Friday, May 01, 2009

Fiji To be Booted out of Pacific Forum

Fiji appeals to stay in Forum
Suva, 01 May 2009
--- Military dictator Voreqe Bainimarama has launched a last minute bid to keep his country in the 16-nation Pacific Forum. Fiji is expected to have its membership suspended on Friday night.Bainimarama, who is in Indonesia appealing for aid money from the Asian Development Bank, earlier today sent a letter to the forum nations appealing to remain in the group.His military appointed Attorney General, Ayaz Sayed Khaiyum, told Auckland Indian Radio Tarana that Fiji’s situation has changed following the Easter overthrow of the constitution.They want an urgent Forum summit held.“The letter primarily states that given that there has been a change in the legal order in Fiji and that now we have a new legal order given that the constitution has been abrogated by the president and that we have put in a new time frame for the elections and that we are working our way to hold those elections … that the forum and the other forum island countries need to re-engage with Fiji in a constructive manner,” Sayed-Khaiyum told Tarana.He accused Australia and New Zealand of taking a dogmatic stance.In an earlier interview with The Australian newspaper, Bainimarama said he wanted a “face to face” meeting with Prime Minister John Key and the Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, in a bid to win support for his decision to refuse to hold elections.He said elections this year – as demanded by the Forum - would only result in the restoration of the “racist” government of Laisenia Qarase, whom he deposed at gunpoint in 2006.
Bainimarama plea to Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd: let's talk to help restore Fijian democracy
Suva, 01 May 2009 --- Fiji’s military leader, Frank Bainimarama, has proposed a summit meeting with Australia and New Zealand to try to resolve the impasse over his refusal to hold elections for another five years.With the expiration of the deadline today for Commodore Bainimarama to announce an election date this year or face suspension from the Pacific Islands Forum, the dictator has defiantly said his own agenda stands. “It is not going to happen. There will be no elections until September 2014,” he said. Commodore Bainimarama said an election this year would restore the “racist” government of former Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase, whom he deposed at gunpoint in 2006. “Qarase is finished. He will only return over my dead body,” he insisted. But the Fijian Prime Minister wants to map out a way forward to rebuild Fiji's shattered relationship with its traditional partners and has challenged the Australian and New Zealand leaders to confront him in person. “I would like to see Kevin Rudd and John Key face to face so I can explain things clearly to them about the changes we need to bring about,” Commodore Bainimarama said. Stressing that the summit should be “immediate”, the Fijian leader expressed frustration about the attitude of Australia and New Zealand to his attempts to purge Fiji of racism and undertake electoral reform before elections in 2014. “That's the sad part about it. I don't think the international community much appreciates what's happening here. “They need to come and find out,” he said. Commodore Bainimarama was speaking after Fiji suffered fresh political upheaval early last month, when the Fiji constitution was abrogated, a clampdown launched on dissent and the media, and President Ratu Josefa Iloilo said elections would be delayed until September 2014. Fiji faces becoming the first member to be suspended from the 16-nation Pacific Islands Forum. In a wide-ranging interview with The Australian, Commodore Bainimarama was both conciliatory and pugnacious. He predicted that the forum would baulk at suspending Fiji in spite of sustained lobbying from Australia and New Zealand. He announced that the month-long state of emergency imposed in Fiji would be extended, including media restrictions. And he repeated allegations that Australia was spying on Fiji and tapping his telephones. He revealed that his long-term plans to produce a multi-racial democracy included the restoration of the Queen as Fiji's head of state. On his summit proposal, Commodore Bainimarama called on Canberra and Wellington to drop their insistence on an election in Fiji this year. “That will only ensure the return of the racist government I overthrew in 2006. We need to get rid of racism in the next five years and then have elections that people recognise will bring about true democracy in Fiji.” Commodore Bainimarama said he was prepared to give the Australian and New Zealand leaders a "cast-iron guarantee" that elections would be held in 2014, but not before. Anticipating their response that he had broken a pledge to hold elections this year, Commodore Bainimarama denied that it was ever a formal undertaking. “The Tongan Prime Minister, who was