country.

He said this was in fact a great loss to the nation that is now struggling to get the support of the people.

Surely such a decision he says will further erode people's trust in them in their effort to move the country forward.

Ousted Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase said he was extremely disappointed at Commodore Bainimarama's criticism of the Fiji-Forum Joint Working Group.

Speaking to ABC news Mr Qarase said the Forum Group had met 30 times and had still not managed to chart a way forward to democratic rule.

"Commodore Bainimarama's comments now cast doubt on the regime's intention to continue working with the joint forum working group," Mr Qarase said.

The comments he says calls into question the regime's ability to keep a promise, and will cause the regional and international communities to lose faith in Fiji's ability as a leader.

Now that talks have been suspended, will all decisions made by the Working Group be suspended too?

What about government's commitment to the Forum to hold elections in March 2009?

I must admit that since its establishment, the Working Group has been instrumental in supporting Fiji in its preparations to hold democratic elections...

On 26th March the Forum's Foreign Affairs Ministers met in Auckland, NZ and they:

(a) reinforced the importance of the Fiji interim government honouring the undertakings made to Forum Leaders that a parliamentary election would be held in the first quarter of 2009, that this election would be held in accordance with Fiji's Constitution, and that the outcome of the election would be accepted by the Fiji Interim Government and the Republic of Fiji Military Forces;

(b) noted the preparations advised by Fiji for the holding of an election in the first quarter of 2009, expressed concern about slow progress to date, and encouraged the Fiji Interim Government to intensify its efforts to achieve the election milestones endorsed by this meeting;

(c) noted advice received from Fiji that a detailed timetable for election preparations would be considered by Fiji's interim Cabinet in the second week of April and provided to Forum members upon the interim Cabinet's approval. Ministers emphasised the importance of such a timetable faithfully reflecting the commitments already made to Forum Leaders and the Working Group, and being provided and implemented without any further delay;

(d) welcomed advice from Fiji that the appointment of the Supervisor of Elections would be finalised by the end of this week, and looked forward to such an announcement, recognising the impetus this could provide to election preparations;

(e) emphasised the importance of the Fiji Interim Government ensuring that the People's Charter process would not delay or distract from the holding of an election in the first quarter of 2009;

(f) urged Fiji to ensure that adequate and timely resources are made available to ensure the election timetable is met, both through its own budget and by cooperating with the international community to facilitate necessary assistance;

(g) noted Fiji's position on the effects of travel bans, and the position of Australia and NZ;

(h) expressed their concern about human rights abuses, threats to media freedom and judicial independence, and similar actions that were inconsistent with the creation of an environment in which free and fair elections could be held and Fiji's longer-term issues resolved;

(i) acknowledged that an overall resolution of issues in Fiji would be a long-term exercise, and that resolution processes should be independent and inclusive. Ministers also affirmed that elections constituted a crucial prerequisite to creating the conditions in which this longer term resolution could be promoted; and

(j) confirmed their support for efforts to encourage a genuinely independent and inclusive political dialogue to complement progress towards the March 2009 election, and welcomed the work of the Commonwealth to this end; recognised the potential for an initiative of this nature, along with elections, to assist in the achievement of a longer term resolution to the situation in Fiji; and expressed their appreciation for the Commonwealth's close cooperation with the Forum in pursuit of their respective and complementary activities in Fiji.

It is sad the suspension was based on the retaliatory measures put in place by NZ and Australia against Fiji.

The interim government should be mindful of the fact that strong reactions from the Working Group are grounded in a deep concern about Fiji's future.

Both NZ and Australia continue to work in the Forum-Fiji Joint Working Group to encourage Fiji's return to parliament democracy and are supported by other international partners and donors, including the European Union and the United States.

They both do not see elections as offering a full solution to Fiji's internal problems.

They recognise Fiji's problems are complex and deep, and they remain willing to provide support and assistance in addressing these challenges, as they have done for many years.

The Fiji interim government made important commitments to Forum leaders in Tonga last year. It agreed to hold free and fair elections by March 2009, in accordance with Fiji's electoral laws and constitution - and to respect the outcome of those elections.

What is needed to address these issues is a truly inclusive and independent process of political dialogue, which will formulate solutions in a co-operative and collaborative way. It goes without saying that NZ and Australia cannot accept that a military dominated administration which lacks a popular mandate should impose its will on the people of Fiji. Nor do they believe that such an imposed solution will endure.

That is why both countries continue to call on Fiji's interim government to honour its commitments to advance electoral preparations.

That is also why they call on the interim government, and all other key political leaders within Fiji, to participate in discussions aimed at identifying some of the key issues that a properly constituted government will need to consider.

Government must reconsider its position on the matter. Fiji needs the support and advice of the Working Group. Surely the decision could be reversed.

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