chairman of the Pacific Islands Forum, came to me for an informal chat and said 'Look, there's a lot of pressure on us and on you to set a date for elections. Why don't you come up with 2009?' So I said, 'If we want to change that, we can talk about it later on'. I thought it was something we could discuss, a possibility, not something set in stone,” Commodore Bainimarama insisted. The military chief said he did not believe the forum would proceed with its threat to suspend Fiji. “No one has ever been suspended from the forum, and I just can't see it happening. It's beyond its mandate to suspend a member nation. In fact, if it was up to me, we would have removed Australia and New Zealand because they're putting undue pressure on the Pacific islands and that's not how we operate in the Pacific,” Commodore Bainimarama said. The region's elder statesman, Papua New Guinea's Prime Minister Michael Somare, warned on Tuesday that he was running out of patience with Commodore Bainimarama's regime, and the forum had no choice but to suspend Fiji if it failed to meet today's deadline. But the Fijian leader said Sir Michael “would be thinking twice” about telling member countries of the need to do so. “Sir Michael Somare and Fiji have a very wonderful, strong relationship going back to the days when he and Ratu Mara (the founder of modern Fiji) were friends. That relationship will remain,” he said. Commodore Bainimarama appealed to his fellow island leaders not to be swayed by Australia and New Zealand. “Fiji was one of the initiators of the forum. Why would they want to suspend Fiji? Is there killing on the roadside? Why suspension, just because we don't go along with what the Australians and the Kiwis want?” He also asked his fellow leaders to consider, in their deliberations, supportive comments last week to a US congressional hearing by a Samoan member of the congress, Eni Faleomavaega. He told US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton that Australia and New Zealand were making “nasty accusations” against Fiji and “acting with a heavy hand” about a “situation that is more complex than it appears”. Ms Clinton promised to examine Mr Faleomavaega's complaints and acknowledged Australia and New Zealand as the source of much of the US's information about Fiji. “She should listen to his advice,” Commodore Bainimarama said, expressing his hope for a change in US policy. “There's someone who understands what's happening in Fiji. At least she will have somebody else besides Australia and New Zealand to listen to.” Commodore Bainimarama also said he was unfazed by threats to move the forum secretariat from Suva, Fiji's capital. “There's no need to move the forum headquarters, but I guess if they come to that decision, we'll assist them. I don't think it's going to happen.” In his interview with The Australian, the military chief also announced that Fiji's month-long state of emergency, due to expire on May 10, would be extended. The clampdown has seen the media muzzled and a prominent indigenous nationalist, Iliesa Duvuloco, detained for allegedly distributing pamphlets calling for a military uprising. “We want this calm to continue for a while. The emergency regulations were brought in entirely for media censorship to ensure calm. I'm very worried about people like Duvuloco inciting people to rise up against the military and the Government of the day,” Commodore Bainimarama said. He repeated allegations previously made by his Attorney-General, Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum, that Australia has been spying on Fiji. He said he had personally confronted Foreign Minister Stephen Smith with evidence that his telephone calls had been tapped in breach of Fiji's laws. “We had to caution Stephen Smith about spying on us, that this was illegal in Fiji, and in that meeting he didn't say anything. He didn't deny or admit it, but I took that as confirmation, bugging our phones and listening to our conversations.” But the military chief described it as an irritant, and said it had not made him more cautious about what he said on the phone. “I really don't give a damn what they hear,” he said. The Fijian leader outlined some of his plans, including closer ties with China and India, which have replaced Australia and New Zealand as Fiji's confidants and evident means of support. Confirming that Chinese aid to Fiji had risen dramatically, he said: “Yes, the Chinese are giving us money. We have a wonderful relationship with China and we're trying to build on that. They're very sympathetic and understand what's happening here, that we need to do things our own way.” Commodore Bainimarama said his main task in the next five years before an election was to promote the notion of racial equality over the indigenous supremacist agenda of the government he deposed. Pointing to recent high-level Indo-Fijian appointments, including the governor of the Reserve Bank, Sada Reddy - who replaced an indigenous Fijian - the military chief said: “My vision for Fiji is one that is free of racism. That's the biggest problem we've had in the last 20 years and it needs to be taken out. “It's the lies that are being fed to indigenous Fijians that's causing this. We need to get rid of Qarase and everything associated with the 2000 coup and begin entirely on a new path.” The military chief envisaged that when democracy was eventually restored in five years, Fiji would ask the Queen to resume her position as head of state. The country declared itself a republic during the first coups of 1987. “I'm still loyal to the Queen - many people in Fiji are,” he said, acknowledging her photograph above his desk. “One of the things I'd like to do is see her become Queen of Fiji again.” Ends
Fiji to extend emergency laws
--- Fiji's military government ruled out on Friday any election this year and said it would extend emergency laws, defying an international deadline for the country's suspension from the 16-nation Pacific Islands Forum.“We made it quite clear that it is not going to happen this year, there will be no election until September 2014,” Interim Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama told Sky News Australia.“That's the deadline.”“I think there will be a need to continue that (emergency regulation). We want this calm to continue for a while.” ends Australia should keep contact with the Fijian dictator: Opinion from the Australian Fiji’s Frank Bainimarama says he is upset by Australia's attitude since his country's constitution was suspended, press censorship imposed and a five-year ban on elections announced last month. He says he wants a meeting with Kevin Rudd and New Zealand leader John Key to explain why he had to act. Fat chance. Commodore Bainimarama is dreaming if he thinks the Prime Minister can implicitly endorse the actions of a military dictator by meeting him, especially if the Pacific Islands Forum expels Fiji.But while diplomacy dictates Australia demand a date for early elections and the immediate end of censorship, political realism requires continuing contact with the Fijian regime, if only to keep the pressure on the Bainimarama Government. Cutting all contact with the regime in Suva is neither in the interests of ordinary Fijians nor those of other Pacific powers. China is already investing in Fiji and makes a practice of chumming up with pariahs, such as Sudan, as a low-cost way of expanding its influence. Chinese aid to Fiji increased from just $US23 million in 2006 to $US161 million the following year. These are not especially significant sums but they will encourage Commodore Bainimarama to look elsewhere than Australia for assistance. It is certainly not in our interest for Fiji to become a client of Beijing or to lose contact with the country. If Fiji ever followed the Solomons, with a failing state losing control, Canberra would be called on to help. There is no case for accepting the recent coup, but good reason to keep communications open. ends
Fired Fiji judges on the attack over IBA claims
Canberra, 01 May 2009 ---- The sacked judges of Fiji have launched a sweeping attack on the International Bar Association for criticising the rule of law under Frank Bainimarama.Before they were sacked, Fiji's judges had accused the IBA of making a series of fundamental errors in a report that had warned about the threat to the rule of law in Fiji. The report had relied on “a few disgruntled lawyers” and was biased, the judges said. It was riddled with half-truths and spin and had made selective use of media reports that had denigrated the Fiji judiciary, they said. Their criticism is contained in a five-page document that was supplied to the IBA before the judges were dismissed on 10 April by President Ratu Josefa Iloilo. Their dismissal, which was not connected to the IBA report, came a day after three Australian expatriate judges on Fiji's Court of Appeal -- Randall Powell SC, Ian Lloyd QC and Francis Douglas QC -- had ruled that Commodore Bainimarama's Government was illegal and should leave office. The Court of Appeal had also ruled that Mr Iloilo had engaged in unlawful conduct after the coup in December 2006 that had brought Commodore Bainimarama to power. The report that the judges criticised was produced by the London-based IBA Human Rights Institute and was made public four weeks before Mr Iloilo dissolved the Constitution and sacked the judiciary. It had warned that the rule of law in Fiji was deteriorating and said some members of the judiciary, apparently allied to the Fiji Government, had attacked those judges and lawyers who were trying to defend human rights and the justice system. There were doubts about the validity of all judicial appointments since the 2006 coup, the report said. The Fiji judiciary's response says the IBA failed to cite a single judgment in which the judiciary had ruled against the Government. Yet such judgments are easily available online. “How could a fair-minded inquiry team omit this as part of its 'desk review'?” the judges asked. The judges' response to the report has been made available by one of the sacked Australian judges of Fiji's High Court, Thomas Hickie, who returned to Sydney last Friday. One of the report's authors, London-based Queenslander Felicia Johnston, said the report's concerns about the rule of law had even greater force since the sacking of Fiji's judges. She said the judges' response to the report had tried to suggest that “all is well with the functioning of the legal system there”. “Events have shown otherwise,” Ms Johnston said. She said the judges had not addressed the report's concerns about high-level issues such as the upholding of the Constitution, the independence of the judiciary and “the judiciary's decision-making in relation to the Government in constitutional cases”. “Our research and consultations were thorough and we are confident of our conclusions regarding these high-level issues which were the focus of the report,” Ms Johnston said. She also rejected separate criticism of the report from leading Hong Kong barrister Clive Grossman QC. Mr Grossman was one of the counsel to a tribunal that had been established by the Bainimarama Government to examine the removal of Fiji's former chief justice Daniel Fatiaki, who had been suspended from office after the 2006 coup. The chief justice had been charged with a range of misconduct charges including a charge that he had been involved in a coup that took place in 2000. Mr Grossman's tribunal had planned to hold public hearings into the charges against the chief justice but they were interrupted due to a legal challenge by the judge. The Bainimarama Government later reached an agreement in which the chief justice formally resigned, was paid $F275,000 and the charges were dropped. Mr Grossman, who is a member of the IBA, wrote to Ms Johnston telling her the report's criticism of this affair contained “grave misstatements” and was highly misleading. He wrote that no attempt had been made to verify the facts from sources other than Mr Fatiaki's solicitor, Graham Leung. “Since Mr Fatiaki has not had the opportunity to rebut the charges, having agreed to the settlement, I will not state categorically that each of the charges would have been proved,” Mr Grossman wrote. “However, I can state, authoritatively, that no difficulty whatsoever was experienced in finding the evidence to underpin those charges. “Did it not occur to the (IBA) delegation that possibly one of the reasons why the former chief justice was prepared to accept the settlement was to spare his own blushes?” Ms Johnston said the IBAHRI “disagrees with Mr Grossman's position that it is acceptable for a military regime to forcibly remove the chief justice, charge him with a range of misconduct offences and then drop the charges and pay the chief justice a large sum of money”. The document prepared by the sacked judges questions whether the IBA, as a private organisation, has the moral authority to hold an inquiry into Fiji's judiciary. “What is the IBA?” it says. “It might use the word ‘international’ in its title but this is not an international body formed by nation states. It is a private group of lawyers. “Despite its claim to be 'the global voice of the legal profession', its report reveals it represents only '30,000 individual lawyers' worldwide, whereas in the USA alone there are over one million lawyers.” The judges also question whether the IBA delegation to Fiji was “just another junket of 'conflict entrepreneurs' mainly from first-world countries who fly around telling the third world to pull up their socks”. “Who do these conflict entrepreneurs represent, other than themselves? “The delegation of five comprised at least three white Australians, a token Malaysian and an unknown other.” The judges also questioned whether the IBA had sought a balanced view by speaking to lawyers who represented both sides of specific cases. “Did the IBA delegation even pause and consider whether their ‘legal’' sources might be disgruntled because of a loss of power, money or influence?” And while the report had questioned why the judges would not talk to the IBA, the judges' response says they were unable to discuss matters that were either before the courts or were likely to come before the courts. They say the report referred selectively to intimidation of some judges whose commissions pre-dated the 2006 coup without mentioning that physical and verbal attacks on judges in Fiji had occurred before the coup. “It also fails to mention any of the incidents involving judges appointed post-2006: a bomb threat, car damage, three home 'break-ins' and a 'mugging'. “There has been an eerie silence from the Australian high commission in relation to such incidents. “A strange consular approach indeed, seeing that all but one of such incidents involved Australians. “Does the IBA condemn the attacks on pre-2006 appointments but not those on judges appointed post-2006 as it is not politically correct to do so? s”.They say the haste with which the IBA report dismissed the bona fides of Fiji's judges and rushed to condemn them “illustrates the lack of independence and fairness in this inquiry”. The judges write that it is astonishing that the IBA report made no mention of changes introduced in May last year aimed at preventing “judge shopping” and ensuring proceedings were conducted in open court. There was also no reference in the report to reforms aimed at ending the practice of judges holding “grog sessions in chambers”. “One wonders whether the IBA's sources showed this to them? the judges' response says. “Perhaps they were not interested in providing such examples to the IBA as they revealed good governance and open justice on the part of Fiji's judiciary post 2006? “But it did not fit in with the story.”Ends
Rudd is 'not the UN': Bainimarama
Suva, 01 May 2009
-- Fiji's military ruler Frank Bainimarama has hit out at a claim by Kevin Rudd that the United Nations will stop hiring Fijian peacekeepers, saying the Australian leader should mind his own business.The troubled Pacific nation's military commander was angered by Mr Rudd's statement on Tuesday that Fiji would no longer be considered for United Nations peacekeeping duties.Cutting deployment of Fijian troops on UN peacekeeping duties would limit revenue flows into the coffers of the country's undemocratic regime, in power since a December 2006 coup.But Commodore Bainimarama questioned the Australian prime minister's right to make such a statement, saying: “Kevin Rudd is not the United Nations.”“"Until they (the UN) come out with a statement along this line, I don't think we should listen to Kevin Rudd," the leader told the Fijian Broadcasting Corporation.“At any rate, if it does come out with that kind of statement, what good does it do to the ordinary, average Australian?“Is it going to help improve the lives of the Aborigines in Australia? ”Mr Rudd told a press conference on Tuesday that the UN had decided not to employ Fijian troops on new contracts."Through our own interventions with the United Nations and supported by New Zealand and other countries, the United Nations now is not going to engage future or new Fijian troops for new operations," Mr Rudd said.The UN itself is yet to make a statement on Fiji troop recruitment.It has come under increasing pressure to curtail its use of Fijian soldiers at a time when world leaders are calling for Bainimarama to end his rule and hold democratic elections.New Zealand's foreign minister Murray McCully called the UN "utterly hypocritical" and several high-profile commentators have urged the organisation to cut ties with Fiji.The situation has deteriorated further in the past month, with the sacking of Fiji's judiciary, media sanctions, abrogation of the constitution and further election delays.Mr Rudd and his Papua New Guinea counterpart Sir Michael Somare this week reaffirmed their hardline approach to Fiji and expectations that the country will be suspended from the regional Pacific Islands Forum for failing to announce an election date by 01May.However, Fiji's interim attorney-general, Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum, told journalists he did not believe Fiji would be suspended. ends
Fiji in new UN mission, say police
Suva, 01 May 2009
--- Despite speculation over the future of Fiji's long-standing peacekeeping involvement with the United Nations, 12 Fiji police officers will leave for Dafur in the next few weeks.According to police spokeswoman Ema Mua the peacekeeping mission would be under the United Nations banner.The 12 officers will replace those who have been based in Dafur for the past year and they include a few senior officers. They will march into the Police Academy next week to prepare to be deployed to the war torn region of Sudan.She told Fiji Live that this is part of the ongoing UN peace keeping mission.Meanwhile, the government says it has no confirmation on reports that the United Nations has decided to stop using Fiji soldiers in all future UN peacekeeping missions.Australian Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd announced earlier this week that the UN has decided that Fiji will not be included in all future peacekeeping missions, however, permanent secretary for Information Major Neumi Leweni said he does not know where the information has come from. ends
Air Fiji ceases operation in Fiji, 200 workers affected
Suva, 01 May 2009
--Financial troubles have forced the Air Fiji board to pass a resolution terminating all the business of the company from today.According to the Fiji Sun, this was done to avoid the risk of violating laws by carrying on business from an insolvent position, a letter from the directors to the shareholders said. And that means the airline’s 200 employees will be without work. The board of Air Fiji has passed a resolution yesterday terminating all the business of the company as of today. The resolution was passed to avoid the risk of a violation of laws for carrying on business from an insolvent company. And the airline's 200 workers will be now without work. A copy of the board resolution was provided to all shareholders for consideration in an effort to salvage the company out from its current situations. In a letter written to all shareholders of Air Fiji Limited by chairman of the board of directors Wu Shengyue, the shareholders were told of the financial trouble the company had been going through since 2004. The letter summed up a meeting on the March 5, 2009 where management presented to the board an urgent report revealing the true financial status and operational results of the company. And upon reviewing the management report, the board was convinced the company had become insolvent. The letter stated the company began to suffer persistent cash flow crisis as early as in 2004, which problem has never been resolved. As the major shareholder, Aviation Investment Limited (AIL) (formed by China Aviation Technology Import-Export Corporation (CATIC) and Tuvalu Government) has been sparing no efforts in saving Air Fiji from collapsing. Mr Shengyue said in the letter that the shareholders were also told that CATIC had directly provided several loans with an accumulated amount of US $3,530,000 to the company since 2006. In addition, the company rented three Y12 aircrafts from CATIC in 2006 but had not paid CATIC a single penny from the beginning till today. Meanwhile, the Tuvalu Government provided guaranty on the overdraft credit facility granted by National Bank of Tuvalu to Air Fiji. In the meantime, CATIC has been providing regular spares support and engineering expert for more than 11 years. CATIC had even continuously provided three aircraft engines for leasing to the company or offsetting its external indebtedness. To finance the operation, AlL has done its best and utmost. Unfortunately, AIL now cannot offer any further financial support to the company. Mr Shengyue said the directors of the board also contributed their energy and wits trying to find the resolution for Air Fiji's survival and development. Also enclosed in the five page documents are the current fierce competition and operational difficulties Air Fiji is facing and the urgent report from CEO Sialeni Vuetaki and financial manager. “To avoid the risk of a violation of laws for carrying on business for an insolvent company, the board passed a resolution on April24, 2009 on terminating all the business of the Company from April 30, 2009. The board welcomes any efforts or suggests any shareholder may make in an effort of saving the Company from the current situations,” adds Mr Shengy. Transport workers union Kamlesh Kumar said he called the Air Fiji management after receiving the letter but was told that they are not aware of the resolution. He confirmed that nearly 200 workers in the airline would be affected. Meanwhile, Tuvalu High Commissioner Tine Leuleu yesterday represented the Tuvalu government at a meeting with a CATIC representative in Suva yesterday. They both refused to comment on the issue when approached yesterday. A worker at the Tuvalu High Commision's office revealed that Mr Leuleu met with Air Fiji chief executive officer Sialeni Vuetaki on Wednesday. AIL currently holds 86 per cent of Air Fiji shares while the Fiji government is also a minor share holder of the company. ends
More than 2000-plus Fiji civil servants retire: PSC
Suva, 01 May 2009
--A total of 2,301 Fiji civil servants were earmarked for retirement Thursday. Of these civil servants, 192 will be re-hired on new contracts following approval from Interim Prime Minister Commodore Frank Bainimarama, said the Public Service Commission in a press statement The new total figure was reached following feedback from all respective government ministries, departments and agencies and a comprehensive verification process, it said. Civil servants who have been re-engaged will sign a Contract of Engagement of up to 12 months with their respective ministries. “This figure for re-engagement however does not include teachers, nurses and doctors who are separately being dealt with by the respective line ministries,” it said. “The cases of re-engagement for five other Ministries Finance, National Planning, Public Enterprise and Tourism, Information and Works and Transport are also yet to be determined." Commission chairman Josefa Serulagilagi said the re-engagement exercise would be an ongoing one and would be dependent on the needs of the civil service. He assured that the retirement process will not compromise the government's service delivery. "We will do all that is possible to ensure that the civil service continues to operate smoothly and that there are minimum disruptions to the lives of those who are retiring," he said. ends

No comments: